The Revival of Gypsy Jazz

Nick Catalano By

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I took note of the revival of "Gypsy jazz" sounds when I reviewed CDs by the Hot Clubs of Detroit and San Francisco in this column last year. I have often attended the Django Reinhardt festivals at Birdland and monitored the "invasion" of large numbers of French musicians at concerts in New Orleans and other cities. And when I arrived in London awhile ago, I became inundated by producers, publicists and musicians—all actively involved with this music and heavily committed to promoting it.

I agreed to listen to recent CDs produced here in England and to visit the club where important live recording of gypsy jazz has occurred. As a result, I've been moved to re-examine claims made by Europeans, particularly the French, of their uncredited prominence in the origins of Gypsy jazz if not jazz in the broader sense of the term. I am not going to get into what will probably become a major controversy in the coming months, but I decided that the revival of Gypsy jazz in London was a good place to begin writing about it.

One of the groups that initially caught my ear was the Angelo Debarre quartet. The intriguing improvisations produced by these musicians immediately recalled the magic of the Django Reinhardt - Stephane Grappelli collaborations, music that, a few decades ago, had captivated jazz fans on both sides of the Atlantic. A unique guitar stylist, Debarre is joined by violinist Christian Garrick, bassist Andy Crowdy and rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie, the latter also a producer and very active in trying to promote gypsy jazz in the U.K. Their collective efforts on "Live at Le Quecumbar" on the Lejazzetal label are impressive. From the tantalizing 2/4 time signatures which , of course, instantly recall the American masters of stride piano during the 20's and 30's, to the haunting minor-keyed melodies, this CD is a great place to start one's journey of discovering the gypsy jazz revival.

The next group is called Django a la Creole and is led by Evan Christopher, an American clarinetist who teaches at the University of New Orleans. Their CD, using the group's name as the title, has more of a straight-ahead Creole swing feel—with a French twist, so to speak. The rhythmic pulse stands between that of the Debarre group and the rhythms of traditional European gypsy folk musics. Once again Dave Kelbie's rhythm guitar is present and anchors the group nicely. There are several Reinhardt compositions on this CD, also produced by the Lejazzetal label.

The last group in this gypsy jazz cavalcade is Tcha Limberger's Budapest Gypsy Orchestra which I was able to see parts of live at Le Quecumbar. As the title of his group suggests, Limberger's music reflects the gypsy sound largely derived from various Balkan cultures . The group's CD, once again on the Lejazzetal label, features the Csardas dance form, which is very familiar to North Americans.

These three CDs will give any interested party a virtual seminar in Gypsy jazz and its origins.

Anyone who wishes to pursue this tradition must visit Le Quecumbar in the Battersea section of London. According to the club's knowledgable proprietaire Sylvia Rushbrooke, it is the only venue in Europe featuring gypsy jazz. The room is has a warm ambience, a sensible menu and lovely décor, with tantalizing memorabilia reflecting the gypsy music tradition. Ms. Rushbrooke is currently busy with plans for London's 1st International Gypsy Swing Guitar Festival, to be held January 17-25. The event celebrates the 100th birthday of Django Reinhardt.

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