Minor Swing. Major Talent.
I am not a music critic or a musician. I have been very blessed from an early age to witness up close and in person a lot of world class performances in a number of different genres: classical, folk, rock, jazz, and blues.
Jazz greats I have seen perform, some of them in small clubs with few people there, include Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Annie Ross. I am also a groupie for our local jazz masters: Bob Thompson and his Unit members - Tim Courts, John Inghram, Ryan Kennedy, and Doug Payne. These experiences have given me the feeling that I know good jazz when I hear it.
Listening to Minor Swing, featuring Alasha Al-Qudwah on fiddle and Ray Singleton on guitar, plus other guest guitarists, has been a revelation to me. I knew that their roots went back to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in Paris in the 1930s. I only just learned that the term gypsy jazz is a relatively new term. There has been a renaissance of this genre with international musicians and festivals. Based on their new CD, I believe that Minor Swing deserves its own place in this universe.
If you have not heard their music, I suggest that you set this feature aside and let your fingers do the walking to their website, minorswingwv.com, where they are generously sharing their playlist. Better yet, donate to support digital access and buy a CD. Then come back to this feature to learn more about them.
In talking with Alasha and Ray via zoom, I could feel the same kind of energy, passion, depth, thoughtfulness, and attention to quality and detail that I could hear in their music. There were even moments – evoking my favorite experiences with live jazz – where the flow of their words demonstrated the gee whiz wonder of listening to and building on each other’s flights of inspiration.
Ray told us that making music makes him happy. If he can share this feeling with other people through his music, that is what it is all about.
Alasha said that music is personal for her. It originally saved her from a rough path growing up. She was raised mainly by her grandmother, who we discovered I had known as a bright light in the DHHR office where we both worked back in the eighties. Music gave Alasha inspiration, meaning, and the enjoyment of playing with others in our local youth orchestra. She wants to help children especially, and the rest of us also, make the same discovery of how music can accompany us through joy and sadness and help us to comfort each other.
Both Alasha and Ray have a classical academic background in music. They bring professional level skills along with their own unique paths and creativity. Building on the original standards established by Reinhardt and Grappelli, Ray writes new music that brings in the traditions of bluegrass and old time music that are native to our state and our region.
Alasha was a music major at Ohio University before coming back to Kanawha County to finish her degree and spend an additional two years studying education at West Virginia State University. She now works as a full time general education teacher at Mountaineer Montessori School in Charleston. Playing with Minor Swing fits well as a part of her productive lifestyle as both a teacher and as a mother to her ten-year old daughter, who shares her interest in the violin.
Ray started college in Colorado and finished a music degree from Morris Harvey College the year before it became the University of Charleston. He earned a masters in reading from the College of Graduate Studies and a PhD in curriculum and instruction from Marshall University. He retired as a nationally board certified teacher after teaching middle school for thirty years while raising his family. He then taught at UC, where he was the chair of the department of education. He now spends a few days a week teaching reading at Mountaineer Montessori and serves as an adjunct for the Marshall University graduate school, where his newest class is on writing for publication.
Ray said that over the years he played music at every bar on Capitol Street. He has also played with the Contemporary Youth Arts Program and the Charleston Light Opera Guild. He just finished a stint with the CLOG production of Paradise Park, adapted by Danny Boyd and Larry Groce from their original film.
Ray was born in southern Ohio, where his father worked construction and eventually followed building the interstate into West Virginia. His family moved to the Kanawha Valley when he was in junior high. He and his wife have chosen to raise their family and make their home here.