Setting off sparks

It’s been two years since local jazz-folk guitarist Duane Andrews’ last recording, Crocus, was released. Ever since, Andrews has been quietly collecting award after award for his unique blend of traditional Newfoundland music and Django Reinhardt-style Gypsy jazz.

Now, with a new album which adds contemporary classical elements to the mix, he’s ready to set off more mental sparks.

Elling Lien sat down with him to talk about how it all came together.

When did you first hear gypsy jazz?
I remember that very clearly. I was in Paris and I went into this café. I was on my way to Marseille to study, but I flew into Paris for a few days to check it out. It was 2000 or 2001, I believe. I was looking at the listings, and there was music happening at a club—I didn’t know what it was, but it was music, so I thought I’d go down and check it out.

The place was packed, with a buzz in the air, but there wasn’t any music at the moment I walked in. So I got a glass of wine and hung out.

And then I heard the first strum of the guitar and my head snapped.

I went over to the corner and they kicked in with the first song. It was just an acoustic guitar and an upright bass. My jaw dropped.

You know how you laugh out loud sometimes—when you’re moved to that state of unbelief? That was going on. The guitar player, Merano, was a modern exponent of the gypsy jazz style.

There were so many things that struck me that night, because at that point I was a certified jazz guitarist. I had my schooling from St. FX University. I had been playing guitar for years, and at the time was feeling like anything I could imagine musically I could find on my guitar.

But so many times, listening to Merano that night, he was blowing my mind. I couldn’t comprehend what he was doing a lot of the time. His playing was both so profoundly simple and complex at the same time.

I had a pretty good technical understanding of the guitar but after hearing Mareno that night—I just didn’t understand. It opened up this whole new dimension to the guitar and to jazz. Then I went home and discovered it was all Django Reinhardt’s music, really. If you listen to Merano and go back and listen to Django, you hear it even more.

I’m surprised you were introduced to the sound so late…
I knew peripherally about Django. I knew his name but I never really listened to his music before that night.

Django’s music has always been around. It wasn’t as popular as it was in the thirties, of course.

Another thing about the Mareno show was they were playing acoustically.

How often do you actually hear music that isn’t related to electricity, or reproduced with the help of electricity… or somehow coloured by electricity? Usually you’re listening to a CD player, which is amplified, and it comes out of the speakers. Even if you go to a live show with a singer-songwriter, and it’s acoustic—it’s all still plugged in and coming out of the speakers. So it’s very rare to hear music coming directly from musicians and their instruments.

There were three of them and it was really cool. The only way to really get into that sound here are the trad sessions—like at Erin’s on Friday nights from 8 till 11… So that same quality was what I was drawn to in the traditional scene here—the trad sessions. You come down, you bring your instrument, you’re all sitting around a table, having a few pints… But the music you’re hearing is coming directly from the instruments. It’s a truly acoustic experience. And it’s extremely rare.

I mean, it’s like organic food or something. We don’t actually eat much fresh organic food, but often when we do, it tastes incredible.

So I heard that music in Paris. There was the jazz side, the guitar side, and then the acoustic side. All that stuff set off sparks.

When did the traditional Newfoundland and Django come together?
When I came back from France in 2002 I was into trad stuff, and I remember hearing the tune “The Breakwater Boys”… I was up on Victoria Street, lying on the couch, and I heard that tune playing in my head. And then I started hearing it with Django beneath it. They’re two different kinds of music, but I guess if they’re two important parts of your musical life eventually it will start synthesizing inside or something. It’s all in the same brain.

…Musical soup!
That basically started it, and I was jamming with Steve Hussey at the time, and that was cool. Then we started finding other connections—Art Stoyles and the Portuguese, for example…

The music that Art learned from Portuguese sailors goes back to the musettes, which is what Django started playing when he was really young. Part of gypsy jazz sound comes from that musette music. So we found that connection too.

The musette music was the pop music in 1909 in Paris. It really kind of spread around Europe and it was that typical black and white French film accordion and beret and striped shirt sort of waltz music. That’s musette music. All the dances at the clubs had a musette orchestra playing at night. Django, when he was 12, he was in demand. He played the six string banjo and he played rhythm with the accordions in the band. Then that music spread around Europe and was really popular.

The six degrees of musical seperation!
Yeah. My first album was kind of the trad I was playing at the time and the jazz I was playing at the time coming together. They were two big parts of my life, musically.

And the third one was composition. When I heard Merano I was studying classical, contemporary composition in Marseilles. That’s a third element. I kind of feel like there are three parts to me musically. And in the first two albums the traditional and jazz were actually coming together in this one style.

On raindrops—with the string writing and more of a focus on actual arrangement and composition and texture—I wouldn’t have considered on the first couple of albums. That’s really bringing in this contemporary composition aspect of my life.

Three of them are now coming into one.

Why take it in steps like that?
I think its just discovering myself. To do anything well I think it does take dedication. If you stay with it, more long term you get more… I don’t think this album would sound this way if I didn’t have the other two albums before it. It’s definitely been a decision to stay focussed on this but it’s also been a natural decision.

Duane Andrews’ new CD, raindrops, has been released and is available in local stores and on iTunes. He will be performing with Icelandic guitarist Bjorn Thoroddsen at the Wreck House International Jazz and Blues Festival here at Harbourside Park on Saturday, July 18 at 7pm.

2 comments

  1. Lori · November 28, 2011

    great interview.

  2. Viola · November 28, 2011

    Super !! Congratulations Duane !!!

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