• FolkWorks Benefit Concert - This Saturday - See below ...


    The Resurrection of Paul Robeson:

    “Paul Robeson” At The
    Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

    Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014

    By Ross Altman

    Keith David - Paul RobesonFor an artist of Paul Robeson’s stature—except that there is no artist of Paul Robeson’s stature—to have become a stranger in his own land is one of the more improbable stories of a so-called free society. At one time the most famous performer in America—star of stage (Othello), screen (Show Boat), radio (Ballad for Americans), author (Here I Stand) and recording artist (for Columbia and Vanguard Records), Robeson strode across the American landscape like a colossus. No one would have been surprised to learn that he was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at Rutgers, a two-time All-American football player and the toast of British Aristocracy after making his debut singing Ol’ Man River in Show Boat in London’s West End in 1927. He was declared “the Voice of the Century” long before the 20th Century was over—sharing that title with Marian Anderson.


    All Alone with Paul Robeson:

    The Tallest Tree in the Forest

    The Mark Taper Forum - April 19, 2014

    By Ross Altman

    Tallest Tree in the Forest - Daniel BeatyWho is the real Paul Robeson? The Tallest Tree in the Forest or the biggest windbag in Los Angeles? It wasn’t clear to this reviewer last night at the opening of the new one-man play about Robeson by actor Daniel Beaty at The Mark Taper Forum at The Music Center—until half way through the performance—when he sang Zog Nit Keynmol—Never Say—the Warsaw Ghetto anthem penned by Hirsh Glick, the 22-year old Vilna poet who wrote the song upon hearing news of the Jewish resistance to the Nazi attempt to liquidate the ghetto on April 19, 1943, as a birthday present for Adolph Hitler, who was born on April 20—today, as I write this review on Easter Sunday, Hitler’s birthday.


  • FolkWorksLogo-COLOR web


    Saturday April 26 8pm

    Reception at 7pm

    Our annual benefit concert has always been a fun, ear-opening event and this year promises to be no exception.

    Tracy-Newman-benefit 2014 for web

    at the
    SANTA MONICA Woman's Club

    1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401
    (near Wilshire & 4th St.)

    Tickets: $20 general admission,
    $25 VIP reserved seating

    Click here to buy your tickets now!

    Info: concerts@FolkWorks.org       818-785-3839

    Emcee Tracy Newman

    Always entertaining, Tracy may throw  in some of her own songs.


    Sausage Grinder

    SAUSAGE GRINDER photo for benefit for web

    Los Angeles’ all-natural hillbilly and country blues band, combines the traditional sounds of fiddle and banjo breakdowns with the low-down sound of country blues, topped off with a touch of ragtime and hillbilly jazz. The versatile acoustic ensemble features fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, washboard, and a few odds and ends.


    Nevenka 2014 for web

    The popular Los Angeles-based women’s chorus that brings to life vocal folk/roots traditions from around the world. Their songs range from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Bosnia to Rom and Sephardic songs - as well as recently added American and Irish music. Their spellbinding harmonies are at the core of their eclectic repertoire. Whether a simple American song or the complex harmonies of Bulgaria the voices of Nevenka’s women are sure to move you. While mostly singing a cappella, they are occasionally accompanied by percussion, mandolin, guitar, citern or panduri.

    Swing Riots Quirktette

    SWING RIOTS color NEW LINEUP for web

    The Swing Riots are comprised of 6 core members who have played for decades in everything from Balkan dance bands to traditional Swing groups. They perform an irreverent gumbo of Gypsy & Creole Jazz, Klezmer & Romanian Horas, Parisian Musette & the occasional wild card thrown in for good measure. 


    TUNACIOUS for webContradanceTunacious is a Celtic genre-bending band with songs and dance tunes with a blowout contra dance to wind up the evening.


    Upcoming Concerts

    (Click on hyperlink for tickets)

    Series at the Talking Stick Café

    FISHTANK ENSEMBLE     May 24th         ANTONIO SACRE, MICHAEL McCARTY and others     June 28th
           Gypsy                                                                 Storytelling

    NEVENKA     September 27th                        SYNCOPATHS     October 25th
           East European Women's Choir                            Upbeat Celtic


    FolkWorks Benefit Concert   April 26th

    Swing Riots Quirktette, Sausage Grinder, Nevenka, Tunacious
                     emcee: Tracy Newman

    Rose Garden of Peace Concert  May 31st

    With Yuval Ron Ensemble


    January-February 2014

    For the Love of Wade

    By David Bragger

    wade ward 2I love Wade Ward! When I started immersing myself in old time music, I first heard Wade Ward on an out of print compilation of Lomax recordings. Soon after, I picked up the Smithsonian Folkways recording Uncle Wade - A Memorial To Wade Ward: Old Time Virginia Banjo Picker, 1892-1971 and was blown away at the sophisticated simplicity of his playing on both fiddle and banjo. Something about his bold, archaic style just sent lightning bolts right through my body when I first heard him.

    Read more: For the Love of Wade


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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