After 12 years of gigs and two albums, gypsy jazz band the Courtyard Kings became Mike Harvey’s Hot Club. Of course, the Quintet of the Hot Club of France—that 1930s European jazz string band led by violinist Stéphane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt—inspired both bands.
Despite their shared musical foundation and three musicians in common, Mike Harvey’s Hot Club is an expansion of the Courtyard Kings. The Kings specialized in classic Hot Club of France repertoire. The Hot Club, formed in 2017, performs Hot Club of France music plus interpretations of the Games of Thrones theme, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” arranged in Hot Club of France style.
“We’re applying that instrumentation to modern repertoire,” leader and violinist Harvey explained. “We go all over the place to find music, things people might recognize. But everything we play, audiences have never heard it played the way we play it.”
In addition to the selections mentioned above, Mike Harvey’s Hot Club performs Irving Berlin’s “Blues Skies,” the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ “The Bathtub” (featured in the Beasts of the Southern Wild movie soundtrack) and original compositions.
Harvey, guitarist Mark Weliky and upright acoustic bass player Nathan Lambertson all moved from the Courtyard Kings to Harvey’s Hot Club. Guitarist Brett Gardner completes the new lineup. They recorded the band’s self-titled album debut in a single day at Harvey’s NOLA Recording Studios. The album received OffBeat’s Best of the Beat nomination for Best Traditional Jazz Album. The band received a Best of the Beat nomination for best traditional jazz artist. “Right next to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. Michael White, Mark Braud, Tuba Skinny and all these amazing, respectable entities and institutions,” Harvey said.
Harvey calls his Hot Club music “progressive New Orleans gypsy jazz.” On the surface, his modulation from the Courtyard Kings’ set lists to the Hot Club’s arrangements of contemporary music appears to be a bid for larger audiences. In reality, Harvey said, many listeners prefer the Hot Club of France standards.
“It was the opposite of a commercial concern,” Harvey said of the change. “A lot of the gigs we do are society and private-event things. They want classic New Orleans tunes. And the Hot Club’s instrumentation is something people want because drums and horns are too loud for many occasions.”
Despite Harvey’s expanded horizons for his Hot Club quartet, he genuinely respects ensembles that perform jazz standards as authentically as possible. He performs with one such band, Orange Kellin’s New Orleans Deluxe Orchestra. “Those bands are wonderful and I’m glad that they are there,” he said. “But I want to do my own thing. That’s what the Hot Club allows me to do.”
When Harvey was growing up in the St. Charles Parish community of Luling, he and his parents, both New Orleans natives, made the short drive to New Orleans every weekend. Harvey followed his mother, a piano teacher, into music, playing violin. At 18, he moved to New Orleans to be a performance major in violin at Loyola University.
At Loyola, Harvey’s guitar lessons with John Rankin introduced him to jazz and the Hot Club of France. “I learned some jazz and New Orleans standards from John,” he said. “And then I started applying guitar things to violin and learned about Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. I fell in love with their music and immersed myself in it.”
During the Courtyard Kings’ 2005 to 2017 run, Harvey played as many as 200 gigs a year. His new Hot Club band plays less often, at least temporarily, because he’s recovering from a recent shoulder injury. He’s also busy with his NOLA Recording Studios. A prolific recording engineer, Harvey opened the Mid-City recording facility in 2007. He received OffBeat’s 2018 Best of the Beat Award for Best Studio Sound Engineer.
The dozens of artists Harvey has recorded at NOLA Recordings Studios include the Hot 8 Brass Band (the Grammy-nominated The Life & Times of…), Shamarr Allen, the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Soul Rebels, Jason Neville and Mike Zito. Recent projects include albums by Baton Rouge blues-rocker Jonathon Long and an upcoming project from The Voice finalist Nicholas David. Singer-guitarist Samantha Fish produced the latter projects for Wild Heart Records, the new label she founded with veteran south Louisiana artist-manager Rueben Williams.
While studio and engineering work are Harvey’s full-time job, he makes time to perform with Mike Harvey’s Hot Club and Orange Kellin’s New Orleans Deluxe Orchestra, as well as the Southern-blues-bluegrass-rock-funk band Bogue Chitto, “Louisiana Americana” group Marshland and Cajun-zydeco band the Big Easy Playboys.
“The studio engineering provides me a job during the day, doing something I love,” Harvey said. “I’ve honed my skills enough to attract professional artist clients, so I get to have fun making great records every day. I’m currently not interested in the night-after-night hustle of playing gigs for a living, but I could not live without performing. I play in the bands I play in for love.”
Sunday, April 14, 2:45p
Omni Royal Orleans Stage