Tag Archives: Django Reinhardt

The Gypsy Jazz Queen

Cyrille AimeeThis time last year, you had to be on the New York jazz scene to have heard of Cyrille Aimée, the young French singer who makes her UK debut at the Dundee and London jazz festivals this week and who recently released her joyful debut album. But that was before a certain Stephen Sondheim personally selected her to sing his songs with a jazz band and Curtis Stigers invited her to duet with him on his new album – et voila, a nouvelle star was born.

It all sounds too good to be true – but even more Hollywood movie-sounding is the story of how Aimée came to be gypsy jazz’s new poster girl in the first place. This part of her CV involves tales of her climbing out of her bedroom window and defying her parents to hang out and make music with the gypsies.

Aimée grew up in Samois-sur-Seine, a small town near Fontainebleau famous as the birthplace of the original gypsy jazz star, Django Reinhardt, and now the location of an annual festival in his honour. Consequently, she was exposed to gypsy jazz from a very young age but it wasn’t, she says, the music she heard there which attracted her to the gypsies; it was the other way around.

She explains: “It was only when I got to know the gypsies that I was drawn to the music – because I only understood the music when I had got to know the gypsies. I was attracted to their way of life and their spirit and how free they are and how they live every day like it’s their last.”

Was this quite different to the way she had been brought up? “No, not at all. It’s just different to the way that most people are, because they never went to school so they haven’t been taught how to behave, to put your hand up to speak or to ask to go to the bathroom. They’re kind of primitive in a way and they actually reminded me of my mum’s side of the family – she’s from the Dominican Republic. I felt at home with them.”

From the age of 14, Aimée spent as much time as she could with the travellers who came to town every year for the festival. “I would spend time with them after school and during the summer holidays and I missed them so much when they left. I would count the days for them to come back the next year.

“My school friends didn’t really understand it. The gypsies don’t let just anyone in the campsite and in the caravans so it was really my own thing. Some of my school friends didn’t even know who Django Reinhardt was!”

So how did Aimée manage to get in with them if they don’t just welcome anybody? “Well, I was up town to get a baguette in the boulangerie, and this gypsy girl was looking at my bike a lot – she really liked it – and she asked if she could borrow it. And, to her surprise, I said yes – I think mostly they get ‘no’. (There’s a lot of prejudice.) And when I said ‘yes’, she called her four other cousins over, so there were five of them on the bike, and I hopped on too, and we all went down the main road through town,  which is very steep. We went down that hill, all six of us on the bike – and after that we were friends.”

Initially, Aimée’s parents were not happy about her spending time at the gypsy camp. “The town townspeople would tell them: ‘I saw your daughter with gypsies – be careful.’ So I would get grounded. But I would still go out my window and cross the back yard and cross the forest to go see them.” Luckily, Aimée’s parents came round. “First of all they realised there was nothing they could do and second of all they understood the kind of people they were and their music, and now they’re as much friends as we are.”

And it was thanks to her new friendships that Aimée’s talent as a singer became apparent. “At first, when I was with the gypsies, I started to play guitar and then one day one of them asked me to learn the song Sweet Sue because they knew that I spoke a little English. I sang it in front of the whole family, the gypsy family, around the camp fire and when I saw everyone smiling and how it had made everyone feel, I realised that’s the feeling I wanted to spread all over. So I kind of let go of the guitar and started singing more.”

At the age of 19, Aimée (who is now 30) applied to appear on Star Academy, France’s equivalent of The X Factor, not expecting for a minute that she would be one of 16 contestants picked out of 5000 applicants. “I sent them a video because I had just gotten a video camera and I thought it was a fun idea – then I got called back every time.”

Just before filming was about to begin, Aimée – whose picture was already on magazine covers to publicise the show – was given a contract to sign. At which point, she freaked at the lack of freedom she would have – especially over song choices. “I said: ‘No, thank you,’ and I went to the Dominican Republic! I had so much to learn, and I was just falling in love with jazz, and Star Academy was not the place for jazz!” Her story became something of a cause celebre.

From the Dominican Republic, it was a short hop to New York where she studied music and began gigging in 2009. These days she is living the touring musician’s life, seldom home in Brooklyn and almost always on the road; a 21stCentury jazz gypsy.

* Cyrille Aimée plays the Gardyne Theatre on Wednesday at 8pm. Visit www.jazzdundee.co.uk for information, and phone 01382 434940 for tickets.

First published in The Scotsman, Monday November 17th

 

 

 

 

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Tim Kliphuis: Grappelli a Go-Go

TimKliphuisGuitarists inspired by the gypsy jazz playing of the legendary Django Reinhardt are ten-a-penny but violinists emulating the jaunty, joie-de-vivre-oozing, style of Stephane Grappelli, the other star of the iconic Quintet of the Hot Club of France, are much less common. Dutch virtuoso Tim Kliphuis is a rare example – and one who is bringing a new Grappelli tribute concert to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival next week.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that a Grappelli tribute concert means a concert of music played by Kliphuis – who counts the late French man as his prime violin inspiration, along with Jean-Luc Ponty – in the style of his hero. But, in fact, it’s more than that: the music which Kliphuis’s trio will play will mostly be numbers which Grappelli wrote, and which have seldom been performed, least of all by their composer.

Indeed, it may be news to most of us that the grand homme of jazz violin produced enough compositions to fill even half of a concert. However, Kliphuis says:  “We’ve unearthed compositions that people won’t have heard performed – certainly not by Grappelli, and not by anybody else as far as  I know. I want to show how lovely they are.”

But why is it that we don’t know about Grappelli as composer? “Well, it’s his own fault,” laughs Kliphuis. “It’s because he didn’t play his own tunes. He just wrote them, and he would record them on an album – that’s how we know them or they would have disappeared completely – maybe once, maybe twice and that was that.”

Like many jazz greats, Grappelli didn’t vary his concert repertoire too much as he grew older. Kliphuis says: “His original tunes were probably not as well known by his accompanists, and I think he was very happy just letting his accompanists play what they knew and what they were comfortable with – and not rehearsing too much. So he recorded the tunes – to get them on record, have a document of them – but in concerts, he’d play well-known tunes, hits like Sweet Georgia Brown and Crazy Rhythm. He wanted an easygoing approach which of course works, so the show would be fun because the musicians were enjoying themselves and not reading or thinking too much.”

We know that Grappelli co-wrote (with Reinhardt) many of the classic Hot Club tunes, but when did this solo composing take place – all the way through his career?  “It started in the 1940s, after the Hot Club. During the war years he was in London. His first composition is from 1942 – it’s called Jive Bomber – and there’s another called Piccadilly Stomp from the same year. Those are the first two I’ve found that are kind of suitable for playing by us.

“I’m sure he composed tunes between the 1940s and the 1970s but you don’t see them until the 1970s because then he would record a song on an album somewhere. With me being very much into Grappelli’s style as a fiddler, any record that I’d see that I didn’t know all the tunes on, I’d buy – so I ended up with a lot of different recordings of Sweet Georgia Brown but I also found some unfamiliar songs that I had to check out.”

It was a ballad called Souvenir de Villingen that first alerted Kliphuis to his hero’s composing skills. “It’s slightly unusual, quite modern and classical sounding. And of course he plays it very beautifully. It’s a melody you remember.” In all, Kliphuis reckons, Grappelli probably wrote between 20 and 30 compositions. “I know ten or 12 of them well, and I play eight of them that I think are great. So it’s like that – there’s a percentage that are not quite up to the standard of great songs but there are a few that are really good and so we’ve taken those and put them in the programme, which will also include his big hits and songs that he was fond of playing.”

The “we” that Kliphuis refers to throughout our chat is his regular trio, the other two thirds of which are Scottish. Since 2006, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy have worked regularly with Kliphuis, both in the UK and abroad, and the unit is very much a working band – a rare species in this day and age.

One of the reasons it works, says Kliphuis, is because – like Grappelli – they all love classical music. “That’s probably the thing that binds us. The love of classical music translates itself in a wish to be kind of dynamic, to have really high points and low lows and to have a range of emotions in the music we’re playing– we don’t just play swingy stuff, where you do a set of swing and another set of swing. We are trying to go beyond that and to get more emotion in our concerts and they are both looking for that as much as I am.”

* Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19 at 6.30pm. For info & tickets, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

(First published in The Scotsman, July 15 2013)

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CD Recommendations

Bobby Wellins: Time Gentlemen, Please (Trio Records)

Some players just get better with age – and, judging by this new CD, Bobby Wellins is one of them. Featuring a wonderfully eclectic and imaginative selection of tunes from his working repertoire, it finds the great Scots tenor player in terrific form whether he’s powering through such uptempo tunes as the title track, balladeering wistfully on a standard or giving I’m Wishing (the love song from Snow White) a stylish, funky going-over. Of course, it helps that he’s surrounded by an ace trio – notably his long-term pianist John Critichinson.

Jump Presents Private Treasures from Allegheny Jazz Concerts 1950s-2000 

For lovers of classic jazz, the Allegheny Jazz Society is a familiar name as it has issued many great recordings on the Jump label. It has also played host to some great live performances, as this superb two-disc compilation demonstrates. Comprising numbers recorded across a 50-year period, it features groups including the likes of Marty Grosz, Ken Peplowski, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman, John Sheridan and Scott Hamilton – all of whom have been regular visitors to British jazz festivals – as well as by the late, great Ruby Braff and Lee Wiley.

Howard Alden: I Remember Django (Arbors Records)

Two of US guitarist Howard Alden’s earliest influences were the gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt and the American great Barney Kessel – and he pays tribute to both on this new CD which also recalls the fact that, back in 1999, he was responsible for coaching Sean Penn in his role as a Django-obsessed guitarist in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. Featuring a Django-style line-up (two guitars and bass), this is a joyful album which showcases Alden’s lyricism and dexterity on 13 sublime numbers. Cornettist Warren Vache and clarinettist Anat Cohen’s elegant contributions are the icing on the cake.

Vince Guaraldi Trio: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (OJC Remasters) 

Italian-American pianist Vince Guaraldi – AKA Dr Funk – is best known for his catchy music for the Charlie Brown/Peanuts TV specials. However, before that association, he had already scored a hit with this 1961 album – which has at its core trio versions of the music from the influential 1959 film Black Orpheus (the movie that brought Brazilian music to worldwide attention) – and had topped the charts with his own complementary composition number Cast Your Fate to the Wind. Lovely, atmospheric stuff.

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CD Recommendations

Scott Hamilton & Alan Barnes: Hi-Ya (Woodville Records)

What a superb album this is. The second horn-to-horn encounter between saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Alan Barnes on the Woodville label, it finds both musicians on top form on a selection of mostly Johnny Hodges tunes. Every track’s a winner but among the highlights are Hamilton’s rich, laidback tenor solo on First Klass, which contrasts beautifully with Barnes’s alto; their thrilling musical tug-of-war on The Jeep is Jumping; David Newton’s funky, understated piano solo on the lovely Broadway Babe, and Barnes’s powerhouse performance on June’s Jumpin’.

The Warren Vache-John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (Arbors Records)

I must confess to being familiar with the music on this CD before it was released: I wrote the liner notes earlier this year. And was thrilled to do so, as this is a first-rate album which showcases American cornet star and his co-leader, trombonist John Allred – musical partners who couldn’t be better matched. Both players distill influences from the classic, swing and bop eras and, in each other’s company, revel in a rare chance to flex their bop muscles on tunes by the likes of Blue Mitchell (a particular favourite of both) and Cannonball Adderley.

Nat “King” Cole: The Forgotten 1949 Carnegie Hall Concert (Hep  Records)

A Carnegie Hall concert headlined by Nat “King” Cole and his Trio and Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd took place in November 1949, but until very recently, it was assumed that there was no recording of it. Then the Cole set was discovered – and it’s presented here (on the Edinburgh-based label, Hep) for the first time. Cole’s trios were among the greatest in jazz – and the most influential – and in 1949 he was at the peak of his powers. His playing is terrific, the band is really cooking, and his singing is a joy..

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole: Finesse (lejazzetal/Fremeaux & Associes)

This sublime CD is one of my favourites of the year so far – and I love it even more now than when I initially reviewed it in July. What makes this Django outfit stand out from the many others on the scene is its Creole twist: Evan Christopher’s sweet and swinging Sidney Bechet-inspired playing blends stylishly with the familiar Reinhardt sound (of two guitars plus bass). Among the numerous highlights of this uplifting album are Bechet’s Passaporto ao Paraiso, Hoagy Carmichael’s Jubilee and two numbers associated with the trumpeter Rex Stewart, who, of course, recorded with Monsieur Reinhardt in the 1930s.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Django a la Creole

Django a la Creole, The Hub
****
The Django Reinhardt strand of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival came to an end on Saturday evening with a knockout performance by one of the most exciting Django-inspired groups. Django a la Creole has a Django-style line-up of – two guitars, bass and clarinet – but its accomplished lead guitarist, David Blenkhorn, doesn’t try to sound like the great gypsy jazz pioneer. And nor is its repertoire your typical Django one: this band, as the name suggests, dishes up its tunes with a variety of exotic flavours and rhythms. Some of the tunes were written that way; others benefit from the “Creole” treatment.
Of course, the band’s trump card is the American clarinet virtuoso Evan Christopher whose passion for the New Orleans style of Sidney Bechet and Barney Bigard fuses beautifully with the Django set-up. On Saturday, he was in great form, whether playing finger-busting duets with Blenkhorn on Riverboat Shuffle, I Know That You Know and Feerie or seducing listeners with his passionate playing on such intoxicating Caribbean-tinged tunes as Tropical Moon and Passaporte ao Paraiso.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Havana Swing

HAVANA SWING, ROYAL OVERSEAS LEAGUE
****

There’s a first time for everything, as Monday lunchtime’s jazz festival gig at the Royal Overseas League proved. Never before at a jazz concert have I seen the police being called to deal with an incident of alleged assault – though given how cramped this venue is (and always has been), it’s little wonder that tempers get frayed.

The Dundee band Havana Swing was halfway through its first set of Django Reinhardt-associated and inspired music when all hell broke loose at the back of the room. As the band’s leader later said, this music does seem to attract nutters – after all, we had hecklers at the previous day’s Django gig.

As for the music? Well, it was – ironically enough – happy, jaunty, feelgood jazz executed with great panache by the quartet who seemed quite chuffed by the fact that a fracas had kicked off at one of their concerts. Among the many highlights were the snappy Hotel de Palais, which we were told “sounds very grand but was written one night when the lads were in Aberfeldy”, and the superb closers of the first set, I’ll See You in My Dreams and Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, which featured wonderful playing by clarinettist Walter Smith. Indeed, the band, which was really cooking from the get-go, seemed to up the ante even more after the drama.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Fapy Lafertin/Swing 2010

FAPY LAFERTIN & SWING 2010, THE HUB
****
Many guitarists try to play like the legendary Django Reinhardt, but the great Fapy Lafertin, who shares a Belgian gypsy background with his hero, is probably the only one who sounds exactly like him – and sounds like him in a completely natural and unforced way.
For Sunday afternoon’s performance, Lafertin – whose one-time swashbuckling look has been replaced with a more avuncular appearance – was reunited with the Edinburgh band which – as its leader, John Russell, explained – was formed 30 years ago as a direct result of Lafertin’s sensational performance at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
Which accounts for the laid-back rapport between Russell and Lafertin. The band’s usual solo guitarist, Stephen Coutts, had to make way for the guest star – which made for a slightly solo-heavy opener, Djangology, as both were featured. But thereafter, everything worked as if they had been playing together for years. The dependably excellent clarinettist Dick Lee seemed particularly inspired by the presence of Lafertin, and their unison playing at the start of many of the faster numbers was terrific. By the time they got to the thrillingly fast encore, China Boy, the energetic Lee was practically bouncing off the walls.
However, it was the ballads which brought the house down. “Oh, wow!” exclaimed one woman, unaware that she was thinking out loud, as Lafertin brought the dreamy ballad Manoir de mes reves, to a spectacular climax. She was only echoing the thoughts of most of the audience, though, which was blown away by Lafertin’s uncanny musical resemblance, in every way (from the notes he chose to the manner in which he played) them) to one of the giants of jazz.

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