Jazz Club or Outdoor Park, Hot Club of San Francisco Welcomes All
What words come to mind when imagining Stern Grove Festival? For Hot Club of San Francisco, the words “beautiful, outdoors, open, clean, and fresh” inspired their most recent song, crafted for the Stern Grove Festival stage as part of the “Interplay” commission series. Vocalist and guitarist Paul Mehling of this local gypsy jazz band shared with us the challenging process of translating these words into a sound that evokes the unique experience of being “In Concert with Nature” at Stern Grove.
“Using the copious amount of time we spend in rented vans while on tour together, we managed to brainstorm some ideas that were almost unanimously agreeable to all of us, which we then slowly molded into the song’s now ‘finished’ state,” says Mehling of their newest song, “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove”.
Hot Club understands, but embraces the challenges in working with the environment of a concert space, whether it is a jazz club, on the street, a full stage, or among towering eucalyptus trees. Not every band can adapt their sound to the claps of a crowded jazz hall and keep up with the rhythm of the wind blowing through 100-foot trees, but Hot Club looks forward to the environment of Stern Grove advancing their sound.
Mehling feels that the quintet is uniquely aware and involved with the environment of a venue. “Since our goal is to somehow reach and touch our audience, we need to be acutely in tune with our environment and how best to circumvent any blockages which might preclude us from connecting with listeners.” This could be something mechanical (like sound system issues), something personal (a broken heart), or something out of their control, like fans unfamiliar with their style of music.
Gypsy jazz, which promotes the swinging sounds made popular by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in 1930s Paris, carries a welcoming aura in each twang and pick of a guitar. Fans are drawn in by its lively rhythm, and Mehling and the crew take the next step in treating each audience member as a friend that they haven’t yet met. “While audiences may or may not be familiar with us, or our genre of music, we hope to establish an interplay and connection with them that they won’t find anywhere else, and which will stay with them.”
The five members of Hot Club take being San Franciscans—and the area’s influences and long list of contributions to the evolution of jazz—very seriously. These ties are evident while listening to their new song, where nods are given to local insider jokes like “vegan/pagan hipsters” and “high-tech chief execs” grooving together at everyone’s favorite urban getaway, Stern Grove.
Mehling says he and the rest of Hot Club feel a huge sense of indebtedness to the people in the Bay Area jazz scene that they’ve learned from, been inspired by, and have been a part of for more than 27 years. “We are extremely proud to not only be a part of this artistic tapestry, but we see our role in preserving and pushing it forward as an integral part of our purpose.”
Here’s to looking forward to years, decades, and centuries of more artists promoting their craft at Stern Grove Festival! If you’d like to hear Hot Club of San Francisco perform “Groovin at the Old Stern Grove” and more, come watch them at Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, June 28 when they open for one of America’s favorite lyricists, Randy Newman. The show kicks off at 2 p.m.