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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Swing into summer with Bloomington-Normal's Sweet Nothings

Three musicians sit and stand in a modern office space with WGLT.org 89.1 FM logo on the wall behind them. Two of the musicians hold guitars, and one holds a brass instrument while seated in a red chair. The atmosphere appears casual and friendly.
Lauren Warnecke
The Sweet Nothings plays live shows at festivals and swing clubs all over Central Illinois. They connected at Jazz UpFront's open mic night.

The Sweet Nothings aren’t the only retro band in Bloomington-Normal, but rockabillies Union Avenue are a few decades ahead of the “trad jazz” standards Trenton Perry loves.

Perry started The Dew Drops with Hannah Rose and Dale Evans, which reformed as Hannah Rose & The Sweet Nothings—and recently rebranded again when singer/songwriter Hannah Rose left to pursue original music. But Perry and his band mates—Allison Thabit on trumpet, upright bassist Joe Holland and Eric Knutilla, who plays a portable washboard/suitcase drum set—are steadfastly committed to early 20th century jazz.

That feels narrow in scope until you start listening to it. Umbrellaed under labels like trad jazz, hot club jazz and jazz manouche, The Sweet Nothings’ sweet spot references early swing musicians like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald and Django Reinhardt, the latter largely credited with bringing New Orleans jazz to Europe and infusing it with French and Romani influences.

Perry calls trad jazz a “deep rabbit hole” he’s been going down since he was a teenager.

“I didn’t really know there were modern players or people who like that kind of music,” Perry said. “Once I found other people who were also down to learn it, it just kind of snowballed.”

Indeed, the band’s busy summer schedule includes several live concerts in Bloomington-Normal. The Sweet Nothings are scheduled to play on the patio at Destihl Beer Hall Friday, May 24, plus sets at the Cogs & Corsets Festival [June 8], at Luther Oaks [June 29], Crafted [Aug. 3], Nightshop[(Aug. 8] and Connie Link Amphitheatre [Sept. 5] — plus more dates throughout Central Illinois.

“Yeah, I overbooked us,” Perry said.

But for The Sweet Nothings, it’s a particularly gratifying hustle.

A split image shows four musicians performing. From left to right: a man playing a trumpet, a man playing an acoustic guitar, a woman singing into a microphone, and a man playing a washboard. They appear to be enjoying their performances.
Trenton Perry
The Sweet Nothings

“My uncle was also a bass player, so I saw this as an opportunity to continue the family tradition,” Holland said. “It’s really fun to play this style of music and danceable music.”

The band plays at swing clubs across the region, supplying the rare luxury of a live band that can adjust tempos in the moment.

“It’s also a great social thing,” Holland said. “You meet tons of people. It’s been really fun.”

“I like to say I infiltrated the swing dancers,” Perry said. He took a class last year and promoted the band, which opened the door to several opportunities for The Sweet Nothings.

Adding trumpetist Alison Thabit to the mix was the cherry on top. Perry, a music therapy graduate student at Illinois State University, met her bandmates playing open mics at Jazz UpFront.

“I didn’t know what opportunities there would be to play this sort of music when I moved here,” Thabit said. “I’ve loved the umbrella of lots of things that fall under the word jazz for a long time. I saw the current iteration of the ghost band of Count Basie Band when I was like 12 or 13. I just loved that. This isn’t big band, obviously, but I’m still taking a lot of inspiration from early big band trumpet playing.”

That could be wah-wahs with a plunger mute, for example, or sometimes swapping her trumpet for a vocal lick. In addition to standards, a Sweet Nothing set list includes a few creative arrangements — like Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination and their closer: a hot club jazz Limp Bizkit cover.

“I like that we get to be a little goofy sometimes; there’s this freewheeling spirit to it,” Thabit said.

The Sweet Nothings play on the patio from 6-9 p.m. Friday at Destihl Beer Hall, 1200 Greenbriar Drrive, Normal. Patio seating is first-come, first-served, plus bring-your-own-chair lawn spots. The band also will appear June 8 at the Cogs & Corsets Festival in Downtown Bloomington .

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.