Picture Audrey Tautou in Amelie gliding down a rough cobblestone path in her perfect French way on an old bicycle. Imagine soft, delightful and charming music accompanying her wide smile. In essence, you've just listened to the Gypsy Swing Revue.
Gypsy swing, as a music genre, embodies a certain nomadic quality of the caravan lifestyle as transcribed into stringed progression and folk sound. Jazz roots take on swing beats, and a honeysuckle-sweet violin conveys much that exists beyond language. From a historical perspective, Gypsy swing functions as a narrative form born out of a World War I-era European countryside where families were frequently in transit. Simplified, Gypsy swing's instrumentation is a European version of early American jazz.
"None of us are gypsies, but we try to evoke that style in everything we play," said bassist Art Gibson. "We're very much rooted in the music of Django Reinhardt (who grew up in a Gypsy family during the 1920s in France). We often ask, 'how would he do it?' and view what we want to play through those lenses."
During the 1930s and 1940s, Reinhardt pioneered the Hot Club sound in France, garnering the descriptions of "Parisian swing" and "hot Gypsy jazz." The style stands apart from American swing, relying on between two or three guitarists, a bassist and a violinist. There's not a brass, big-band feel to Gypsy swing tunes, though they retain a lively and movement-inspiring tone. Some of the Gypsy Swing Revue's violin-driven songs alternately convey a Dust Bowl-era roadside blues feel, a distant cousin to Southern bluegrass.
"Django heard American jazz and did it his way; his style has a similar feel and it's still the same animal, but it's definitely not typical swing music," says Gibson.
Gibson, originally from California, joins the Gypsy Swing Revue after years of recording and festival touring. He has performed on radio shows such as "Folk Scene" and played with the likes of Johnny Crawford and Ian Whitcomb.
In addition to Gibson, Gypsy Swing Revue owes its sound to arranger and lead guitarist Elliot Reed, rhythm guitarist Bill Keilt, and master violinist Dmitriy Fish. Reed is a well-versed swingster and founding member of Suite 42, a successful Hot Club-style band from Albuquerque, N.M. Keilt, who solos outside the Revue with a blues and Celtic finger style, also lends the band some vocals and a quarter-century of guitar training. Fish came to the United States from Russia to earn a music degree in New York and has played with various performers in addition to his work with the Gypsy Swing Revue.
In a swing quartet such as the Gypsy Swing Revue, rhythm guitar and bass essentially fill the roles of drums and backbeat, freeing lead guitar and violin to solo and dance around. The guitars tend to offer an irresistible foot-tap metering, while the violin urges the feet to dance. Though it's not common swing, the Gypsy Swing Revue's music easily accompanies traditional swing dancers' needs on the hardwood.
Head into Black Forest to dig some Euro-jazz and road-inspired sounds this weekend. Close your eyes, and maybe you'll see Audrey.
-- Matthew Schniper
Gypsy Swing Revue
Black Forest Community Center, 12530 Black Forest Road
Friday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
Call 633-3660 or visit gypyswingrevue.com for more.