Viva Detroit!

Hot Club of Detroit channel the spirit of Gypsy Jazz

By Nick Schwab

Photo credit: Anna Webber

 If you place bets and are a football fan, then you probably bet on who would be the winner of the Super Bowl shortly ago. You either won or you lost, but you surely didn’t know the exact outcome. That is what one must respect about sports: It’s just as unpredictable as the weather forecast. With that said, that is also what many people like about jazz: the improvisation that takes you into intriguing directions that even the musician playing didn’t fully map out.

“The nature of jazz is improvised music,” stated Hot Club of Detroit’s Evan Perri. He added that sports like football and hockey are improvised. “You have your set of rules, but you go out there and you think on your toes.”

“Another main similarity between sports and music to me is you often play music and sports with other people, especially in jazz,” noted Perri. “That’s what I like doing. I like experiencing music and life with other people, as opposed to sitting in my bedroom and never leaving the house. I like to socialize and share with others.”

Just as interested in skateboarding as he was in playing instruments when he was young, Perri said that he started out playing the bass, but when he heard this unique style of jazz known as gypsy jazz he was instantly hooked and started a like-minded jazz band in 2003. This gypsy jazz style was invented by the Belgian-born gypsy Django Reinhardt in France in the 1930s.

“Reinhardt is my favorite guitarist in the world. I have been listening to him everyday for many years now and I just love it all,” exclaimed Perri. “Our music is dedicated to his spirit.”

Their style has led to many accolades in the press, including one from writer Ken Dryden that stated: “Hot Club of Detroit’s interest in continuing to expand their musical horizons makes each new release a highly anticipated event.”

Perri said that although Hot Club plays modern compositions in the style of gypsy jazz, there are just as many similarities as there are differences.

“Our original compositions have nothing to do with gypsy jazz. I guess you can just call them jazz compositions,” explained Perri. “But we perform with a certain set of instrumentation and that is where we get our sound.”

This set of instrumentation can be compared and contrasted to gypsy jazz accordingly, and the show often features many dynamic performers, including Shawn Conley on bass, Jon Irabagon  onsaxophones, Perri on guitar, Julien Labro on accordion and Paul Brady on guitar.

“Our instrumentation can be very similar, but instead of a violin we use an accordion,” he said. “We also use all gypsy guitars and there is no drummer.”

There is even sometimes a singer that Perri describes as sounding “unique.”

“We play differently when you have a singer, as backing up a singer is a whole art form in itself,” said Perri. “We have to be conscious of that and not step on their toes and then everything sounds great.”

Perri also said that they use a type of strumming that gives the music a fast, swinging feeling often used in the style known as la pompe, which means “the pump.”

“I think you can take an old song and make it sound new again It’s all in how you approach music and arrange it,” Perri said, also noting that adding other styles to your sound does not make you more modern and original. “Just by having other influences in your sound does not make you more modern, as what makes you more modern is how the compositions are put together. You have to be true and honest and play what you are into and let that come out.”

However, Perri said he is not opposed to putting many different styles in his sound, as long as it is still the composition that matters most.

“Our song ‘Junction’ means a junction of a bunch of different sounds, like railroad tracks crossing each other of different types of music.”

While the song titles of his compositions not only come from what is reflected in the music, Perri also noted that they are reflective of what his frame of mind is in terms of influence.

“‘Song for Gabriel’ off of the Junction album, for instance, is dedicated to pop-star Peter Gabriel and reflects my enjoyment of getting away from the more jazzy style of writing into the style that I grew up with – a pop/folk type of approach.”

When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of writing in specific styles, Perri said that all music and life has advantages and disadvantages.

“I think music is music. I don’t write music for any advantage. I am writing music because it is what I hear in my head.”

Cityfolk presents The Hot Club of Detroit on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at the University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre, 300 College Park Dr. Tickets are $20. Doors at 8 p.m. For tickets call 937.496.3863. For more information on The Hot Club of Detroit, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Nick Schwab at

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