Mississippi Hot Club to play Byrant-Lake Bowl

The gypsy jazz group brings their fiery energetic sound to Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater.

by Jackie Renzetti

Once, while Joshua Parlanti was strumming his banjo and belting out a song for a concert at a barn, someone interrupted his band in fear of a fire.

As the smoke-like substance faded around them, members of what’s now Mississippi Hot Club realized the only danger was collected dust from the crowd’s boot stomps.

The Mississippi Hot Club first formed in summer 2013. Members came and went, but since April 2014, the group consists of Joseph Downing, Alissa Jacobsen, Joshua Parlanti, Ian Stenlund and Luke Zupan. The group plays bluegrass and gypsy jazz at venues like 331 Club, Aster Café, 612Brew and other local clubs. On Friday, they’ll perform at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

They bring their enthusiasm for music to shows with local bands like Jazzland Wonderband, Bookhouse, Thrift Store Sonata and Battlerat.

“Bluegrass and gypsy jazz both have that same raw, energetic, ‘voice of the people’ vibe that’s like, you want to dance to it,” Jacobsen said.

Gypsy jazz originated with Django Reinhardt, a 1930s French composer who created string covers of American popular songs along with original work, such as his famous “Minor Swing.” His style became recognized for his intricate, guitar-heavy rhythms in place of drums and an improvisational, often fast-paced nature.

“He was hearing Ella Fitzgerald and all those singers and playing those melodies on guitar, but creating these ensembles that just made it beautiful. Eventually, people in the United States were like, ‘Wow, what is this guy doing?’” Stenlund said.

Downing, Parlanti, Stenlund and Zupan met in junior high in Grand Rapids, Minn. They recall learning of gypsy jazz in high school but didn’t pursue it until later years. They referenced Sam Miltich, another Grand Rapids musician and accomplished gypsy jazz artist, as someone who introduced them to the genre.  

Miltich said he casually played with Downing and Zupan in high school, while also playing with Stenlund in a gypsy jazz band.

“There was nobody else in my circle of friends or family that had mentioned this guy before,” Downing said. “He was like, hip before he was hip. He was playing music from the ’30s when he was 16. The rest of us were like, ‘What is this? Where’s Blink-182?’”

Parlanti said the style’s fast tempo, filled with challenging harmonies, kept him from pursuing it until he was older.

“It’s tough music. It’s not attainable until you gain the courage to attack it, I guess,” he said.   

Aside from its difficulty level, the lack of Internet streaming services at the time also prevented some of the members from learning the style.

“Both Joe and Ian are really great musicians, and it’s nice to see that the music is taking greater form in the United States because there was a long time where this music just wasn’t even accessible to people,” Miltich said.

Jacobsen stumbled into gypsy jazz by mistake. Her friend Craig Sandberg, who used to play with the group, asked her to join.

“In my brain, I was thinking Gogol Bordello, maybe gypsy punk, and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, that sounds great.’ Then I showed up, and it was gypsy jazz. I had no clue what was going on, and it was so much fun. These guys were patient and helped out with learning,” Jacobsen said.

Their self-titled first album, recorded before Zupan and Downing joined, debuted Jan. 9.

The band spent the weekend at Jacobsen’s farmhouse to conquer the project.

“We recorded for probably 12 [to] 16 hours, it was all live. It was a blast, just to have that togetherness and that energy and to go through playing all night, sleeping through the better part of the day, and waking up, and everyone is just, like, physically in pain from playing so much. We did some yoga and then we just kept at it,” Jacobsen said.

Parlanti said their current ensemble listens more and has more maturity. The group now gravitates toward original material, but they still enjoy creating their own gypsy jazz covers.

“Anything can be arranged in a gypsy jazz form. We haven’t run into anything we couldn’t jazzify,” Zupan said.

They’ve surprised crowds with the Mario and Tetris themes, bluegrass arrangements of the Beatles, and they’re working on Ween covers.

“The thing with gypsy jazz is any listener will find something they like. It’s impossible to avoid, and that’s really quite a cool thing — to get some guy who looks stoic and maybe pissed off to like something, all the way down to the girl or guy who looks ecstatic because they like it. And then that stoic guy is like, ‘Oh, they did that?’ That’s what’s fun about it,” Parlanti said.


   What: Mississippi Hot Club

   Where: Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

   When: 10 p.m. Friday

   Cost: $7