This month’s installment of “The Music Playground Presents” features The Hot Sardines, a band that has gained a reputation for putting on unforgettably wild live shows all around New York City – and soon, the world. In fact, they have been invited to represent New York in front of 25,000 people during a nighttime set at the 2012 Festival d’Île de France in Paris. 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. Their concerts consist of all-out renditions of hot jazz numbers, New Orleans jazz standards, fever-paced tap dancing, and foot-stomping mayhem.

The core of the group consists of pianist Evan Palazzo, singer Elizabeth Bougerol, and tap dancer Eddie Francisco. Evan, a self taught piano player, connected with first-time singer Elizabeth via Craigslist. A meeting took place above a Brooklyn noodle shop, and they bonded over what they perceived as holes in today’s live music scene. They discussed the accessibility of the Depression era music they loved and their belief that people would take to it immediately in a live setting. Eddie joined the pair and started tapping along an hour before their first open mic gig, and The Hot Sardines were born. A pool of extremely talented players revolves around the nucleus that was formed that night. Whether the band plays as a 10-piece or in a more stripped-down set up, they are always exciting and a live music powerhouse.

Elizabeth is a natural performer behind the microphone, and it’s clear that she has a genuine love for the material. “These songs have been around for 100 years for a reason,” she told us during a phone conversation. She recalls her first time seeing this music as “a truly holy experience.” The key to their energy is that they actually have fun on stage, while still communicating and collaborating with one another. Evan is the de facto band leader, and he steers each performance, madly pointing and shouting to soloists as he provides the stride piano backbone. Their versions of these timeless songs are each subject to what Evan calls “Ray Charles-ification” – an approach where they don’t try to recreate the song exactly, but rather attempt to incorporate modern references. Audiences were different in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and definitions of what is fun, sexy, and uplifting have changed drastically, so the band finds that changing their attitude toward the material is necessary. The result of this “Ray Charles-ification” is a crowd that, if observed silently, might appear as if they are dancing to 2012 Top 40 radio.

The Hot Sardines are anxious to keep honing their sound, write and record some original tunes, and even collaborate with some current artists of other genres. “We have total respect for hyper-original acts,” Elizabeth told us. Capturing their live energy, clearly evident in these videos at The Music Playground, in a studio recording is their biggest obstacle, as it is with all bands that have amassed a following from gigging alone. Seeing as how an untrained piano player and rookie vocalist have formed a consistently electrifying and hard working live act, we’d say they’re up for the challenge. You can catch the Hot Sardines during their weekly show at the top of the Standard Hotel in the West Village, or on June 20 at the Bryant Park Summer Concert Series.


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