The Jitterbug Vipers: Shut Up and Play, Bitch!

Lounge jazzmasters celebrate ‘Phoebe’s Dream’

The Jitterbug Vipers’ Sarah Sharp
The Jitterbug Vipers’ Sarah Sharp (by Todd V. Wolfson)

Last week, singer Sarah Sharp and I met up to talk about her lounge jazz band the Jitterbug Vipers’ new album, Phoebe’s Dream, which came out today. Laughter and good times run rampant within the Vipers’ camp. The local quartet’s one of the funnest and best bands you can catch around Austin. See them tomorrow, Wednesday, at Lamberts, 7pm.

“[We] call each other ‘bitch’ onstage as a term of endearment,” jokes Sharp. “It feels so good to look one of them in the eye and say, ‘Shut up and play, bitch’ and know that you’re loved. It’s very healing and a fantastic way to call out the next song.”

The singer says she was inspired to change her musical trajectory when she met Slim Richey, the Vipers’ guitarist, and his wife, band bassist Francie Meaux Jeaux.

“Slim lives to play and plays to live,” says Sharp. “He can’t stop. He can’t say no to a gig. We play three to five times a week. I think he’s like a shark. He’ll die if he stops [moving].

“As a result, I feel like I’m a recent graduate of the Slim Richey Finishing School for Singers and Musicians. So many people have been pulled up by him.”

Not everybody in the crew maintains the same prestige that Sharp ascribes Richey.

“Meaux Jeaux is bat-shit crazy,” laughs Sharp. “She’s the comic relief and the punk heart of our band. All of her hollering and not taking anything too seriously has become a part of who we all are as a band.

“I can be can be honest with Slim and Francie. I’ve never felt more safe speaking my mind or my true self than when I’m around them. They do not have a judgmental bone in either of their bodies.”

Phoebe’s Dream is a different kind of album for the Vipers. You can chalk that up to Sharp’s growing prowess as a songwriter.

“My jazz world and my songwriting world have always been completely separate,” she explains. “This is the record that brings them together.”

She counts album single “Viper Moon,” the band’s first original composition, as one of her favorites because she wrote the tune with Richey. Another standout is “Stuff It,” which Sharp considers “naughty.” She wrote it with Asleep at the Wheel singer Elizabeth McQueen in less than two hours, giggling the whole time.

Sharp describes Phoebe‘s Dream as a long overdue showcase for Richey, someone my father, guitarist Jon Dee Graham, calls “the Pleni-Potentate of Jazz guitar.”

“Watching his hands to try and understand what he’s doing is like watching a waterfall to try and understand water,” says my dad. “And you can tell him I said so.”

Sharp sums Richey’s presence up nicely: “He’s in his 70s and it’s time for more people to realize what a treasure he is. We’re surrounded by this awesome culture of musicians of all ages, who get what a big deal Slim is and will do anything for him. They just want to be around him, because they’ve been mentored and influenced by him from the beginning.

“I’m honored to make this music with him.”

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