Drummer Scott Apicelli and vocalist Mike DeAngelis have always loved jazz standards, both vocal and instrumental.
DeAngelis grew up around the music — his mother sang standards in the 1950s. Apicelli came to the form in high school, and spent his years at Berklee College of Music in Boston immersing himself in the local jazz scene.
But until recently, the two musicians always found themselves on the rock end of the music spectrum. Most notably, both play in Saratoga Springs-based Celtic rock juggernaut Hair of the Dog, which has been touring the Northeast and Ireland since 1993.
“We’ve talked for many years about doing this [jazz project], but because we play so much with that band, we don’t have time to do a lot of other musical outlets,” Apicelli said via phone before a recording session at Blue Sky Music Studios in Albany, which he owns.
The Standard Clams
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: 9 Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs
How Much: $2
More Info: 583-2582, www.9mapleavenue.com
Getting their chance
In May of last year, the two finally found the time, teaming up with guitarist Rob Cohen, a former bandmate of Apicelli’s, and bassist Ed Tourge to form The Standard Clams.
With DeAngelis setting aside the acoustic guitar he plays in Hair of the Dog to focus on vocals, the band plies an improvisational jazz trio approach to vocal standards from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett along with more modern fare from The Police and Amy Winehouse.
“It’s really taken off quite well,” Apicelli said. “We immediately started getting gigs, and other venues would come out and hire us from that. We have a few house gigs now — the first Friday of every month we’re at Daisy Bakers [in Troy], and every other Wednesday we’re at Taste in Albany.”
The band plays next at 9 Maple Avenue on Friday night, a gig that allows them to push the improvisational limits on their instruments. Thanks to the guitar-bass-drums-vocals lineup, the band is able to tailor its repertoire to a wide variety of venues.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Apicelli said. “If we’re doing a private party where people want to hear songs, we can just do that. If we’re playing at 9 Maple Avenue we can do a little more jamming.”
The band’s eclectic song choices and arrangements usually start with Cohen.
“Rob Cohen’s an excellent arranger; he’s just flowing with ideas,” Apicelli said. “So he’ll come up with ideas and we’ll toss them around, try different feels out to see what works. We do try to change them up from the originals, especially on the modern stuff, and then we’ll just bounce it around and see what sticks, what feels good.”
From the beginning, the group’s members wanted to incorporate modern material and rock songs into their sets, all done in a jazz mode. “We didn’t want to just be another schlocky band; we wanted to be entertaining as well,” Apicelli said. “Also, there’s a lot of young people who turn their heads when they hear that stuff, who don’t necessarily know the standards.”
Thanks to Apicelli and DeAngelis’ involvement in Hair of the Dog, The Standard Clams have been getting a wide range of demographics in their audiences. Hair of the Dog fans will check out the band, along with the usual dinner crowds found in the area’s jazz clubs — the age ranges from 20s to 70s, according to Apicelli.
“It’s been very positive, and [the audience] is actually kind of blown away,” he said. “They’re surprised; it’s not what they expect. They’re used to seeing us in the other element — we dress differently in this band, so even that. And they really enjoy the songs that we’re doing.”
Both Cohen and Tourge have been playing with area jazz groups both live and in-studio for many years. But for Apicelli and DeAngelis, the band provided a unique set of challenges.
Honing other skills
“As well as being fun and exciting and all that, it’s also a challenge,” Apicelli said. “When you’re used to doing the same thing for so many years, it becomes second nature, and so we really had to — we don’t really have to practice much for [Hair of the Dog] other than learning new material, whereas with this gig we’ve had to revisit learning our instruments, so to speak.”
“But that’s what makes it so much fun, the variety,” he added. “If Mike and I were to play in another Irish band, that would be kind of pointless.”