Hot Club Sandwich
Twenty years ago, hot-jazz string band Hot Club Sandwich formed in Olympia, WA after a chance meeting on a front porch between fiddler Tim Wetmiller and guitarst Greg Ruby. A unique and exciting collaboration, and they joined with bassist James Schneider and Vince Brown on electric archtop guitar. Then they sought out Selmer-style guitarist Kevin Connor in Seattle and mandolinist Matt Sircely in Port Townsend, and the sextet first performed as a unit at Sirens Pub in Port Townsend in 2000.
Hot Club Sandwich carries a reverence for the groundbreaking innovations of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, and the group’s repertoire incorporates folkloric influences from around the world which also flourished in the 1930s and ’40s. According to the Hot Club Sandwich recipe, each band member offers compositions and arrangements, and everyone sings. Hot Club Sandwich recorded an eponymous CD in 2001, produced and engineered by Matt Sircely.
In 2003, the group released its second album and first real studio recording, Digga Digga Do, produced by Orville Johnson with engineer David Lange on accordion. The group repeatedly toured from Seattle to the Bay Area, many stops along the way.
Soon after, following the departure of Vince Brown, Ray Wood brought his ‘almost-legendary’ genius to the band on electric archtop guitar. The ensemble at the time included Rich Sikorski on ukulele and vocals, and they recorded Green Room in 2007, produced by Ruby and Sircely. The group brought in Chris Blacker to play accordion, and Venezuelan master Fucho Aparico contributed virtuosic maracas. Miho Takekawa played vibraphone, and Skuff Acuff was on washboard.
Writing at the time about Green Room, a Pop Matters review concluded: “Tim Wetmiller’s “Green Room” rounds things off with wit, empathy, and another splash of Venuti in the ending. Four numbers on this CD have added percussion. For anybody who likes gypsy swing, this should be a fantastic surprise. The band’s website quotes some earlier reviewers’ assertions that this band plays a whole range of different musics. Presumably, these writers expected something more monotonous. At a first listen I didn’t believe what I was hearing. A better word is miraculous.“ — Robert R. Calder, PopMatters – Jan 2008
The ensemble continued to tour, backing up the legendary Dan Hicks at DjangoFest performances in Mill Valley, CA and Langley, WA. The collaboration culminated in the Hot Club Sandwich recording And if Only, produced by Ruby in 2010, which features Dan Hicks on guest vocals.
When Greg Ruby departed to release music under his own name, he introduced a new member to the group: Joseph Mascorella on drums and vocals. The ensemble toured to Mascorella’s hometown for the Anchorage Folk Fest in 2011, performed at DjangoFest Colorado in Crested Butte at 12,000 feet. They played a municipal concert in Santa Barbara, CA with Ben Fox on bass, and at a city-sponsored riverside concert in Reno, NV with Mark Rubin on bass. The ensemble played the square in Healdsburg, CA with Joe Kyle on bass, clubs up and down the coast, and hometown shows and festivals like the Juan de Fuca Festival in Port Angeles and the Procession of the Species in Olympia.
The fifth Hot Club Sandwich recording, No Pressure (2018) prominently features the vocals and drums of Joseph Mascorella and the guitar and songwriting of Ray Wood, and includes a spectacular guest appearance by master mandolinist David Grisman on half of the tracks. In a historic brick farmhouse on the outskirts of Port Townsend with a deep history, the album was recorded live by Everett Moran of Rainshadow Recording (his first project just prior to the launch of his studio at Fort Worden). Grisman helped produce No Pressure and provided guidance on arrangements. Co-producers were David Jacobs-Strain and Matt Sircely.
“The open-minded group may serve up a blend of jazz, bolero, and folk, but feel just as comfortable following a Hoagy Carmichael song with a Peruvian waltz. They let the music be their guide as they adopt their own interpretation of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s pursuit of honest, adventurous improvisation while embracing musical forms from around the world. For this, their fifth album, they invited longtime friend David Grisman to produce and the result is a record that stirs the musical pot with dynamic instrumental interplay.” — Tara Joan, No Depression 2/11/18
Genre-jumping band swings hard on new set
No Pressure, Hot Club Sandwich’s fifth album, was recorded live in a turn-of-the-20th-century (former) bordello. It sounds like it, and that’s a compliment. The Washington State sextet’s repertoire mixes Gypsy jazz with genres that enjoyed their heyday when the brothel’s business boomed: folk, string-based jazz and rustic waltzes. The group plays with a lively gusto that befits a house of ill-repute, and leaves no room for stuffy reverence.
Producer David Grisman’s mandolin graces half of the set’s 14 songs, blending effortlessly into the band’s insouciant swagger. On his composition “Swing Thang,” Grisman’s mandolin entwines with Matt Sircely’s own in climbing chromatic harmonies that dovetail into guitarist Kevin Connor’s acoustic canter.
The band’s fluid approach to interplay extends to genre as well. Propelled by the pirouetting harmonies of Sircely’s tenor guitar and Tim Wetmiller’s violin, “Melancholy April” is a pop tune crossed with Gypsy jazz. Wetmiller’s see-saw fiddle and Connor’s serpentine guitar sashay through the Peruvian waltz ‘Odiame.” Grisman and Sircely’s twin mandolins trill while Connor’s arpeggios tumble on ‘Winter Rain,” a shimmering bossa nova.
The ebullient cover of Slim Gaillard’s “Palm Springs Jump” is a string-band swing tune, dancing on — and obliterating— the border between Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. A mournful rendition of “St. James Infirmary” seems straightforward enough ,but then dive-bombs into double-time New Orleans jazz, proving that when it comes to genre, Hot Club Sandwich just can’t stand still—and that’s a compliment too.
— Pat Moran, Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Feel free to send an email to hotclubsandwich [at] gmail.com. Hot Club Sandwich is available for musical engagements. We have dozens of musicians in our roster to suit any instrumentation or occasion. We encourage you to listen to and share our recordings. Please write or contact us for any reason.
Members of Hot Club Sandwich:
Kevin Connor is an avid composer in the Django-jazz style. In 2013, he was awarded a Seattle City Arts grant to compose and record a CD of his own compositions. Connor leads his own dance-oriented band Swing 3PO, and also plays the Cuban tres for the acclaimed group SuperSones in Seattle.
Bassist James Schneider, a founding member of Hot Club Sandwich, also plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. During the day, he is a humanities professor in Olympia and also directs the SPSCC/Evergreen State College’s jazz big band. James plays in multiple bands in styles ranging from jazz, swing and funk bands to Brazilian choro ensembles.
Mandolinist Matt Sircely is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, instructor, producer and writer. Sircely appears on many recordings and is a frequent contributor to The Fretboard Journal. Sircely’s work as a performer, instructor and writer introduced him to many of the greatest mandolinists in the world. Sircely has led workshops at dozens of music events across North America and served as an adjunct instructor at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Matt’s first release of all-original songs, Humdinger Process, was released on Danny Barnes’ Minner Bucket Records label. Visit Matt’s website: mattsircely.com
Violinist Tim Wetmiller is an adventurous improviser, skilled in many styles of traditional and improvised music. Around Seattle, Tim plays bluegrass with the bluegrass outfits Dysfunction Junction and the Neighborhood Boys, and he performs traditional Latin American folk music with the celebrated ensemble Los Flacos. In recent years, Tim’s batting average has remained steady as he continues to prioritize his local role on a club baseball team.