Softly lit, surrounded by planter trees dotted with lights and a cool, early California fall breeze, Hedgehog Swing played their brand of swing jazz for the attentive patrons relaxing and dining in the alley-hidden spot of Old Pasadena’s One Colorado on Saturday.
Children danced and swayed, parents and young couples sat close together, and the soft din of patrons dining al fresco outside restaurants like Il Fornaio and A.K.A Bistro lent a Paris-by-the-Seine-like ambience to the courtyard during Hedgehog Swing’s two hour smooth and lively set.
Long Beach band members Luca Pino, guitar, and Kale Stiles, clarinet and vocals, have known each other since high school, later having found a mutual fondness for Django Reinhardt’s style of jazz. Fellow band members Benj Clarke, string bass and vocals, and Gage Hulsey, guitar, later joined to form and help create their unique sound.
“For the most part, most of what we do is Django music. And we do that mostly to pay homage, and it’s the standard repertoire,” said Pino. “We put our own spin on it – a SoCal style that no one really has.”
“We played a gig where they screened [Triplets of Bellevue] right after and we played that song in homage,” Pino said. “It’s Gypsy jazz, essentially! And we’re fans of that.”
And the band likes to mix it up quite a bit.
“It’s mostly Disney tunes,” said Pino. “We had an Aladdin Medley. It is pretty much that Kale and I are Disney freaks! We kind of grew up on that stuff heavily. So we thought, ‘Why not mix it up with Django?’”
The medley piece Pino spoke of was “Arabian Nights”, mixed with “Prince Ali” and ‘Django’s most famous tune’, “Minor Swing,” a rich and sultry piece that turns lively, giving nod to the recent passing of Robin Williams.
Other songs featured in the evening were classics that are nearly 100 years old but mixed with a contemporary feel.
Guy Lombardo’s “Coquette,” featuring Clarke on vocals, “Norwegian Dance,” with vacillating solos between guitarists Pino and Hulsey, and “When You Smile” with Stiles on clarinet and his smooth Bobby Darin style were highlights of the night.
“There are a lot of tunes that Django didn’t write, but he liked those tunes but played them and recorded them,” said Stiles. “We like those songs as well.”
“We’re known to do the Star Wars Cantina band song,” Pino said. “We’re known to do other pop quotes. We’ve done Indiana Jones. Beatles! We do anything that we think would sound good with the style and we try our best to make it sound as authentic as possible.”
Friend Ray Bergstrom of the “Icy Hot Club” sat in on vocals and guitar for a song or two, including “Dinah Lee” and another Django Reinhardt favorite, “Swing 48,” a well coordinated piece with Stile’s clarinet and Bergstrom’s own guitar style. Bergstrom is one of the contemporary artists that the band frequently encounters in their circle of music appreciation.
“We all just got back from this big festival in Seattle…for Django Fest. And we’re all just used to playing together,” said Stiles. “Everyone who does this style in Southern California, we all just know each other and we all hang out. We all geek out.”
Hedgehog Swing will play again this Friday for Dark Nights at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles by the Nokia Theater Promenade. One Colorado will continue to feature music and other events in the courtyard at 41 Hugus Alley off of Colorado, Old Pasadena, through October.