GYPSY JAZZ QUINTET HOT CLUB OF LOS ANGELES REAWAKEN THE MUSIC OF 1930S PARIS ON MONDAY NIGHTS IN CULVER CITY By Bliss Bowen
Traditionally, Monday nights are dead zones for theatres, restaurants and bars. So entering the Cinema Bar, where Hot Club of Los Angeles’ Monday night residency is swinging through its eighth year, is like slipping into a friendlier alternate universe of smiling dancers, rapt listeners, and music from another time.
There’s hope in the liberating rhythmic bounce generated by drummer Jim Doyle and bassist Paul Eckman, and the syncopated solos spun by guitarists Jake Bluenote and Josh Workman and accordionist/keyboardist Carl Byron through band staples such as “Bossa Dorado” and “Swing Gitan.” John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Django” segues into the Duke Ellington showpiece “Caravan.” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High,” popularized by Charlie Parker, gets the Hot Club of Los Angeles treatment, as does John Williams’ “Star Wars” composition “Cantina Band.”
“It’s happy music — it makes people happy,” says Doyle. “That crosses over any sort of boundaries.”
That “happy music” dances under the broad tent of gypsy jazz, a genre widely identified with Belgian-born guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France he formed in Paris in 1934 with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. But as Byron and Doyle take care to emphasize, Reinhardt himself was no purist, and this is not your grandfather’s gypsy jazz. It is another form of the roots music they have been playing throughout their careers.
Roots, Shoots, and …
“Roots music encompasses a lot of what we consider gypsy jazz,” Byron notes. “Willie Nelson from way back has been singing his own version of ‘Nuages’; he’s a huge Django Reinhardt fan. Western swing and roots music and gypsy music and even rockabilly all intersect in various ways.”
Asked why they started a gypsy jazz band in 21st-century L.A., Doyle credits a “deep love for jazz, and the opportunity to play it with good players in the roots music scene and expand our vocabulary” while investigating other types of roots music. “The deeper you go into music you always wind up in jazz, and the deeper you go into jazz, you wind up in classical music. [Laughs] We’ll be doing baroque on Tuesday nights at the Cinema Bar.”
“People seem to forget that so much of what we think of as rock and roots music really came out of the same place: New Orleans,” Byron reminds. “It came out of that mix of indigenous music, African-American music, Western European and Eastern European music all mixed together. It’s all from the same tree, just different branches.”
“As a musician, a good song is a good song. And a good song, it doesn’t matter the genre, is a pleasure to play,” Doyle says. “If the song is good, it translates to your soul.”
“The thread that runs through all of this music is it all has soul,” Byron adds. “It all comes from a real place.”
That a crew of overscheduled sidemen got a band started at all is an underappreciated achievement. The flame was lit by a Facebook post from former Angeleno Jesse Harris: Who wants to jam on gypsy jazz in my living room? His barnburning guitar solos were a main attraction with his country band Rancho Deluxe, and a creatively curious bunch of bluegrass, blues, country, jazz and rockabilly musician pals showed up, including Byron and Doyle. Harris soon relocated to Austin, but the fledgling band hung together through initial shows at the Redwood Bar in Downtown L.A. and, in December 2011, launched the Cinema Bar residency. Their 2013 debut album “Django’s Tiger” featured Byron, Doyle, and early bandmates Peter Kavanaugh, Bob Ricketts, Jeff Ross, Frank San Filippo and violinist Cliff Wagner. On Friday, they release their second album, “Cinema Swing,” which reflects the evolution of the ensemble’s lineup (with Ross contributing to several tracks) as well as its musical depth and versatility.
“To us, this music seems current,” Byron says, commenting on the joys and challenges of playing this music. “It seems contemporary, whether we’re talking about originals or the Django and gypsy jazz repertoire that is our mainstay.”
… Different Time Zones
All of HCLA’s members are skilled jugglers, balancing myriad gigs and sessions in various genres. That feeds the band’s zesty arrangements and performance energy.
It also makes for tricky scheduling. Setting up an interview with Byron and Jim Doyle required navigating a jigsaw of deadlines, travel itineraries and time zones, to secure a window of availability between Doyle’s return from East Coast dates with a Carole King tribute and Byron’s departure for the Caribbean to back Rita Coolidge on the Rock & Romance Cruise. It isn’t unusual for HCLA players to recruit substitutes for gigs.
That directly impacts one of the joyful aspects of HCLA shows: surprise. Guitarist John McDuffie and saxophonist/bassist Jeff Turmes have often subbed for band members on tour, refreshing performance dynamics. Noted drummer Don Heffington played guitar with the band one night. Rootsy rock guitarist Anne McCue performed her jazzy “Little White Cat” while visiting L.A. The Songbirds (aka singers Gaby Moreno, Erica Canales and Danni DeAndrea) serenaded the audience with “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” A partial list of other jazz and non-jazz luminaries who’ve graced HCLA’s bandstand includes guitarists Gage Hulsey, Jeff Radaitch and Antoine Salem, harmonica players Bill Barrett and David Naiditch, clarinetists Alex Budman and Kale Stiles, and violinists Fabrice Martinez, Nora Germain, Pablo Hopenhayn, and Leah Zeger.
Heavyweight musicians from across the musical spectrum also dot HCLA’s audience — famous names such as Duane Betts and U2 guitarist the Edge, and veteran LA players who respect the band’s musicianship. It’s a sign of this music community’s diversity and camaraderie, as well as the respect HCLA has earned. As Byron points out, other players recognize that they’re not just “Django wannabes.”
“We’ve become not only a spot for listeners, but a place for players too. It’s flattering to know that we’ve created something like that,” Doyle observes. “I don’t take it for granted.”
The JB Factor
And then there’s Jackson Browne. The legendary singer-songwriter appeared one Monday at the Cinema Bar after hearing about the crazy combo performing the kind of music he grew up hearing on his father’s stereo. The band realized who he was when he approached the stage.
“‘Hey, man, can you guys do ‘Nuages’?” Byron recalls in a flawless replication of Browne’s voice. “Fortunately we knew it and I knew the French lyric.” That seeded a mutual admiration society that led to Browne eventually sitting in. In a meaningful vote of confidence, Browne later recruited HCLA as the house band for Artists for Peace and Justice “Songs from the Cinema” benefit concerts in 2017 and 2018, where they backed starry lineups of performers doing film-connected songs: Paul Beaubrun, Erica Canales, Jeff Bridges, T-Bone Burnett, Bill Frisell, Petra Haden, Jonathan Wilson, Rita Wilson, and Rufus Wainwright, among others.
“That really stretched us,” Byron says gratefully. “Jackson would come in and say, ‘Hey, I want you guys to do this thing from Fellini’s “8½,” this great Nina Rota number,’ and we were kind of scratching our heads, going, ‘OK … how do we pull this off?’ So we did. He’s not just a great singer and songwriter on his own; he’s also a great producer and he knows how to inspire people to do stuff.”
“There were two different periods of the Hot Club — pre-Jackson and post-Jackson,” Doyle says. “It was immensely flattering that he was into what we were doing. The level jumped, because when you’re around that creative force you can’t help but try to rise to that. He really challenged us and, I believe, made us better. He saw something in us that maybe we didn’t see in ourselves … it really solidified us as a team.”
That experience influenced HCLA’s new album, “Cinema Swing,” produced by Doyle, which they’re celebrating with a nearly sold-out concert at the Ruskin Theatre on Thursday (March 5) and releasing into the world Friday (March 6). Byron’s zippy title tune is a nod to the cinematic music they performed with Browne as well as the band’s ongoing Cinema Bar residency. The track list includes Reinhardt’s “Nuages” and “Douce Ambiance,” as well as a caffeinated take on the Turner Layton-Henry Creamer standard “After You’ve Gone” and band originals composed by Byron and Eckman.
Thanks to word of mouth, celebrity fans and social media, Monday nights at the Cinema Bar are no longer the domain of sleepy barflies. A specific audience has developed a give-and-take relationship with the band.
“In the past four months I see the audience becoming, for lack of a better term, hipster,” Doyle says. “People in their thirties or later twenties are coming out, and also people whose demographic this music appeals to. It’s sort of becoming like, ‘Hey, have you been to the Monday night Cinema thing’?”
Hot Club of Los Angeles celebrates the release of “Cinema Swing” with a release concert at 8 p.m. Thursday (March 5) at Ruskin Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Tickets are $15. Call (310) 397-3244 or visit hotclubofla.com.
The band continues its Monday-night residency at the Cinema Bar (3967 Culver City) at 9 p.m. on March 9. No cover. Call (310) 390-1328 or visit thecinemabar.com for venue information.
Not just another bunch of trust fund hippies calling themselves the Hot Club of something or other, this bunch of hard core LA sidemen and session cats has been holding forth for almost a decade turning out their gypsy jazz that doesn't limit itself to Django manqueitude. A seriously swinging bunch that sound like they can do it all, this is really something to kick up your heels to whether they are dipping in the old school bag or getting ready for juke boxes in space stations. First class all the way.
Pasadena Weekly - 02/28/2020
HOT CLUB OF LA, Cinema Swing (indie release): ***½ Since late 2011, this Westside ensemble has improbably built up a loyal audience with a Monday night residency at Culver City’s hole-in-the-wall Cinema Bar performing their eclectic brand of gypsy jazz. The rhythmic joie de vivre and musicianship that makes their shows worth the drive from Pasadena animates their second album, a mood-brightening mix of original compositions, Django Reinhardt chestnuts, and a caffeinated take on the Turner Layton-Henry Creamer standard “After You’ve Gone.” Don’t be surprised to find your feet tapping along. Release show at Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica Thursday, March 5. Link: https://pasadenaweekly.com/trax-02-27-20/
Americana Highways Bentley’s Bandstand: March 2020
Hot Club of Los Angeles, Cinema Swing. The West side of Los Angeles might not be the first location to come to mind when gypsy jazz is mentioned, but the Cinema Bar there is home to a unique band dedicated to just that. Hot Club of Los Angeles has called the Cinema home on Monday nights for almost a decade, and a stellar crowd of musicians gathers to make sure the music stays swinging. A whole spread of instrumentals and vocals sung in French, Roma and Russian are often featured, bringing in an eclectic crowd of music heads and players alike. Led by band members Carl Byron and Paul Eckman and recorded by drummer Jim Doyle, these dozen selections are able to create a totally different world than what lies outside the club’s door on Sepulveda Boulevard and bumped up next to the permanently crowded 405 Freeway. This is a strain of jazz that injects whatever’s played with a buoyant effervescence that is ultimately irresistible, and invokes the guiding light of Django Reinhardt with such loving vibrations that there is no way not to be swayed into romantic jubilation. This is a modern assessment of a timeless sound, one born of love and created with care. Then and now.
INTERVIEW: Hot Club of Los Angeles set to release ‘Cinema Swing’
Hot Club of Los Angeles has a new album of songs called Cinema Swing.
Hot Club of Los Angeles, made up of an impressive slate of local L.A. musicians, have been celebrating gypsy jazz for the past decade. They hold down a regular residency at the Cinema Bar in Los Angeles, and Friday, March 6, they are releasing their latest album, Cinema Swing.The musicians in the band come from a variety of musical backgrounds, including country, jazz, folk, blues, rock, pop and world music, according to press notes. When they come together they create a sound that is simultaneously original and yet reflective of a shared past. They have been described as Nuevo Django, in relation to the maestro Django Reinhardt, in addition to jazz manouche and gypsy jazz.
Whatever the categorization, they bring to life songs in a wide variety of styles and languages, including French, Roma and Russian.The new recording has a little bit of everything for the listener: Django’s “Douce Ambience” and “Nuages” (sung in French by Carl Byron), manouche classics “Swing Gitan” and “Noto Swing,” traditional Russian song “Óči čjórnye/Ochi Chyornye” (“Dark Eyes”), and the standard “After You’ve Gone,” according to a press release.
Joining Byron (accordion, piano and vocal) in the band are Josh Workman on guitar, Jake Bluenote on guitar and vocals, Paul Eckman on bass and Jim Doyle on drums.
Recently Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with the Hot Club of Los Angeles about the band’s success and the new album. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
What can your fans expect from Cinema Swing?
A representation of our sizzling live shows, beautifully recorded by our drummer/producer Jim Doyle and mixed by Kevin Jarvis. The album features incendiary guitar work by Josh Workman and Jake Bluenote throughout its 12 tracks, which include gypsy jazz touchstones ‘Douce Ambiance,’ ‘Swing Gitan,’ ‘Noto Swing’ and Django’s masterpiece ‘Nuages’ (sung in French by pianist/accordionist Carl Byron); along with gypsy jazz originals composed by Byron and bassist Paul Eckman, and our arrangement of “Óči čjórnye” (aka ‘Black Eyes’ or ‘Dark Eyes’) sung in Russian by Bluenote.
What do you love best about gypsy jazz?
The genre blends such a wealth of traditions and styles: various facets of jazz, from Great American Songbook to straight ahead to bebop, mixed with strands of Roma (‘gypsy’), Eastern European, Balkan and Mediterranean genres; along with French musette and chanson, while also showcasing instrumental virtuosity. These diverse elements combine into a uniquely stirring, soulful, rhythmically-charged fusion that’s great fun for musicians and listeners alike.
How did Hot Club of Los Angeles get its start?
In 2011, guitar maven Jesse Harris invited six colleagues, including Jim Doyle and Carl Byron, to jam on Django material. Because the evening was such a blast, the seven of us decided to form a band, which we named Hot Club ofLos Angeles. Our first few performances were at the Redwood Bar in DTLA. Then, in December 2011 we launched our Monday night residency at the Cinema Bar in Culver City where we’ve been ever since.
Does the band keep its membership the same, or do members come and go?
The band is a cohesive unit. Jim Doyle and Carl Byron are the two remaining founding members. The other current members are Josh Workman (guitar), Jake Bluenote (guitar) and Paul Eckman (bass). Guests sit in frequently at our Cinema Bar residency. Occasionally if one of the members has a major gig elsewhere (we’re all sidemen and recording musicians), one of our first call colleagues fills in.
What’s it like to hold a residency for so long at the Cinema Bar?
It’s been great for us. Carl Byron now has a glass at the Cinema Bar with his name on it, thanks to the world’s greatest bartender, Tommy. More importantly, we’ve developed a loyal following there, and the weekly gigs (apart from Memorial Day and Labor Day, which we take off) keep us in shape for concerts, corporate events, weddings and other performances. The residency also provides us with a place to develop new material regularly.
What’s the future hold for the band?
World domination, or at least higher profile concertizing, touring, increased airplay and recording more albums while still continuing our Cinema Bar residency. In the meantime, we’re presenting a 90-minute album release concert Thursday, March 5, 8 p.m. at the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica where we’ll perform Cinema Swing in its entirety along with our trademark mix of Django gems, manouche favorites, French, Roma and Russian vocal numbers; as well as eclectic soundtrack arrangements, straight-ahead and bebop jazz repertoire, and gypsy jazz-inspired originals. (http://www.ruskingrouptheatre.com/)
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.comHot Club of Los Angeles’ new album is called Cinema Swing. It was released Friday, March 6. Click here for more information.
"Absolutely brilliant!..this breaks the mold and carves out new territory! Great writing and wonderful, uplifting playing!"--Russ Davis, Jazz America
"The album has dazzling guitar and keyboard solos and interplay with refined subtle energy that keeps the listener totally engaged...This is clean, refreshing music – gypsy jazz made new again."--Jim Hynes, Glide Magazine
"Totally groovy in every way possible" - babysue Music Review
"An exciting collection of 12 songs in which classic 'jazz Manouche' and original material are composed by band members."--Rootsville
"The quintet incorporates two capable vocalists and, in addition to guitar, drums, and piano, features accordion, banjo, and upright bass, all masterfully played."--Jeff Burger, The Morton Report | Blogcritics.org
"The title song "Cinema Swing," has an old-time classic jazz appeal with just the right amount of energy to keep the tempo grooving."--JP's Music Blog