by Carole Verona
Take a close look at Barry Wahrhaftig’s guitar when you see The Hot Club of Philadelphia perform at Pastorius Park on Wednesday, June 17, 7:30 p.m. Ari-Jukka Luomaranta, a luthier who lives in Finland, built the guitar for Barry because it’s closest in sound to the original Selmer-Maccaferri guitars played by Django Reinhardt. This attention to detail reinforces the band’s commitment to Reinhardt’s music, which is the inspiration behind everything the band does.
Reinhardt (1910 –1953) was a Belgium-born Frenchman of Romani ethnicity who is regarded as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He created an entirely new jazz guitar technique (sometimes called ‘hot’ jazz guitar), which has become a musical tradition within French Gypsy culture. With violinist Stéphane Grappelli, he co-founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. Their style of music, called Gypsy jazz or jazz manouche, has been described by Michael Dregni, an author of several books on the subject, as “music that combines a dark, chromatic Gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period.”
“There’s been a resurgence of interest in Reinhardt’s music,” said Barry, “most likely due to the accessibility of it on the Internet. Although I grew up listening to rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, I first heard and liked Reinhardt’s music when I was in high school. When I rediscovered it, I was amazed at how he mixed happy and sad sounds together in a strange way. His music is honest and from the heart. That’s the best way I can explain it.”
If you’ve never heard this type of music, Barry describes it as “a little bit of hot jazz, mixed with some gypsy and French flavorings. Although a lot of what we play is based on the music of Reinhardt and Grappelli, we have our own personal style of delivering it and updating it with our own approach.”
Barry admitted, “Not everybody likes jazz. Sometimes when we say ‘jazz,’ people think it’s going to be very arty. But our music is accessible, which is very important. This is the kind of jazz you can dance to.”
The Hot Club of Philadelphia has been around since 2001. In addition to Barry, the current band members include guitarist Dan Pearce, bassist Jim Stager, and violinist Joseph Arnold.
Special guest artists joining the band at the Pastorius Park concert include jazz vocalist Phyllis Chapell, who will perform a few Edith Piaf songs and other standards. “Phyllis adds a nice dimension to what we do. Her vocals make the music more interesting and give it personality,” Barry said.
Violinist Sarah Williams Larsen will be sitting in for regular band member Joseph Arnold, who will be away that night. Accordion player Dave Hartl, an instructor at The University of the Arts, was a child virtuoso. One of the highlights of the evening will be Bistro Fado, a beautiful waltz written by Barry’s friend, Stéphane Wremble, that was featured in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris.” “Gypsy Routes,” the band’s new CD, will be available for sale at the concert.
Barry, 60, grew up in Logan and currently lives in Jenkintown. Although he took some music classes over the years, he didn’t formally study music until he was in his 30s and went to Temple University for classical guitar. “I always had a good ear for music. I taught myself a lot and was able to figure out the things that I heard on records,” he said.
More information about The Hot Club of Philadelphia at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hotclubphilly.com. More information about the free Pastorius Park concert series at chestnuthill.org. If it rains the show will take place at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St.