The Hot Sardines is an American jazz band formed in New York City in 2007 by artistic director, singer and writer Elizabeth Bougerol and artistic director, actor and piano player Evan Palazzo.
Evan, the bandleader and pianist, is a native New Yorker. He began playing piano by ear at age 3 and was beguiled by amateur musicianship his whole life. He had been a student at the Waldorf school in New York City and went on to major in theater and musical theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He developed a passion for jazz in general and playing stridejazz piano in particular. Back in his native New York, making a living as an actor in theatre and film production, he continued working on his music. In 2007 he released an album called Finding His Stride featuring his special brand of stride piano music with a ragtime flavor. For a while Evan was a member of actress/singer Lauren Ambrose's band, The Leisure Class. He appeared in scenes playing the piano in several films, My Brother in 2006, and What Happens in Vegas in 2008. His wife, actress Jennifer Weedon, knowing of Evan's desire to start a jazz band, placed an ad on Craigslist for him. Soon Evan, or "Bibs", as he came to be known, was getting together with other musicians for informal jam sessions.
Elizabeth, the band's frontwoman, vocalist and sometime washboard player, was born in France and grew up in France, the Ivory Coast, and Canada. She has a master's degree from the London School of Economics and a bachelor's degree from Brock University. She was working as an editor of city guides on the web and creating editorial websites (such as Wish You Were Here and the skint) as well as writing freelance for magazines, websites and book projects (she wrote a guide to New England seafood). Like Evan she nurtured a lifelong passion for music, especially pop from the 1920s to 50s, like Fats Waller, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, and was a selftrained singer. She haunted live music venues in New York City, asking one or two favorite bands for a chance to sing with them. Blessed with "a sweet and soulful voice" that brings to mind jazz singers "from another era" she nevertheless got turned down because she had no professional background. She taught herself to play the washboard–jug band style– and began placing ads on Craigslist looking for others who shared her love of early jazz.
Evan and Elizabeth answered the same Craigslist ad for a traditional jazz jam taking place near Times Square in Manhattan. Elizabeth recalls, "when Bibs and I met, it was like an instant musical connection. We started trading stories of songs and singers we loved while growing up, naming our biggest influences and trying out tunes together." They discovered a mutual love of Louis Armstrong and Harlem stride style jazz legend Fats Waller. Elizabeth adds, "It was like everyone else in the room just faded away while we geeked out."
They began getting together to play music for their own enjoyment. A college friend of Evan's heard that they might be looking for a tap dancer for the band and put them in touch with their first tap dancer, Edwin "Fast Eddy" Francisco. Eddy stopped by Evan's house while they were rehearsing and began to tap dance along to the music. Elizabeth accompanied on a DublHandi washboard that she had bought at Ace Hardware. The early Sardines tap-and-washboard percussion section was born. An hour later the three of them left for their first open mic gig at a coffee shop on the last Q train stop in Queens. They had to list a name on the call sheet for their group to perform at the gig. They wanted "hot" in the name to indicate the kind of jazz they played. Inspired by a tin of spicy sardines that Elizabeth had found at a grocery, they called their band The Hot Sardines.
The Hot Sardines played free gigs for friends and at small open-mic venues like the now defunct Banjo Jim's on the Lower East Side. Over the next couple of years the band attracted musicians from prestigious institutions like the Juilliard School and Berklee, accomplished professionals who were not afraid to "get down and dirty" with early American jazz. The core group grew. A turning point came in 2010 when the band performed for the first time at the speakeasy-themed Shanghai Mermaid in Brooklyn.
Elizabeth sings in both English and French and this fact led to one of their next big breaks. In June 2011 Elizabeth got an email saying that someone was looking for a jazz band that performs songs in French for a last minute gig on the upcoming Bastille Day. She submitted a few video clips and they got the job. It turned out that the gig was the Midsummer Night's Swing at Lincoln Center. They performed before 6000 people and brought down the house. They went on to have 17 consecutive sold out shows at Joe's Pub starting in 2012. High profile gigs started rolling in.
The Hot Sardines debut album, Shanghai'd, came out in July 2011. Their major label album, The Hot Sardines, was released on the Decca/Universal Music Classics label in October 2014. It contained both jazz classics and original Hot Sardines compositions and would reach number 12 on the Billboard charts in August 2015.
The band would return to Joe's Pub, Shanghai Mermaid, and Midsummer Night's Swing. They became virtual regulars at André Balazs' posh Top of the Standard. In 2012 The Hot Sardines were invited to represent New York in front of 25,000 people at Festival d'Île de France in Paris. In 2014 they performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and played to sold out appearances at Symphony Hall accompanied by the Boston Pops, their songs arranged for orchestra by Tony winner Bill Elliott. The song Wake Up in Paris, written by Elizabeth, made its debut at The Pops shows; "The real stunner was Wake Up in Paris, wrote the Boston Globe.
They made their London debut in the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall in November of 2014. They headlined the reopening of Rockefeller Center's Rainbow Room in October, 2014. They have been the musical headliners on Turner Classic Movie Cruise for four years.
On June 17th, 2016 the Sardines released French Fries + Champagne, their second album on the Decca/Universal label, and which featured Tony Award winning actor Alan Cumming on one of the tracks, "When I Get Low I Get High."
Current and Past Members
Although eight people is typical, it might be said that the size of the band is not really fixed. Visiting members, frequent and otherwise have included the following:
Style and influences
While the band writes and performs jazz-based material with an early 20th century flavor, they are influenced by a wide variety of genres and artists. They cite Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Django Reinhardt, Fred Astaire, Mamie Smith, Billie Holiday, the Andrews Sisters, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Peggy Lee, The Mills Brothers, and Ray Charles among others.
When they played in Paris, the Festival d'Île de France described their style as "A jubilant jazz... which recalls the glorious Renaissance Harlem cabarets." The Hot Sardines play "hot jazz" as it was "in the era when live music was king...with a little glamour, a little grit, and a lot of passion," or what some have called "a slice of between-the-wars Paris via New Orleans." They also cite more modern cultural influences. Says Bibs, "Nothing is sacred...everything from The Muppets to Bugs Bunny and from Harry Connick, Jr. to James Brown and Louis Prima has infiltrated our music and the way we interpret and perform songs." Says Miz Elizabeth, "A full-on melting pot of musicians both iconic and obscure have influenced our style and song interpretation." They even dabble a bit with South American beats. They play early jazz and yet manage to "captivate 21st century audiences." Conor Kelly writing in PopMatters said, "The Hot Sardines' uniqueness lies in the fact that they get people both young and old dancing their asses off, by playing pop music that was written a century ago." Vanity Fair applauds their "unique repertoire, and a sound and style that are distinctly their own."
The Guardian called them "The charismatic front-runners of vintage jazz." A review in The London Times said their first live show in London was, "simply phenomenal, crisp musicianship going hand in hand with immaculate and witty showmanship." The international online magazine PopMatters calls them "consistently electrifying". CBS news said they were "at the forefront of the vintage jazz revival." Forbes Magazine calls them "one of the best jazz bands in NYC today." When The Hot Sardines performed at the New York Hot Jazz Festival on May 3, 2015 Nate Chinen of the New York TImes called their performance "potent and assured."