I haven’t been this excited about discovering a new band in a long time. I mean T-shirts and bumper stickers excited. Part of my interest stems from ethnic solidarity for sure — my ancestors did come from a small mountain town in northeastern Slovakia. But I think if you give them a chance you’ll find The Bratislava Hot Serenaders just as impressive as I do.
I’m a bit surprised that such a hot group could escape my notice. They’ve been touring Europe and the Russian Federation for years, landing several times at Whitley Bay, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and other great events. Most years they spend three weeks traveling the UK. They have recorded eleven CDs and one LP. Two of their Slovak language CDs even became local best-sellers. Their YouTube videos are exciting, well edited, and frequently watched. I should have found them sooner.
Frequent readers of this column may be thinking this is another group of 20 somethings I’m raving over but the Bratislava Hot Serenaders are veterans who have been making purist hot dance band jazz for 28 years. The authentic “Hot and Sweet” dance music performances of the 18 piece collective have remained unchanged in concept since 1991. In all honesty I don’t think I’ve ever heard a modern band this big sound so good!
The arrangements are by their multi-talented leader and trumpeter, Juraj Bartos. They study the dance band records of late 20s America and that is most of what you’ll hear on their English language albums. As exciting to me are their hot renditions of Slovak language popular music particularly the compositions of František Krištof Veselý. They’ve released two full albums of his material.
Their knack for engaging public performances and interest in local music history has led them to many opportunities. When any one needs a jazz band for television, movies, the stage, or anything else it is the BHS they call. Like a Central European Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.
The group presents themselves perfectly, a seated orchestra with a trio of girl singers in flapper accessories drawing attention up front. The thing that stands them above and apart from similar civic groups is how darn hot the playing is. They may play recital halls but this isn’t recital hall music. An accustomed ear can listen to the Coon-Sanders Orchestra knowing that vibrancy has been lost to the recording process. You can envision the delight of hearing them in person but never quit experience it. The BHO provide that clear bright sound in real life and on their professionally cut recordings.
Their most recent English language record is titled I Like That. They also have a recent live album from their 25th anniversary tour, mostly in English but with a few tracks in Slovak and some in Russian. I highly encourage you to explore their full back catalog. Jazz is jazz in any language.
My favorite album of theirs is entirely in Slovak. The title, Ja Vodku Rád Pijem, translates as “I like to drink vodka”. Judging by the number of old men singing it on YouTube the catchy tune is a national treasure. The album itself runs to nearly 20 tracks exploring the best sweet, and sometimes hot popular music of Czechoslovakia before the war.
The sound is wonderfully fresh and the tunes oddly familiar. The last track is essentially “jingle bells” and there are other passages lifted from American themes. The singing is ethnic only in the sense of sometimes having what I think of as a klezmer delivery. There is also quite a bit more um-pah from the band. And yet, this is first and foremost jazz with ripping trombone and soaring clarinet runs. I urge the adventurous listener to track this one down.
The Bratislava Hot Serenaders have eight albums available for download on Amazon and most streaming services. I found Spotify the most accessible if you want to explore them all but you’ll need a free account. Finding a physical disc will be some trouble. That is unfortunate because the discs come in very attractive 78 rpm inspired packaging, though without any real liner notes.