January 7, 2012. I fell in love with Gypsy Jazz thanks in large part to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of a river rat in the 2000 film Chocolat. Midway through the movie, Depp’s character picks up an acoustic guitar and launches into a lively rendition of “Minor Swing” which was composed by guitar legend Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt was instrumental in the creation of Gypsy Jazz, a movement that sprang to life in the Hot Clubs and French cabarets of the 1930’s.
What is Gypsy Jazz? To me, it’s a smooth blend of traditional gypsy music with melodies reminiscent of a street scene in Paris, circa 1930s, and the toe-tapping energy of Swing. In short, it’s the kind of music that makes you want to get up and move.
Keeping the sound alive in the Pacific NW is a Seattle-based jazz group called Pearl Django. The group–comprised initially of Neil Andersson, Dudley Hill, and David “Pope” Firman–came together in 1994 in Tacoma, WA. In 1995, they released their first album titled Le Jazz Hot, followed by ten more albums in fairly quick succession.
Over the years, the group lost some members and added others, eventually becoming a quintet. Their repertoire expanded to include several original compositions. They continued playing in a variety of nightclubs, cabarets, jazz concerts, and folk music festivals. (including the Festival Django Reinhardt at Samois sur Seine, France) And, in the process, they established a reputation as one of the best Hot Club-style groups in America.
The band’s most recent CD, Eleven, was released in June 2012 to critical acclaim. The music has a rich, mellow sound with an almost “Paris After Hours” feel to it. And three of the tracks feature award-winning guitarist Martin Taylor. Buoyed by sales to enthusiastic fans, Eleven stayed on Jazz Week‘s Top 40 Chart for ten straight weeks. (to sample some of the cuts, please check out Pearl Django on Amazon)
If you haven’t yet had a chance to catch this incredible jazz group live in concert, do yourself a favor. Treat yourself to one of their CDs ASAP, but take care. This music is so addictive, I’m betting you won’t be happy with just one. Enjoy!