It would have been impossible for the audience at this Schaeffer Center concert not to have been overwhelmed with the eclectic performance by the Hot Sardines jazz ensemble. The program was part of An Appalachian Summer Festival. This band plays mainly in a traditional Dixieland style dating from 1917, when the first jazz record was published; they also delve into the advent of the so-called Swing era of the 1930s and early 1940s.
The eight-piece ensemble was directed by co-leaders and founders French born singer Elizabeth Bougerol, who also acted as MC, and pianist Evan Palazzo. Fittingly, the opening vocal number was "I Love Paris" (Cole Porter), sung by Bougeral – in French – as a gentle Latin balled that subtly morphed into an up-tempo Dixieland/swing rhythmic masterpiece that featured the brilliant tap dancer A.C. Lincoln. It is heartening to see a revival of the almost lost art of tap dancing in a jazz context; it is also highly entertaining, as the audience demonstrated with an abundance of enthusiasm during the two hour-long sets.
The dynamic art of swing was illustrated fabulously in the group's version of "Bei Mir Bistu Shein" (Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda); Bougeral's timing and articulation (i.e., the art of swing) on this piece should be an object lesson for all jazz musicians. The exceptional talents of the very tight horn section consisting of Todd Londagin on trombone, Paul Brandenburg on trumpet and Ben Golder-Novick on saxophone and clarinet were introduced early on in the show. Several pieces featured short interactive four- or eight-bar exchanges with the singer and each other as well as extended instrumental solos; these improvisations usually included the tap dancing that added rhythmic character to the performance.
The ballad "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" (Charles Warfield) featured a melodic introduction by bassist Jim Greene and very articulate trumpet solo that well complemented Bougeral's vocal. Duke Ellington's classic "Caravan" ended the first set with a tasty drum solo and a dynamic exchange of rhythmically innovative eight-bar phrases between David Berger on congas and tap dancer A.C. Lincoln. One of the delights of the second set was Bougeral's rendition of the classic ballad "After You've Gone" (Turner Layton) that ultimately became transformed by A.C. Lincoln from a gentle song of love and suffering into an intricate polyrhythmic tap dance.
The leaders' fascination with pianist, composer and entertainer Fats Waller was evident in both sets. "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" featured an expressive bass solo from Jim Reed and Bougeral taking up the washboard, thus adding an extra rhythmic syncopation to the piece, much to the audience's delight! Evan Palazzo finally had the chance to demonstrate his skills both as a pianist and vocalist on the classic "Lulu's Back in Town."
The conclusion is that jazz (America's "Classical Music"?) can be a highly entertaining show as well as a cerebral art form. On an interesting note, to quote Elizabeth Bougeral, she wanted "Hot" in the name of the band to indicate the type of jazz they played. Inspired by a tin of "spicy sardines" that she had found at a grocery in Queens, New York, the band was thus called The Hot Sardines. They are all terrific musicians and a wonderful asset to jazz lovers everywhere!
An Appalachian Summer Festival continues through August 4. For details, see our calendar.