Led by vocalist/songwriter/musician Stefanie Seskin, New Jersey's Blue Number Nine is an interracial soul/funk outfit with a strong ‘70s influence. Seskin isn't necessarily an R&B purist where Blue Number Nine is concerned; there are, at times, traces of rock, pop, and jazz in their work. But soul/funk is the primary direction of Blue Number Nine -- who have sometimes been compared to the equally ‘70s-minded Brand New Heavies -- and Seskin obviously gets a lot of inspiration from an era in which Rufus & Chaka Khan, Labelle (Patti LaBelle's ‘70s vocal trio with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash), Maze & Frankie Beverly, and the Average White Band reigned supreme on the R&B charts. Seskin's funk isn't the gutbucket, over-the-top funk that Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, and the late Rick James were famous for in their heyday; rather, Seskin favors what was called "sophisticated funk" back in the ‘70s -- that is, the sort of gritty yet polished funk associated with Rufus/Khan, Maze, AWB, and Philadelphia International Records.
Seskin formed Blue Number Nine in September 1995; by that time, she had a résumé that included, among other things, a stint playing bass for the New York City band Bill Popp & the Tapes in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Seskin does most of the bass playing on Popp & the Tapes' first album, Popp This, which singer/songwriter Popp released on his own label, 121st Street Records in 1990. With Popp's band, Seskin played his songs and embraced a very British Invasion-influenced, ‘60s-minded style of pop/rock along the lines of the Beatles, the Yardbirds, and the Zombies -- and Seskin's ability to go from playing in Popp's band to forming a soul/funk outfit about half-a-decade later underscores her versatility. But while there are major stylistic differences between Bill Popp & the Tapes and Blue Number Nine, the two bands have one thing in common: both of them reflect the creative visions of their leaders. Just as Bill Popp & the Tapes is Popp's baby, Blue Number Nine is very much Seskin's baby, and she has worn many different hats in her band, including lead vocalist, songwriter (she writes or co-writes most of the material), producer, engineer, flutist, keyboardist, alto saxophonist, clarinetist, and percussionist. Blue Number Nine's debut album was released on Berger Platters Records in 2000; that CD was followed by 2001's Saving Spot (a live album) and 2003's On a Shoestring, both on Check Other Music. Along the way, Seskin's band has had more than its share of lineup changes; in 2004, Seskin was the only remaining original member, and the East Coast musicians joining her in Blue Number Nine included Marco Accattatis on bass and background vocals, Sal Carrubba on guitar, Ada Rovatti on tenor sax, Nabate Isles on trumpet, Rob Susman on trombone, Sheila Connors, Camari Frame, and Joel Hirsch on percussion and background vocals, and Jack M. Gourdine on drums,. ~ Alex Henderson