The restaurant, lit by a smattering of candles and sconces lining the walls, was abuzz. People chattered at their tables, loud revelers ordered drinks along the bar and the clanking of dishes and indistinct voices echoed from the kitchen. Over the noise, a few telltale sounds could be heard. A violin was plucked, a guitar was tuned, a hi-hat was adjusted. After singer Marian Frizelle, with her trademark South African accent announced the band Gypsies & Judges, up-tempo swing jazz filled the room. That’s not to say the voices didn’t stop, but every head in the restaurant turned toward the stage. As the night moved on and Gypsies & Judges blended Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra standards with their own originals, the voices died down and every eye and ear was toward the stage.
Gypsies & Judges is a band with a lot of history. Their musical style, which blends dark, modern indie sounds with music stretching back to the ‘20s, has decades of musical style distilled into their variegated sound. They also have a personal history, with drummer Nadine Parra being the only member that was in Gypsies & Judges’ first iteration. However, the new members haven’t been replacements, but partners that have added their own unique twist to the band’s established foundation. Besides, what is in the past is in the past, and Parra assured me that the band is “looking forward.”
Aside from Parra and Frizelle, the other four members are all current or former UCR students. Jordan Hang, the violin player, is an alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in 2015. John “Duke” O’Neill, the guitarist, John Garcia, the trumpet player and George Purrez, the bassist, are all current UCR students pursuing music degrees. Though not a student at UCR herself, Parra is pursuing a music degree through Chaffey College. Frizelle is the odd woman out in this case, as she has an acting background. This is evidenced in her commanding, confident stage presence. However, she too has an educational interest in music, telling me that Garcia was “teaching her music theory” somewhere in the band’s busy schedule of rehearsing, playing shows and leading their own daily lives.
Aside from somewhat different backgrounds, the members of Gypsies & Judges have distilled their influences into their music. O’Neill grew up on George Benson, melding guitar-driven jazz with rock-and-roll style playing, adding a unique layer to Gypsies & Judges’ uptempo swing style. Hang, a trained orchestral musician, admitted that jazz is a new foray in his own musical journey. Frizelle has a long-held interest in Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, matching their slow, sultry style in her vocals. Everyone has a role within band politics as well. While Frizelle, as the singer, is the de facto “face” of the band, O’Neill handles much of the business side of things, taking care of, in Parra’s words ‘the nuts and bolts.” Parra herself is admittedly the pickiest member, as she concerns herself with making sure everyone sounds their best and it was clear throughout the interview and performance that she is a natural leader.
Outside of professional playing, the group all seems to get along well together. The entirety of the performance and interview was entirely devoid of the drama that plagues many bands, with each member joking and chatting with one another before and after their set. The adage “familiarity breeds contempt” doesn’t hold water with regards to Gypsies & Judges, as they all seem like old friends both on and off the stage.
In discussing the band’s future, it was clear that Gypsies & Judges is moving slightly away from their swing-jazz roots. Their 2016 debut LP, “The Violet Hour,” is undoubtedly a jazz album, with only currents of indie and rock-and-roll music lulling below the surface. Their next album, Parra explained, will take the band in a more “indie, spooky” direction. This is possibly best evidenced by one of their upcoming titles, “Blood Moon.” Garcia perhaps summed up their intention for their upcoming album the best, saying, “We don’t want to make a ‘Violet Hour’ part two.”
Aside from recording, Gypsies & Judges are getting themselves out there, playing at least one to two shows every weekend. Their next show is May 7 at the Three Clubs in Hollywood, and they will undoubtedly have more unannounced shows across Los Angeles and the Inland Empire coming after.
At one point during the interview, I asked the reporter-y question, “What is your watershed moment?” expecting a response about a good show or a time when things clicked. No one, however, could give me a clear answer. At first I didn’t understand, but after seeing them perform something clicked. Gypsies & Judges’ history is still being written, and there really is no way to define one moment in their ongoing musical journey. Gypsies & Judges have their eyes straight ahead, making their mark on the musical tapestry of Southern California. There will be time for recollection later. Now, it’s time to make music.
Gypsies & Judges album “The Violet Album” is available on Spotify and Apple Music as well as on their Bandcamp page at gypsiesandjudges.bandcamp.com. More information about the band and upcoming shows can be found on their Facebook or their website gypsiesandjudges.com. They also regularly post on YouTube and on instagram @gypsiesandjudges.