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NPR’s Tiny Desk contest opened concert series to indie bands nationwide

Jeff Miers

I’ve always wanted to steal NPR All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen’s idea. Boilen’s desk at NPR provides the setting for the Tiny Desk Concert Series, an intimate, low-key, and generally, acoustic performance that is filmed and presented via Of course, Boilen’s desk is a little … well, shall we say, neater than mine. And he did think of it first.

What makes the Tiny Desk Series so cool, aside from its quaint and charming setting, is its premise of celebrating a broad and diverse array of music and musicians that might broadly be described as indie, though there are exceptions to that general rule. In recent weeks, musicians as variegated in style as producer/musician Daniel Lanois, Phish guitarist and solo artist Trey Anastasio, indie-funk collective Rubblebucket and alt-country goddess Lucinda Williams have taken their place in the cozy confines of Boilen’s “office.” The results often display a disarmingly uncluttered aspect of the artist’s talents. It’s like they’re performing in your own living room.

In December, NPR launched its first-ever Tiny Desk Concert Contest, inviting independent musicians from around the country to submit their own bid for an opportunity to visit Boilen’s desk and perform for the vast virtual audience the series claims as its own. Boilen made the rules failrly clear: “To enter, make a video of you performing one original song behind a desk of your choosing. It could be your work desk, your home office or the product of your imagination. We’re looking for great unknowns, so if you already have a recording contract, you’ll have to sit this one out.” That’s tight – no major label artists need apply. This contest would be a gift for the struggling independent artist. Which is in keeping with Tiny Desk’s of celebrating the eclectic and unconventional, as often as not.

Not surprisingly, many Buffalo-area artists took the bait, and recorded their entries on or in the vicinity of a desk of their own choosing. The winner will be ascertained by judges producer John Congleton and three Tiny Desk alumni — Reggie Watts, Thao Nguyen and Valerie June — as well as All Songs Considered co-hosts Boilen and Robin Hilton.

Local musician Tony DeRosa – solo artist and member of ManBearPig – came up with the inspired idea of uniting some of the WNY artists who have thrown their hat into the Tiny Desk Contest ring. In his capacity as lead live sound engineer at Mohawk Place, DeRosa and Mohawk Place talent booker Marty Boratin hatched the Tiny Desk Concert and thought it would be cool to create a Boilen-like atmosphere at the club, and invite those who’d submitted entries to perform. At present, those who have agreed to do so include the Observers, Tiny Rhymes, Folkfaces and Applennium. Songwriter Mike Brown and indie-folk duo the Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter have been invited to take part as well.

The show is slated for 8 p.m. Feb. 12 – the very day that the winner of the NPR Tiny Desk Contest will be announced.

You can check out an archive of Tiny Desk podcasts via If you haven’t seen the series in the past, you should pay it a visit. Read more about some of the Buffalo bands that have entered the contest and see clips of their music here.

Jazz honors

The first JazzBuffalo Readers and Fan Poll announced its winners last week, and they represent the true depth of jazz-based talent in our area. A list of nominees was accrued from the submissions of fans who participated in an online poll through in early December.

Top honors were claimed by some the biggest names in Buffalo jazz, among them saxophonists Dave Schiavone, Bruce Johnstone and Bobby Militello; pianist Bobby Jones; trumpeter Tim Clarke; and drummer John Bacon, Jr.

But what truly makes this first poll so interesting is the fact that musicians representing several generations of jazz performance found themselves nominated. The conception of what constitutes jazz is something that can be debated for all of eternity, and the nominee list in this instance certainly stretched the envelope, including as it did blues, neo-soul and funk-based players alongside adherents to the form’s traditional aspects. The thread connecting all of these musicians is, of course, an ability to improvise on a high level. The implication here is that the future of jazz is in good hands. Congratulations are due to all of the nominees.

Find a full list of winners and honorable mentions at


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