It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
Paul "Pazzo" Mehling, bandleader and guitarist,
wryly considers himself the grandfather of American Gypsy jazz.
These days, it's not
uncommon to download music onto an MP3
player while watching a DVR'ed show and scanning through the day's
paper for stories you haven't read online already.
This weekend, the Hult Center offers you a chance to glimpse
into how people entertained themselves in the late 1920s and early
1930s, when jazz was still on its way up, movies were still silent and
live was the normal way to hear music.
The Hot Club of San Francisco is one of the nation's oldest
bands to play in the style that Gypsy guitar legend Django Reinhardt
and violinist Stephane Grappelli pioneered during the Great Depression.
The group will be your guide on a three-day trip back in time.
Tonight the Hot Club will perform live music for ballroom
dancers on the University of Oregon campus during the Oregon Ballroom
Dance Club's weekly dance, which includes instruction for the first
The Hot Club will respond to what the dancehall seems to call for,
bandleader Paul Meh- ling says.
Then on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Mehling and his
Hot Club will perform a production they call "Silent Surrealism." It's
live Gypsy swing played to accompany four silent films.
"We've selected pieces of music that fit the themes in the film, so
we always play the same pieces of music," Mehling says. "But we're
improvising on those themes as the film rolls.
"We're just trying to provide a backdrop, like they used to do
back in the silent film era. It's really challenging and really fun all
at the same time."
The project has been touring, with cooperation from the San
Francisco Silent Film Festival, for two years. Mehling selected two
works by American filmmaker Charlie Bowers, a contemporary of Charlie
Chaplin better known in Europe than his home country, because of their
connection to Gypsy culture.
Somewhere in his research. Mehling discovered that Gypsies
used to take these films to small towns, find a barn or large wall,
project the films there and charge admission.
"The fact that this might have actually happened, that
Gypsies might have been playing this kind of music with these kind of
movies, was too good to pass up," Mehling says.
The rise of Gypsy jazz
According to "Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend," a
Reinhardt biography published in 2004, Grappelli's first steady, paid
gig was in the orchestra pit of Théatre Gau- mout, a Paris
was before Grappelli and Reinhardt would meet and put manouche - which
came to be known as Gypsy jazz - on the map.
Reinhardt's early style features a guitar and violin. plus a rhythm
section made up of a bass player and two more guitars.
Reinhardt, according to the biography, roamed a relatively
small area near Paris, but he came in contact with countless talented
musicians. He accompanied them with adult aptitude from the time he was
12 years old in 1921.
About the same time, America was giving birth to jazz and
entering the Roaring '20s. It was only a matter of time until jazz
found its way into the ears and soul of the young Reinhardt.
The duo-to-be met at a jazz club where Grappelli, who later
said his life began when he met Reinhardt, was performing. By 1934,
both musicians were involved with Paris' fledgling Hot Club.
Soon, they formed a band that would become world famous: the
Quintet of the Hot Club of France, the inspiration for Mehling's band.
"I was a little boy when I first heard this music, and I just
went nuts for it," Mehling says. "At a certain point, my mom took the
kids and left. She grabbed a handful of LPs, and one of them was a
record of Gypsy jazz by Django Reinhardt.
"As a teenager, I found myself going back to that record and
putting it on. So my earliest memory - they tell me - I would always
sit in front of the stereo and listen to (my dad's) records."
Mehling, 47, says with a chuckle that he considers himself the
American grandfather of this type of music. He's produced instructional
videos, and his band had the honor of being the first gadjé, or
non-Gypsy - group to play at the largest Reinhardt festival in the
"This music isn't that popular in America, so there haven't
been that many bands historically playing this music before us,"
Mehling says of his 2000 invitation to play DjangoFest in Paris. "Right
now, there are hot clubs all over America playing this music."
Mehling attributes the upswing in the genre's popularity to ease of
access to information via the Internet.
As a youth, Mehling sought out libraries in each town he
visited and pored over liner notes of expensive imported records to
learn all he could about the fascinating Gypsies and their beguiling
The 1999 Woody Allen film, "Sweet and Lowdown," also stimulated
some interest in the style, he says.
"There's a lot of people who want to play this way, but they
don't want to make the commitment to learning the technique," Mehling
says. "Playing the guitar this way is not a hobby. It's really like a
lifestyle. I mean, I have to play all the time.
"There's a high degree of virtuosity involved, and virtuosity is
attained - if you're not a genius or a prodigy - it's attained through
Mehling's musical passion has taken him to France on several
occasions to seek out Gypsies to learn from. And while Grappelli was
still alive, Mehling had the chance to see him play about a dozen times
and had several brief conversations with him.
"They said of Django, back when he was alive, that it was a
guitar with a human voice," Mehling says. "That's how I aspire to play.
"To move people with instrumental music is really difficult,
especially in this culture (where) people are accustomed to listening
The essence of this music is conveying emotion, he says.
"Sometimes, jazz music is presented, take it or leave it. We're
actually really trying to win over the listener."