LET’S STATE the obvious and go from there: Stephane Wrembel is a monster guitarist, one of France’s proudest musical exports, and a one–man distillery of exotic global styles and shadings. “My music doesn’t fall into a genre,” Wrembel, now Brooklyn–based, tells me in heavily–accented English. “It’s a state of mind, so it embraces everything and goes through all kinds of colors. Everyone has to use the music to trigger their own imaginations, to have their own experience.”
In 2010, he was commissioned by Woody Allen to write and perform “Bistro Fada,” the haunting theme from Midnight in Paris.
Although Wrembel is best known as a first–class player of gypsy jazz, the poly–fingered music forever tied to guitarist Django Reinhardt, he considers his music more of a melting pot — in fact, he doesn’t particularly care for all the Django comparisons he gets.
“When I first arrived in the U.S.,” Wrembel explains, “I had that specific Django Reinhardt stuff that I learned from the gypsies, and that helped me to get immediate gigs and make a living. So I started doing that to make a living. But the music I compose, and the music I play, is not at all a copy of Django, or a derived product. It doesn’t have anything to do with Django.”
He hails from Fountainebleau, just outside Paris, where the great forest was a favorite subject of the great impressionists: Monet, Manet, Van Gogh. It has always been a visual destination for plein–air painters.
“Basically the state of mind behind my music is impressionism,” Wrembel declares. “It’s a state of mind that embraces all genres. With this state of mind, I compose music that triggers and generates images in the mind of the listener. So I have an arsenal of styles that I studied when I was a kid. I started classical piano at age 4. When I was a teenager, I started learning ‘70s rock on the guitar, and I played that for years.
“Naturally, I went to Django, because he was from Fontainebleau, and that’s the music I was familiar with.”
As an eager–to–learn teen, Wrembel was welcomed at the gypsy camps and played around the fires until the wee hours.
“Then I started studying Parisian music, then I started studying jazz and composition. At Berklee, in Boston, I studied contemporary American jazz, Indian music — the drone language and ragas — and North African styles, West African styles, and Japanese music. All that comes together into that impressionist state of mind.”
Said author Michael Dregni (Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend): “Stephane is one of the rare gypsy jazz musicians who is daring enough to step outside of the shadow of Django. Stephane is brave enough to compose his own music, inspired by the spirit of Django but capturing his own sound.”
Wrembel and his band perform Friday, Nov. 16 at Live Wire Music Hall.
“The venue doesn’t matter,” he says. “We can play a jazz venue, a rock venue, a classical venue. We’re going to play a classical festival next year. It doesn’t matter, because we are beyond genre. That word is a marketing tool, so that when you say jazz, you don’t think of Pink Floyd. When you say classical, you don’t think of the Clash.
“But in 2012, I believe, it’s a birth again of impressionism. There is no genre any more. With the death of the labels, and the record stores, we don’t have to be clustered in those concepts.”
The biggest band
At the Copa ... Copacabana ... the hottest spot in North Savannah ...
With apologies to Mr. Manilow, there’s a new Copa in town. Mad Monday, in the upstairs Grand Ballroom of the Westin Harbor Hotel, features a swingin’ layout cribbed from the actual design of the legendary Vegas nightclub. It’s an eating, drinking (and soon to be dancing) affair, with a fab floor show of American Songbook tunes from our city’s own Jeremy Davis and the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra, featuring crooning vocalist Clay Johnson.
Mad Mondays has become the worst–kept secret in town. Since the monthly series began, every show has been completely sold out, and tickets are going fast for the next one, Nov. 19.
“It was quite unexpected,” beams the affable Davis, sax player, arranger and bandleader for the 20–piece outfit.
“Monday’s one of those nights where nobody plans to go out and have a good time like they would on the weekend, but on the other hand, you don’t compete with anything.”
From Porter to Sinatra, Basie to Buble, Equinox’s show is high–octane, tuxedo’d retro. The band tours frequently, and has played at the Grove in Los Angeles, the legendary Dunes Club in Rhode Island and other hot spots.
For Davis, however, there’s no business like home business.
“All this cool stuff happens, but we never get a chance to play at home,” he says. “And if we do, it’s some big swanky affair at the Landings that costs $180 to get in. The question that people ask me when I’m walking around, or sitting in Gallery Expresso, or if I’m at church, is ‘When are we going to see you?’ And I usually say, heck if I know. We’re always gone.
“So this gives us a chance to play to that hometown audience, our friends families who know who we are ... it’s just special to be able to play at home.”
For the musicians, too, Mad Mondays are a gas gas gas. “I have a fantastic 20–piece Big Band, and wherever I go in the country I’m going to play the same set of music,” Davis explains. “I got 30 charts that kill, and they’re great, and I’m gonna play ‘em everywhere.
“I never get a chance to play the 12,000 charts — literally — I have otherwise. So with this thing, we’re doing a brand–new show. We’re pulling out new charts, and we’re sight–reading stuff onstage in front of an audience. It’s different; it’s a lot of fun.”
Doors open at 6:30 p.m., the show starts at 7:30. Each general admission ticket ($35) includes two free drink tickets. Hor d’ouevres, desserts and drinks available a la carte.
There’s a VIP package, too, and you can get all the details at tinuyurl.com/MadmondayNov19, or go to equinoxjazz.com.