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Bon Bon Vivant mixes jazz and swing on new album 

The band performs at d.b.a Aug. 7

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Early in the evening on Friday, July 14, a long line of Francophiles awaited entrance into the New Orleans Museum of Art and its Bastille Day Fete.

  Inside, the crowd filled the lobby and stairs to the second floor as dancers twirled with celebratory abandon under large French flags hung from balcony rails. Bon Bon Vivant blazed through its bawdy, bluesy blend of jazz and swing music — delivered with a captivating cabaret sensibility — and hit a high note with Edith Piaf's classic ballad "La Vie en Rose."

  "We had a ball," says singer/song-writer/guitarist Abigail Cosio, who learned the French lyrics for "La Vie en Rose" for the gig. "I love inspiring people to dance."

  The band then embarked on a tour of the Northeast and returns to New Orleans for a series of Monday night shows at d.b.a. and other local venues.

  "I grew up around Los Angeles, where jazz is a lot smoother," saxophonist Jeremy Kelley says. "I remember walking into the Spotted Cat (Music Club) for the first time and seeing jazz with a punk-rock feel with tattooed couples swing dancing. It's the first time I ever saw that. New Orleans does trad jazz better than any other city in the country. It has a funky feel. A body feel."

  Now married, Cosio and Kelley moved to New Orleans a decade ago to follow their musical muses. "I wanted to arrive at our music organically after letting the city seep in for a while," Cosio says. "Four years in, I said, 'Maybe it's time we start contributing to the musical community here.'"

  In 2013, the band formed around a drag-show workshop series during the New Orleans Fringe Festival at the invitation of host musician/performer Vinsantos, aka Vincent Defonte. Soon they focused on creating original material and forging their own sound. Bon Bon Vivant now also features Cosio's sister Glori (tambourine/vocals), Ryan Brown (keyboards), Ry D'Antonio (drums) and Mike "Mumbles" Robbins (upright bass).

  "It's a throwback style," Kelley says. "We are looking to throw in old styles, but without being derivative or a replication. We want to have a bit of newness, of rawness."

  That vibe is on surreal display in the video for "The Bones," filmed during the Red Beans Parade during last Carnival season, a tune commissioned by the red beans krewe (of which Cosio is a member) and an example of the fun found at Bon Bon Vivant's intersection of lyricism, rhythm and melody.

  "Empathy is what I try to achieve," says Cosio, who cites as major influences "feminist icons" the Boswell Sisters and Nina Simone. "[I] hear others' stories and experiences and then write how I imagine that would feel."

  Cosio recently self-released a debut album, Paint & Pageantry — recorded with co-producer Jack Miele at Music Shed Studios. The group wrote lyrics and then built each song from the "bones," not specific to any genre. The results are the Louis Prima swagger of "Lost Soul" with its rowdy "I'm a gypsy woman" introduction, and the ragtime romp of "Hard Way of Livin' When You're Dead." Cosio shines on the ballad "Poplar Tree," with her lush vocals awash in gentle guitar strumming and the haunting resonance of Robbins' bow sliding across his bass.

  "Kindness is a revolutionary act these days," Cosio says. "We make music about love and dancing and being human. Bon vivant means to live well — and that's our theme, our message, all encompassed."

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