Article by Abe Plaut (Instagram: @abeplaut)
“I love RnB, hip-hop, anything and everything Black music” said Jared Griffin, lead vocalist of Bloomington-based band The Side Hustle. That love of Black music was plain to see for everyone in the crowd that gathered for their first headlining show at The Bluebird on October 19, 2019. Griffin’s voice is nothing if not versatile. Griffin’s voice is one that can be equally comfortable crooning in front of a full jazz big-band or spitting rap lyrics with a live rhythm section. His effectiveness at adjusting his voice to fit the style owes (at least in part) to his experience as both an IU Jazz Studies graduate and IU Soul Revue veteran, and is central to The Side Hustle’s performances. The band draws inspiration for both their original music and covers from across the Black popular music spectrum. A setlist weaving through rock, soul, funk and more brings an effortless cool to the stage. Working the Bloomington music scene for about a year, The Side Hustle’s lively shows draw inspiration from musical artists the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu.
Alex Goldblatt, guitarist and musical director of The Side Hustle, dazzles audiences with melodic soloing and solid rhythm guitar playing. Growing up on classic rock, Goldblatt’s parents made a deal with him. In order to have an electric guitar, he’d have to learn “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. This foundation in rock and roll grounded Goldblatt in a position to understand the history and relevance of his instrument in music today and contributed to Goldblatt’s current love affair with Funk and RnB artists including Frank Ocean and Parliament-Funkadelic. Goldblatt excels not just as a performer. His arranging skills contributed to virtually all the music that audiences hear from The Side Hustle, and the cues he gave the band were clear enough that even dancers in the crowd were able to catch hits and endings. Currently an undergraduate student studying classical guitar, Goldblatt’s musicianship comes through not only serving the song, but also his bandmates through his playing, arranging, and directing on stage.
Sammy Haig’s trumpet playing brings a certain liveliness and authenticity that’s hard to put into words. When The Side Hustle is playing covers of top 40 hits or classic RnB records, Haig doesn’t shy away from horn riffs and melodic lines that stay true to the originals just as he does in the IU Soul Revue horn section. His skills really shine as an improviser though, drawing on his background in bebop and blues as an IU Jazz Studies major. Experimenting with live performance using effect pedals, Haig makes artful use of a BOSS reverb pedal to help build up his sound and add body to the performance.
Matthew Zelenin, keyboardist with The Side Hustle, has a background in classical piano. In music lessons before he was six years old, Zelenin has been fostering a love for music for his whole life. Finding jazz as a way to improvise, pianists like Bill Evans and Chick Corea inspire him to continue developing his improvisational voice. With a modern digital piano Zelenin has a symphony of sounds at his disposal, all of which help play a part in creating a soundscape for the rest of the band to blend with. Whether accompanying the vocals with lush Hammond organs and classic electric pianos or taking a soaring solo to new heights with to synth leads that cut through the entire band, Zelenin makes full use of the sounds available to him. The art of accompanying, or “comping”, is not something that comes naturally to every keyboardist. True masters of comping are able to highlight the strength of all the musicians they share the stage with. Zelenin’s study of the greats, as well as his own experience as a vocalist and vocal arranger with IU’s Another Round A Capella group contribute to his understanding of how to bring out the best in everybody he performs with, and avoid overpowering any of his bandmates.
The Side Hustle’s rhythm section is held down by brothers Ian and Eric Ottinger (bass and drum set). Keeping a tight lock on the groove as the band played through seamless mashups and improvised solo sections, the Ottingers both show great versatility on their instrument. This helps them keep the sound of the band at once both authentic and traditional, as well as forward looking and visionary. A reimagined version of “Rude” by MAGIC! as up-tempo ska really drove this point home and proved that The Side Hustle doesn’t compromise on integrity and quality of the music played. Honoring music that came before them and helping to define the future of music in Bloomington, The Side Hustle never fails to entertain their audiences. See their performance with IU’s Tiny Dorm Concerts and look for @_sidehustle_ on Instagram and Facebook for more.