Jessie Andra Smith, left, and Nathan Rivera.

Jessie Andra Smith, left, and Nathan Rivera.

Live music returns to Swallow Hill Music Thursday night, January 5 with Nathan Rivera and Jessie Andra Smith in Quinlan Café. Nathan & Jessie are well known to Denver audiences, having played the Café in the past, as well as other Denver venues.

We caught up with the duo via email to find out what they’ve been up to in the year since they last played Swallow Hill.

You played Swallow Hill Music nearly one year ago, looking over your 2016 tour schedule, you’ve been incredibly busy. What’s changed for you in the last year?

They say “the only thing constant is change” and that surely rings true for us. In the last year we’ve played large festivals for the first time in Michigan and Colorado, lost loved family members, played a sold out theater in Mexico, and Nathan started to play the clarinet.

How many shows do you typically play in a year, will you keep that pace up in 2017?

Typically we play both “gigs” and “shows”. Gigs being paid to play at a bar or restaurant where people are talking over dinner and drinks. Shows being listening audiences like Swallow Hill. In 2016 we played almost every weekend plus many weekdays too. We strive to find a balance between the two, gigs to feed our bellies and shows feed our souls. We hope 2017 will present more opportunity for fruitful and frequent shows. To share our passion as artists, complete with stories and meaningful music means everything.

Your music has been described as a “hybrid of folk and swing jazz with a gypsy twist.” Some of these influences suggest a counter-history of popular music. Where do you find you influences? Or do they find you?

We find influence in each other, in the music of New Orleans both past and present (greetings from NOLA), friends such as Shine Delphi and Milly Raccoon, and much more from our youth like punk and country. Jessie loves Bob Dylan and Eydie Gormé, Nathan grew up being the roadie for his father’s jump blues band called “Little Chris and the Nightcrawlers.”

Where does the accordion fall into that mix? (I had to ask, I love the accordion and I feel like it doesn’t get enough attention!)

Speaking of the accordion falling, Nathan’s accordion recently fell twice from the old leather straps breaking while on tour in Mexico and is currently under repair!

The accordion truly has been a gift from God. After playing music at a retirement home for nothing more than the smiles on the elders faces, an accordion was given to Nathan and changed the course of his musical life. A real example of giving with no expectations and being paid back more than one could ever imagine!

Who is an artist you feel listeners might be surprised to learn has influenced you?

Jessie loves Men at Work’s “Land Down under” and Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.”

Nathan loves Toto’s “Africa” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

When did you first encounter the music of Django Reinhardt? Why do you think his influence is so enduring to this day?

Nathan was told by a peer “man you play like Django!” To which he responded “Who’s Django?”

Sometimes great art stands the test of time by inspiring generations to carry on the tradition, who in turn never forget where they came from. I think the music of Django did just that.

Back to your life on the road, what was the strangest audience – and I mean that in a good way – you encountered in the last year?

In September we played at a festival called Sh’Bang in Bellingham, WA. Our set was at “the beach stage” which was hosted above a former quarry now filled with water. Above part of the swimming quarry was a platform which supported our audience, most of them were practicing nude acroyoga!

This Q&A was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne.