Head Spins: DJ A-Train

DJ A-Train's name alone will tell you where this cat's coming from. Like the Big Bad Apple's most fabled locomotive, his sound slips straight outta far-east Brooklyn, roars through the downtown underground, and finds light uptown, at the foot of Harlem's ever-shaking Sugar Hill. And like the Strayhorn standard that became the Ellington signature song, it's got the bop-tinged swing that speaks of hot nights on the big town. But it also brings back a bit of Brubeck's Cali-cool updating of that great American classic, the place where coasts collide and come up with a whole new magic.

In other words, DJ A-Train plays a beat-fused amalgam of jazz, blues, funk, and soul that finds its true calling under the umbrella of hip-hop. You've heard him holding forth at Vagabond for Tuesday's Stone Groove and Saturday's Back Door Bamby. You may also have caught him at Karu & Y or Mansion or Hard Rock or B.E.D. or any one of the other hot spots he's hit over his three years of spinning in South Florida. And no matter where you've heard him, you've never forgotten how he shook the night.

Born in backwoods Tennessee and raised in Gainesville, A-Train first became hip to DJ culture on a long trip to Tokyo. Struck by the light and the energy, the minute A-Train got back to G-ville, he hijacked his sister's turntables and swiped a stack of records from a few good friends and immediately set his life on spin. Before long, A-Train outgrew the town that gave him his start, and like many an inspired talent before him, he headed south, where every speck of sand seems to represent another night waiting to be set off.

Three months or so ago, A-Train assembled a team and set up shop at Vagabond for Stone Groove, where a crack band of players backs a mic that is as open as the minds behind the night's big idea. As for the DJ sounds, he plays classics that include the whole of the Great American Songbook, be they bebop or hip-hop.

Still, A-Train bases his beats on the street side of the equation, but that doesn't mean he won't swing with any suitable genre, just so long as it's got soul. You need proof? Catch the cat on a Tuesday as he drops a kaleidoscopic array of killer tracks or out back under the sky on a Saturday night, when that circus called Back Door Bamby hits town. Inside, outside, it really matters not, because when A-Train spins, he knows your stop.

DJ A-Train's Current Top Five:

1. "Shove It (Switch Remix)," Santogold

2. "Greenlight," John Legend featuring Andre 3000

3. "Universal Mind Control," Common featuring Pharrell

4. "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)," Dawn Penn

5. "Doing It to Death, Pt. 1," the J.B.s featuring Fred Wesley

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John Hood