FUTURE Concerts

    (Click on hyperlink for tickets)

    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




    By Ross Altman

    Dinesh DSouzas AmericaDinesh D’Souza’s America opens in medias res, in the midst of the American Revolution, and before we have had time to settle in, we see General George Washington riding by as he is…shot dead by a British sniper’s bullet. What if, D’Souza’s movie speculates, George Washington had died that way and America had never been born. What would the world look like today?—a fascinating hypothesis--but apparently not enough to hang a movie on.

    As John Milton found out while writing Paradise Lost every epic needs a villain as well as a hero, and often the villain—in Milton’s case Satan—is the more interesting character than—in his case the Lord. In Dinesh D’Souza’s pseudo-documentary America: Imagine a World Without Her, a hypothetical retelling of the American story the hero—it goes without saying—is America—while the villain is the late great Boston University historian and author of The People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn.






    By Ross Altman

    Judy Collins - Don McLean

    Legendary singer-songwriter Don McLean and living angel Judy Collins brought a show to Riverside last night that was one for the ages—and the times we live in. Judy Collins, looking resplendent in a simple black sequined pant suit highlighted by her shining silver hair flowing down her shoulders gave the most moving tribute to her “old friend Pete Seeger” of all the tributes I have heard since he passed away last January 27.

    She offered her heartfelt narrative of her friendship with America’s Tuning Fork from the time she walked into Pete’s (and her soon-to-be) manager Harold Leventhal’s office fifty years ago only to find Pete stretched out fast asleep on the floor his banjo by his side and heard Leventhal say quietly but firmly, “Shh! Don’t wake him! He’s resting for three shows I am taking him to this afternoon; this is his only chance to get some sleep!” She then recounted the thrill of singing Turn, Turn, Turn with him on his self-produced folk TV show Rainbow Quest on a small public station (“before PBS was even invented!” she told us)—a performance which you can still enjoy on YouTube.



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


    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


    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

    Don McLean: The FolkWorks Interview

    Part 3

    By Ross Altman

    Don McLean with Banjo at LenaRA:      How did you get acquainted with Pete?

    DM:     I got acquainted with him because, well I always loved his records, and loved that image which I felt was the perfect image for me, you know, because I was always kind of an outsider. I didn’t really want to work with people. I didn’t get along with people. I was always getting punished for things I was saying, you know, even at home. In school, at home, whatever, I would say something that was the truth, but it would get me in a lot of trouble and it kind of continued right on.

    RA:      Can you think of an example off the top of your head of that kind of thing?

    DM:     I can – wow, I mean, no. But I was always being impertinent, let’s say.

    RA:      Okay.

    DM:     The biggest example was American Pie, you know, where everybody sort of crucified me for – Rolling Stone crucified me for trying to take over the telling of the history of rock and roll.

    Read more: DON MCLEAN PART 3


    July-August 2014


    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


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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