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Alumni follow the music to become The Dirty River Dixie Band

February 3, 2016

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As leader of The Dirty River Dixie Band—a traditional style jazz band from San Antonio—Chris Alvarado ’13 has been playing music since he was in fifth grade. Originally an engineering major at TLU, a conversation with Band Director Beth Bronk forever changed his path.

“She asked me to think of the only thing I did that I could see myself doing every day for the rest of my life,” said Alvarado, band director at Oak Run Middle School in New Braunfels. “It was then that I realized I wanted to do music. Professor Bronk helped get me on that degree track and it blossomed from there.”

Like several of his band mates, Alvarado is a TLU alumnus. Inspired by their mentor and famed San Antonio musician Jim Cullum of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, The Dirty River Dixie Band’s sound also draws from legends like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Duke Heitger.

With Alvarado on drums and vocals, as well as writing and arranging most of their music, the band is co-led by cornet player Kris Vargas. Backing them are trombone player Ian Anderson ’14, saxophone player Anthony Guzman, pianist Trevor Roming, guitarist Richard Laabs, pianist Frank Cano, and upright bassist Tim Canalichio ’14. Currently, all group members are under age 25.

Alvarado, Anderson, Laabs, and Canalichio all met as students in TLU’s music program.

“I had never played jazz drums before going to TLU and I met the guys in jazz band,” Alvarado said. “When Jim Cullum came and played a concert, we were all instantly interested in that style of music. We realized no one was really playing that type of Dixieland jazz where we are in South Central Texas.”

Despite growing up playing music in band, Anderson said he didn’t truly love it until he came to TLU. Anderson—the assistant band director at Judson Middle School in San Antonio—gained a deeper appreciation for music because of his professors.

“The thing that stands out the most about the TLU music program, for example, is that you’re not just in wind ensemble,” Anderson said. “I was in that and in jazz band, and in trombone lab and quartets and orchestra. I did everything. That wide range of experiences and challenges plus all of the hands-on help from professors was awesome.If you want to get better at your skill and your craft, TLU is great place to do that.”

Not all of the band’s members were music majors in college. Currently pursuing his master’s degree in construction engineering and project management at the University of Texas at Austin, Canalichio was a physics major at TLU. He has had a passion for playing music ever since he joined his school’s orchestra in the sixth grade.

“Being part of the TLU music program while pursuing another major ended up being great for my personal well-being,” Canalichio said. “I met new people, I was able to enjoy playing music, and I was definitely forced to develop some time-management skills. The thing I enjoy most about jazz is the freedom it gives you while playing, but not just in terms of the notes you're playing. It also relieves you from the daily pressures of life.”

As the band continues to gain momentum on the local music scene, Alvarado said it’s truly satisfying to book gigs and play for live audiences.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling to have our debut album, ‘Dipper Mouth’ on iTunes after years of playing in garage bands or folk bands just for fun,” Alvarado said. “This has flourished into something bigger and we’re getting our name out there. We even come up on Pandora if you’re listening to music that sounds like ours. Our band’s main goal is to bring high energy and expertise to a style of music that some have forgotten. Jazz is one of America’s only original art forms and The Dirty River Dixie Band is the future of this traditional jazz art form.”

About The Dirty River Dixie Band

The Dirty River Dixie Band performs all over central Texas at venues like Sam’s Burger Joint, The Esquire Tavern, Luna Jazz Club, Bar 1919, Boardwalk Bistro, The Cove, The Texas Theatre, and many others. They have also been featured at Music Festivals like the San Antonio Oyster Bake, San Antonio Deco District Art and Music Fest, and numerous events at San Antonio’s Historic Market Square. They are the winners of the 2015 Network for Young Artists Battle of the Bands, as well as the 2014 first runner-up. Their latest album, “Dipper Mouth,” was released in July 2015 and they will be recording their follow-up album in summer 2016.

For booking information, contact Chris Alvarado at or 830-485-8055.

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