Gypsy Jazz

16 11 2008

I don’t know about the rest of you, but in our city we get little fliers from the Arts, Parks, and Recreation Department with our sewer and water bills. I always toss them, but occasionally an upcoming event will catch my eye. Thus it happened with “Hot Club Sandwich”, billed as a gypsy jazz band. “Gypsy jazz band?” I thought, intrigued. “We are so going to that.

Unfortunately, my favorite date was still out of town. By Thursday, though, I knew I needed the night off. I emailed my friend Erin and plans were set. I got a babysitter and Erin and I planned our outfits (Stan never does that), which included big earrings because, you know, the whole gypsy thing.

Still, walking into it on Friday night, we didn’t really know what to expect. I was a little worried we wouldn’t be able to get tickets, but that wasn’t a problem–the theatre was only half full. Erin and I chatted a bit while she crocheted some glittens (this prompted a long internal dialogue where I mused that of coursethey couldn’t be called “moves” [pronounced “muvs”] because there’s already a word with that spelling. {You know, “moves” [pronounced “moovs”].} It also prompted much admiration for Erin’s crocheting–that gal’s got some ske-ills.)

Hot Club Sandwich took the stage after a brief introduction, and immediately jumped into their first song.

Erin and I glanced at each other. (We have a sort of brain meld thing going on, she and I.) We said (not out loud, only in our minds), “Wow. This band is smokin‘!”

I’m currently trying to figure out how to put a crappy picture from my cell phone up, but I’m sure it won’t do the band justice. There were seven of them (7!), all playing acoustical stringed instruments–except for the one gentleman whose guitar was electric. Besides him, there was a violinist, a bass violinist, a ukulele player (“ukuleleist” isn’t a word), a mandoliner (okay, I made that one up, too), and two guys playing gypsy guitar.

Now, I’m pretty partial to big band. I’ve always enjoyed it, and there’s something about all those instruments playing crazy-hard licks as one that thrills me. However, after hearing some of the crazy-hard licks these guys played–well, I’m now a gypsy jazz fan.

There’s no percussion, like in a regular jazz band. For rhythm, the bass is there, of course, and then the guitars (if they aren’t soloing) strum. And not just strum–strum like crazy. If you’ve ever been in band, you’ve probably heard the term “boom-chuck.” This is a technical musical term, so I’ll explain. In a regular song, the boom is the downbeat, and the chuck is the offbeat. Take the song Yankee Doodle, just as a for instance. It goes like this:

YANkee DOOdle WENT to TOWN a-RIDing ON a POny.

The capital letters are the syllables that are stressed. The downbeats. The smaller letters are the offbeats–or “chucks”, if you will.

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah–gypsy jazz.

So this band, Hot Club Sandwich, didn’t have percussion, but the back-up guitars strummed. The cool part about the strumming, though, is that it emphasized the offbeats. It’s a great sound, very toe-tapping and EXCITING! (Yes, exciting enough to write in all capitals with an exclamation point! Seriously!) Instead of (and you have to read this fast, because most of the songs were fast): BOOMchuckBOOMchuck, it was: boomCHUCKboomCHUCK. I’m not explaining it very well. But it was awesome.

All seven of the band members were incredible musicians. They took turns and improvised and it was simply amazing. And then–


The sort-of leader walked up to the mike and said they had a special treat: a maraca virtuoso was going to play with them on a couple of tunes. I looked at Erin and one of us said (I can’t even remember which one, but we were both thinking it), “I didn’t know they had maraca virtuosos.” Maracas, if you aren’t aware, are those shaky thingys that are often utilized in Latin-type music. So this fellow comes out, a largeish guy with a big smile and dark-rimmed glasses (he’s from Venezuela originally, the band leader says) with a gig bag for his maracas. He takes them out and I’m ready to hear a little shake-shake-shake along with the boomCHUCKboomCHUCKboomCHUCK.

I was completely blown away.

Turns out, there is such a thing as a maraca virtuoso. I know, because I heard one.

Amazing, incredible, fabuloso–insert favorite superlative here. He played rhythms on the maracas that I didn’t even know were possible. Seriously jaw-dropping.

What a great night. The band was tight, and they enjoyed playing together. Stan would have loved it. I’m going to check the band’s website to see if they’ve got anything else scheduled close by. If they play here next year, sign me up.

In the end, I walked out of the theatre with two Hot Club Sandwich cds and a new found appreciation for gypsy jazz. And an even greater desire to learn how to play the guitar.