You’ve never heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” like this: A quick and bouncy work that elicits instant smiles thanks to the spirit of Django and those who followed in his footsteps (release date: July 14), now re-envisioned by the “gypsy jazz/swing superband” Hot Pants de France from southern California. Formed by Sam Kaufmann (former session guitarist for Maynard Ferguson, Kenny Loggins and New Kids On The Block), the group brings new life to songs like “Our Lips Are Sealed” (very clean playing with sweet vocals), “Champagne Supernova,” which as a cover is much lighter in Hot Pants de France’s hands, and the inventiveness of flipping “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” on its ear.
Personnel includes Sam Kaufmann (arrangements and guitar), Lisa Rittner (vocals and sax), Jack O’Roonie (bass/bass), and Andrea Reynolds and Jane Young (violin).
Hot Pants de France sports a strong, positive energy and their playing is super fun and super tight. They will be touring London, Paris, Montreal, Detroit and Madrid in 2023.
Your band name – some humor there. Do you have fun when you create, rehearse and perform? Is it ever NOT fun?
If music isn’t fun, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. I mean, it’s a great paycheck, but you gotta be having fun, right?
You do a single every six weeks. Are they covers? How do you choose the songs; do you take turns choosing?
The singles are currently all covers. That may change, but that’s typical in jazz music – everyone’s playing the same tunes. Hopefully, it’s what you do with them that makes them unique and interesting.
We want to do songs everybody knows, and then take them someplace new. Everyone, so far, seems to enjoy it!
What do you all like best about the 70s, 80s and 90s music?
I grew up in the 80s and didn’t care for the music at the time. Now I hear all these songs in the supermarket, department stores and elevators, and I think hey, there’s so much space here, so many opportunities to make this song interesting. I can’t resist!
What are you looking for in a song when you play- is it the spirit of it, the emotion, the ability to engage an audience, etc.?
We like to get people to move around. Music is about laughter and singing and dancing. It’s a social experience. So, as fun as it is to PLAY ballads, and you need one every now and then.
I like to really ramp up the energy and we even have a few ballads that we’ve turned into high-energy dancing machines. Bands for a long time were for dancing, like live jukeboxes.
How do you make those songs fresh while adding the Django flavor? Are certain songs more conducive to your style than others?
Yes, I’ve tried a few that haven’t worked. They need a really strong melody. Because I’m changing the harmony and rhythm so much, if the melody isn’t strong, it can easily become unrecognizable.
What inspires how you change the music?
Our original material is actually covers as well. It’s music that I’ve written for other bands and artists that had success, albeit in a different style. I’ve taken those and Djangoized them, too! We have a few instrumentals that are original, but those are just to show off one of the band member’s musical proficiency.
We’re bringing in guest musicians and singers all the time now.
What do the musicians bring to your overall vibe?
Because we are working with a lot of special guests, it really keeps things fresh and keeps us on our toes! Notes are just like words on paper – each musician interprets them differently and uniquely. Sometimes you want James Earl Jones to read you a book like Darth Vader, and sometimes you want Moon Zappa to read it like a Valley Girl.
Everyone brings a flavor, ideas, and energy – I am just lucky enough to pick and chose what spices I want to add. Sometimes I am completely surprised by someone’s interpretation and it gives a new life to a piece. It takes some time to get each song ready, so I always have to tell myself different is not always better.
Talk about the upcoming singles you are most excited about.
It’s funny. I was really excited about “Black Hole Samba (Black Hole Sun).” It’s something I had been playing around with for years. And by the time that was recorded and mixed and mastered, I was already working on “Airbag.” While I still love “Black Hole Sun,” “Airbag” just hit it out of the park for me. Jane played an amazing violin solo (I had to push her hard for that, but it worked). Lisa sang the song so beautifully, Jack busted out the bow for the bass. It really came together and I think we struck some magic on that one. I’m excited to share it and hear what people think. We haven’t even played it live yet!
Where will you perform/tour this year?
We’re looking at a few of the Django Festivals in Europe and hope to organize a European tour around it. In the US, we’re trying to find the right act to team up with and hit some larger venues. We love the intimacy of clubs, but it’s harder to justify them anywhere but locally in Los Angeles. But, you never know… We never turn down a gig.
What are your hopes for the listening audience?
I want to explore the people who got us here: Django, Stochello Rosenberg, Tchavolo Schmitt, Bireli Lagrene, Angelo Debarre. There are so many and I know I am leaving some greats out. It is such a rich style of jazz with so much to sink your teeth into. I would love to bring some new fans to this style.
I hope people enjoy themselves and have fun listening to our music. That’s all we want, to bring some smiles to people. If you listen and it makes you smile, I’ve done what my mentors did for me.
For more information visit https://hotpantsdefrance.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2022 Debbie Burke