The Mash Potato Mashers will parade for their final time on Friday, April 4, after four years of never standing still.

Mike Essoudry leads the Mashers in a crowd-pleasing outdoor concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival ©Alayne McGregor, 2012
Mike Essoudry leads the Mashers in a crowd-pleasing outdoor concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival ©Alayne McGregor, 2012

Masher leader Mike Essoudry told that the April 4 gig at Irene's Pub – where the band was a perennial favourite – would be the band's last.

“It was a great run, a great time. We had a [cross-Canada] tour, records. It was really fun. And I thought, if it's not going to be that fun and we can't work on stuff, then we can stop.”

One consistent description of the eight-piece marching band has been “fun”. No sitting down and looking serious. No sheet music (they memorize their entire repertoire). In performance they're constantly on the move, whether playing in the street at jazz festivals or shimmying through local clubs, and making the audience laugh with their musical and non-musical antics.

But managing a band that size is “difficult”, Essoudry said. “It used to be very easy, at the beginning of that band: the organization was easy, the gigs were very easy. It was easy to do the work when stuff was coming in; it was really great."

“But it was just getting harder and it was getting stressful for me to think about it. I'd get a call for a gig and then I'd email people and then I wouldn't get replies for days. And it's like I can't be chasing people. So that got a little frustrating that way. And I know people are busy: I know two kids have been born in the time and things have happened. Craig [Pedersen] has moved to Montreal, and the first drummer quit the band.”

He decided now was the time to leave. “But it was great. We had a really great time. It was fun; it was a good thing. It was a unique thing for Ottawa.”

The Mashers' sound was certainly unique: a mash-up of jazz and Balkan and klezmer and New Orleans and Brazilian music – and even the Canadian folk classic, “The Black Fly Song”. Essoudry arranged all the music and composed much of it.

The group opened the 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festival and played there again the following year, as well as at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival. In 2012, they toured across Canada, from B.C. to Newfoundland, including performing seven outdoor concerts at the Montreal Jazz Festival. They also released two albums, and played frequently in local clubs.

If you'd like to hear Essoudry play more Balkan-inspired music in the future, your best bet will be Linsey Wellman's Wedding and Funeral Trio, which debuted at the end of 2013 and has a somewhat similar sound. The trio, with Wellman (also a Mashers member), Essoudry, and bassist Joe Hincke, performs occasionally around Ottawa-Gatineau. However, Essoudry emphasized that it had its own repertoire and would not be playing any of the Masher compositions and arrangements.

    – Alayne McGregor

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