Wednesday, August 13, 2008
On this lovely summer evening in San Francisco, I'm planning to get on a bus in a few hours and head down to the Mission District, to an obscure little hole-in-the-wall bar called "Amnesia."
I go to Amnesia quite frequently, even though I don't drink, because the music is generally good, and tonight's band is one of the best around, a local group called "Gaucho," consisting of six accomplished musicians who swing hard, but don't rock. When your instrumentation is two acoustic guitars, stand-up bass, drums, sax, and accordian, you're not exactly setting out to rock this town.
Ask any of the members of Gaucho what type of music they play and they'll tell you "Gypsy jazz." That's kind of a code term meaning "heavily influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt."
Reinhardt, the legendary French Gypsy guitarist who recorded prolifically with his own group in the 30's and died young in 1954, still casts a very long shadow over the world of music. If anything, his influence has grown rather than diminished in recent years.
There's only one very brief film clip of Django playing, and it does reveal a little for those curious to learn more about his almost superhuman technique. The thing about Reinhardt is that he was disabled. Burned in a caravan fire at 18, the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand -- his fretting hand -- were paralyzed and useless. He played all those amazing solos with two fingers.
It's audio only, but if you've never heard Reinhardt (or even if you have), check out the Youtube of him playing "When Day is Done" with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. It might bring tears to your eyes. It does mine.