Ragtime meets rap in Parlor Social, debuting this weekend at Playboy Jazz Fest

by Greg Ptacek

At the turn of 20th century and the dawn of the recorded music industry, ragtime was the most popular music in America, and arguably the world.

Breaking free of the confines of European classical music and the 19th century march style of John Phillip Souza, ragtime originated from the polyrhythmic music African-American music of the American South.

By the time its heyday was over in the early 1920s – eclipsed by its music kissing cousin, jazz – ragtime had become highly sophisticated. It reached its pinnacle in the layered compositions of Joseph Lamb, James Scot and perhaps most of all, Scott Joplin, whose music revised interest in ragtime in the 1970s when it became the basis for the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning motion picture, The Sting.

But in truth, ragtime never disappeared but simply evolved. It’s infectious, syncopated or “ragged” rhythm written in 4/4 time with strong bass on the 2 and 4 beats became the and basis for the “stride piano” style best known in the song “The Charleston,” the defining song of the Roaring 20s, and later influenced jazz known as “swing” and Big Band that dominated popular music the 1930s-40s.

Fast forward to the turn of the next century, circa 2000, and two young musicians – Dessy Di Lauro (vocals), Ric’key Pageot (keyboards) – from disparate lives both get bitten by Ragtime bug.

As these things do, they meet their respective muses in the circus (read on!), become a married couple, form a band they call Parlor Social, and in 2010 launch the latest revival of ragtime with the 2010 debut of their first collaborative effort, “Why You Raggin,” which won two Hollywood Music in Media Awards, including Best R&B/Soul Song of the Year.

Their music is distinctive – ragtime meets rap with large helpings of funk, soul and R&B – and their live performances and music videos are baroque, costumed affairs. (Think Dr. John meets Pink.)

Their sophomore effort, 2013’s This is Neo-Ragtime, set them on an even bigger path of stardom when the album’s first single “Jump n’ Jivin’” was featured on ESPN throughout the 2013 NCAA basketball Final Four Championship.

2015 brought us their latest EP, Say Hep Hep, nominated for a 2016 Independent Music Award (IAM) for ‘Best Urban EP’, which boasts the aptly titled single and music video “Let Me Hear You Say Hep Hep.” Their single, “It’s Complicated (Let Go)’’ was also nominated for an IAM for Best R&B/Soul song of the year.

Poised to make their debut before 10,000 fans at the 40th edition of the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, we caught up with Dessey and Ric’key for the following interview.

They’re still working on the release of Parlor Social’s next album but promise to showcase their new material at the festival, including the first single, Got The Heebie Jeebies.

Monsters and Critics: Your music is both fresh and familiar at the same time. How do you achieve that?

Parlor Social: Thank you! We were influenced by the Harlem Renaissance era musically. Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington…raised in a Hip Hop generation.

The mesh of being inspired by the 30s meets today’s contemporary sounds came naturally. Add to that some soul, Doo Wop and jazz influences and we created this sound we call ‘Speakeasy Soul’.

M&C: The influence of ragtime in your music, while not exclusive, is certainly prominent. What’s the backstory of how you and ragtime got together?

Parlor Social: The ragtime influence was prominent because Dessy’s parents were vinyl collectors and loved the Harlem Renaissance music of the 20s/30s/40s.

She was raised with Cab, Duke, Fats… and so much more. Both our parents listened to really “old” music from the beginnings of jazz.

It was more of the stride piano influence and the Big Band sound that influenced the both of us. We wanted to show people that we were inspired by that sound, but we are pushing it forward, on the retro-futurism tip.

M&C: There’s something mesmerizing about ragtime — it kinda pulls you in and along at the same time. How would you describe the effect of your music on your audiences?

Parlor Social: Honestly, it’s amazing to watch people in the audience because they don’t know what to expect.

Those that know what we do, know now, but those that are watching us for the first time live, we see the switch go off after the first 30 seconds and people start moving to the groove.

It’s such a different sound, it takes people a few seconds to realize what it is. It’s amazing to see people that don’t know our music respond to it and act like they do, you know?

Hard to describe but it’s familiar to them although they’d never heard it before. People move to it almost instantly.

M&C: Were your parents musicians?

Parlor Social: Dessy’s parents weren’t/aren’t. Although her mom had an amazing voice, she never pursued a music career professionally.

Her dad played trumpet but nothing serious. However, the majority of her family in Brazil are all percussionists/in music.

Ric’key’s entire family are in music. His dad is a bass player, his older brother Steve is a flute player and Grammy-nominated producer, and his younger brother is a drummer.

M&C: How did you first meet?

Parlor Social: We first met in Montreal when Dessy moved back from Florida after finishing her Cirque Du Soleil gig. Ric’key was the new up-and-coming keys player in Montreal, and we immediately connected.

Dessy was looking for someone to arrange a lot of the music she had written in Florida. We hit it off and have been working together ever since.

M&C: What are you individual and collective musical influences?

Parlor Social: Dessy’s influences range from Duke Ellington to Donny Hathaway, Cab Calloway to Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston to Lauryn Hill, Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, Badu, Luther Vandross, Mos Def, Pharcyde and more.

Rick’ey studied both Classical and Jazz in University, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Music. His influences are Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, so many names…world music, Brazilian, Hip-Hop, Caribbean music, (Haitian Folkloric music)…the list is very long.

M&C: Besides Playboy Jazz Festival where else would you like to perform?

Parlor Social: We have not played Africa….but could only imagine how magical it would be for us. Back to the roots.

NYC is always amazing because it’s so difficult to win folks over but we did. Right in Harlem. We also have yet to perform in New Orleans, but it’s one of our favorite cities in the U.S. In Europe, Paris is a goal. Too many amazing spots around the world. *LOL*

M&C: What’s the strangest musical gig that you ever had?

Parlor Social: There was one gig with a band where I [Dessy] would actually wear a disguise when I’d perform so people wouldn’t recognize me. They were so crazy, and if they drank a little too much they were pretty bad.

Otherwise, I have been pretty blessed with some fun gigs. Even my cashier job in between gigs was fun.

M&C: Your performances have an undeniable theatricality to them. Where does that come from and why do think it’s important?

Parlor Social: We both toured and performed with Cirque Du Soleil. Dessy was in two Cirque Du Soleil productions and Ric’key was one of the youngest band leaders on “Delirium”, the first rock and roll type Cirque Du Soleil show.

Both of us were part of the story. Dessy played five different characters and because we had at least four performances a week, this allowed her to push herself to really become the characters in each of those roles; and although Ric’key was band leader he still had to play a character.

Ric’key also toured on three world tours with Madonna as her keyboard player. Madonna puts on a massive production and you learn a lot from seeing how the artistic team pieces the show together.

Madonna is the queen of theatrical. You learn from watching the best in the game do it.

M&C: What are you most looking forward to in playing your first Playboy Jazz Festival?

Parlor Social: We are looking forward to the excitement of starting the show, when that stage starts turning and then we are revealed to the thousands of people sitting out front.

 

We get goosebumps just thinking about it. No greater high than performing for that many people and for such a respected festival. And also standing on such a legendary stage — the Hollywood Bowl — where so many legends have stood before us. Very humbling.

We can’t wait to perform and introduce our sound to the people who don’t know what we do.

Rick Pageot

CrazyglueMusic, Burbank, CA