Hot club jazz for jilted lovers: travelling through time with Juvel

Juvel live at Rainbow Trout Music Festival.   Photo by Hitomi Iwatani

Juvel live at Rainbow Trout Music Festival.
Photo by Hitomi Iwatani

It may be almost 80 years since its 1930s heyday, but hot club jazz is alive and well in Winnipeg.

Juvel is a group of four women – Lindsay Woolgar on upright bass, Soshana Goldenberg on violin, Chenoa McKelvey and Gabi Ocejo on guitar – who got started four years ago after jamming on some Django Reinhardt classics.

After years of honing their repertoire of standards, the group has begun fusing the classic Reinhardt instrumental style with more ‘40s-influenced vocal sounds.

McKelvey now writes three- and four-part vocal harmony arrangements for the group, with each band member’s voice specifically in mind.

“We started out with classic Django stuff, like ‘Limehouse Blues’, ‘Minor Swing’, ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, all the really standard stuff,” said McKelvey.

“We’ve started adding more of our own selections. Stuff that’s straying away from the classic hot club jazz repertoire.”

According to McKelvey, the styles overlapped in time period, but not in performance. The hot club style was popular across the ocean in French clubs, while the “sister” (as in the Andrews Sisters or the Boswell Sisters) style of vocal melodies became popular in America.

Despite having such a niche style, Juvel finds the audience always responds well.

“It’s interesting tunes from the ‘40s that aren’t really commonly heard. So if people are into that style already, it’s nice for people to come and hear some stuff that’s not as commonly played,” said Woolgar.

“And even if they don’t know it, people come in and they’ll love it. People know this style, they just might not necessarily listen to it. And it’s all really catchy stuff.”

Juvel live at Rainbow Trout Music Festival.   Photo by Hitomi Iwatani

Juvel live at Rainbow Trout Music Festival.
Photo by Hitomi Iwatani

Juvel often works with other performers, including Winnipeggers Jeremy Rusu and Quintin Bart from Winnipeg, and Marc Wencelius from Montreal/France.

McKelvey said collaborating with Bart has helped the group learn more about the Romani side of the style, as he spent time in Hungary studying this style of folk music specifically.

“This music is heavily inspired by Louis Armstrong and early jazz, and Roma and European folk music. So the two kind of merged,” said McKelvey.

The group walks a line between styles in their performance, straying from jazz through Romani folk and back again to an American jazz vocal style.

Despite the decades since the songs were originally written, the band said they can still connect with many of the classic songs they play.

Notably, they find themselves playing a lot of “jilted lover” tunes.

“They’re all really aggressive songs. I think it works well because we’re all just a bunch of, I don’t know… angry women,” said McKelvey.

Aggression or otherwise, Juvel’s members all agreed it’s refreshing to play in a jazz group with other women.

“There aren’t as many women musicians in jazz, especially instrumentalists, so it’s really nice to be in a group with people who all know what it’s like to be a woman musician,” said McKelvey.

Juvel is hitting the stage again soon for the first 4/20 celebration after cannabis legalization in Canada. They have a number of “jive”, “tea”, or “reefer” tunes prepared for the Times Change(d) on April 20.

InterviewJen Doerksen