Switzerland: Male band that's never been to US sings Ella Fitzgerald tunes

Swiss septet travels the Alps singing Dixieland and blues.

Courtesy of Togg Seven
Togg Seven is a Swiss Dixieland band.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

FILISUR, SWITZERLAND - Michael Jackson taught the world how to “moonwalk” without leaving Earth.

So why can’t a Swiss band play American jazz standards and entertain Alpine folk without ever having set foot in the United States?

That’s how the Togg Seven, a male septet from eastern Switzerland, has earned extra income since forming in 2000. And as Fritz Freiinger, a bassist and the group’s lead singer, points out, his countrymen enjoy wondering whether Bill Bailey will “please come home.”

Mr. Freiinger says that few listeners here have studied English or can grasp the subtle lament of a Dixieland tune or mournful blues lyrics. Yet excitement rings in the night air when he croons “Sweet Zoo, Just You” with a distinctly Germanic accent. (When Ella Fitzgerald sang it, it was “Sweet Sue, Just You.”) And the band plays on – to generous applause.

Toggenburg – the valley where Freiinger and two other band members live – is in the canton of St. Gallen. Staunchly conservative, it’s arguably the last place in this country you’d expect to hear music with a foreign ring.

The members of the band all have day jobs ranging from sales executive to schoolteacher to hospital orderly. Two of them are retired. But all are firmly committed to tour gigs and take part in band rehearsals every two weeks.

“What binds us all together,” Freiinger explains, “is our love for music – and especially jazz, swing, and Dixie. Each of us had worked in various bands before, so we weren’t new to tours and public performances.”

Villages like Filisur, high in the Albula Valley, eagerly welcome the Togg Seven. They’ve been invited to perform at the annual festival here for three years running.

Though no septet member has yet visited the New World, it could happen one day. But for now, it’s just as though a New Orleans’ Preservation Hall combo has hit the road on a long-term Alpine goodwill tour.

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