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Hot Sardines Heat Up the Holidays

The eight-piece throwback jazz band likely to get feet moving in special Ritz-Carlton performance

Why is the sound of old jazz making new waves? Elizabeth Bougerol of The Hot Sardines has a simple explanation.

“It’s a joyous, connective experience,” said the Sardines’ singer. “And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

Launched in 2007 when Bougerol and co-founder Evan Palazzo were drawn together over a mutual love for jazz icons such as Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, The Hot Sardines have established themselves as one of the hottest jazz ensembles in New York City.

Coming at the classic sound as a livewire of impeccably tight musicianship, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of tunes like The Andrews Sister’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered with actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sexy cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.”

A Sardines’ performance is both an auditory and visual feast of energy, all eight members of the band hitting individual bright notes that fit into the rich flow while the marionette moves of tap dancer AC Lincoln are so oddly cool and hypnotizing that one cannot help but become entranced, tapping one’s own toes if not leaping up and grabbing a dance partner.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: The Hot Sardines (photo: Steve Pope)

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, gathering enthusiastic ballrooms full of new fans everywhere they go. Their 2014 self-titled album debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and remained there for more than a year and 2016’s French Fries and Champagne debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Jazz Traditional Chart, No. 6 on Jazz Current & Top 20 Heatseekers Chart and was No. 1 on both iTunes & Amazon jazz charts. Roll into one of their local NYC gigs and find an audience comprised mostly of millennials, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920. The crowds at their road performances comprise of every generation of jazz fan – from high schoolers to life-long connoisseurs who may have eye-witnessed a performance by Ray Charles or Ella Fitgerald in their younger years.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol said. “They heard it in a commercial. Their grandmother played it. The stories in this music are so universal and timeless. When it’s live, there is something in it. To be in a room [or tent] with a three-piece brass section, there is something new every time.”

As a testament to this and also to The Hot Sardines’ unerring improvisation skills, during their Vail debut last summer, the electricity went out for several minutes, cutting the volume level into a whisper while the band did not miss a stride or a note. Palazzo, whose voice has unbelievable carrying capacity, seamlessly moved from piano to vocals, turning in his seat and projecting his voice out to the crowd as the horn section ramped up its blows. A pair of acoustic numbers took on fresh excitement until the power was restored and the band’s harmony and fiery movement locked smoothly back into full volume.

Not only did this make for truly impressive entertainment, but it also proves Bougerol’s point about the music’s potential for connecting people, which is certainly not a quality possessed by all artists, genres or even subsets of jazz.

“If you think of some of the more recent jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music,” Bougerol said. “So it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily. There’s something in this music. Every so often someone will pay us a compliment that reminds me of how special it is. One person came up after a gig and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That was pretty cool.”

Vail Jazz Holiday Dance Party with The Hot Sardines – Dec. 27

The Hot Sardines return to the Vail Valley for the holiday event of the season – a live performance and dance party at The Ritz-Carton Bachelor Gulch on Dec. 27. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and performance/dance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $90 and include two drinks each. For more information, visit the event page or call 970-479-6146.

GET TICKETS HERE.

Jazz and the 18th Amendment

In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that attempts by well-meaning crusaders to bring about social change for the good of society had in many instances instead caused a perverse result. Known as the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” it is usually cited to support the notion that even the best intentions can cause negative, unanticipated outcomes.

A case in point is the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It became the law of the land on Jan. 17, 1920 and ushered in the era of Prohibition. Known as the “noble experiment,” its proponents claimed that the banning of alcohol would bring about a reduction in crime and corruption, solve social problems related to alcoholism, improve Americans’ health and lessen the needs for prisons and poorhouses. Here was the textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Crime soared along with the corruption of public officials as the “mob” took over the liquor industry, tax revenue declined (liquor sales had been previously heavily taxed), people died from drinking adulterated alcohol and while social problems weren’t solved, a whole new set of problems arose.

However, Merton also noted that not all unintended consequences had to be negative. In fact, there was one very beneficial outcome of Prohibition, at least from my prospective; it caused the popularity of jazz to skyrocket. How so? The 18th Amendment may have outlawed the sale of liquor, but it didn’t legislate again thirst and the desire to have a good time. With bars and saloons closing in January 1920, a completely new set of establishments began to open to meet the demands of a thirsty public determined to drink and have a good time. These clandestine bars became known as speakeasies (you had to whisper to gain access and when you were in public you were supposed to “speak easy” about their location) and they were everywhere. It is estimated that there were many more illegal drinking dens operating during Prohibition than there were legal drinking establishments before Prohibition.

Competition for customers was fierce and it was the first time in the U.S. that races were allowed to intermingle. A customer’s race, class or social standing being immaterial, as long as the customer could pay the tab. With so much competition, bar operators had to differentiate themselves to attract new customers and they began to feature musical entertainment. Since frequenting an illegal bar had a certain cachet, what better music to present than something illicit and sinful like jazz. The so-called “devil’s music” that originated in the “sporting houses” of Storyville in New Orleans, was compelling and captivating and fit the “outlaw” vibe of these establishments. Jazz broke all the rules, musically and socially – improvisation over structure, the mixing of the races, forbidden venues vs. concert halls – the perfect music for a rapidly changing America. Speakeasies became the places where jazz was presented and the mob was more than willing to hire black jazz musicians, so long as the customers kept coming back, and they did, to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Whiteman, and many more. Jazz became the popular music of the day, putting the “sin in syncopation,” as one critic noted.

While prohibition was enacted at the beginning of the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” it was also the beginning of a tumultuous period of cultural revolution in America and F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly named the era the “Jazz Age.” Change was underway with Americans leaving rural areas to settle in urban centers, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans leaving the South for the cities of the North in what became known as the “Great Migration.” Women had just secured the right to vote and were rebelling against the conservatism of the Victorian era. With new clothing, hairstyles, smoking cigarettes in public and driving their own cars, these “flappers” were declaring their independence with a “modern” view of morals and had new music to listen to and dance to. Dancing became an entirely new endeavor and jazz was the music that was danced to. No longer were partners held in a formal way, instead, there was a no “holds barred” approach with the new seductive dances such as the Charleston, Lindy, Shimmy, Cake Walk, Black Bottom and Turkey Trot all in vogue. Jazz became the soundtrack of a rebellion and speakeasies were the venues where this exciting music was played and swayed to.

The Roaring Twenties was also a time of remarkable technological advances – the phonograph, radio and talking movies spread the sound of jazz. The first radio station opened in Pittsburgh in 1920 and soon thereafter, there were stations throughout the country broadcasting jazz. It is estimated that there were only 60,000 households with radios in 1922, but 10 million by 1929. In 1917 the first jazz record was made and by the end of the Roaring Twenties, records had spread the sound of jazz to every corner of the nation. The first “talkie” movie was made in 1927, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed in 1927 blending jazz with the sound of a symphony. It clearly was the “Jazz Age.”

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted repealing Prohibition. By then the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression was underway … but jazz was everywhere.

At 6 p.m. on July 5 Vail Jazz presents The Hot Sardines in Lionshead. This 8-piece band will take the audience back to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era in a very hip and modern adaptation of the hot jazz of the Roaring 20s and beyond.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Sizzling sounds of the swing revivalists

Fiery and slick, The Hot Sardines open Vail Square series

Growing up in France, attending school in London and settling in New York City, Elizabeth Bougerol had arrived into the corporate world with every intention to “be the girl with the steady job.” Then Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong began beckoning her from the past … toward the future.

“I listened obsessively to this stuff, kind of in secret,” Bougerol says. “There was no grand plan of starting a band and touring.”

Bougerol and New York City native Evan Palazzo met after responding to a Craigslist ad for a jazz jam session. The two immediately bonded over their love for early jazz.

“Each of us had an itch to find others to play this music with. We started going to open mic nights, adding musicians and developing material,” Bougerol says.

The Hot Sardines were born. It was 2007. With Palazzo on stride piano and Bougerol on vocals after “secretly” refining her voice to the unique inflections of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, it wasn’t long before the band was headlining at Lincoln Center and heralded as one of the greatest jazz acts to come out of New York City.

Typically recording and performing as an eight-piece ensemble, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of The Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sultry cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.” While the Sardines have produced numerous originals that range from rollicking instrumental masterpieces to country western-twanged romance numbers and have doctored up rock classics with fiery brass flare and swinging verses, they specialize in the 100-year-old jazz sound. Coming at it with impeccably tight musicianship from every individual on stage – including the lightning-fast marionette moves of the live tap dancer – the band breathes new life into the early jazz style.

When asked why it means so much to her to bring back the old jazz sound, Bougerol says she finds the question “deeply philosophical.”

“I haven’t arrived at a definitive theory,” she says. “This music is about connection. It’s very welcoming music. If you think of some of the more recent jazz or later jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music … it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily.”

She points out that in its historical incubation phase, jazz music and pop music were one and the same.

“It was pop music for a reason. It’s a joyous, connective experience. And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, making connections and gathering new fans everywhere they go. Their 2014 self-titled album debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and remained there for more than a year and 2016’s French Fries and Champagne debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Jazz Traditional Chart, No. 6 on Jazz Current & Top 20 Heatseekers Chart and was No. 1 on both iTunes & Amazon jazz charts. Roll into any of their gigs and you will find an audience comprised mostly of the young and the young at heart, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol says. They heard it in a commercial. Their grandmother played it. The stories in this music are so universal and timeless. When it’s live, there is something in it. To be in a room [or tent] with a three-piece brass section, there is something new every time.”

To better exemplify the connective power of a Hot Sardines performance, Bougerol relays a compliment she was recently paid by an audience member.

“One person came up and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That gives you a clue about the connection. It’s really special.”

The Hot Sardines in Vail

Don’t miss the eight-piece force of swinging vigor, tap dancer and all, that is The Hot Sardines. The New York City-based ensemble performs at 6 p.m. July 5 at Vail Square in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $25, preferred seats $40 and premium seats $50. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, the performance kicks off the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, which takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 23 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

GET TICKETS HERE.