The Hot Sardines, coming back to the Folly Theater on Friday, March 9, play lighthearted retro jazz without apology. Their pianist and co-founder, Evan Palazzo, puts it like this: “We find emotions from high to low in this music. This gutbucket music brings out joy, which is something sorely lacking in our world. We get a lot of fulfillment from bringing that joy to someone’s life for two and a half hours.”
Or, more broadly and clinically: “We play music from the first half of the 20th century … and a few originals. We mix up genres. … We’re starting with early jazz iterations and go to late swing, sometimes bebop, sometimes Ray Charles.”
But don’t overanalyze it. The joy is what it’s really about for the Hot Sardines, a collaboration of Palazzo and singer Elizabeth Bougerol, who have been playing the gig with a revolving cast of accompanists and tap dancers for a decade.
Palazzo says the joy of earlier jazz styles has been with him since he was small. “My parents and grandparents were huge fans of the greats like Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, right down the pantheon. It was the first music I was exposed to, and I just responded to it, even as an infant, I’m told.”
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There was a piano in the house, and “as soon as I found that thing I wanted to play that music.” Through his youth, he played the music “as a hobby, as a love of mine, never for a minute thinking it was a career.” He remembers sitting at a desk in school, stretching his hands to help him play stride piano, the style of Waller, with its forceful left hand.
Then, as an adult, he went looking for like-minded jazzists. “I met Elizabeth at a jam session. I had been trying to find live music in New York that was in this genre, and there wasn’t much except our hero Vince Giordano.
Bougerol also knew and loved older jazz. “What I told you about my childhood was also true about hers, minus the piano, and she was in France,” Palazzo says. They bonded over a Fats Waller song, “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and decided to try making music together at an open mic session.
For that open mic, they added a tap dancer. And came up with the name Hot Sardines the day of the gig, when Bougerol found a tin of sardines in hot sauce at a Brooklyn co-op food market.
The first gig had Palazzo on piano, Bougerol singing and playing washboard, and a tap dancer. Now, Palazzo says, they employ “a whole cast of musicians, many for each position”: trumpet, trombone, a clarinetist/saxophonist, bass and drums. “Also a tap dancer, who sits with the rhythm section and stands up and solos like a horn.” Currently, the dancer is AC Lincoln, “A hoofer if there ever was one. We love AC, and he’s been with us most of the time.”
The Hot Sardines recipe seems to be working well, especially in Kansas City, where Friday’s show follows previous appearances in 2015 and 2017.
Palazzo says, “I think Count Basie likes our band and is looking down from heaven, saying, ‘They should go to Kansas City. Three times, at least.’ ”
The show is at 8 p.m. Friday, March 9, at the Folly, 300 W. 12th St.; the Kansas City band A La Mode will open. Tickets are $20-$50 at follytheater.org.
Big band celebration
In some circles, March is Women in Jazz Month. The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra honors that with its next concert, called “Lady Be Good.”
There’s a special guest, pianist Jo Ann Daugherty, who grew up in rural Missouri, caught the jazz bug at Truman State University in Kirksville and sharpened her skills in Kansas City for a while. She’s now making things happen as pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader in Chicago, and has three CDs as leader. She’s highly equipped to join the big band, led by Clint Ashlock, to drive its rhythm section and shine as soloist.
▪ Speaking of stride piano and older jazz styles, Kansas City’s own expert stride pianist, Bram Wijnands, is the guest on the next Spirituality and All That Jazz concert, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at the Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St.
▪ The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, directed by Brad Cox, performs at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., celebrates Women in Jazz Month by adding trombonist Karita Carter to the band Heat Index at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 8. Tenor saxophonist Matt Otto’s group plus singer Megan Birdsall perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 9; and singer Lady D is on the bill at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has singer Kathleen Holeman’s trio at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 4, followed by drummer Natalie Bates’ quartet at 10:30 p.m.; organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, March 5, followed by keyboardist Max Groove’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper at 6 and 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 6; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, followed by bassist Tyrone Clark’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; Hazelton’s trio at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 8, followed by tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, followed by Embrey, Lovern & Strait downstairs at 8:30 p.m., Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 upstairs at 9 p.m. and Matt Villinger’s organ trio around midnight; and singer Molly Hammer and pianist Joe Cartwright at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 10, followed by Lovern’s trio at 6 p.m., Guitar Elation at 8 p.m., the RSS Trio downstairs at 8:30 p.m. and Stephen Martin’s quartet at 11:30 p.m.
▪ Meanwhile, next door at the Black Dolphin, 1813 Grand Blvd., guitarist Will Matthews’ quartet performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, and The Project H appears at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 10.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751