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  • FOLKWORKS CONCERTS

    FUTURE Concerts

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    Series at the Talking Stick Café

    1411 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

    NEVENKA    September 27
                  East European Women's Choir
          

    SYNCOPATHS    October 25th
                  Upbeat Celtic
          

     
  • CONCERT REVIEWS

    RICHARD THOMPSON PLAYED REAL GOOD FOR FREE

    AT THE LEVITT PAVILION IN MACARTHUR PARK - JULY 10, 2014

    By Ross Altman

    Richard Thompson

    But the one man band

    By the quick lunch stand

    He was playing real good for free

    ~Joni Mitchell

    If you wanted to see the best concert in town last night you were at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park where Richard Thompson held court for an hour and a half—alternating between his Fender Stratocaster—the instrument behind his last album Electric—and his Irish-made Lowden guitar—the instrument behind the collection he had on sale for the folkies in the audience like me—Acoustic Classics—gathered together from live performances. It was a tour de force of masterful guitar accompaniment highlighting his dark world of original songs—but for two encores, which we’ll get to in a moment—going all the way back to Fairport Convention in the 1960s and later when he and his wife Linda added folk rock to the British Invasion.

    Read more: RICHARD THOMPSON PLAYED REAL GOOD FOR FREE


    JOAN BAEZ & GINGER AT THE GREEK

    WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD DOGS— JULY 3, 2014

    By Ross Altman

    Joan BaezI never thought I’d be reviewing a dog for FolkWorks, but Joan Baez’s Dog-God-Dock Boggs-and-Bob Tour just rolled into town and I knew you’d want to hear about it. Her dog Ginger stole the show without even playing guitar. The late great actor Jack Lemmon when asked if he had any advice for young actors boiled it down to this: “Never do a play with a dog—they’ll steal every scene they are in.” Whenever she’d get up and approach the front of the stage to get a better look at the limousine liberals in the first three rows Joan would quip, “Attention follows motion, not sound,” meaning if the audience would stop moving around, so would Ginger. She was also given a tall glass of water during the show, and Joan let us know that she “couldn’t sing until Ginger had finished her water.” As far as I know she wasn’t a seeing-eye dog, so why was she on stage at the—ahem, Greek Theatre? It seems that Joan Baez has been stricken with a sudden crisis of lack of self-confidence and thinks she needs a huge bag of tricks to hold the audience’s attention—I assume we can all look forward to a dog-and-pony show the next time she is in town. (Memo to Joan: you know Dylan has a dog too—judging from the back cover of Self Portrait—but he doesn’t put him on stage when he’s performing.) Anyway, Ginger did a great job of being just who she is—a dog—and all Joan would have to do to present a great concert is to be just who she is—a folk singer—in case she has forgotten.

    Read more: JOAN BAEZ & GINGER AT THE GREEK

     
  • FEATURED INTERVIEW

    [Editors note: The following are parts 1 and 2 of what will be a 3 part interview with Don McLean. The introduction to this interview is Ross' July-August Column ]

    DON MCLEAN: THE FOLKWORKS INTERVIEW

    PART 1

    By Ross Altman

    Don McLean with instrumentsIn the following interview Don McLean has a few things to say about Pete Seeger that may raise some eyebrows, especially since the interview was conducted well before Pete passed away last January 27; so I want to preface it with this lovely tribute by Don McLean for Pete and what his loss meant to him; it is copied directly from his web site and shows how complex love can be.

    Thank you, Don.

    Pete Seeger

    For about seven years from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, I knew the Seegers (Pete and Toshi) about as well as anybody. I worked with Pete Seeger frequently. He was very generous and encouraging at a time in my life when it meant a great deal to me. 

    Read more: DON MCLEAN PART 1


    DON MCLEAN: THE FOLKWORKS INTERVIEW

    PART 2

    By Ross Altman

    July 14, 2014, Woody Guthrie’s 102nd birthday—a day to celebrate folk music.

    Don McLeanRA:      Let me ask you about your father. You said at some point in the interview that I read that you were being encouraged to quit music because you weren’t making enough or weren’t successful enough and then the way you looked at it was you were making more in a day than your father made in a week…

    RA:      Okay, so to repeat that you were making more in a day than your father was earning in a week, which was about $150, and so you couldn’t see the argument. So I wanted to ask you, what did your father do for a living? And what influence did he have in terms of values and the things that you saw around your home?

    DM:     My father was a district manager for Consolidated Edison, the utility.

    RA:      Oh, okay.

    DM:     And he sold gas heat to people. And I never knew one single thing about what he did. He never spoke about what he did. He never talked about himself too much at all. He was taciturn in some ways, but near the end of his life when we were together, he told me all about childhood which was very tough. And then he died when I was with him.

    Read more: DON MCLEAN PART 2

     
  • COLUMN OF THE WEEK

    July-August 2014

    DON MCLEAN: THE FOLKWORKS INTERVIEW

    By Ross Altman

    Don McLean legendaryI happened to be at a roadside coffee stand yesterday where the radio was tuned to K-Earth 101; they were taking a commercial break to promote the station, and were playing two brief song excerpts to do so. The first was the Rolling Stones Satisfaction and the second was Don McLean’s American Pie. That’s all—no Beatles, no Madonna, no Elvis, no Rod Stewart, no Chuck Berry, and no Dylan; just the Stones and Don McLean. After the sound samples concluded the announcer breaks in and delivers the tag line: The greatest songs on earth—K-Earth 101. He doesn’t even bother to identify the artists or the songs, that’s how universally well-known they are. The Stones I got; but Don McLean? And then I connected the dots.

    Read more: Don McLean: The Folkworks Interview

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September-October 2012

Following Those Fantastic Fingers

By Audrey Coleman

Django_ReinhartHis name conjures up the terms "Gypsy Jazz," "Hot Jazz Guitar,” "Le Jazz Hot,” and "Jazz Manouche." Gone for 59 years but far from forgotten, Django Reinhardt has inspired countless guitarists and ensembles to honor his memory with both imitations and innovations. In fact, a Django fever of sorts seems to be afoot. The recent Martin Scorsese film Hugo features a character that portrays the founder of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. French jazz guitarist Stéphane Wrembel composed “Gypsy jazz” music for Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris and performed on the 2012 Academy Awards show. Django tribute concerts and “Gypsy Jazz” festivals abound throughout Europe and North America.

In our Southern California backyard, a multi-ensemble musical project known as In the Footsteps of Django begins a North American tour this fall with a concert at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on October 6. The musical credentials are intriguing. Bandleader/guitarist Lulo Reinhardt is a grandnephew of Django. A native of Germany, he grew up playing “Gypsy jazz,” but most recently has been focusing on Latin jazz with his Lulo Reinhardt Latin Swing Project. Another ensemble, Les Doigts de l'Homme (literally "the fingers of man") is described by Guitar Acoustic as "one of the best interpreters of Django's music while keeping their own personal and colorful jazz style" and by the publication Ouest-France as a band that "brings a hint of world music,…energy close to punk bands, and an unmistakable authenticity." Rounding out the Footsteps program is Norig, a “Gypsy jazz”-inspired French singer with Catalan roots, whose first album is titled Gadji, the Roma word for non-Roma.

Django Reinhardt most definitely drew from elements outside his musical roots, but do Latin swing, punk rock, and world music follow in Django’s footsteps? Do they emulate his fantastic fingers?

Who’s to say no? I am certainly interested in finding out at the October 6 concert. Perhaps you will be, too. In the meantime, let’s explore the origins of "Hot Jazz Guitar,” Django’s legacy.

Most people whose ethnic roots were once labeled “Gypsy” now prefer to be called Roma. In the world of jazz, however, the term Gypsy has persisted, possibly because so many non-Roma are playing the music. In any case, Romani music and its practitioners originated in northern India. Their extensive nomadic travels brought them in contact with Greek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Czech, Slavic, Romanian, German, French, and Spanish musical traditions. While absorbing new musical elements, they retained a Romani style characterized by soulful vocals, chromaticism, and prominent glissandi between the notes. Fast Romani melodies often were accompanied by tongue-clacking, handclapping, and the clicking of wooden spoons. Spanish flamenco is largely derived from the Romani people of Andalusia.

In the Europe of centuries past, Roma musicians became professional entertainers, distinguishing their bravura performance music from the folk music they played within their family circles. In Eastern Europe, the professional ensembles tended to include a cimbalom (a type of hammered dulcimer) along with violins. Western European Roma ensembles sometimes dropped the cimbalom and by the 19th century had adopted rhythm and lead guitars. Romani orchestras became increasingly popular across Europe in the second half of the 19th century and were particularly sought-after from the 1920s through about 1960.

Jean Reinhardt, whose nickname “Django" is Romani for "I awake," was born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium into a family of Manouche musicians. (Manouche here is used to mean “French-speaking Roma.” Harrap's French-English Dictionary defines "Manouche" as “traveler.” My all-French Larousse defines it as "Roma.") He was first taught to play violin and then became enthralled with a once-popular hybrid called the banjo-guitar. By age 13, Django had mastered the banjo-guitar to the point that he could earn a living playing in bars and cafés after the family caravan moved to the outskirts of Paris.

Django_Reinhart_at_18Reinhardt did not make the guitar his principal instrument until after the catastrophic accident that threatened to end his musical career. At age 18 he was badly burned in a fire that consumed the caravan he shared with his first wife. As well as burning over half his body, the accident mangled the third and fourth fingers of his left hand, severely limiting his ability to use them at all.

Some two years later, after a remarkable recovery, the young musician was not only playing guitar but also beginning to absorb the sounds of American jazz from records in a friend’s collection. In the early 1930s, he became friends with Stéphane Grappelli, a Parisian violinist who embraced jazz with equal fervor. By 1934, Reinhardt and Grappelli had formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France as lead musicians backed up by two rhythm guitarists and a bass player.

The Hot Club ushered in an entirely new kind of music for Parisians. Even the rhythm guitars sounded      different, using a distinct percussive technique known as "la pompe” to replace drums. Much of the repertoire was in a minor key, but this "Gypsy jazz" had a minor feel to it even when it was playing in a major key. It often used major seventh and major sixth chords rather than standard major chords and substituted a minor sixth court for dominant seventh. Melodies came from Musette waltz music that was prevalent in France in the early decades of the 20th century, jazz standards that found their way from 42nd Street to the streets of Paris, and Django's original compositions. Often the up-tempo performance style of the musicians contrasted the dark, modal sound of the melodies.

Django's injury did not hold him back from embellishing melodies with passionate tremolo, string bends, staccato, and glissando not to mention dizzying arpeggios This ‘hot’ jazz guitar technique, known as Manouche in France, became a cherished tradition within the Roma musical community and a gift to jazz lovers worldwide.

The Second World War split up the original Quintette (Django spent the war in France while Grappelli stayed in England) although it was later reestablished without Grappelli. In post-war ensembles, Django often included horns, with the clarinet taking the lead role that the violin had held previously. He continued exploring creative frontiers and was an enthused by the be-bop innovations of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In 1946, Django toured the United States as a guest soloist with Duke Ellington and his orchestra. Before returning to France, he played two nights at Carnegie Hall to great ovations. By now, his numerous recordings were gaining wider distribution.

In 1949, the celebrated guitarist collaborated with Stéphane Grappelli in Rome for what was to be his final recording, the double album, Djangology.

Since Django’s death in 1953, family members --his sons Babik and Lousson, his brother Joseph, and his grandson David Reinhardt--have had notable careers as guitarists. A new generation of “Gypsy swing” proponents has emerged with such prodigious talents as Biréli Lagrène and Angelo Debarre. Non-Roma “gypsy-style” guitarists have also followed in Django’s footsteps, among them John Jorgeson and Stéphane Wrembel. In the Footsteps of Django showcases some of the latest beneficiaries of the Django legacy.

But listen to recordings of Django compositions such as Minor Swing, Daphne, or Nuages. Watch a film fragment of Django playing on YouTube. How is it possible to approach the magic of those fantastic fingers?

In 1985, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia declared in Frets Magazine: "Even today, nobody has really come into the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven't gotten to where he is. There's a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed--all the speed you could possibly want--but also the theme of every note (having) a specific personality. You don't hear it. I really haven't heard it anywhere but with Django."

More information and tickets for the October 6 performance of In the Footsteps of Django are available through Kalakoa Entertainment.

For more on Django Reinhart and a lot of videos check out this site.

Audrey Coleman is a journalist, educator, and passionate explorer of traditional and world music. She is a graduate student in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Riverside.

  

All Columns by Audrey Coleman

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