Like the Central Pennsylvania Ragtime and American Music Festival that I reported on last month, Jeff and Joel’s House Party is a small event in Connecticut and is intentionally going to remain so. It was set up to take the place of the defunct Great Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival, and more recently, the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex, CT, which ended in 2014.
JJHP is the creation of pianist and entertainer extraordinaire Jeff Barnhart, and Joel Schiavone, who was involved in the trad jazz scene for many years as a banjoist and, more importantly, the founder of the Your Father’s Mustache franchise, which provided a venue for trad musicians to ply their trade at a time when there were few places. Joel now lives in Connecticut, as has Jeff for his entire life.
The House Party was born in 2011 at Joel’s home, but it soon outgrew that venue and moved to the VFW Lodge in Guilford, where it remained until this year. The reason for the move to the Elks Lodge in Branford, the next town to the west, was that the VFW had closed for remodeling. I was never at the VFW so I can’t compare the two locations, but I found the Elks quite satisfactory for the event’s needs. It has room for about 100 seats, a dance floor, and table seating for an equal number for the meals that are provided. There is also ample parking. I did not notice if the facility is fully handicapped-accessible, although I did see one person in a wheelchair. Another plus for Branford is that there are more motels, at lower prices, than in Guilford.
The highlight of this year’s party was the appearance of Paris Washboard, an amazing quartet that has been together, with only one personnel change, for 25 years. They do not often come to the US, so if they play anywhere near where you live, do not miss the chance to see them. The quartet played the entire Friday evening session, then one or more members sat in with the mix-and-match bands on Saturday and Sunday.
PW is led by trombonist (and occasional vocalist) Daniel Barda, accompanied by clarinetist Alain Marquet, pianist Louis Mazetier, and washboardist and vocalist Stephane Seva. Stephane joined about five years ago, replacing Gerard Bagot. Stephane is the only full-time musician in the band, but one would never suspect that from the sounds they make. Louis is a doctor, but I believe Daniel and Alain are now retired from their respective careers.
Most of the other musicians at this year’s party were from New England, and included, in addition to Jeff on piano and vocals, the well-known Noel Kaletsky on clarinet and soprano sax; Galvanized Jazz Band leader and cornetist Fred Vigorito; Eli Newberger, formerly of the New Black Eagles, on tuba; trombonists Craig Grant and Frank Batchelor; Lou Bocciarelli on bass; and Tom Palinko on drums. Trumpeter-cornetist Danny Tobias from Trenton, NJ, and vocalist Jane Campedelli, formerly of Connecticut but now living in Jacksonville, FL, rounded out the troupe. Veteran Lew Green filled in for Fred on trumpet Saturday evening. Joel Schiavone sat in for a few numbers on banjo and vocals. Eli performed Gershwin’s Prelude #2 on tuba and piano—both at the same time. Not perfect by his own admission, but not an easy feat.
An added treat on Sunday was a washboard duet with Stephane and Marty Fay, who years ago had run a club in Poughkeepsie where many of the greats of the era played. Marty’s instrument was what one would expect in a washboard, but Stephane’s is truly unique and worthy of further description. He designed and built it himself, and it collapses into a standard size suitcase for travel. He told me the suitcase was made first and the washboard then designed to fit inside. It’s actually two washboards, one normal size and another about half size, along with two blocks of different kinds of wood to provide different sounds, and several small cymbals. It seems the only part lacking is a bell. I watched him disassemble and pack it in about three minutes. It was suggested to him that if he replaced the bolts with wing nuts, he could perform the entire operation without tools. As one who sometimes travels with a folding bicycle that fits into a suitcase to protect it from airline baggage handlers, I can appreciate the attention to detail that went into this instrument’s construction.
JJHP this year sold out three of the four sessions. The intention is to not let it grow beyond about 100 guests, to preserve the intimacy with the musicians as well as being able to find a venue that can accommodate it and provide food service. Lunch and dinner on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday, were included in the respective day’s price. Like most such organizations, the Elks has a bar where adult beverages were available. The food was very good in both quality and quantity.
The leading volunteer for JJHP is Maureen Cunningham, assisted by perhaps a dozen or more people to serve food, handle CD sales, and other administrative tasks. The whole operation ran like clockwork, as far as I could tell. The only glitch occurred with a sticking A-flat in the rented grand piano. It was fixed by your editor, Andy Senior, using some unconventional materials. You may have heard the adage “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail.” Andy did not use a hammer to fix the hammer, but he got the job done with implements commandeered from the food service.
Next year’s venue has not been announced as of this writing, but the dates are set: October 13-15. By the time this year’s event had ended, about half the full-weekend tickets for next year had been sold. Anyone buying full tickets for Saturday and Sunday will get the Friday evening session for half price. The headliners next year are Vince Giordano (just Vince, not all eleven Nighthawks) and Banu Gibson. You should not delay in getting tickets if you’re considering attending. The website is jeffandjoelshouseparty.com.
The only downside to this event is the perennially clogged traffic on I-95. But there’s commuter train service to Branford from New Haven and New London (though it’s limited on Sundays), so if you can get to either of those cities on Amtrak, you can avoid driving. I did.
Jazz Travels columnist Bill Hoffman is a retired management consultant and is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.
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