Sex, Drugs, and Gypsy Jazz – A Series

What I imagine gypsy jazz to look like in 1937.

In the next three postings I will attempt to examine social forces of community that don’t come from bright and sunny activities together, but instead the after dusk happenings hidden away from children and the elderly.  Adult fun, mature/immature entertainment, potentially damaging risky behaviour, a post-dark meander through the desires of seemingly plain bureaucrats, school teachers, cops, and people of the cloth (fashion designers, not priests).  This too is community.  That, and it’s really fun to write about – even more fun to research.

Let’s see

how it all


Music and Rhythm of Community

Literally 56m from my front door (I measured) is La Pleine Lune.  This little bar is known the city over for offering good, live music every night.  For free.  Oh, and cheap beer and pastis too, which helps the university kids (and me).  My local watering hole is packed every night.  I know because I can see it from my living room.  I drop in from time to time to see whatever’s being played, but I never miss Monday nights: Gypsy Jazz Jam.  Difficult to find in Canada, gypsy jazz still exists as a popular music form in many European cities.  A Romani born Belgian, Django Reinhardt, is sometimes credited for starting and popularizing his version of jazz standards in Paris in the 1930s and 1940s.  While “gypsy” may be the exonym for Romani people (originally meaning Egyptian), the name is firmly stuck to this form of music.

So what does gypsy jazz have to do with community?  Uh…how about everything? In a quick search of Daily Gumboot posts I have found much discussion about watching music, but I think we’ve forgotten about people playing music as a builder of community.  Musicians on stage performing live, improvising, communicating between each other is magical to see.  Jazz epitomizes this.  Each player takes their turn to shine with the others backing them up, or they all play on top of each other in wild harmonies.  Throwing in a few mordents and trills with some staccato and ghost notes completely changes sound of the jazz standards in gypsy jazz.  Delicate at times and brazen at others, it’s not difficult to imagine the little jazz clubs and underground bodegas with the upright bass player, cigarette hanging from bopping head, churning out the engine for the butterfly fingering of the guitarist.  And that violin!  That just changes everything with sliding notes countering the quick-fingered tapping of the guitar.  Mmm.

I play guitar.  And I can tell you that gypsy jazz is a helluva long way from my abilities.  I’m still working on Blue Rodeo and The Beatles.  But regardless of ability there’s something incredibly unifying when about playing music together.  Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientis at McGill University, published a wonderful book called The World in Six Songs and tells the story of song and community throughout history.  I love parties when someone pulls out an instrument and the focus turns away from talking to singing and dancing together.  I made a New Year’s resolution to see live art at least once a week and have done so for the last nine years.  I think I’ll make another resolution to start playing with people more often – it just works really, really well to bring people closer together.

Gypsy jazz is but one form of music that brings in that beautiful improvisation and commune of musical connection, but damn is it ever a good one.  When it’s right around the corner from your house it’s easy to go.  I always feel bad for people who have to travel to go see live music.  Making sure there’s a place to experience and play music live, I argue, threads swaths of community together.

Maybe we should all increase our own live music quotas.