Jazz Fest: The Sweethearts

You can tell by the way Shaina Hayes and Austin Tecks-Bleuer sneak glances at each other on stage that they are in love.

“These guys are the sweethearts of the Jazz Fest this year,” said Alex Kasirer-Smibert, bassist in Shlomo and Julie (pronounced “hoolie”).

Watching them play, it’s hard to resist Shlomo and Julie’s sweet adaptations of classic country blues, such as “Miss the Mississippi and You” and “I’m Satisfied (Tickled Too!),” one of many Mississippi John Hurt tunes in their repertoire.

Newcomers to the festival, Shlomo and Julie probably couldn’t have asked for a better turnout for their first free show on Tuesday. That cloudy afternoon, more than 200 people gathered under the tent of the Heineken Lounge, and most didn’t budge until the set was over.

The small stage, furnished with couches for the audience, was the perfect setting for Shlomo’s brand of charming, folky blues.

Shlomo and Julie is made up of Hayes, Tecks-Bleuer, Kasirer-Smibert on upright bass, and Thanya Iyer, violinist and back-up singer. More than technical quality, what makes Hayes’ voice stand out is her ability to bring intimacy to each tune. Her singing jives well with the finger-picked guitar, wandering bass, and Iyer’s sweet violin.

At the concert, Hayes was the centre of attention. She strode barefoot back and forth from the mic wearing a red and blue dress with a boat pattern she said she wore especially for their cover of Taj Mahal’s “Fishin’ Blues.”

Word has it that Shlomo and Julie was formed to help pay for Hayes and Tecks-Bleuer’s honeymoon; so says their artist bio in the jazz fest program. Although Hayes and Tecks-Bleuer will have soon been dating three years, a wedding isn’t in the cards yet.

The rumour originated with a sign the band put up when they started busking three years ago, with the message, “Money for the Honeymoon.” Hayes said that was all just tongue-in-cheek.

“Not to say there’s no honeymoon,” she added. “It could happen. Let’s not rule things out. But you know, we’re looking to pay rent right now.”

The members of Shlomo and Julie got together at Vanier College, where they all met in the music program. They put on their first show at the Shigawake Music Festival in Gaspésie, and have played there every year since. After Vanier, Alex Kasirer-Smibert, known as “Pompadour” or “Pompey” for short, went on to study bass at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is transferring to the McGill jazz program this year.

At the end of the concert on Tuesday, a 10-year-old approached Kasirer-Smibert holding a jazz festival program and asked him to sign it. It was the first time he had ever been asked to give someone his autograph. Even the normally soft-spoken and unassuming Kasirer-Smibert had to admit that signing the program and playing the jazz festival for the first time made him feel “a little famous.”

In addition to the jazz fest, Shlomo and Julie busk several days a week—Chinatown is their main haunt, and a few bars around town.

The band is named after Hayes’ and Tecks-Bleuer’s two cats, Shlomo and Julie. The “J” in Julie is pronounced the Spanish way because Hayes had originally wanted to call her cat Julio, until she realized it was female.

“Shlomo’s an asshole,” Hayes said. “He’s nice with the two of us but he’s a demon and we have problems inviting people over because of it. Julie is a glutton and a little bit of a slut.”

“Our stage performances let out our inner Shlomo and Julie.”

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