Vintage Velvet
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Vintage Velvet

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While there are plenty of hard-working musical groups in town handling renditions of popular songs for audiences across the tavern/lounge scene, there are few more stylish and swingin' than Vintage Velvet, a swingin' jazz and blues ensemble fronted by vocalist Regina Ruopoli. With a dash of martini elegance, Vintage Velvet live up to their name with a smooth set of jazzy cocktail standards, showtunes, latin jazz and swing favorites, including the likes of "Fever, "Fly Me to the Moon," "Is You Is, or Is You Ain't," and others. The troupe -- keyboardist Jeff Castle, guitarist Steve Coe, bassist Frank Ruopoli, and drummer Nick Jenkins -- m anage to sneak in a few cleverly-rearranged versions of contemporary popular tunes, as well. The Velvets play "happy hour sets" starting at 5 pm this week at the Torch Lounge on upper King Street. --T. Ballard Lesemann - Charleston City Paper, November 23, 2005


While there's no shortage of groups in town handling renditions of popular songs, only a few are as dapper and swingin' as Vintage Velvet. Their swingin' mix of jazz, blues, and pop really moves. Vocalist Regina Ruopoli, keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Castle, electric guitarist Steve Coe, bassist Frank Ruopoli, and drummer Nick Jenkins tend to play a high-style mix of jazz, blues, and early-radio pop music from the 1940's, 50's and 60's -- from smooth, jazzy cocktail standards and showtunes to bossa nova, big band, and reworkings of popular Top 40 stuff. "We're always trying to delve into the jazz catalog a little deeper to find the lesser-known and less-often played tunes that are still fantastic," says Ruopoli. "No matter what, we give them our own spin and make the accessible to our audience, which is quite varied." Check www.vintagevelvetband.com for more. -- T. Ballard Lesemann - Charleston City Paper, November 22, 2006


The 30-something Indiana transplant has had stars in her eyes since she first performed on stage in a high-school play, went on to major in theater at Marion College in Indiana, and even taught children's theater before moving to Charleston in 1992 (her first apartment was right across from the Dock Street Theater).

Regina has been singing professionally for more than 10 years; her former band, Sunday Punch, was a fixture on the Southeastern music scene in the late 90's. She's currently fronting Vintage Velvet, a band she formed with her husband and three musician friends a year ago. Most recently, Regina and the band performed at WomenRock, and regularly appear at Zinc Bistro and Bar. "The best part is when I forget people are watching, "says Regina. "It just feels good, like therapy." - Skirt! Magazine, October 2004


When Vintage Velvet recently played for a fraternity formal, they wondered if these guys really wanted a jazz band. But they were so into it. Their dates were shrieking with joy when Vintage Velvet played "Whatever Lola Wants." There was a surge of to the dance floor during there Latin version of "Just the Way You Look Tonight" and "Fever." More squeals on "Witchcraft" and there may have been a child conceived during "The Look of Love." This music will just never be uncool.

Vintage Velvet may have touched on something. They have joined a scant number of other bands of this genre to fill a void in the Charleston music market. Vocalist Regina Ruopoli took a few moments to give us the Vintage Velvet story.

CFT: I know you all worked in other projects in the past, but didn’t you (Regina & Jeff) step away from performing for a time, and what made you decide to get back into it?

RR: Jeff and I both stepped away from performing for awhile after our prior bands dissolved. I didn't intend to stay away for very long, and I don't think Jeff did either. I needed some time away because I was exhausted, but I knew I'd never leave the performing arts for good. I dabbled around and sang with friends here and there, including Jeff. I got married, taught myself to play guitar (sort of), wrote more songs, did some voiceover work and concentrated on my career in marketing. I know Jeff also never stopped playing completely.

What sparked my desire perform again was when I was at a convention in Arkansas. My travel partners and I were having drinks one evening in this upscale Art Deco hotel bar. There was a jazz trio playing on the stage. My friends knew I was a singer and kept pushing me to do a song with the band. Being a perfectionist, I'm always leery of unrehearsed performances, but after a few drinks, I approached the band and they were more than pleased to shake their evening up. I sang "Since I Fell For You" and I didn't want to stop. I felt as if I was shimmering inside. It felt so right and natural and comfortable to be making music again. I know it sounds cliched, but singing can be an ethereal experience. It feeds my soul. It's a good thing that enough people find my voice pleasant because I'd still sing even if they didn't.

CFT: How did the current line-up come together?

RR: My husband, Frank, decided that he wanted to learn to play bass. I encouraged him, but said that we should probably never work together. He started noodling around with our good friend and guitarist, Steve Coe, just for fun. They played a lot of old Ventures tunes and easy songs, which helped Frank develop his skills. Then the three of us started messing around with some of my favorite tunes from groups like The Cowboy Junkies, the Sundays, Natalie Merchant and Patsy Cline as well as some jazz standards. We would just play whatever song we wanted, with no genre in mind. It was just for fun, but then after we started sounding pretty good we asked our longtime friend, Jeff, to join us. He really tightened us up musically and made us pick a genre. We serendipitously bumped into Phill Eason of Sol Driven Train, who was our drummer until he left to tour full time with his other band. Through Phill we found Nick Jenkins, who has settled in nicely as our drummer. It's a great group of creative people who genuinely enjoy each other's company, even outside of playing music. Oh, and I was wrong about not working with my spouse...it rocks.

CFT: The musical backgrounds and influences of all of the members are pretty diverse. How does that help or hurt considering the style of music you do?

RR: There are so many common threads within those diverse interests that I don't think it makes a difference. In the end we all agree on the most important thing: That it's all about the song. Not about vocal feats or extended solos or pushing a tune to unrecognizable limits. We want to play the song and play it in the most accessible way possible. To share it unselfishly. It's the same feeling you get when making a mix CD of your favorite songs to give to someone you think will like them too. It's like "You've GOT to hear these songs. They're exquisite."

CFT: Do all of you have input on the songlist and if so, is there anything someone may have suggested that the rest of you said, “I don’t know if that fits,” but in the end it worked out for you?

RR: It's a pretty democratic process, although I probably bring more songs to the table being the primary singer. We all have a good feel for what will work for our style. We'll try almost anything that catches our ears. And we're not afraid to take a pop song and make it jazzy, such as Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives." The bigger challenge is just carving out the time to learn all the music on our "to learn" list.

We try to stay away from the overdone standards, but we give in if we get repeated requests. We finally started doing "At Last" after we saw one too many disappointed - Charleston's Free Time, October 29, 2005


'I GOT FLOWERS IN THE SPRING, I GOT YOU TO WEAR MY RING'

While it appears that a little sibling rivalry can be overcome within local bands, one has to wonder if the dynamics of an inter-band relationship change when you replace the sibling scenario with that of a husband and wife.

In addition to making beautiful music together for quite sometime as husband and wife, Frank and Regina Ruopoli have been performing together in Vintage Velvet, a five-piece jazz combo that performs covers of classic songs from the '30s, '40s and '50s, for just over a year.

Vintage Velvet consists of Regina (vocals), Frank (bass), Jeff Castle (keyboards), Steve Coe (guitar) and Phill Eason (drums).

Like Evan Bivins, Frank's first love was reserved for visual arts, having graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design. Regina was the music veteran of the couple, having spent a good part of the '90s singing in the local band, Sunday Punch.

A few years ago Frank picked up a bass guitar and began noodling around on it. Encouraged by Regina, he began to play with friends just for fun. The earliest version of what would become Vintage Velvet was soon playing at friends' parties as more of a laugh than anything else.

Sitting in a booth at Avondale Station in West Ashley one evening last week (what is it with musicians and Cuban food?), Regina reveals that when Frank suggested the band get a bit more serious and try and book some paying gigs, she was at first apprehensive.

"I didn't want to mix business with romance," says Regina, "I'm a perfectionist, and I was worried about being too hard on Frank."

Despite her initial hesitations, Regina agreed to try playing out at a few local bars and restaurants.

"While I was apprehensive at first about the musical work carrying over into our personal lives in a negative way," explains Regina, "I'm actually very surprised at how rarely that happens. Making music together is a very intimate thing."

Frank agrees, adding, "Music is powerful. It gets you out of your daily routine."

One possible scenario that could interfere with the harmony between married couples in a band is the presence of a flirtatious groupie. While jazz combos don't have to fight off the admirers nearly as often as a rock band might, the Ruopolis don't worry at all about either having a wandering eye.

"The jealousy factor can exist in bands, but we are pretty secure with one another," says Frank. According to Regina, the best thing about playing in a band with your spouse is the sense of togetherness. "Making music is creating art together," she explains, "It bonds you, it brings you closer."

Frank also points out that Vintage Velvet would not be at the level it currently was without the support and talent of the other band members, several of whom have studied music in an academic setting. "Those guys have encouraged me and taught me, and helped Regina and I grow as a couple," says Frank. "Those guys are almost like our brothers."

So what is the worst thing about playing in a band together? For Frank, it has to do with Regina's self-professed perfectionist streak.

"I like to experiment sometimes in rehearsal," says Frank while smiling at his wife, "and I will do something different in the middle of a song, and she will think that I missed a bass note, and she'll shoot me a look."

If that is all there is wrong with this musical marriage, then it appears that the Ruopolis have very little to worry about. Vintage Velvet performs most Wednesdays and Saturdays at Zinc Bistro & Bar in Mount Pleasant, and also will be taking part in a benefit for the Gibbes Museum of Art held at McCrady's on East Bay Street on the evening of May 11.

-Devin Grant - The Post & Courier - Charleston, SC, April 28, 2005


...

VINTAGE VELVET
The members of the jazz combo Vintage Velvet definitely would agree with Sain on several points, especially the allure of playing private functions. Although it has been in existence for only about a year, Vintage Velvet has managed to go from a hobby started in Frank and Regina Ruopoli’s converted garage to a fully functional band that plays several times a week around town.

Vintage Velvet consists of Regina Ruopoli on lead vocals, husband Frank on upright bass, Jeff Castle on keyboards and vocals, Steve Coe on guitar and Nick Jenkins on drums. The band, which covers everything from Billie Holiday to Elvis Costello, performs at several bars and restaurants around Charleston, including Zinc, Little Tai Too, Torch and the East Bay Coffee House.

"Originally, we began playing together just for the joy of it,” Regina said as she showed off the band’s practice space in the Ruopoli’s West Ashley home.

Once the band decided to take the next step and play publicly, it initially performed under the moniker Regina and the Firehouse Cats before adopting its smoother-sounding name. All of the members of Vintage Velvet have day jobs, and some of the band members have a history with other local groups. Regina was in Sunday Punch in the 1990s, while Castle played in Struck By 9 for a time. Frank had no previous musical experience before picking up the bass as a hobby.

Castle agreed with Sain of Plane Jane that there seems to be a cycle of local crowds preferring original music or cover bands.

“Charleston is a strange town,” said Castle, “Ten years ago, you couldn’t get by without playing original music. I call it the Hootie effect. It was the same in the 1980s as it is now.”

Indeed, Hootie & the Blowfish began in Columbia as a cover band while its members were still students at the University of South Carolina.

Vintage Velvet definitely has had to pay its dues on the way up. Castle revealed an amusing story that occurred during the band’s first few months.

“Our first gig was playing for a local club,” said Castle. “The night we played, the club was also serving prime rib to its members. On the fliers for the show, we were listed second to the prime rib. I have always found it funny that we were billed second to meat.”

Castle also laughed as he revealed some of the stranger song-request combinations the band has received. “I had one guy ask for Iron Butterfly’s ‘In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida’ along with ‘The Electric Slide,’ “ he said. “But that was nothing compared to the combination of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ and ‘That’s Amore.’ “

Like Plane Jane, Vintage Velvet wants to perform at more private functions.

-Devin Grant - The Post & Courier - Charleston, SC, August 15, 2005


Charleston definitely has its share of cover bands.

Those who prefer their live musical performances with a big dose of the familiar can hear everything from '80s pop, to funk, to country and even participate in the action at Monday Metal Karaoke at Cumberland's. While I have always enjoyed original music by a good band, there is also something about singing along with a song from high school you never really lost an affection for, or just enjoying an evening of music that doesn't require you to absorb the lyrics, since you already know most of them by heart.

Saturday night presented yet another chance to enjoy some interesting interpretations of classic standards as Vintage Velvet performed at Gage Hall. For the uninitiated, Gage Hall sits adjacent to the Unitarian Church downtown. One of the charitable good deeds that the church performs is supporting after-school programs for various youth programs around town. To raise money to support those programs, the church presents a series of concerts at Gage Hall, a wonderfully intimate performance space that reminds one of the old community auditoriums that existed before coliseums and performing art centers were necessary.

In the past year or so, I have been fortunate enough to see a few inspiring performances, including blues artist Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, as well as the Celtic fiddle group Na Fidleiri.

For its final performance of the current fundraising season, the powers that be at the church (no, not the "higher" powers, I mean the charity organizers) decided to end things on a retro note. For the last few years, Vintage Velvet has quietly been making a name for itself among the numerous cover bands that perform in and around Charleston. Led by vocalist Regina Ruopoli, the band Saturday night also featured keyboardist and vocalist Jeff Castle, guitarist Steve Coe, bassist Frank Ruopoli (Regina's husband) and drummer Patrick King.

Vintage Velvet's specialty is music made popular during the era known as "The Greatest Generation." We're talking about music made popular by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and all of those other larger-than-life music icons who performed in front of a big band and behind one of those cool-looking, old-school microphones.

Saturday night's show began with the band playing an introductory instrumental minus Regina. She then joined the band, starting things off with "Mack the Knife." Gage Hall had been transformed for the occasion, with cloth-covered tables and candlelight setting a romantic mood. Introducing the next song, Ruopoli advised, "This next song is not necessarily a standard." Upon the conclusion of "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," a couple of audience members up front advised the singer that the tune was in fact a standard. Ruopoli took the news in stride, and Castle quipped, "We learn a lot when we play together." Ruopoli's song introductions were full of stories about how she or another band member either discovered the song on a CD or what a particular tune meant to the band. She even revealed that the last time she had been in Gage Hall was during her wedding reception after marrying Frank. At no time did the banter run too long, and the mood of the stories was always kept light.

The band continued with songs that included Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love," Benny Goodman's "Moonglow," a jazzed-up version of "My Favorite Things" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." After a short break the band continued with Castle taking over vocals on "Fly Me to the Moon" and a great version of Lyle Lovett's "She's No Lady." Ruopoli's return brought with it great versions of "Whatever Lola Wants," "Fever" and "All of Me." Introducing Billie Holiday's "Comes Love," Ruopoli told the audience that she discovered the song after buying a $6.99 CD at a drugstore. "It's not one of Holiday's most well-known songs, but it is one of her best," said Ruopoli. Always playing devil's advocate, even in a church hall, Castle smiled and asked, "Does that make it a standard?" After suitable versions of "Route 66" and "Summertime," the band bid the audience good night.

Overall the show was exactly what one would hope for with the style of music presented. At one point a couple in the back was driven to get up and dance during one of the livelier tunes. It was a classy way to spend a Saturday night, while also ensuring that an important charitable program could continue to flourish.

Talk about a win-win situation.

--Devin Grant - The Post & Courier - Charleston, SC, May 25, 2006


Discography

Vintage Velvet - Demo (2005)
Vintage Velvet - Vintage Velvet (March, 2007)

Photos

Bio

Vintage Velvet offers retro jazz and blues with a modern twist, creating a cocktail of music that appeals to all ages. Versatile, elegant and fun, they create a special ambiance appropriate for most any audience. They're simply the cat's meow!

Vintage Velvet embraces the swinging jazz standards of Frank Sinatra, the seductive torch songs of Etta James, and the sassy style of Peggy Lee, yet breathe a freshness into each song, sounding like no one but themselves.

Vocalist Regina Ruopoli was voted as Charleston's BEST FEMALE VOCALIST in 1999 by readers of the Charleston City Paper. Regina's lush alto leads the band through classic jazz and blues songs spanning the musical spectrum from the 30's and 40's, and up through today, taking care to dig deeper into the jazz catalog for several more obscure gems. They also have a gift for taking a modern song and making it jazzy.

Their jazz/blues influences include Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Julie London, Madeline Peyroux, Cassandra Wilson, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Eva Cassidy, Norah Jones, Billie Holiday, Harry Connick, Jr., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.