Interview: LIZZY & THE TRIGGERMEN Plays 'Joyously Subversive' Jazz at Joe's Pub

Lizzy Shapiro is bringing her 10-piece jazz band to NYC on April 6th

By: Mar. 28, 2024
Interview: LIZZY & THE TRIGGERMEN Plays 'Joyously Subversive' Jazz at Joe's Pub
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Lizzy & the Triggermen, a 10-piece jazz band helmed by Lizzy Shapiro, delights in infusing swing era music with a modern sound – “Duke Ellington meets Amy Winehouse,” as Shapiro describes it. The LA-based band is touring the East Coast this spring. Lucky New Yorkers can see them in NYC next weekend, where they’ll be making a stop at Joe’s Pub for a double-header on April 6th. Tickets to the show are available here.

Shapiro and I spoke about the upcoming show, the origins of the band, and more. Read our conversation below.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming show?

Yes! We are thrilled to be playing a double-header at the legendary Joe’s Pub on Saturday, April 6th. Since this will be our NYC debut, we are pulling out all of the stops! For those new to Lizzy & the Triggermen, we are a 10-piece jazz band that takes the sound and swagger of the Swing Era and makes it feel thrillingly new (think Duke Ellington meets Amy Winehouse). We are based in Los Angeles; however, for this show I’ve got an all-star lineup of jazz musicians from both coasts. It's a dream team of Grammy-winners and guys who have played with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Harry Connick Jr. to Taylor Swift

Our shows are a joyously subversive mixture of vintage swing, showtunes, and originals…with some operatic high notes thrown in for good measure (my background is actually opera). I’m hugely inspired by the powerful women I grew up listening to: Eartha Kitt, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Bernadette Peters, Maria Callas. I’ve always been an “over-the-top” person. I never grew out of playing pretend with my dress-up box. My essential self is wearing a Bob Mackie gown while belting out high notes about something deliciously dramatic as I flail my arms out like Kate Winslet in Titanic. As I became an adult, I realized there are very few socially acceptable ways to express that part of myself (ha!). Especially as a woman, we are told over and over again to take up less space, to tone ourselves down. On top of that, we live in a relentlessly casual world of yoga pants, strip malls and PJs on airplanes, where your only chance to wear a gown is prom and maybe a wedding or two. I created the band in large part to have an outlet to express who I actually am. Then something magical happened that I never foresaw. Our audiences began showing up in incredible vintage gowns and suits themselves! Fans would plot out their outfits months in advance of our shows - even making gowns from scratch! Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t the only one who desperately needed this outlet to express my over-the-top-ness; a lot of people do. So all of this is a long-winded way to say that our shows are places for grown-ups to come play pretend and be transported, all while listening to some sinfully swinging music! 

Interview: LIZZY & THE TRIGGERMEN Plays 'Joyously Subversive' Jazz at Joe's Pub
Photo credit: Photos with Class

What draws you to jazz?

The kind of jazz we play - swing - refers to both an era of music (late ‘20s-‘40s) but also a feel. It’s a visceral music that gets inside your body and makes you move. There is nothing more thrilling than hearing a full horn section wail as the whole band really swings. It’s electrifying. We had the honor of opening for the legendary rock band, Squeeze. I was initially nervous about how an acoustic swing band would be received by a rock audience. But at the end of our first set, the audience jumped to their feet in a standing ovation calling for encores. That’s the power of swing: it’s impossible not to feel. 

So much of music these days is synthetic: computer imitations of instruments played to a click track with slick production – which can be cool, for sure. But jazz is human: organic, vibrant, complex, imperfect and unpredictable. In a world dominated by “influencers” who sell us meticulously curated fictions of being human, jazz is the opposite, embracing dissonance (blue notes) as something beautiful. 

I also love that jazz isn't afraid of its artists getting older. Unlike pop music that deifies youth, jazz celebrates the artistry that can only come from decades of honing your craft. Young Ella Fitzgerald is wonderful (and I love her early recordings with Chick Webb) but the Ella most of us worship is a mature woman whose voice is endowed with a patina that can only come from time and experience. Also, so many of the songs in jazz require a certain lived maturity to be able to tackle. I remember being a young child and listening to a torch singer croon “Stormy Weather” and thinking to myself how I couldn’t wait to be world-weary enough to be able to sing that song convincingly. (I told you I’ve always been an over-the-top person). 

And I’m drawn to jazz because, like all live performance, it’s ephemeral, which is such a radical concept in today’s society which lives to memorialize every moment on social media. Jazz exists just to be experienced in that moment, with that audience whose collective energy contributes to that alchemical magic, never to be recreated again.

Can you give us a hint of some of the types of things you’ll be playing at your April 6th show? 

We’ve got a really fun and eclectic show planned! Of course, the hallmark of any Lizzy & the Triggermen show is that we have a lot of music inspired by strong women: Eartha Kitt’s “I’d Rather be Burned as a Witch (Than Never Be Burned at All),” Ella Fitzgerald’s “Ding Dong (the Witch is Dead),” Ethel Merman’s “Everything’s Coming up Roses.” We do our own unique arrangements of these tunes courtesy of our brilliant musical director, Dan Barrett (who played with and arranged for Benny Goodman). You’ll also hear our originals like “Eve’s Lament,” which is a re-telling of the Adam and Eve story…from Eve’s perspective, which is always a big crowd pleaser, and “Outta Your League,” an anthem for anyone who's ever wasted their time with someone they were too good for. We also play tunes from the Great American Songbook and jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Louis Armstrong. Even re-imaginings of pop tunes, like our Louis Prima-esque take on Britney’s “Baby, One More Time” which brings a whole new perspective to that tune. Of course, as a former opera singer, we also like to occasionally throw in some high notes, like the Sidney Bechet clarinet duet where I *sing* one of the clarinet parts!

Who, or what, have you been listening to lately? 

Ah there’s so much. On the jazz side I’ve been soaking in the genius that is Samara Joy. (We were lucky enough to co-headline a festival with her and Nancy Sinatra last year right after her first Grammy wins!). I’m also such a fan of Emmet Cohen and the incredible livestreams he does every week. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sammy Davis Jr. lately, and Oscar Peterson (particularly his West Side Story album). Outside of jazz, I’m currently obsessed with two bands: DakhaBrakha (this transcendent Ukrainian group) and Ghost (this deliciously camp Swedish heavy metal band, that is like Andrew Lloyd Weber meets Metallica). 

What’s coming up next for you?

We are on tour on the East Coast for a couple weeks, hitting a string of some of my favorite cities: Boston (4/5), NYC (4/6), Philly (4/11) and Asheville (4/13). 

Once we get back to LA, we have a gig at the Cicada Club (4/20), a gorgeous art deco venue that has been featured in countless films and TV shows. Then we hit the road again for a residency in Las Vegas (May 9-12th) at the Nowhere Lounge at the Fontainebleau.

Aside from shows, we are working on the follow up to our debut album, “Good Songs for Bad Times” (which was #3 on the iTunes Jazz Charts). If you want a preview of some of the tunes that will be on it... come out to Joe's Pub

[Header photo credit: Rich Rosen]