New York Jazz Trio’s New Songs Named After Pennsylvania Disaster Towns

To call Moppa Elliott’s approach to music composition “loose” might be an understatement.

The Pennsylvania native is a music teacher at Information Technology High School in Long Island City, NY, and the bassist for the jazz collective Most of the time, other people do the Murderwhich will perform in Pittsburgh on February 23 at City of Asylum in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

One thing Keystone State residents will instantly notice about Elliott’s discography is that all of his original songs are named after Pennsylvania boroughs, townships, cities, and municipalities.

“A long time ago I made the decision that the song titles, especially for the instrumentals, are kind of silly or kind of a weird minefield,” said Elliott, who grew up in Factoryville near Scranton. “There’s the ‘program’ aspect, where you give the music a title to evoke something in the mind of the audience. But when I listen to Debussy, I don’t know French, and I have no idea what the title of the song means, but it’s moving nonetheless.

The musicians of Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Elliott, pianist Rob Stabinsky and Fox Chapel graduate drummer Kevin Shea – gravitate heavily towards improvisational music, performing tunes rooted in jazz tradition, but also highly improvised and not structured.

“Over the past 16 years, this band has evolved into a way of playing where any of us, at any time, could start playing whatever comes into our heads,” Elliott said. “And the other members will consciously decide whether to follow him or not.”

The result is a sonic atmosphere that may begin with jumps or grooves, only for the ground to begin to shake as Shea’s drums begin to smash in a new direction that may not be the same meter, tempo, or style. .

With all that shaky ground, it makes sense that the band’s new record is titled “Disasters, Vol. 1,” with each song named after a Pennsylvania town with a troubled past — think Three Mile Island, Johnstown, Centralia , etc

A song like “Johnstown” begins in a fairly traditional fashion, with a sing-song piano and soft bass. But after about a minute, the drums start to get a little jittery, and for much of the rest of the song, it’s almost like Shea’s percussion is trying to break down the walls of the melody, kinda as water broke the South Fork Dam in 1889. .

Shea’s work on drums creates the kind of musical tension that Elliott said the band strives to create in live performances as well.

“That tension comes from deciding whether the other band members will bail out that person when they head in a different direction,” he said. “It creates this constant back-and-forth where everyone has the freedom to play whatever they want, and it helps generate some of those impossible-to-compose moments.”

On some nights, a set of Mostly Other People Do the Killing will start with one of Elliott’s songs, “then we’ll walk around to a pop tune, play another original, do a classic song, then we’ll move on to another sound space,” Elliott said.

Even in the process of recording the disc “Disasters”, “Centralia” and “Johnstown” were actually part of a long, single take, which was eventually split into two songs that appear back-to-back on the disc.

Elliott said he was looking forward to returning to his drummer’s hometown.

“Every time we’ve been there, we’ve had a great time,” he said. “The people at City of Asylum are great. And from here we go to Cleveland, where I went to college and spent my formative years playing gigs.

With the recent collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge, it’s possible Pittsburgh will make an appearance in a future episode of “Disasters.”

Elliott was coy about it.

“Well, we called it ‘Vol. 1’ for a reason,” he said.

In-person and online tickets to Mostly Other People Do the Killing are free at

Patrick Varine is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Grace D. Erickson