Mark Morris hopes his new Django in Georgetown event will do for gypsy jazz what his Clear Creek RapidGrass festival has done locally for modern bluegrass. He is bringing the world’s “hottest” gypsy swing band to the Georgetown Heritage Center, Nov. 11-12, in an effort to spread the genre of music, its audience and its players in a traditional folk manner. He plans to present the event for the next several years to achieve the goal.
“I’m clearly in love with gypsy swing music,” Morris said. “It’s the music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt and Stephen Grapeli. They were most famous during the WWII era and developed a style of jazz that didn’t require trumpets and saxophones and drums and electric guitar. They developed a style of jazz that was all acoustic… two acoustic guitars, a violin and an upright bass.”
Gypsy jazz, also known as gypsy swing or hot club jazz, is a style of jazz often said to have been started by guitarist Reinhardt, regarded by some as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He was the first important European jazz musician to make major contributions to the development of the guitar genre. The musician was foremost among a group of Romani guitarists working in and around Paris in the 1930s through the 1950s.
Many of the musicians in this style worked in Paris in various popular Musette ensembles and the Musette style waltz remains an important component in the gypsy jazz repertoire. Reinhardt was noted for combining a dark, chromatic gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period.
“They call it gypsy swing because it developed in these poorer gypsy camps in Europe. Some of the most virtuosic players that have ever developed in this kind of music have come from these little small gypsy camps where there is a bunch of caravans and everyone has a fire at night, and they learn around that fire,” Morris explained. “Some of the most virtuosic musicians to ever walk the earth come from these gypsy camps, like Django Reinhardt and Stochelo Rosenberg.
After attending festivals across the country highlighting Reinhardt’s music with some of the best gypsy players in the world, Morris decided to put something similar together back home. Seeing the potential of doing the event at the recently remodeled Georgetown Heritage Center, which offers both a room for concerts and classroom for workshops, the musician decided to move ahead with the idea.
“Django Reinhardt had a massive, massive impact on jazz in general, especially on the guitar and even more with acoustic music,” Morris explained. “Honesty, I grew up in Clear Creek County, and I introduced a lot of people in that community to a whole different brand of bluegrass with Rapidgrass. So, I’m hoping to do a similar thing. Expose a mountain community in Colorado to this level of talent. I’m doing it because I like to bring that kind of art to the community of Clear Creek County.”
Django in Georgetown includes a “double concert,” Nov. 11, featuring the Aaron Walker Quartet and Rhythm Future Quartet as well as morning instrument workshops for rhythm guitar, lead guitar, gypsy violin and upright bass, Nov. 12. Following the workshops at 1:30 p.m., an open jam is planned. The concert and workshops are ticketed events, but anybody can come to the jam to listen or participate for free.
The event’s organizer hopes to attracted both listeners and players to his gypsy jazz weekend. “The community can come and watch the concert and they’ll be completely dazzled by this kind of music, but also I’m also attracting and inviting some of the players who are already into this [style] to help keep the music healthy and alive,” Morris explained. “I’m just doing a very small part to bring… players to Colorado that you would otherwise have to travel across the U.S. to learn from. Just bring them right to Georgetown. It’s a cool opportunity to people who are interested in the music to come and learn from some of the best in the world.”
According to Morris, much like bluegrass fans, many listeners of Reinhardt’s music and gipsy swing also are trying to learn to play it. “I have a strong passion for bluegrass, because bluegrass music is all acoustic as well,” Morris explained. “I do the Rapidgrass music festival, and I just based that one on the same passion of bringing acoustic music to communities that otherwise aren’t really exposed to a lot of it. I’m using some of the ideas from Rapidgrass where we do a lot of workshops, a lot of educational platforms. I wanted to do the same thing with gypsy swing because it has… a similar demographic. I want to do a festival that’s based on the talent the music develops, but also teaching and spreading the folk tradition of the music through workshops and classes.
Morris, who also founded the award-winning Radpidgrass bluegrass band, is “really involved with the bluegrass music,” but also went to C.U. Denver where he studied jazz. “I wasn’t that attracted to electrical music, electric guitars and stuff,” he said. “I’ve always been really into string music, and [gypsy jazz] is pretty much the only outlet of jazz that invites all acoustic instruments. That’s the cool thing about folk music in general.” Gipsy jazz music, according to Morris, grew in a similar manner to the way bluegrass did in the U.S. as players didn’t need much money to have access to instruments.
The featured act at Django in Georgetown is a Brooklyn-based acoustic jazz ensemble Rhythm Future Quartet. The band performs Friday and each of its members conduct workshops on Saturday. “The talent the Rhythm Future has is pretty much second to none,” Morris said. “Basically, I’m bringing in probably the hottest gypsy swing band that exists, and in some people’s opinion, that has ever existed.”
Rhythm Future Quartet has an agenda to keep the spirit of gypsy jazz alive and expanding. The virtuosic foursome, named for a Reinhardt tune, offers up a contemporary sound influenced by the classic Hot Club of France. Led by violinist Jason Anick and Finnish guitarist Olli Soikkeli, the quartet performs dynamic and lyrical arrangements of gypsy jazz standards and original compositions that draw upon diverse international rhythms and musical idioms. With Max O’Rourke on second guitar and Greg Loughman on bass, Rhythm Future is dedicated to expanding the boundaries of the genre. “[Soikkeli] is just out of control,” Morris said.
Denver’s Aaron Walker Quartet opens the concert, Nov. 11. After Walker earned multiple degrees in music, he pursued a “real music education” through performing with his musical heroes such as Joscho Stephan, Olli Soikkeli, Robin Nolan, Bjørn Thoroddsen, Gonzalo Bergara and recording a gypsy/rap project with Kenyan music stars The Kleptomaniax. Hoping to enter the pantheon of great gypsy jazz guitarists, Walker pursued gypsy jazz guru Gonzalo Bergara for formal studies.
Ticket sales tell Morris the first year of his event will be a success, but he’d be happy with any result. “Selfishly, it’s my favorite kind of music,” he said. “I’m really passionate about doing it, so I’m kind of doing it for myself. I really love to play the music, too.” When Django in Georgetown is over, he hopes many more will share the same passion.
The Georgetown Heritage Center is located at 809 Taos St. Visit http://www.georgetowntrust.org or call 303-569-0289 for additional details and tickets.
Originally published in the November 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly