The textured voice of Elizabeth Bougerol aka Miz Elizabeth, singer in The Hot Sardines, is evocative of another time: a singer draped in satin across a piano, cigarette smoke veiling the room. The seven other band members, who fill out a brass section and a rhythm section, are in keeping with the nostalgic quality of the music. Images of Louis Armstrong’s puffed cheeks can’t be shaken from the mind when the sounds of the Hot Sardines emerge from the speakers, and when the band plays at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on July 11, the same will inevitably be true.
“That’s where I come from in terms of the soundtrack in my brain,” says Bougerol, a co-founder of the band. “It’s always been music from long before I was born.”
Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong are some of the musicians who she says lodged themselves deep inside her brain, and now that she’s performing for crowds across the country, those influences are emerging.
Bougerol is relatively new to the spotlight. She was a professional writer for years, and she only sang in the shower.
“I decided I wanted to find another person who had my love of music and wanted to do something with it,” she says. She found an ad on Craigslist for a jazz jam, and that’s where she met Evan Palazzo, bandleader and piano player.
“We started geeking out about the same music,” she says. “We found an open mic night and pulled together some songs.”
From there, the other members of the band started to come together.
“As we added musicians,” she says, “we added songs, and we started getting more gigs. At a certain point we realized we had momentum and we just followed it.”
Now, The Hot Sardines sell out shows across the country and they have three albums, the most recent released last October. What’s amazing is that these eight musicians each bring individuality to the songs, and that together they fuse to form something so cohesive.
“That’s one of the really fun things about jazz,” says Bougerol. “We start with skeleton arrangements, and within that, people do a lot of improvising. People play like their personalities. So we have eight different personalities teaming up to get a song.”
Because of the improvisational quality of their music, a song is never the same twice.
“It’s like a fingerprint,” says Bougerol. “And the joy of watching music is watching everyone work together to make something up on the spot. I think that’s one of the things that’s fun for the audience, is knowing it’s a high wire act, that everyone’s balancing and getting across the divide.”
As the singer and frontwoman of the group, one might be tempted to think of Bougerol as the star. But she is quick to say that she is simply one of the members of the band, and that the voice is her instrument.
“I love the feeling of being part of an ensemble,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun, and a learning experience every night, to fold my voice into things. Every instrument, my voice included, is about the push and pull. There are moments where you are part of the texture, and moments where you’re a little more out front.”
The Hot Sardines will play at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center just before they play their big Bastille Day celebration (July 14) at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, so they’ll be in a festive mood. With percussion, brass, Bougerol’s sultry voice, and even a tap dancing component, they’ll have the audience transported to that other time: the one that exists in Bougerol’s deepest subconscious.
The Hot Sardines at Westhampton Beach PAC, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on July 11. For tickets go to whbpac.org.