By ERIC SCHELKOPF
By putting its own stamp on gypsy jazz, Chicago band lePercolateur is helping to keep the area music scene fresh and vibrant.
lePercolateur, www.chicagogypsyjazz.com, will perform Aug. 15 at Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25, available at Skokie Theatre's website, www.skokietheatre.com.
I had the chance to talk to Stacy McMichael, who plays upright bass in the band, about the upcoming show.
Q - Great talking to you. It seems like the group has been fairly busy this year. Any highlights from the year so far or any gigs that you are looking forward to?
lePercolateur has indeed had a very active 2014. We have been fortunate to play at some of our favorite venues, and are looking forward to playing at the Skokie Theatre on August 15th.
It’s our first time in the venue, and we are beyond excited.
Q - I understand that the group came together through Craigslist. Did you guys click from the very beginning? What made you want to be part of the band in the first place?
To be perfectly honest, I had not had much exposure to the gypsy jazz genre, and the instrumentation sounded really interesting. A group with violin, guitars and no drums? It was so different, I just had to answer the ad. I specifically remember playing “Dancing in the Kitchen” at that first rehearsal, and we all just ‘knew’ it was right.
Q - Last year, the band released its first full-length album. What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them? Was it important to the band to release the album on a local label like Chicago Sessions?
Some of the songs on "Pop Manouche" have been in our repertoire since the beginning. It was important for us to document those songs, but also breathe new life into them.
Each song had to stand on it’s own, and a couple of the songs ended up drastically different that day. The bluesy feel on “Darlin’,” for example, was an in-studio decision.
Likewise, the third verse of “House” was written the day before we went into the studio. I think the album is a perfect snapshot of the band at the time.
Working with a label like Chicago Sessions really allowed us to be, well, US. Nick Eipers is fantastic to work with, and his guidance was just what we needed.
The album version of “All I Want is You” is a great example of Nick’s input. I’m not sure we could have had that kind of support and freedom on another label.
Q - lePercolateur doesn't sound like a traditional gypsy jazz group. Would you say that is because of the variety of influences within the band? What is your approach in blending traditional gypsy jazz with other genres of music?
Traditional gypsy jazz is fantastic, but to only play something to the letter isn’t really our style. lePercolateur’s instrumentation is traditional, and we use the genre as a starting point, but we also put our own personalities into the mix.
At the heart of jazz is improvising and reinventing. I think because of our different musical journeys, the band can take chances on the fly (sometimes multiple times within a song).
Some of our best arrangements have stemmed from ideas within a solo. Beyonce in the middle of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” – why not?
Britney Spears “Toxic” as an underscore to “Besame Mucho” – sure! Bringing the listener right to the edge of what ‘might or might not work’ is part of the fun.
Q - Stacy, you also teach music at Saint Xavier University. What are some of the things that you try to stress to your students?
I want my students to be versatile. Learning one genre is great, but I want my students to be exposed to as much music as possible; classical, jazz, soul, funk, rock, etc.
Having these fundamentals at your disposal can help you if you happen to paint yourself into a musical corner. It’s best to be prepared for everything since you never know what the next gig will be.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see lePercolateur fitting into it?
Chicago has a very vibrant and diverse music scene. People can go out any night of the week and have a ton of options for live music (hopefully they will choose a lePercolateur show).
I think of lePercolateur as somewhat of a chameleon. We tailor our sets and mood to the venue and fans.
Sometimes the vibe calls for more jazz standards, sometimes more gypsy-fied pop tunes… you never know. lePercolateur’s sound is unique because there is a little bit of everything in the mix.
We can play Andy’s Jazz Club and Martyrs one week, a swing dance the next, then a jazz festival, and end up at the Mayne Stage or Skokie Theatre (on Aug 15th). It’s never the same show twice!