Gypsy jazz times two

Gonzalo Bergara and One Leg Up re-imagine the legendary Hot Club of France

One Leg Up

No one can really explain the attraction. Gypsy jazz, a fast-moving, free-wheeling style of acoustic music popularized in 1930s Paris, has enjoyed a renewed popularity in America over the last couple of decades.

Guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) is considered the father of this exotic, swinging music, though his defining work with the Hot Club of France.

"The people that don't know it, when they first hear it, they instantly love it," says Argentine-born Gonzalo Bergara, a 29-year-old gypsy jazz guitarist based in Los Angeles.

"I never heard anybody say ‘Oh, that style is so boring.' Everybody that's new to it always comes to gigs and says ‘Wow, what is this? It sounds great.'"

Bergara just completed a week of workshops and master classes at "Django in June," held in Massachusetts. It was the biggest year yet, he says - he taught hot licks to nearly 100 students.

He and his band play a show June 18 at Randy Wood Guitars, on their way from New England to Florida, where they have dates booked in several cities.

On June 21, the Coastal Jazz Association brings the gypsy jazz band One Leg Up to the Four Points By Sheraton.

Mike Guzalak, who plays clarinet and saxophone in the group, says there's an enormous acoustic jazz scene in Asheville, N.C., where One Leg Up is based. "Part of it is the renaissance of acoustic music in this country," Guzalak says. "We cross genres because of that - we appeal to the bluegrass and folk music folks, because there's a lot of virtuoso musicians in those genres, and they appreciate good musicians.

"And there was that big revival of interest in swing dance music about 10 years ago, when Squirrel Nut Zippers was real hot. We're definitely a swing dance band, too."

The best-known incarnation of the Hot Club of France included violinist Stephane Grappelli. One Leg Up and the Gonzalo Bergera Quartet use clarinet as the instrument that climbs, descends and interweaves with the acoustic guitar.

"When the war broke out in 1939, they were touring in England," explains Guzalak. "They cancelled all of the remaining dates, and while Django immediately returned to France, Stephane decided to stay in England.

"Django could be quite erractic to deal with. So the next generation of his group - and for quite a while after that - included a clarinet and not a violin."

Bergara was a late arrival to the Django party; he started out as a card-carrying electric blues guitarist.

"I moved to America from Argentina pursuing the American tradition," he explains. "All the incredible guitar players who came from here - Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, all those people. And I wanted to be part of that.

"I was about 22 in Miami and I saw that Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown, where a lot of Django Reinhardt music is played. I knew about the music, and I had always liked it, and I always had a tendency for swing.

"At that point I felt confident enough to start maybe learning it, you know? The style requires a lot of dedication - you gotta practice a lot."

Gypsy jazz, and the desire to be Django-perfect, "changed my life entirely," he says.

"It really depends on how much time you put into it. In my case, I devote a lot of time to it, so it's a constant growth.

"And that's the most beautiful part about it, that you know that tomorrow you'll play something even better."

 Gonzalo Bergara Quartet

Where: Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. Highway 80, Bloomingdale

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 18

Tickets: $20

Phone: (912) 748-1930



One Leg Up

Where: Four Points By Sheraton, 520 W. Bryan St.

When: 5 p.m. Sunday, June 21

Admission: $10 (free for Coastal Jazz Association members)







About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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