We’ve been hearing about the “gypsy jazz” phenomenon happening in Shanghai for the last few months already, but only last Friday finally got to check out the music in action. We stopped by LaBella cafe on Yongfu Lu Friday night to check out French guitar duo Jay and Etienne before going to salsa night at JZ around the corner. After finding the place quite easily from the music bouncing out the door and down the block, we realized that this cafe used to be a foot massage place that we had been to once or twice. The massages were never very good, so it’s no wonder the place went out of business. The cafe it has become, however, seems to be doing pretty well judging from Friday’s healthy attendance. Apparently Etienne, who has played extensively with well-known French gypsy guitarist Angelo Debarre, brings in a different musical partner each week to join him for this regular Friday performance. We’ve also been told he is only in Shanghai himself for one more month. Shanghaiist recommends you check out this hip cafe anyway, so might as well do it before this great guitarist is gone.
The “gypsy jazz” music Etienne and Jay play is very much in homage to Django Reinhardt, the legendary French jazz guitarist who only had two fingers on his left hand. It’s a lively brand of swing guitar that makes you tap your feet and wish you knew how to swing dance. Or if you do swing dance, it makes you wish there was space to dance in the crowded cafe. We were familiar with Jay’s playing already, as some of us have played music with Jay before, although he was playing bass when we played together. However this night he was laying down a solid rhythm guitar, chuckin’ away chords most of the time while Etienne played the Django role, burning through the melody lines and swingin’ solos. The two also have some sweet lines where both of them play fast harmonized melodies, much the way Django did together with violinist Stephane Grappelli in their famous collaborations.
Another gypsy jazz group, “Gypswing” is featured every Thursday night at HFZ (红房子) on Shaanxi lu near Changle lu. This group includes Jay too, as well as Candadian clarinetist James Danderfer and another French guitar player named Vlad. Unfortunately, James will be leaving town for over a month so this coming thursday, the 19th, will be his last one joining the group for a while. Word on the street is that Etienne will in fact be replacing James after he’s gone, so the show should be extra super. Show them some support and stop by this week, the show begins at 8pm.
Cross-posted at Shanghaijazzscene.com.
Photo by Don Yap, copyright 2007.