The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Features

January 11, 2014

Gypsy jazz | Hot Club of San Francisco coming to arts center

JOHNSTOWN — Paul Mehling, the leader of Hot Club of San Francisco and the man dubbed the godfather of American gypsy jazz, lives in the 21st century but longs for the past.

He and the four other versatile musicians of the group will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center to explore jazz in the city of Paris during the 1930s.

Mehling and his bandmates celebrate the music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s pioneering Hot Club de France.

During the 1930s, Reinhardt created a new style that combined the elements of his traditional gypsy music with those of American jazz, and became Europe’s most accomplished jazz artist.

Hot Club of San Francisco pays homage to the music of Reinhardt’s Hot Club de Paris.

Affinity for music

Growing up in the Silicon Valley near San Francisco, Mehling had an affinity for music of the past.

He recalls listening to his father’s record collection, which included the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller and all of the swing-era bands.

Being exposed to swing at an early age predisposed him to playing that kind of music with style and panache.

The Hot Club of San Francisco borrows the instrumentation of violin, bass and guitars from the original Hot Club while breathing new life into the music with innovative arrangements of classic tunes and original compositions from Mehling.

The band features the violin of two-time Grammy Award winner Evan Price and a swinging rhythm section.

Comprising the remainder of the ensemble is Isabelle Fontaine, guitar; Clint Baker, bass; and Jeff Magidson, guitar.

Entertains around world

To hear the ensemble live, or on any of its 11 albums, is to be carried back to the 1930s and the small, smoky jazz clubs of Paris and the refined lounges of the famous Hotel Ritz. Often called gypsy jazz, the music of the Hot Club of San Francisco has entranced audiences around the globe for more than 20 years.

The band’s first album was produced by Mehling and put out on the band’s own label.

In 2000, the Hot Club of San Francisco was the first American band invited to play the Festival de Jazz Django Reinhardt in Samois-Sur-Seine, ground zero for the current Django revival.

The current edition of the Hot Club of San Francisco has been together for five years, anchored by Mehling and the improvisational brilliance of violinist Price.

“Being together for five years has given us a synergy to re-create the feeling of seeing the Hot Club de France,” Mehling said.

“In the past, we had members come and go, but the last five years have been the longest our members have been together and we are better and more consistant for that reason.”

Bands’ period dress

As the audience savors the vintage gypsy sounds, it also will enjoy the bands’ period dress.

The Pasquerilla arts center is one of only about 40 tour stops the band does outside of California each year.

“This is really a great combination of swing and gypsy jazz that is performed to perfection,” said Michael Bodolosky, arts center executive director.

He said people in the area may have heard this sound at Johnstown’s music festival.

“But Hot Club of San Francisco takes a lot of the jazz standards and gypsy jazz to a new level,” Bodolosky said.

While Mehling said performing in 1,000-seat auditoriums may seem challenging for acoustical musicians, he enjoys drawing in his audience to offer a more intimate feel.

“At an electric-amplified rock concert, the hair of the audience is blown back where our audiences are on the edge of their seats leaning forward to be entertained,” Mehling said.

Fairly predictable

 The band’s playlist is fairly predictable with the concert consisting of 70 percent standard music.

“Ten percent of our songs are ones that people are familiar with such as tunes from the Beatles, 10 percent are my tunes and another 10 percent from those people who yell a request from the audience or who have sent a note backstage requesting something.”

Gypsy jazz also has been popularized in movies as well, which always adds to a surge in popularity.

He pointed to Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown,” starring Sean Penn and Johnny Depp’s 2000 film “Chocolat” as examples.

Tom Lavis covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.

Onstage

What: The Hot Club of San Francisco.

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26.

Tickets: Available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the box office or by calling 269-7200, 800-846-2787 or visit www.upjarts.org.

Cost: $35, $31 and $27.

Information: 269-7200.

 

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