Last month the Hot Club of San Francisco was booked to play Carnegie Hall. But heavy snow storms back East kept the band from getting to the gig.
The weather this week is clear between Tucson and San Francisco for the Hot Club’s concert of gypsy jazz at Fox Tucson Theatre on Saturday.
“Oh, we’ll get to Carnegie Hall,” said Paul Mehling, whose lifelong goal has been to play New York’s iconic American venue.
Django Reinhardt was the intuitive guitar genius who formed the Hot Club of France in 1934 with his buddy the violinist Stephane Grappelli. Their sound was so unusual, so inventive, no one else could copy it. When Reinhardt died tragically in 1953 there were no disciples to keep the music going.
“Stephane Grappelli never could find another guitarist like Django,” said Mehling, who has dedicated his musical life to cracking the code of Reinhardt’s complex sound.
So it is no surprise, once Mehling returned to the United States after busking in Paris subway stations in the early 1980s, he couldn’t find any other musicians to form a gypsy jazz band.
“I’d say it took two generations before anyone here wanted to seriously try it,” Mehling continued. “You have to analyze arpeggio patterns, chord structures, music elements like that. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I still practice at least four hours every day.”
While the demand for prodigious technique is one kind of challenge, what keeps Mehling involved is the emotional power of the music itself. He calls it hot, mysterious, romantic, and also classically beautiful, poignant, thoughtful, sad — he kept the list going.
“It’ll blow your hair back, too,” said the guitarist. “I don’t pretend to fill Django’s shoes, but I do want to re-create the feeling of being at a Django concert, offering the audience a full banquet of those emotions.”
Other disciples with Mehling in the Hot Club of San Francisco are violinist Evan Price, guitarist and vocalist Isabelle Fontaine, guitarist Jeff Magidson and bassist Sam Rocha.
To augment the Django experience, Mehling gives a portion of the show to screening and accompanying a trio of 10-minute silent films during the full two-hour performance. Traditionally, says the band leader, traveling gypsies were fond of projecting films on the sides of barns near their camps and playing along with the moving pictures.
The Hot Club of San Francisco calls this segment “Cinema Vivant,” accompanied by the band’s own style of gypsy swing.