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Hot Bijouxx: Mad For Jazz.

June 20, 2014

HotBijouxx01onlineText and image by Matthew Leister.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously called the 1920s the “Jazz Age.” Tin Pan Alley was brimming with joints woven together with flappers and gangsters drinking hooch and listening to swinging bands. With its rebellious nature and underground reputation, jazz challenged classical music in many ways – it was for the mad ones.

Today, in Philadelphia, jazz is coming full-circle and gaining more traction as younger audiences discover the art form. Trendy bars and restaurants are booking more and more jazz acts. Speakeasies are booming, as well as the swing that traditionally accompanies them. It is no longer rare, and therefore, harder to stand out in the musical crowd.

Hot Bijouxx stands out.

The band consists of an accordion player, a guitarist and a drummer with a snare and hi-hat. There are no horns, no keyboard and most astoundingly, no bass. The accordion dominates the sound with the rhythm section providing a smooth groove. And then there is the voice.

Najwa Parkins tells the stories. She is lovely, wearing a red dress that dares you not to take notice. Her voice is traditional yet unique, poised yet full of life, much like the old-school jazz that inspires her. Parkins describes Hot Bijouxx as a mix of “high-energy, rhythmically-driven, dark, French swing, bossa nova and old school jazz.”

“Hot Bijouxx is hot, meaning fast tempos, high energy, exciting time shifts and sound progressions,” states bandleader and accordionist Dallas Vietty.

Vietty, a full-time musician and music educator, brings the most overt French swing influence to the group. Ryan McNeely plays the guitar and provides the Brazilian bossa nova style to the group while Kevin Ripley is inspired by modern jazz, hip-hop and dance music to create the beats behind the sound.

“I think each of us has a distinctly different musical background and our ability to work together as one makes for a dynamic and multifaceted group sound,” Parkins says.

The concept of Hot Bijouxx is to take jazz standards such as “La Vie En Rose” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (the unofficial theme song of the group) and create original arrangements to fit their eclectic style. In short, they make Duke Ellington songs sound both French and Brazilian – and most important, they sound new.

Kristen Jas was the first singer for the group. Online you can find a truly impressive music video for the tune “I’ve Found A New Baby” starring her. Their album of the same name is with her voice. She was the face of the group.

“Kristen was an excellent promoter for our band,” Ripley says.

Jas left the group, choosing to pursue her passion in permaculture design.

“When I thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up, it was not be a jazz singer,” Jas says with a smile.

She still helps with the planning and marketing side of the band.

Her departure from the group led to a crossroads for Hot Bijouxx. The addition of Parkins has added scatting and a new set of tunes to the group’s repertoire. She means business.

“Najwa revitalized the group,” McNeely proclaims.

Listening to them play, you can imagine yourself being among the “moveable feast” that was Paris during the Jazz Age. The innovations of art happening all around overcome your senses and you reminisce as if it was a part of your reality, not just your dreams. Hot Bijouxx is rebellious, underground and definitely for the mad ones.

“We are planning a tribute to Josephine Baker, the famous 1920s singer, dancer, entertainer, civil rights pioneer, and all around amazing person,” Vietty announces.

Look for it this summer.

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