Eclectic may be an understatement when it comes to Hot Club Sandwich, drawing from French and American jazz, Western swing, gypsy guitar, Argentinian, Mexican and Brazilian influences, played by guys from Seattle and a homesteading drummer from Alaska.
The music itself is the story of society’s underprivileged outcasts, but this band brings in other instruments not typically associated with jazz: the mandolin and fiddle.
“Mandolin used to be incredibly popular,” says the band’s musician Matt Sircely, adding that it was more popular than guitar for a time. “It was one of the people’s instruments. In the latter part of the last century there were mandolin orchestras in every town, and they would play in harmony.”
In the ’70s the instrument came back, and Sircely followed the trend of ripping explosive riffs.
“The mandolin has two strings [two for every one on a guitar], and it is kind of like the right hand has to operate the combination of a sewing machine and a chain saw,” he says. “It requires dexterity and strength.”
He teaches mandolin to people from all over the world in New York. So, watching Sircely solo in Hot Club Sandwich will be like witnessing the master of “weird.”
“It’s kind of a weird instrument,” he said. “There is not a whole lot of mandolin doctrine out there.”
Another unusual element of Hot Club Sandwich’s jazz is singing, augmented by the drummer who stands up and plays a snare and high hat. “People really relate to the singing, it makes it a lot of fun,” Sircely says. “We have a drummer who is really a stellar vocalist.”
They’ve brought this version of folk jazz around the world for the past decade, and people usually catch on to the hoot right away. It wasn’t until recently that they arrived in a land-locked, unemployment-stricken land, and the message was lost.
“We played In Yerington, Nevada, for a program that buses kids from schools that are pretty hard-up from way out in the country,” Sircely said, recalling the kids’ blank stares. “And they were all just sitting there, watching us play, and I said to the kids: ’You know, jazz has roots in the black church where the audience is really supportive, and it is appropriate to call out a response to the preacher.”
He says he was encouraging the kids “to respond, be vocal, feel free, be a part of it.” When Hot Club Sandwich broke back into song, so did the kids.
“They took to that cue,” he recalls. “They started making a lot of racket and clapping out of time. That is really the point of it all. The audience is as engaged as the musicians are.” Later on in the day, he said community members came up to him and said it really lifted their spirits.
For the Reno show he is looking forward to playing tunes from past generations and faster beats for younger audiences, too. With such broad cultural and historical appeal, based on freedom, infused with unusual jazz elements, Sircely is hoping to engage an audience, “that will provide the energetic exchange that keeps it all going … to prompt the soloist as they are starting to get into it.”
“Engage!” he says, “Clap for solos! Respond to something that inspires you! It is not stodgy music.”
Hot Club Sandwich will play Friday, July 12 at 5:30 p.m. in Wingfield park. The band will include Mark Rubin, bass; Matt Sircely, mandolin; Joseph Mascorella, drums and Kevin Connor on gypsy guitar. Ω