Duke Ellington

Jenny

Niko Red Star was driving one day and saw an accordion player on the side of the street.

“She had her case out and she had a little forlorn look in here eye,” Niko Red Star says. “I was like you know what? I’ll see if she’ll play with my band.”

Niko Red Star starts packing away his double-bass as he looks over at her.

“Jenny’s been a musician around the area for quite a while. That’s Jenny’s buddy-friend Kent,” he says as he points to the young man standing next to her. “They come together as a package deal and he plays guitar.”

Niko Red Star walks out of City Tavern to finish packing the instruments. Kent stands behind Jenny, texting as she leans against a post, still swinging with half-closed eyes.

“We’re more or less a package deal on a personal level, I mean we’re dating,” she says.

Jenny and Kent freelance for The Southland Swing Band and tonight is his first show with them. She has played the accordion for a few gigs. Kent, a jazz student at UNT, performs in rock groups and fusion groups.

“He is incredibly talented and has his own groups and performs a lot around the area,” she says.

Jenny started taking accordion lessons when she was seven. Eventually she started taking piano and voice. Jenny, from Fort Worth, started playing on streets, stages and festival stages since she was 11 or 12.

“I got a business degree in college. I didn’t study music,” she says. “I’ve just been taking lessons and performing all my life so. This is what I do.”

She’ll teach private lessons every so often, but is primarily a performer.

“I’m a songwriter,” she says. “There are a lot of different ways I get out there and do my thing, you know?”

Jenny has been on many tours and in countless instances where she did not have a place to stay the night. People at the venue will offer her to stay with them. The coolest place she has stayed was with a friend in the Los Angeles area.

“We stayed at his place one time on tour and he has this incredibly interesting house and a yacht and took us out on the water, it was really neat,” she says. “The whole band was just having a great time and he took us to some neat places in town it was a great, bizarre experience, like we’re sitting on a yacht tonight, okay!”

There have been other times when she hasn’t felt welcome at various gigs. One time, someone even shorted her money.

“That was maybe one of the worst things just because I typically have I do just have a lot of faith in people and humanity and venues,” she says.

It doesn’t happen often, but one time it did and it really hurt her personally, as an artist and someone working with the venue. There wasn’t anything she could do except brush it off and say “okay that happened but I’m not going to let it get me down next gig.”

“And maybe you just choose not to play there again,” she says. “That’s really the way it goes.”

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The Southland Swing Band, Dallas, Swing Dance, Swing Music, Dallas Jazz, City Tavern

Niko Red Star

When he’s not acting in, producing or writing horror films, Niko Red Star is the bass player and band manager for the gypsy jazz, swing and Dixieland playing band The Southland Swing Band. Tonight, instead of packing away costumes and camera equipment, he packs up instruments after an incredible performance-ending rendition of “It don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington.

“Duke Ellington has a special little place in my heart,” he says. “I love his compositions. You can swing the crap right out of them. It starts getting people shaking their booty’s, getting drunk and it’s a lot of fun.”

Niko Red Star has been playing upright bass for nearly ten years, since around the time he arrived in Dallas.

“I’m from a wee little country town smack dab in the middle of California,” Niko says, pressing his thumb and forefinger together to emphasize the size after finishing casing the bass. “I guess fate and destiny brought me out here.”

The trained musician is multi-talented, receiving a scholarship at SMU where he completed a degree in classical music. Now, he has had The Southland Swing Band together for around two years. Niko Red Star and his band swing their way around Dallas as much as they can with a small band and large band. Tonight, Niko brought out his small group.

“At times we actually have a full horn section with three horns, a saxophone, trombone and clarinet,” Niko says.

Their audience is generally very receptive. It’s good music and makes people happy. People want to dance to it and so do they, though tonight the small crowd seems preoccupied and few people are dancing.

“We get a lot of swing dancing because this is all time drinking music,” Niko Red Star says.

Marketing, Chief Marketing Officer, Dallas, Downtown Dallas, Rancher, Entrepreneur, City Tavern

Nathan Bellah

A man with shaggy hair, a beard and nice clothes sits alone at a table in City Tavern drinking his first cocktail of the night listening to the live music, The Southland Swing Band. But mostly, he’s listening to the conversations around him, wondering who he’ll meet tonight.

Nathan Bellah lives across the street in Third Rail Lofts. He’s an experienced downtown resident and previously lived in the Davis Building and the Mosaic. Buildings within walking distance of the bar.

A while back, he bought a house in East Dallas for a little while and just sold it. “It was just a hell of a deal man, so I just had to buy,” Nathan says.

Overnight, the housing market in East Dallas boomed, and he knew it was time to sell. The day after he put it on the market, it sold. “I was like, oh shit,” he said. “I don’t have anywhere to go. So I was like, I guess I’ll move back downtown.”

He’s lived downtown for about six months and considers City Tavern his Cheers. He’s met people from all over the country and the world, people in the city for a while on vacation and business trips and people on a two-hour layover who just needed a drink, people who work as janitors and starving artists to elite businessmen and popular musicians. To Nathan, City Tavern is the best place he can meet interesting people and that’s what he’s here to do.

Two young men, barely old enough to drink, walk away from the bar, each holding a beer they look too eager to drink. The band wraps up a song, and Nathan hears the two men mention digital marketing, so he takes the opportunity to strike.

Nathan is a jack of all trades, a human Swiss Army knife. Nathan has two companies. One company is a ranch here in Texas that raises and trains rodeo bulls.

After the initial icebreakers, they start to talk about themselves. The boys mention that they’re from the area and have had hard times finding jobs. They’re full of the dreams of inexperienced entrepreneurs.

“I grew up in Lubbock and I’ve tried to fight those roots for a very long time,” Nathan says. “But after a while, you realize that living in Texas you have to give in to working in either oil or agriculture.” It stemmed from there. We’re blessed. He and his friend, two young guys just like them, were doing well. “I asked my buddy, what do we do with some of this extra money we have. He said to me, ‘You know what? Let’s buy a bull.’”

They all laugh.

“You know, you’re dealing with the salt of the earth,” Nathan said. “The people, in the business have been very helpful, even though you’re competing against them.”

Nathan says that in the business, everybody knows everybody and it’s like a family.

“My buddy and I stick out like sore thumbs,” he says. “You know, he’s covered in tattoos and I wear like New Balances and have some tats too and when we show up, everyone is like ‘oh shit here they come,’ just excited for us to be there. It’s cool.”

Nathan considers himself an entrepreneur from the start. “I guess I’ve always had it in me,” he says. “Just like I’m sure you do too.”

The conversation shifts and the boys talk about themselves some more. They had an idea for a company they wanted to start when they were in school. They weren’t doing too well in their classes, and uninterested in continuing their education, jumped at some advice to pursue their dreams. The dreams failed, and they started to look for other jobs with little success.

Nathan says that like them, he sucked at college, but finished. He grew up in Lubbock and decided to go to Texas Tech for a year, but ended up transferring to the University of North Texas. After bouncing around a few majors, the Entrepreneur decided to double major in rhetorical studies and Spanish, instead of something like business administration.

“I ended up really liking the communications department and the next thing you know I am back in Spanish which I hadn’t taken since junior high, why not get a degree in it?”

Nathan says the coolest thing that probably ever happened was in his first three jobs out of college working for the man, he got laid off. Each one, laid off. One after another. He ended up going to work for The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. Nathan finally landed a job where he wasn’t laid off, but quit instead.

“I met a man who is now 63 working in digital technology with a resume you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “He has been my mentor to this day.”

The man had a small private company in 2005 and asked Nathan to jump on board randomly, so he left Bear Stearns.

“I left this job at corporate America at a company with roots so thick you wouldn’t think anyone could tear the tree down,” Nathan says.

It was the biggest gamble of his life and they still work together to this day. They have made good money together and helped a lot of companies out. It was a good role of the dice.

“I mean this guy headed up the YTK project for the US postal service so his level of knowledge in digital is extensive plus he’s a tinkerer, he’s a genius, let’s say that, he’s a genius,” Nathan says. “He’s got some strategies that he developed that are on the cutting edge of digital marketing. God, that’s so boring to even say, but yeah, we’re going to use him for some things.”

They all have another sip of their drinks and look at the stage as the band begins to play an old Duke Ellington dance hit, “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”

“I always say dance with the person that brought you and he’s just been a good person,” Nathan says, emphasized by a slight Texas drawl.

Nathan jumped ship at the right time since Bear Stearns shut down in the 2008 financial crisis and was sold to JPMorgan Chase.

“I kind of wish I would have been laid off. I would have had a severance package,” he tells the boys. One almost spits out their beer as they snort with laughter.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening now,” Nathan says. You need to be worried about what’s going to happen.”

“How do we do that?” one asks Nathan as the other looks panicky.

“You go and learn, you know, you always learn,” Nathan says. Not the answer they were expecting. “You try to better yourself.”

“We don’t have any money,” they say to Nathan.

“If you can’t gamble on yourself, who can you gamble on? If you can’t gamble on what you love, what can you gamble on?” Nathan says.

Nathan goes on to discuss his most recent gamble, a job as the Chief Marketing Officer for a company he’s launching with his best friend soon. Menguin will be an “online tuxedo rental solution” for all the men in major metro areas that hate to go out to Men’s Warehouse or Joseph A. Bank.  Now you can now go online, build your tuxedo, rent it right there.

“We actually have a technology that will measure within an eighth of an inch using your computer camera,” Nathan said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

The boys show some enthusiasm, ask a few questions about the tech but their eyes sparkled with the hope of a job, from their new mentor. One, shaking, looks at the other who nods. His voice wavers as he asks Nathan for a job.

“That just tells me right there you don’t believe enough in yourself to even go and get higher education, like step outside, change the game, change the game, that’s it,” he says to the bewildered faces. “That’s all I could ever ask. I always say this, impress me. Impress me.”

The boys can tell the conversation is over when Nathan spots a documentary producer he met the week before and walks away.