Hot Club of Montauk Spreading Gypsy Jazz, and Spirit, in the End
by Carter Randolph Carter
Gypsy jazz has a cult following with a nostalgic bent. Anyone surprised that a world class band is hiding out in Montauk?
The slapping sound of stand-up bass reverberating through the door compelled me to glance at the sidewalk banner that simply said, “Jazz Tonight from Montauk!” Not being in Montauk at that moment, I was intrigued and, naturally, stepped inside. I figured somebody was milking our beloved Montauk name to market some sort of imposter. I was pleasantly wrong!
France in the 1930s, or what I assume it would have been, greeted me and I knew immediately that it was Hot Club Of Montauk in action. The group’s Gypsy, or “hot club”, jazz notoriety is spreading…and I got that warm glow of pride that comes whenever I realize how much coolness radiates from Montauk. I had seen them a few times in the past, once at The Gig Shack and another time at Montauk Brewing Co., I recalled. These guys deserve a story…
At that moment, Carolina Kohn with her sultry, raspy voice was in the midst of Billie Holiday’s, All of Me, dressed in full vintage attire and swaying before an old-school microphone. Paul Hamilton held down that Gypsy guitar rhythm while Josh LeClerc broke into a nostalgic solo. Jack Marshall then crept in with Stephane Grappelli inspired violin riffs as Ben Goodale filled the room with his stand-up bass.
I said Hi when they finished the song and got educated. Their inspiration is the legendary du Hot Club de France Quintette, led by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli; that band was founded in France in 1934 and active in one form or another until 1948. It is through Reinhardt’s brilliance that most people are introduced to jazz “manouche”, as they call the style in its birthplace, France. There are Hot Clubs in Norway, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York…and Montauk.
Montauk’s own HCOM plays a variety of standards and modern tunes with a Gypsy twist bringing a vintage feel to any setting. From Amy Winehouse to Etta James to Edith Piaf, Carolina, the multi-lingual lead singer who has been with the band since 2017, mixes various musical styles. Being born in New York yet raised in Uruguay and France, Carolina brings South American flavors to the overall vibe of the quintet. I ask her for a crowd favorite… “people love it when I mash up Chan Chan by Buena Vista Social Club and a Black Keys song,” she says thoughtfully with a knowing smile.
The band was founded seven years ago by its lead guitarist Paul Hamilton, who started playing Gypsy in earnest in 2012 with his son Clark, who was a high school sophomore then with a lot of student friends who loved playing jazz. “We always loved the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon background music, which is quintessential Django Reinhardt…it sounds happy,” Paul confessed. “Gypsy Jazz is all we play now.”
Their very first gig was in D’Canela restaurant in Amagansett, which is gone now. “We were stunned at the crowd we got,” Paul says. “What the hell is this music, people were thinking, but they loved it. Now we have a cult following, which the genre shares.” One of their favorite venues since hitting the big time is Montauk’s Gig Shack. “Tracey, Lewis and the kids have been great to us. They get our music and style…and we love playing there.”
In addition to the aforementioned five, HCOM is joined frequently by Paul’s son Clark and renowned printmaker and Gypsy jazz guitarist Art Werger, of Athens, Ohio (and Montauk), both of whom fly into town for big gigs.
Intrigued? You’ll have a chance to see them at this year’s Montauk Music Festival in May. More at hotclubofmontauk.com.