The Jazz Punks is a band from California that mixes jazz and punk rock. “Smashup” is the Punk’s debut album, and it’s unconventional. Miles Davis’ “Pfrancing,” Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” are four jazz classics given punk rock makeovers.
After listening to “Smashups”, I wonder how the Punks could pull off such an ambitious project, and if Gillespie, and Desmond were alive would they like “Smashups”.
Guitar player Sal Polcino, saxophone player Robby Elfman, piano player Danny Kastner, bass player Michael Polcino,and drummer Hugh Elliott are the brains behind Jazz Punks. Elliot, the Punk's spokesman, answered questions I had about the band.
When was the Jazz Punks born?
We were "born on the 4th of July". We met at an open-jam party with instruments in-house. Once we were decidedly "a unit", the rest came pretty naturally. We were all lovers of classic, jazz yet so bored with the way it's being played. Instead of giving listeners a tour through a museum, we wanted to actually excite people over the genre - especially those who either didn't "get" jazz, or thought they hated it. We wanted to take it somewhere new, but while still "serving" the masters.
How long did it take to find the right musicians to pull off such a creative album?
After 20 years in NYC, I moved to LA. A week later, I was invited to the above July 4th party by the only local friend I knew. I attended, and he never showed up. The five of us ended up on the house piano, drums, guitars. And that was it.
Who decides what jazz tunes and rock tunes to experiment with?
It is very much a group effort. Our ages span the decades from the 60's on up, and our goal is to select true classics from both realms. It involves a ton of experimentation. We often spend rehearsals throwing out ideas like musical curve balls from every angle imaginable, and very rarely do they end up in the final song.
Would Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins like how the Punks reworked their songs?
Hope so. We adore these guys and all of the master inventors who initially brought these songs to life. One of my favorite quotes is, "Do not seek to emulate the Masters, but seek what they sought." Jazz Punks would like to think such "masters" as Shorter and Rollins would nod to us trying to do our part.
Will jazz and punk rock fans like “Smashups”?
The goal is not to compromise what's "pure" about jazz and punk rock, and yet move people in a new way. Folks leave our shows saying things like, "I never knew I liked jazz until I heard these guys". We respect the "purity". We also want to lead folks to jazz. Not cloister them within some sort of time capsule for a select few to appreciate. Also, just as there are now kids who have no idea who the Beatles were, there are just as many who consider Kenny G to be the "father of jazz". I find that equally - if not more - artistically horrifying.
In California, is there a scene for this kind of music?
I think most towns are somewhat lacking any scene these days. We would love to not only take things to a new place musically, but also inspire folks to drop their remotes and be a part of something - something like mid-20th Century 52nd St. in NYC, where the punks of that era were experimenting and creating.
Is the Punks a fly-by-night band, or are there long term goals?
Jazz Punks is doing both what it loves and what it strongly believes in. That combination of values is, to me, everlasting. And we hope folks are moved by the results.