Former St. Louisan Chloe Feoranzo Brings Her NOLA-Based Jazz Quartet Back Home

Mar 6, 2019 at 6:00 am
Chloe Feoranzo left St. Louis for New Orleans without a plan, but soon found more than enough work.
Chloe Feoranzo left St. Louis for New Orleans without a plan, but soon found more than enough work. ALEX MATTHEWS

It was only three years ago that Chloe Feoranzo was in the market for a new city to call home. As is the case for many young musicians, the appeals of a certain southern town were too much to resist, so in March 2016 she decamped St. Louis for New Orleans without a set gig waiting for her.

Mind you, it wasn't as if Feoranzo, who lived in St. Louis from 2010 until her 2016 departure, was without a nice musical résumé. Here, the clarinetist, saxophonist and vocalist had become a regular performer with the jazzy Miss Jubilee, with whom she was playing when Pokey LaFarge was adding a horn section to his band. Feoranzo joined LaFarge's expanding group and featured with them for about three years, during a run that would see the band perform on the Late Show with David Letterman, Prairie Home Companion and even at the Grand Ole Opry.

But with that band in a membership flux, Feoranzo decided that a move was her best course. Given her desire to sing more and showcase her serious trad jazz chops on clarinet, NOLA was a perfect fit.

"I was looking for cities," she recalls, "and New Orleans was number one on the list. I went to visit it and moving there was partially because it reminded me of St. Louis. It's got a very big music community and everyone was really nice. I was just kind of welcomed into the community pretty quickly."

That acceptance wasn't exactly effortless, though — Feoranzo immediately sought out connections.

"A lot of musicians here start out busking, while also going around for hours and hours, trying to sit in with whoever would let me," she explains. "Pretty soon, I knew who was who in the scene and where to play."

After a period of wandering Frenchmen Street in search of gigs, Feoranzo found a recurring role in the perpetually touring act Postmodern Jukebox, a band dedicated to reimagining modern pop music into early twentieth-century forms such as swing and jazz. More opportunities would follow.

One was especially fortuitous. Tuba Skinny bandleader Erika Lewis was looking for bands to perform at a girls' music camp. Featuring different styles of performance each day, Feoranzo's resulting Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band was intended to be a one-off gig. Instead, its members had so much fun playing together that they decided to keep the group going — Shake 'Em Up recently even played a couple of dates in St. Louis, with shows at the Focal Point and the Stage at KDHX.

"There's not really an all-female jazz band here, and when she called us, we weren't trying to be a band," Feoranzo recalls. "We weren't sure we wanted the whole stigma and weirdness that can surround an all-female group, because a lot of times you're forced into those and you just don't click as a group. But we really did love playing with each other, and then someone took a picture and the internet was like, 'Yeah, that's a great idea.' And so it was a band. We've had a lot of fun."

These days, Shake 'Em Up is Feoranzo's main musical outlet, but she's also heading up a quartet. She features on clarinet and vocals, with Shake 'Em Up's Molly Reeves on guitar and vocals, Nahum Zdybel on guitar and Ted Long on bass. In a bit of a quirk, the band is made up of two couples (Team Feoranzo-Long and Team Reeves-Zdybel), a situation that she jokes "had us going through a couple of band names. Like Cuddle Party."

Instead, Feoranzo has her name up top. She admits that it's a bit scary.

"I'm definitely not trying to be the leader-leader," she says. "I'm trying to be as equal as I can be with it, all of it. I wanted to sing a little bit more, and there are songs I wanted to sing for a long time — obscure ones by Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Doris Day — and I never thought I'd have that opportunity. They're nice enough to let me try to sing them."

These days, with multiple bands in her life, Feoranzo is looking to find the perfect balance, allowing for home life in her adopted NOLA while continuing to spread the good word out on the road.

"I'm fairly evenly in and out of town, with random events like dances and Dixieland festivals," she says. "I'd like it a little more equal. Especially when I started with Postmodern Jukebox, I was gone for four weeks at a time, six weeks. That's become a little more chill, with a rotating cast of musicians. So if I can't make a tour they're fine with it, and that makes things easier."

Thinking back on her time in St. Louis, Feoranzo notes that the LaFarge experience was an exceptionally instructional one. "It's where I got all my touring chops," she explains. "I learned the ropes of what tour life is all about, what to do and what to expect. You can't really forget that."

An occasional member of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers in addition to her other bands, Feoranzo knows the appeals of being in one group and in many. She's been playing pro since she was fifteen, experiencing a bit of everything in her career: busking, touring, recording, working as both a session player and bandleader. Right now, sinking her teeth into a variety of groups is the plan, as she takes in all the opportunities possible.

"There's something really special about being in one band for years on end: You become closer to the people. And musically, you get so used to hearing one another," she explains. "At the same time, when you have multiple bands, you can grow more as a musician, playing with people on all levels and styles. It can keep your playing fresh. Everyone should do both approaches, if they can."