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In 1998, violinist Rob Thomas and I cleared some time in our busy schedules as freelance musicians to get together and play a style music that we had always loved, but rarely got the chance to play for audiences-it was older jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelley. We had so much fun that we decided to make it a band and attempt to find some gigs. At the time New York City was not exactly a hotbed of old jazz or swing, but with great difficulty we managed to book a few gigs. The going was rough though, and we eventually let the band go dormant as we got back to the reality of making our day to day livings as musicians for hire. Rob’s “day to day reality” included playing violin on projects by such notables as Andy Summers, Max Roach, Marc Ribot and Lee Konitz. My “reality” consisted of playing guitar on TV commercial jingles for Post Cereals, Dodge Trucks, Countrytime Lemonade as well as a host of independent artists CDs. We both also played more than our share of clubs and parties.
In 2004 while working as a musical “hired gun” I met guitarist Glenn Tosto. I was immediately struck by the fluency and precision of his rhythm guitar playing-something which is essential to the older Django Reinhardt type jazz, and something that I realized had been missing when Rob and I originally tried to get a band off the ground. In Glenn’s unique driving rhythm guitar we figured we’d found the secret weapon to revive the group. Of course real talent can’t be kept a secret for long; Glenn’s incredible rhythm guitar playing was soon recognized by guitar virtuoso Frank Vignola who has utilized Glenn’s skills on recordings and also on national tours, where he has also backed up guitar phenom Tommy Emmanuel. He is also in demand by numerous NYC based groups.
To complete the new aggregation we needed a bassist. Both Rob and I had worked with bassist Mike Weatherly over the years in various bands playing various styles. Mike is a second generation bassist, and like his Dad before him, had played in Western Swing bands throughout his native New Mexico and much of the Southwest before coming north. In New York he found himself in demand playing everything from Dixieland to modern jazz, with stops at Rock, Blues and Country in between. Ah, a kindred spirit. We were thrilled when he signed on for the project
By 2004, there had been something of a renaissance in older swing and jazz in New York. People were now calling that style of Django Reinhardt influenced music “Gypsy Jazz”. We named the band “Gypsy Jazz Caravan,” and booked our first gigs in 2004. Gypsy Jazz Caravan has been working consistently since then. Our first CD entitled “Pour Les Zazous” was released in 2005. It consists of 14 originals, most written in the “American songbook” standard style. We were fortunate to have several of our tunes from that CD picked up and used in scenes on TV shows-“Cathouse on HBO used “Do the Promenade”, Royal Pains on USA Network used “Bossa Roma”, and Grimm on NBC used “Go Shopping” Our second CD entitled “Sinister Amusement” included ten originals and two standards, and was released in 2007. Our third CD simply called Gypsy Jazz Caravan III, is a combination of eight originals and eight jazz standards. It was released in 2013.
There are a few possible approaches for anyone playing an older style of music. One approach is to attempt to re-create the recordings of that era as faithfully as possible-resulting in a kind of a kind of museum piece. Another approach is to capture the (imagined) spirit of that era-good costumes, hairdos, vintage instruments etc. Nothing wrong either way, but not really what the Gypsy Jazz Caravan is all about.
The Gypsy Jazz Caravan view is that there is still gold in that goldmine. It doesn’t matter that this style was invented in the 1930s; the music can still exciting and vital if the musician can bring life to it. There are still great melodies to be discovered, great rhythms to be danced to and great songs to be written within the style. Of course the music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelley is our guiding force, but we can’t pretend that we were born in 1910. We’ve all heard and been effected by the music of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, not to mention the Beatles, Bach, Debussy, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, BB King, Willie Nelson, Tangos, Waltzes etc. Our music isn’t a fashion, it’s the sum of all that we’ve heard and experienced in life- Once you ring the bell it can’t be un-rung. We play the music we love; It’s alive. Listen!