Youngstown's Unc D Turning Mumble Jazz Into International Sensation

Up-and-coming act plays Grog Shop on June 4

click to enlarge Thin Thicket (left) and Unc D. - Justin Stellmar
Justin Stellmar
Thin Thicket (left) and Unc D.
Back in 2021, “BLDNTHNDR,” a single from Youngstown-based jazz artist Unc D, debuted on two of Spotify's top editorial playlists for jazz (Jazztronica and All New Jazz). With no budget, Unc D produced, composed, edited, mixed and “unmastered” the song using an iPad Mini. The single featured local jazz artists such as Tommy Lehman (Acid Cats, Nathan-Paul & the Admirables), Danny Svenson (Spirit of the Bear, Labra Brothers), Gino West (Jones for Revival, Larry Elefante) and John Polace (People in the Daytime).

At that time, Danny Svenson, who produces music as Thin Thicket, and Unc D launched Mofidelity, a label with a specific focus on releasing a brand-new ringtone every week.

“With Mo Fidelity, we started a ringtone club that got us going in terms of quantity,” says Unc D via phone from Svenson’s Bearcave Recording in Youngstown where he and Svenson were mixing an improv session featuring two different groups of local musicians. Unc D performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 4, at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights. “We have since switched our focus to jazz. Now, in terms of the label, we want to get people to collaborate with us as individual artists, so that we can share the visibility of Spotify playlists. Mainly, in Cleveland, we have been lucky to work in this way with artists such as Nathan-Paul Davis and Tommy Lehman and internationally with Amsterdam jazz producer Stan Van Dijk. We are conscious about our collaborations and use that as an asset; we make sure every musician involved is always tagged as a featured artist to ensure visibility."

“We want to give others access to the ways we operate and how we work with Spotify,” adds Svenson. “People now have more options and possibilities for opening up their audiences. So much of that is just releasing as music as possible.”

Since the success of “BLDNTHNDR,” Unc D. has had about 40 songs added to Spotify editorial playlists including Jazztronica, Jazz-Funk (of which his photo was the cover for Sep. 2022), State of Jazz, Lofi Beats, All New Jazz, Lofi Cafe, Turntable and Best Jazz Songs of 2022. Additionally, his music has since been added to editorial playlists on Apple Music, Youtube Music, BBC One Radio and NPR Music, including NPR's New Music Friday and Jazz Night: On the List playlists.

An international audience is listening.

“The only Ohio city on our top 100 on Spotify is Columbus, but Youngstown and Cleveland are not even in the top 100,” says Unc D. “Right now, London, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Tokyo are at the top of the list — despite [the tunes] being recorded for zero dollars in beautiful Youngstown, Ohio.”

Since May 2022 Unc D. has released a new song every Friday, resulting in great growth in his audience base but also my own growth as an artist as he’s learned how to quickly and efficiently create and release music, which he calls Mumble Jazz.

“It’s mixing jazz scatting with autotune and modern hip-hop,” says Unc D. “It’s like George Benson scatting while playing guitar but with Auto-Tune in the background of hop-hop. Every Mumble Jazz song has 808 drums too. We invented it even though people on Reddit, Instagram and the internet like to tell me I didn’t. It’s a provocative term on purpose. That’s our artistic statement. Jazz doesn’t have to be an elitist thing. I feel like I’m the white trash version of jazz. We’re not educated.”

Going forward in 2023, Unc D plans to release new music every week and has six albums he intends to release in the coming year. The forthcoming F’uncstown will serve as his jazz-funk tribute to Youngstown.

“Every song is called 'Youngstown' with a number,” says Unc D when asked about the album. “The intention is to bury Bruce Springsteen [who has a song called ‘Youngstown’] by making it difficult to find his song on Spotify. Personally, I don’t think that’s how Youngstown should be represented. It should be — and is — funky, not depressed and out-of-options.”

Unc D also says more Mumble Jazz albums will come out during the summer too.

“There are so many things coming out,” he says. “There will always be a Mumble Jazz album coming out because that is our signature.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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