Hot Club of San Francisco
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Carnegie Hall, 105 Church St., Lewisburg
TICKETS: $13 to $28
INFO: 304-645-7917 or www. carnegiehallwv.org
By Bill Lynch
The Hot Club of San Francisco wants to be your favorite gypsy jazz band.
Paul Mehling, who brings his acoustic ensemble to Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg on Saturday night, said, “We like to say we attract both kinds of audiences with blue hair. We've got bravado and daring-do, technical mastery of our instruments and all the things that comprise gypsy jazz.”
Gypsy jazz, he added, is music filled with romance and mystery. It's passionate jazz.
“It's supposed to evoke a visceral reaction,” he said. “It should hit you in the gut, in the heart or at the very least in the head.”
Hot Club of San Francisco plays jazz music by and inspired by Django Reinhardt and his Hot Club of France. Reinhardt was a Belgian-born gypsy guitarist who revolutionized jazz guitar in the 1930s and 1940s.
“Django could do anything with the guitar,” Mehling said. “He could make it sound like a mandolin, like a violin, like the human voice.
“In his hands, the guitar was limitless.”
Well after World War II, Reinhardt was celebrated in France and well-known in international jazz circles. His records were exported overseas, and Reinhardt even embarked on a brief U.S. tour where he played with different American jazz masters, including Duke Ellington.
“Django just freaked out American guitarists,” Mehling said. “His approach to the guitar was just completely different, but the music was just so compelling.”
He was also something of a character. In Europe, Reinhardt traveled around with his clan of gypsies and kept a monkey in his entourage.
Following his death in 1953, Reinhardt's records went out of print. Popular music tastes — and even jazz music — changed. Fewer people played the style. Most of Reinhardt's music went unheard for years and had to be rediscovered.
Mehling grew up listening to his father's old jazz and swing albums, including records made by Reinhardt. As he became a musician, he emulated the guitarist and played his music in different groups, most notably with singer/songwriter Dan Hicks and the Acoustic Warriors.
“We played gypsy jazz, but the music was more focused on Dan's songwriting and vocals,” he said. “But we used to open up with an acoustic Django Reinhardt song, and the audience really seemed to like it.”
The guitarist started composing music in a similar style that the band played with Hicks.
“Dan was very encouraging to me as a composer,” he said. “But pretty soon, it was just time for me to move on.”
Striking out on his own, Mehling sought out other gypsy jazz musicians through the want ads and assembled his first group of players.
Finding people to play his music has gotten easier over the years as Hot Club of San Francisco has built a reputation.
"People send me recordings now," he said. "I get notes from people who tell me they want to move San Francisco and come play with us."
He laughed and added, "I tell them 'No, no, no. You don't want to do that. We don't make that much money.'"
But they make a living, and Hot Club of San Francisco has been part of the revival of Django Reinhardt's music.
"I'd say we've been a small part," Mehling said.
But it's not all they do. Hot Club of San Francisco isn't a Django Reinhardt cover band. They do a mix of Reinhardt's songs, their own material and even a few contemporary tunes reviewed under a gypsy jazz lens.
Different shows have different themes. Their performance Saturday at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg is a make-good show from a cancellation due to some bad weather in February.
"We'll be doing our Valentine's Day/romance show," he said. "That's our 'Meet Me in Paris' show. It's good for people who are in love or even for people who just want to be in love."
Mehling thought the show would be good introduction to gypsy jazz and a great show for people who already know something about the music. He promised lots of energy and passion, as well as a vocalist who can sing in three languages.
"When she sings jazz, she sings hot," he said.
Still, Hot Club of San Francisco might not pack quite the same entertainment as Reinhardt's Hot Club of France.
"We don't have a monkey," Mehling said. "We're more like cat people."
Reach Bill Lynch