Django Reinhardt is regarded as a guitar genius for many reasons. The legendary Belgian-born composer, who in 1930s Paris introduced the world jazz manousche, commonly known as gypsy jazz or gypsy swing — a fusion of American swing and acoustic folk of the Romani people of Eastern Europe and Central Europe — was technically and musically unmatched by any of his contemporaries.
With his group the Hot Club of France, which also featured violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Reinhardt created a genre truly of his own, imitated by guitarists the world over. It's a sophisticated yet danceable mix of American and European music that's generated a devoted following.
With hot club groups increasingly popping up and gaining popularity in the States and abroad, gypsy jazz is in the midst of a revival. In Ashland, guitarists Tim Church and Dan Fellman are carrying on the Django tradition.
"You could just feel it in his music — the guy was passionate and energetic," Church said. "One of his heroes was Louis Armstrong, so he borrowed from that tradition and added to his own and he made some really popular music."
"It's cool to be able to play more than one style and this is really distinct," said Fellman, who uses a Reinhardt-signature Selmer Macaferri guitar. "There's a lot of harmonic theory that's common to gypsy jazz and the rest of jazz, so it's not like you have to come up with a different world of thinking. It's fun."
Both are veterans of the Rogue Valley jazz scene, mostly playing traditional styles, but for about the past two years they've also been gigging as a duo or a trio (bass) in the drum-less, multi-guitar hot club format.
"A lot of people, when you say the name (gypsy jazz) they don't really know what to expect, but when we do this, everybody likes it," Fellman said. "It's just got a sort of basic appeal for the bouncy, energetic rhythm."
Under the name Gypsy Rogue, they came to the Tidings Café, the Daily Tidings' in-house concert series (videos at dailytidings.com and connectashland.com), and performed a pair gypsy jazz mainstays, Reinhardt's classic "Minor Swing" and "I'll See You In My Dreams," a standard from the Roaring Twenties.
They were accompanied by a pair of accomplished local players. Shining in the role of Grappelli was Michael Vannice, whose brilliance on clarinet served as an ideal complement to the core sound of the group. Bruce McKern more than held his own on double bass.
Vannice recently began to sit in with Gypsy Rogue after attending a Monday night jam session with Church and Fellman at Standing Stone and coming down with a case of hot club fever.
"It's catching on," Fellman said. "It's infectious."
Daily Tidings Page Design Editor Mike Oxendine can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.