DEAR JERRY: I am hearing a lot about Gypsy Jazz lately.
I even read that September 16 was the official release date for the Harmonious Wail “World Gypsy Swing” CD.
My two questions are: What is Gypsy Jazz? What is Gypsy Swing?
Dolores McMichael, Auburndale, Fla.
DEAR DOLORES: One answer will handle both of your questions.
Gypsy Jazz, or Gypsy Swing as it is sometimes called, is music performed in the acoustic string style of legendary jazz guitar great, Jean “Django” Reinhardt.
Equally inspiring to later-day Gypsy Jazzers is French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.
In 1934, Reinhardt and Grappelli formed Le Quintette du Hot Club de France (The Hot Club of France Quintet) and all it did was become one of the most powerful and significant groups in the history of jazz.
Completing the quintet was Django brother, Joseph Reinhardt (guitar), Roger Chaput (guitar), and Louis Vola (double bass).
As the son of real-life traveling European gypsies, Django, for his first 10 years, did not have anything resembling a permanent home. He even picked up the nickname the Gypsy King.
Thus, from the Gypsy King came Gypsy Jazz and Gypsy Swing.
Though its foundation has remained the same for 70 years, Gypsy Jazz has also embraced a number of varying musical formats along the way.
Harmonious Wail, formed in 1987 after years of listening to the music of Django Reinhardt, is one of the leading acoustic string, Gypsy Swing groups.
DEAR JERRY: This is one that has been driving me nuts for over 35 years.
Back when I was first getting into pop music, my parents gave me a stack of their old 45s to play, one of which I dearly loved but have never been able to locate. It is a novelty tune titled “Close the Door.”
Finding the song will be much easier if you can tell the artist, year, and label (orange, I think), and any other useful information.
Gary Carlson, West Haven, Conn.
DEAR GARY: Then your mission is about to get a lot easier. “Close the Door” is a seldom heard, summer '55 hit by Jim Lowe (Dot 15381, maroon, not orange). It came out a little over a year before Lowe's million-selling “The Green Door.”
Since none of Jim's releases between “Close the Door” and “The Green Door” charted, that gives him two consecutive hits with the word door in the title. Now that's something you don't often find.
During the '50s, Jim Lowe worked as a dee jay at three of New York's top stations: WCBS, WNBC, and WNEW.
Obviously, radio is still in Jim's blood. Just two months ago he joined WRTN-FM and WVOX-AM, serving up “Jim Lowe and Friends” to the Tri-State area every Friday afternoon at 3:00.
IZ ZAT SO? Once again we find necessity to be the mother of invention.
At just age 18, Django Reinhardt was badly burned in a fire, especially his left leg and left hand.
Doctors considered amputation of the leg, though they fortunately did save it. However, they could not mend the severely burned third and fourth fingers on his left hand.
Django then took up playing the guitar primarily to keep his stiff fingers flexible.
The result of his rehab is the now famous two-finger guitar style that gave birth to the music that not only inspired the above question, but influenced virtually every jazz guitarist that came after the Gypsy King.
Worth mentioning is that the Gipsy Kings, actually from gypsy communities in southern France, are a different breed altogether. Their unique style has often been defined by critics and fans as rumba flamenca.