I've been reading Garth Cartwright's book "Princes Amongst Men Journeys with Gypsy Musicians". In the chapter on Esma Redzepova: We Are Guests on This Earth, Esma is quoted:
"'Elvis Presley was a Gypsy. Da. I know these things. He never admitted it but he was a Rom.'
So says Esma Redzepova Teodosievska as we talk all things Gypsy over scalding Turkish coffee. It's an entertaining suggestion and, undoubtedly, carries a certain logic; the Memphis Flash's tan beauty, gentle nature and ability to blend and reshape any music he inhaled is symbollic of Balkan Roma. Any truth to it? Where Esma's concerned, simply print the legend. More importantly, I imagine Esma's making a connection of sorts; she being the Queen of the Gypsies, Elvis the King of Rock'n'Roll. Think about it: arising from 1950s urban poverty, Elvis galvanising poor black and white Southern US music, Esma reinventing Roma and Slav music(s) of the southern Balkans, two adolescent sirens who sang and danced with a bewitching feedom. Before Elvis and Esma white trash and Roma women had no cultural presence, existing only as caricature. E & E proudly marked their peoples on the world map."
In the chapter: Guca: The Rave That Time Forgot, the author writes:
"Legend has Miles Davis, in Belgrade when Yugoslavia could still host jazz festivals, being played a recording of a Gypsy brass orkestar. Miles, astonished, replies, 'I didn't know a trumpet could sound like that.' Maybe his forefathers did; maybe the retuning of brass instruments invoked by African Americans in New Orleans came with a little help from a people who'd also have been considered 'colored' (or, maybe, 'Creole'). It's been written that there are Afro-Roma communities in Louisiana, dating back to the nineteenth century."
This is something that really got me thinking. I've often thought Elvis was gypsy. If not in heritage, then somehow in spirit. Sometimes I think most great musicians have some connection to gypsy/Roma. I wonder if Michael Jackson's last guitarist, Orianthi, might have Roma heritage?
In the book Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Däniken postulated that things like the pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, etc. were built by aliens. I have a somewhat similar theory that many of the great musicians have some connection to Gypsy/Roma heritage or culture. No proof, just a theory. For instance I find it easy to believe that many of the great jazz players might have this connection. Bird, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Art Pepper. These players not only had great musical ability, they also seemed to embrace life (often to excess) in a manner similar to guys like Tschavolo Schmitt. A sort of "don't cap the bottle, I'm not finished... approach to life".
How about someone like Hank Williams. Prolific songwriter, lived life in the "Now", always on the road.
It's cold in Toronto today and I may be just babbling but do you think any of this might be true? Even if it isn't, if you've humoured me this far, can you think of any other great musicians who might share this connection? Just idle (idol) speculation. Like Esma said "simply print the legend".