The time of year when Halloween is imminent always brings about some unique happenings. This is the case at Park City Music Hall in Bridgeport, where “A Masquerade Ball” will be taking place on October 28 starting at 8 p.m. The event plans to be an ideal time for party animals and lovers of mystery where wearing masks is encouraged and they’re provided if you don’t have one. It’s also a fundraiser for the venue’s nonprofit organization Park City Presents, which aims to provide access to the performing arts, music tech education and training to youth around the city. You can’t have a night like this without a killer band, and local gypsy jazz act Caravan of Thieves will be filling that role.
I had a talk with co-guitarist and co-vocalist Fuzz Sangiovanni ahead of the show about Caravan of Thieves’ musical approach, his extensive experience with music education, wanting to get involved in Bridgeport’s creative community and working on his own solo record.
RD: Caravan of Thieves started during the late 2000s when you and Carrie Sangiovanni discovered that both of your voices blended quite well in harmonic fashion. Do you consider this vocal approach to be the foundation for the music you create or does it come from somewhere else?
FS: That was definitely the catalyst for us just doing music together because we definitely had a connection there right away. It actually started when we met, we were a couple and we were married for 13 years. When we first got together, we started dating and we both realized that we each played music and I invited her to come join me for some shows. She immediately chimed in and we started singing harmonies together, so that was the thing that got us going. The inspiration for Caravan of Thieves came a few years later and we certainly wanted to make the harmonies an essential part of it because being able to sing and harmonize together is one of our strengths, but we wanted to pull from some other things as well.
Those came from a little combination of my interest in gypsy jazz music, Django Reinhardt and that sort of stuff along with some of the music from the swing era. We wanted to bring some of that into the mix and the reason why the Django Reinhardt element even came to mind is because we did make a decision to go acoustic. We tried our hand at being an electric rock band and it was good, but it didn’t feel totally right so we decided to go back to being an acoustic act. Django Reinhardt’s earliest stuff was with an upright bass, violin and acoustic guitars, so it was pretty much the template for what we were going to do musically. We weren’t going to do instrumental jazz music like Django did, we wanted to write songs, so the other influence came in when it came to the subject matter.
The music is kind of dark and has an exotic feel to it, so we figured that we’d make this music have this kind of spooky, out of this world kind of context. It’s why we use the descriptive phrase where we say that it’s a little bit of Tim Burton, a little bit of Django Reinhardt and a little bit of The Beatles because it’s got all those elements. The Beatles inspire our harmonic pop songwriting sensibility and it’s mixed with this swing gypsy jazz thing while having this context that you could hear in a Tim Burton film because it’s outlandish and a little dark, twisted and satirical. Those were all the things converging, I guess.
RD: Ok, I totally get all that from listening to the music. You’re also a member of the Fairfield County funk rock staples Deep Banana Blackout, so going from the style of that band to this one, what inspired this shift of forging the gypsy swing sound of Caravan of Thieves? Is this the kind of music you’ve always wanted to make?
FS: Yeah, it’s not like I had it in mind my whole life and it finally came together. Actually, during the making of the first Deep Banana Blackout album I was starting to get into Django Reinhardt back then. There’s actually a slight reference to it in the beginning of one of our songs, I do a little acoustic guitar intro that’s got a little bit of a Django vibe to it and it goes into this piece that I wrote called “El Sol Esta En Fuego”. It’s something that I wrote to have this kind of exotic, Middle Eastern gypsy kind of vibe, it’s not as funky as the band’s other material is. It was something I was interested in back then, but that was a long time ago and we were very much focused on being a funk band.
After Deep Banana Blackout stopped touring in the early 2000s, I started to explore different things. I wanted to do a different kind of music and I pursued some other projects. One of them was called Big Fuzz along with some other things that I was piecing together with different players. Some of them included members of Deep Banana Blackout while others included some other people that I was playing with. What I found was it was still a little too close to what I was doing with Deep Banana Blackout, so I learned that I didn’t want to keep trying to recreate and reinvent that approach while also being compared to it.
The other reason for starting Caravan of Thieves was that I wanted to invent a whole new sound, a whole new scene and it really was the latter. There’s very little crossover between Deep Banana Blackout and the jam band scene with Caravan of Thieves. It’s much more of a scene that’s built around the combination of the folk and bluegrass world, a little bit of the performing arts audience and people who are into music that’s a little odd and freaky. There were some people who came over from the jam band scene to check us out, but we’ve developed our own scene pretty much from the bottom up while building the fan base from zero. Everything we have today as Caravan of Thieves was created separately from Deep Banana Blackout, which was kind of the intention.
RD: Outside of performing music, you also teach it and you recently started the I Love Music Collective last year and a way of bringing all sorts of people into the music ecosystem. How did you go about making the idea for this collective a reality and what in your opinion is the most rewarding thing about working with a singular student or with a class of individuals?
FS: I’ve been teaching music since I was in college, so it’s nothing new for me to be pursuing this. Since Caravan of Thieves stopped touring, because we don’t tour anymore as a band and we just do a few select shows a year, I started teaching more due to just being around and I could do it. The more I’ve taught, the more I’ve built up a community of people that were students while also being part of community outreach programs. I was working with this organization called City Lights, which is a gallery in downtown Bridgeport. Myself and a lot of other people were going into schools and we were doing programs where we’d use music to teach about important lessons in life, inclusion, diversity and things like that.’
Those were fun and rewarding projects, then I got more and more interested in the nonprofit world and doing things to help the community. It’s still very much in the early stages of what I’m trying to accomplish because I’ve just been so busy with all my stuff. I work all the time, I’m always teaching, I’m always playing, I’m always composing, I’m always writing and I’m always producing. I’ve been wanting to get more of an outreach for all my musical friends in the community and do more projects. I’m kind of a one-man operation in a lot of ways and I do a lot of things just by myself but I’m trying to get more integrated with some of the other people who are local.
This event at Park City Music Hall is great because I know what they’re doing and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve been interested in connecting more with them. I’ve known John Torres and the Torres family for decades, at one point John and I were doing these things I’m talking about with inner city schools in Bridgeport years ago before Park City Music Hall even existed. Rick Reyes is another local artist who I’ve done a lot of these projects with in schools, so I’m trying to develop that a little bit more. What I find rewarding about the education part of all this is that I get something out of it.
I get excited and I get inspired by the music and I get to have fun while bringing the energy and all that, but what really does it for me is seeing fulfillment in the audience. I love seeing that everybody is having a great time and I feel like whatever I’m doing with my job is worth something, it’s got a purpose. It’s the same thing with education, when I get through to one of the students or a group of students and they’re inspired, whether or not they want to become a professional musician is not so important to me but some of them do. I have a few students right now who are now in college and are still teaching while pursuing music as a career, which is great. I just feel like if you have music in your life whether you’re an accountant, a doctor, a guitar player or a DJ, it’s something that I feel makes life worth living.
It’s not just about survival, it’s about art, entertainment and music. I think those are the things that really fulfill us outside of our normal day to day. If I can help deliver that to people on a greater scale and if I can help inspire people to do it themselves or be involved in it in some way whether it’s performing or writing or as a more active audience member who really appreciates it in a bigger way than just hanging out at the show, then I’m doing some good work.
RD: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more with everything you just said. Going more into this upcoming show at Park City Music Hall, what are your thoughts on Caravan of Thieves being a part of it? It seems like a really cool event for a great cause.
FS: I’ve yet to pick the brains of John and the crew there about what they’re doing with the nonprofit they started. I do want to have that conversation with them but at this time I don’t fully understand exactly what they’re doing, but I just know that they’re so integrated into the local community that I’m sure they have plans to do some great work around the area. From an artistic and thematic standpoint, when they were thinking of doing this Halloween themed masquerade ball as a fundraiser our name was at the top of the list. For some reason, the show we usually do around Halloween got moved to Christmas time because every year we play at StageOne where the Fairfield Theatre Company is, which has become our main venue. It was literally the first place we ever played, so we do it every year.
We used to do an annual Halloween show there because of the vibe that we bring out that’s a bit dark, macabre and spooky, but it’s also fun and silly. It’s a balance of scary and funny, but we had been the Halloween band for years and a lot of the music that we still do in our set for our Halloween shows is so appropriate. It totally sets the tone for Halloween and it made sense, but we don’t do it anymore. For some reason we moved it to December, we have some holiday tunes that we do too that are kind of odd but anyway, when they were talking about this Halloween show and I was approached about it, it was a perfect idea. It feels appropriate to be a part of this, with it being a masquerade ball we do like to get dressed up while looking like we come from a different time period that’s somewhere between the Victorian era and the swing era.
I think John knows that I’m trying to be involved a lot more in local things and helping build them up. I’ve had a vested interest in Park City Music Hall since day one basically, even before they went full throttle with the venue and everything. I’ve played there at least 25 times in one form or another, so I’m kind of one step away from just being a partner (laughs). That’s actually not true, but it’s kind of an obvious choice and it all worked out.
RD: It makes total sense from what you just said. After the show, what are Caravan of Thieves plans for the rest of the year? I know you mentioned that show you have going on around Christmas, but can we expect a new studio album in 2024 or do you just plan on focusing more on the I Love Music Collective?
FS: We do have that show happening at StageOne on December 2nd and that’s the only thing we have coming up. Then that’s it for me as far as Caravan of Thieves goes this year, but I’ve actually been working on a recording by myself. I’m also a producer and an engineer, I’ve worked with other people and I’ve done their projects along with producing a lot of the Caravan of Thieves stuff too. We haven’t been actively working on any new music, we’ll eventually see about writing some new material but I’ve always wanted to do this particular recording because I’ve always been working with different musicians and bands. I’ll pull this keyboard player from this band, the drummer from that band and we’ll do this and that, but I’ve also been out doing a lot of solo acoustic stuff.
It’s me with a guitar, I sit and I sing. I’ve been doing a ton of stuff like that lately so I decided to make an album that’s going to just be that but it’s also going to be a little bit more than that. Some of the stuff is actually similar to Caravan of Thieves, but it’s me doing it solo. I got an acoustic swing thing going on and some funky acoustic stuff so it’s going to incorporate both vibes. I don’t know if I’m going to release the whole album, I think I’m just going to be doing some singles and eventually it’ll be the entire record.
I don’t know if I’ll ever mass produce a CD again, it just seems like a waste of money and time. I’ll probably be releasing the songs online as singles and maybe at some point I’ll put it out on vinyl.
Who: Caravan of Thieves
When: Oct. 28, 2023 at 8 p.m.
Where: Park City Music Hall, 2926 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport, CT, 06605
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of the Connecticut Examiner, he also writes for DigBoston, The Aquarian Weekly, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.