Royal Jelly Jive is a retro dance band inspired by funk and jazz and rock and soul. This Friday and Saturday, two shows a night, they’ll be recording a live album at Blue Note Napa.
On the phone from her home in Sonoma last week, lead singer and lyricist Lauren Bjelde (pronounced bee-yell-day) talked about the influence of European jazz on the band. “I discovered Django Reinhardt and fell in love with gypsy jazz,” she said, “the quick strumming and Stéphane Grappelli playing those beautiful melodies on the violin.
“I think the magic comes from another time and place where people were going through different cities and from land to land, picking up little pieces of cultural gems and music and melodies and putting them together.”
Royal Jelly Jive was an evolution from a previous band. “We went under the name ‘Sufis,’” Bjelde said. “We were sort of a boiling pot where rock and roll meets swing.
Many of the guys in the band met in the San Francisco State music program.
“I was, meanwhile, in the next building over in the anthropology and arts departments. We got a residency, every fourth Wednesday at the Boom Boom Room in the city. When The Sufis dissolved, Royal Jelly came out of the ashes like a phoenix, like a funky phoenix.”
Bjelde and keyboardist Jesse Adams are a couple, personally and professionally, and write Royal Jelly Jive’s original music. “We are a songwriting machine together and it’s a really beautiful relationship that we have,” she said. “He’s constantly flowing with chords and these beautiful melodies and I can just walk in the room and start singing over them. The hardest part is figuring out what should be recorded.”
Robby Elfman plays saxophone and clarinet. “He and Jesse have played in a whole slew of world bands,” Bjelde said. “The two of them are Jewish and and they’ve been raised playing gigs at bar mitzvahs and at the temple for the kids. They can spit out any klezmer melody. We call them the ‘Jew-ettes.’
“Luke Zavala plays trombone. He works at San Francisco Jazz Center right now and he’s been influenced by jazz musicians. He shares the love for classic jazz like all of us, and loves players like Trombone Shorty.”
Tyden Binsted plays upright and electric bass. “Ty and Jesse and the horn players are pretty well versed in the jazz standards,” she added. “One particular influence all of these guys have is (the avant-jazz-funk band) Medeski, Martin, and Wood.”
Describing the drummer, Felix Macnee, Bjelde said, “Felix is a very interesting cat (really, she said that). He’s a professional painter, a really masterful commissioned painter with his own beautiful unique style. He’s an incredible drummer and also shares this love for classic music, like Billie Holiday and some of those old Gershwin songs.”
Bjelde described how the members went through a number of possible band names. “One of them we tried was Royal Jelly,” she said. “It’s that super nutritious stuff that all those worker bees and drones give to the queen. That’s what makes a queen bee so much larger. She’s just doused and bathed with this super food.
“I just think of music, or passion, art, or inspiration, being that good stuff. And if we can just share that, we can all just grow and be bigger and better. That’s how I feel with the band.”
“We added ‘Jive’ a few months later,” Bjelde said, “when we realized that we couldn’t trademark ‘royal jelly.’ There was a lot of stuff with that brand on the market. We were told we wouldn’t be able to protect our name. And anyway, we want people to feel like they can jive and let loose and just, you know, feel silly and have fun.”
The lead singer said she is excited about this weekend’s Napa shows. “This is such a wonderful opportunity coming up at Blue Note. We’ll have four shows to put out all the music that we want and have recordings of that. We feel like our truest selves playing for people and interacting with the crowd and feeling the energy in the moment. Try as you might, it is hard to dial that in in a studio.”
“Blue Note is a really wonderful venue. People sit down and they really listen. We can musically go into some different places, and so the songs that we’ll play will be little bit different as well. That’s where our passion for jazz can really soar.”
The album recorded at Blue Note will be the band’s third release. Their most recent recording is 2016’s “Stand Up.”
Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, 7:30 p.m. (doors open 5:30 p.m.) and 9:45 p.m. (doors open 9:15 p.m.). $15-$29.95. Blue Note Napa, 1030 Main St. Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.