The Gypsy-jazz band Hot Club of San Francisco gave a convocation to MSUM students, sharing knowledge of the genre, tips and guitar on Nov. 30. They also performed Dec. 1 at Gaede stage, almost selling out in pre-ticket sales.
The band is based in San Francisco and travels all around the world putting on Gypsy-jazz shows. The players include: leader and guitarist Paul Mehling, bassist Clint Baker, guitarist Isabelle Fontaine, violinist Evan Price, rhythm guitarist Jeff Magidson and bassist Sam Rocha.
What does Gypsy music mean to you?
Mehling: My father was a record collector, so I grew up listening to traditional jazz like Louis Armstrong, and he had some records by Django Reinhardt, who invented the genre of Gypsy-jazz. And when I heard that it was like, what is that? And I just fell in love with it. It’s almost impossible to describe that feeling of falling in love. It was like getting hit by lightning.
Price: I grew up in a house where early jazz was really appreciated, and I started playing violin when I was eight, so my parents introduced me to Stephane Grappelli and records of the Hot Club of France music because they knew that I would understand it on the jazz level and that I would understand it on the violin level too. So then I heard the violinist improvise so virtuosically that it kind of blew my mind.
Fontaine: I didn’t grow up in a household full of jazz and all of that stuff, but I grew up in France. I’ve went through jazz as a singer. I started singing and picking up the guitar, but Gypsy-jazz in general if you look for Gypsy-jazz and French jazz, Reinhardt’s the guy to go to.
How did the Hot Club of San Francisco form?
Mehling: I started the band. I’ve tried many, many, many times to start a band. And I finally did and took out an ad in a newspaper, and that’s how I met Jeff, who brought in his wife Isabelle. When Evan and I actually met, he knew about me and he actually thought that I was going to be calling him, because he was so famous by playing in the Turtle Island String Quartet, but I never knew who he was until one day I was on a gig where a violin player couldn’t make it, and they sent Evan. And Evan and I had a “Bromance” right from the very beginning. The first couple measures of the song we just looked at each other and were like, “where have you been all my life?”
Price: None of that’s true – No, it’s true. I grew up listening to Stephane Grappelli records playing and learning to play early jazz with non-string players, I didn’t know anybody, really, who played jazz on the violin or even a guitar very well. It wasn’t until this time in ’98 when I met Paul and for the first time I thought, finally there is somebody out there that wants to play that kind of music.
What kind of advice would you give someone looking at starting a band or getting started in this kind of music?
Mehling: Listen a lot. Get inside the records, listening and literally get inside. I used to play guitar with the records and try to match it so perfectly that I thought that I was in the record.
Price: Find musicians that are better than you to play with.
Mehling:A lot of young people start their own bands with other people their own age, and they sort of co- each other’s good and bad habits, and it’s not a learning thing. They learn from each other and grind each other’s rough edges off, but they’re not really expanding. In my experience, a lot of young bands are missing the boat by not playing with old guys like us, because we all learned by playing with older guys and gals and it’s a tutelage. It doesn’t happen as much in the classroom as it does on the band stand when you play with older people. You can’t learn from someone who doesn’t speak the language fluently.
What is one artist or band that truly inspires you?
Mehling: Django Reinhardt or Louis Armstrong
Price: Lester Young
Fontaine: Billie Holiday
BY BECKI DEGEEST