Savannah’s Velvet Caravan is as unique as their birth city.
Behind a combustible concoction of gypsy and jazz influences, Velvet Caravan’s sound is carved from the hands of classically trained musicians whose unique backgrounds blend seamlessly into a genre-defining acoustic sound.
They are also the only band to have played Savannah Stopover Music Festival, Revival Fest, Savannah Music Festival, Savannah Jazz Festival, SCAD Savannah Film Festival and the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival.
Over the last few years, Velvet Caravan has pushed out of Savannah into other markets, playing large festivals and concert halls all over the nation. Where once you could catch them playing weekly in Savannah, local shows have been become rare, special occasions.
The upcoming Sept. 14 show at the Lucas Theatre will be one such special occasion. They’ve teamed up with Savannah Stopover for a very special journey through gypsy music that will highlight collaborations and two of their newest members.
The heart of Velvet Caravan is violinist Ricardo Ochoa and pianist Jared Hall. Percussionists and guitarists have come and gone over the years. They have a steady hand on the low end in Eric Dunn, who’s been with them for a few years now. Most recently, the departure of percussionist Jesse Monkman has opened the door for a new future for the ensemble.
Drummer Vuk Pavlovic sat in with Velvet Caravan at the behest of original guitarist Sasha Strunjas years ago. Pavlovic, now the band’s full-time percussionist, fits his new role rather nicely, not only as an accomplished musician, but also as a cornerstone for the band’s future.
“We wanted someone who could sit in, but also where we could go with the music and our plans for the next five or 10 years, Vuk fits really well,” Ochoa said.
“He fills in a lot and I think he’s been playing with Ike Stubblefield a lot,” Hall added.
“He’s steady with him,” Ochoa continued. “He spends five or six days there. He eats a lot of ice cream with Ike Stubblefield."
“We’ve been touring more the last couple of years and it’s going to get more intense,” Ochoa said. “We have some offers for the next recording. We have this producer from Austin who’s been knocking at our door. He has a record label and all that.
"We’ve been trying to see what the benefits are of joining a record label. It’s hard to wrap your head around it anymore, because what is the point? Everybody can do it on your own. So, where do we take the sound that we have and what do we do with what we have, and hit the mainstream a little bit more? We’ve been thinking and I think Vuk can help us with that.”
Velvet Caravan’s next album is in the bag and will see a release around the same time as the Lucas show. It features new(ish) guitarist Jimmy Grant, who has taken the band slightly more toward gypsy music and away from jazz in the last year and a half.
“He’s more gypsy,” Ochoa said. “Not gypsy jazz, but real gypsy. We have focused more on that. We’ve been focusing on that stuff. We want to get away from the jazz thing, the gypsy jazz thing. We want to be more gypsy and something else.”
Part of Velvet Caravan’s shift in music comes from the influence of its new members, but more importantly, they want to explore a variety of future collaborations. Historically, the band has been almost entirely an instrumental outfit. In recent years, however, they’ve begun to add the occasional vocalist. But it’s not about just putting someone out there to sing the song. They want to collaborate with other high-caliber musicians to bring something unique to the stage.
For the Sept. 14 show, that is exactly what they are doing. The entire night will be staged in similar form to Ochoa’s show on WRUU 107.5, “Gypsy on my Mind,” which airs at 5 p.m. Tuesdays.
The night will start with Atlanta Balkan party band, Mercury Orkestar, which blends pop, Balkan melodies and jazz. From there, the night will be a progressive showcase of Velvet Caravan’s range, with jazz vocalist Annie Sellick joining the ensemble as a collaborator for the night.
“The way I envisioned it, is it’s sort of like my radio show on Tuesdays,” Ochoa said. “I speak about gypsy sentiment and the different influences. I play the music. It’s similar in a way. I am going to take everyone on a gypsy journey. We start with the Balkan stuff. Those guys are going to kill it.
“Then I am going to bring it back and introduce members of the band with certain music. We’re going to bring it back to the real gypsy stuff and start moving through the different regions and parts of the world and get everyone back on stage for the finale. It’s going to be a crazy tune.”