Drew Nugent is a Philly musician who is throwin’ back — way back — to the earliest days of jazz with his band Drew Nugent and The Midnight Society. Known for his high energy performances, where he doubles on trumpet and keys, his virtuosity and charisma is transfixing. This Wednesday, Nugent celebrates the release of his latest album, “Hot, Sassy and Sweet” at Vesper in Center City. We chatted with the Blue Bell native about “getting naughty” with song selection, where to hunt for vintage instruments and why you’ll never find him in jeans and a T-shirt.
When you’re out and about, you’re always dressed to the nines. Do you ever break from suits on the weekend?
About five years ago I realized I have nothing but suits! So why even wear jeans and a T-shirt unless I’m washing the car or doing yard work? (laughs) As long as I have it my way, you’ll never see me out of one. I grew up with a father that had a great wardrobe of suit and ties, and from a young age I decided when I go out into the world, I wanted to be in a suit like him.
That’s really sweet. Now riffing on that theme, what makes the new album “hot, sassy and sweet?”
So the whole idea behind “hot jazz” was that the temperature of the rooms would get hot from the music. A/C was nonexistent and the emotional power of the music combined with the heavy syncopation really fired people up. The “sweet” music of that time was more like foxtrots and slower ballads. More romantic.
So what time period are we talking here?
Hot jazz came into popularity in the late teens at the death of ragtime and the beginning of WWI. It stayed popular through 1920s until the mid-30s when the swing era took over. It’s the purest form of jazz. The earliest form of jazz. (pause) When we think of jazz today, artists that came later in its history have become the staples, like Miles and Ella and Dizzy, and sadly, they overshadow the hot jazz artists.
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Who are some of your favorites from the earlier days of jazz?
That’s tough! I’ve gotta keep myself to bullet points here. (laughs) Bix Beiderbecke was one of the best trumpeters, pianists, and composers to have ever lived. He died at 27 from alcoholism. I was really taken by the piano stylings of Earl Hines. Love Fats Waller. Every horn player’s gotta know Jabbo Smith.
You cover a lot of these artists on the album but then you mentioned getting a bit “naughty” with it. Naughty in what way?
I owe Charlie and Tommy, the guys behind JIUP International Records, with breaking me out of my safety zone. Some of the songs are very suggestive. For instance, there’s one that’s not on the album called “My Girl’s Pussy.” (pause) But it’s about her cat!
“Bear in a Lady’s Boudoir” is also pretty suggestive and you shoutout Temple and Penn. Is that an original?
No, it’s actually a Cliff Edwards tune from 1933. He was the voice of Jiminy Cricket back in the day. It was Tommy’s idea that we change it from Harvard and Yale to those schools — to bring it to 2016.
So aside from dressing the part of a 1920s jazz artist, you also have all these cool antique instruments. Where do you find them?
It depends. I found Baby — I’m a kook, I name all of my instruments! Well actually my dad and sister found her at a flea market in Litiz, PA. She was in bad shape — tons of bends and dents in the frame — and I told my dad to get her for $50 because she needed so much work. But then she ended up being the flagship of the fleet. But it depends, sometimes I find gems on Craigslist and Ebay. Not as romantic. (laughs)
And is there any special meaning behind your band’s name, “The Midnight Society?”
Oddly enough, I watched Nickelodeon a lot as a kid and there was a show called “Are you afraid of the dark” and the guys in my band, we’re always out — drinking late at night, telling stories, swapping jokes and I was like, “This is like the midnight society!” and they’re like, “What is that?” and I told them about the show and then we just started calling each other that.
Ha! It’s the perfect name given you guys keep the party going well past midnight. So what are you drinking on Wednesday to celebrate the new record?
I’m a gin martini kind of guy.
For more on Drew Nugent and The Midnight Society, visit drewnugent.org.
If you go:
Wednesday, May 18
7:30 p.m.; $10-$20
223 S. Syndenham St.
Follow Jennifer Logue on Twitter @jenniferlogue