Bay Area musician Paul Mehling is helping to introduce a new generation of music lovers to the work of legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. Known as one of the godfathers of the Gypsy jazz revival, Mehling, along with his band, Hot Club of San Francisco, attempts to recreate the sounds, tales, and atmosphere of Reinhardt’s band, Quintette du Hot Club de France, active mostly in and around Paris in the 1930s and 40s.
Reinhardt was one of the first European-born jazz musicians to gain international acclaim, and was commonly considered to be the most virtuosic guitar player alive. Reinhardt was single-handedly responsible for the invention and popularization of Gypsy jazz — or “jazz manouche,” a style of music that fused Gypsy guitar technique with swing jazz. Reinhardt’s influence was felt far beyond the arena of Gypsy jazz, his music continuing to inform guitarists working in a wide spectrum of idioms.
Mehling first discovered Reinhardt’s music as a teenager while listening to his father’s record collection. Inspired by the rhythms and inflections of Gypsy jazz, these recordings fueled Mehling’s desire to learn the guitar. In search of Gypsy jazz players, Mehling moved to Paris at the age of 23. He spent six months honing his skills and retracing the footsteps of his hero. He has since become a teacher, instructing Reinhardt enthusiasts in Gypsy guitar technique.
For about two decades, Mehling has led the Hot Club of San Francisco, which copies the exact, unusual instrumentation of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, combining three guitarists with violinist and string bassist. Though jazz manouche is usually associated with fast, hot guitar licks, Mehling is particularly attached to the more mysterious, melancholy aspects of the genre, incorporating many haunting, wistful tunes into the band’s repertoire.
Spark follows Mehling’s band to the 2008 San Francisco/Mill Valley Djangofest, one of several festivals around the world that bring together musicians from diverse backgrounds to celebrate Reinhardt’s legacy. Playing at Mill Valley’s historic 142 Throckmorton Theatre, the Hot Club of San Francisco, along with many other bands working in the jazz manouche style, are helping bring Reinhardt’s sounds to a new generation of music lovers.