Jeff (Barnhart) and Joel (Schiavone)’s House Party started small nine years ago, but has outgrown several venues as its reputation has spread. At first it really was a house party—at Joel’s house in Guilford, Connecticut—but those quarters quickly became too small. For the past three years it’s been at the Elks lodge in Branford, the next town west of Guilford, on Long Island Sound. This hall comfortably accommodates 100 people with room for a dance floor and tables where the meals that are included in the ticket price are prepared and served by an outside caterer. I found the culinary offerings of as high a quality as the musical fare.
I was only able to attend the Friday evening and Saturday sessions, as I needed to attend the Tri-State Jazz Society’s monthly concert Sunday afternoon. So this will be an incomplete report, although your editor and his wife were there and he may want to fill in what I missed. It appeared that all the sessions were close to full capacity, although it was announced Saturday afternoon that seats for that evening and for Sunday were still available.
Jeff is well known to readers of this paper as a formidable pianist and bon vivant; his name and/or photo appears in practically every issue, appearing as he does at literally dozens of festivals here and abroad every year. Joel’s fame is less widespread outside of New Haven, but he was the founder of the Your Father’s Mustache chain, clubs that gave many trad jazz players a home. Joel suffered serious injuries in a skiing accident a few years ago, but this year I saw a noticeable improvement in his physical stature and speaking ability. Given his age (early 80s), he has made a remarkable recovery, although it did not extend to his memory of song lyrics.
I have gone to the House Party twice—this year and in 2016. Both times the featured out-of-area band was Paris Washboard. That was no coincidence, as I have enjoyed this band since I first heard it on Stomp Off Records. I have only seen them in person three or four times, as their trips to the US are infrequent. The personnel has changed very little over its 30 years—only on washboard, but this year a fifth member, trumpeter Michel Bonnet, was added, and the band’s name was amended, for this event, at least, to Paris Washboard Super Swing.
Michel, indeed, added materially to the swing aspect of their performances. Charles Prevost replaced Stephane Seva on washboard when the latter began a several-year residence in Brooklyn. The washboard Charles plays appears not to be as unique as Stephane’s, but it did the job admirably. The other three original members—leader Daniel Barda on trombone, Alain Marquet on clarinet, and the incomparable Louis Mazetier on piano—were all present. Louis’s occupation as a radiologist sometimes prevents him from traveling with the band, but they have another pianist in reserve.
Friday evening was devoted entirely to Paris Washboard. Saturday’s (and probably Sunday’s) sessions each featured one PW set, but all the others were mix-and-match groupings. The mini-sets mostly contained three tunes. In nearly all groups, one or two PW members sat in. The New England (mostly) musicians were Fred Vigorito, cornet; Noel Kaletsky, clarinet and soprano sax; Lou Bocciarelli, drums (all three were also on the card two years ago); Al Bernard, sousaphone; Steve Taddio, drums; Neal Defeo, trombone; Marty Fay, who did two numbers on washboard as part of a larger group; and Jeff (piano and vocals) and Joel (banjo and vocals). The final number of both Saturday sessions featured all fourteen musicians. If the doors had been open, the music would have been heard across Long Island Sound.
What made the mixed sets interesting was the opportunity to see how two different players on the same instrument compared and contrasted. Jams can produce some truly unique and irreplaceable sounds, or they can be very mundane with tune lists limited to well-known numbers that everyone can be counted on to know. I prefer to hear less well-known pieces over the usual warhorses, and for that to work all the musicians on stage need to be familiar not only with the tune but with each other.
What I enjoyed least were the sing-along sets that featured Joel on banjo and vocals. The first featured truly old tunes like “Oh, Susanna,” “Tavern in the Town,” and “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” The second was advertised as ’40s tunes, and there were plenty of those (“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Mairzy Doats” and more), but it ended with three from the ’20s that hardly anyone in the audience recognized: “My Cutie’s Due at Two to Two Today,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “Nagasaki.” Nobody was able to sing along to those. [Your editor managed the first of those, if you can call that singing. – Ed.] Many attendees seemed to like the nostalgia, but I viewed these sets as time that would have been better spent letting the outstanding musicians on hand do what they do best.
Next year’s dates were announced: November 1-3, but the musician roster has not yet been determined. The venue will remain the same. About 40 people bought tickets for next year, which guaranteed them the option to keep the same seats. This is at least a third of the total capacity, so be forewarned.
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.
Jeff and Joel’s House Party Coverage from Years Past: Half a Loaf Is Still Delicious: Notes From Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Paris Washboard Brings Home the Heat at Jeff & Joel’s House Party