Don Ogilvie’s love affair with Gypsy jazz dates back 40 years.
Like most budding musicians in 1970, Ogilvie was mostly into rock music at the time, but he also played with a New Orleans-style band.
Then he discovered Jean “Django” Reinhardt, the Belgium-born Romani gypsy who pioneered the distinctive sound that became known as “hot” jazz, or Gypsy jazz.
He quickly created his own Hot Club band, in homage to the famous Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which Reinhardt formed in 1934 with French violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
“I’ve played many different styles since then. I studied classical music at UBC, I played in modern jazz and purely improvised orchestras, string quartet music, folk, country, rock – all kinds and styles of rock,” he says.
“But I always came back to Django. I didn’t know why, but actually now I know why.”
It wasn’t just the “fire” he experiences in the earthy, vibrant swing of Gypsy jazz, or the challenge posed by the speed with which Reinhardt could play – a speed that still attracts young rockers. It was Reinhardt’s unique playing style.
“It’s only been in the last five years that I’ve been able to crack the secrets of Django’s playing,” he says.
“I was struggling for all those years trying to figure out what he was doing and why it was so inspiring, not only to me, but to all musicians around who had ever heard him.”
Ogilvie’s ‘aha’ moment came thanks to newly-developed software that let him take the few available examples of Reinhardt playing in which sound and video are in perfect synch, and slow them down to the point he could see what was happening with each note.
The secret is directly related to a fire that destroyed Reinhardt’s caravan when he was 18, leaving him with severe burns that almost cost him his leg, and left the third and fourth fingers of his left hand partially paralyzed.
Unable to play across the guitar neck, as is traditional, Reinhardt trained himself to run his hand rapidly up and down the neck, using his powerful second finger, especially, to execute the dynamic arpeggios at the heart of his signature style.
“In the process he was able to work out a really efficient picking technique” Ogilvie explains. “It’s based on rest strokes and what we call Gypsy picking now, which gives you that really solid sound. It makes a huge difference in the sound, as opposed to free strokes, which most people play.”
Next week, Ogilvie returns to Whitehorse to conduct a series of workshops on Gypsy jazz and other guitar styles. He offered similar workshops last year at the invitation of local pianist Grant Simpson, with whom he has performed in Canada and China.
“Part of the reason I want to do these workshops, to share the knowledge I’ve gained from all these studies in the past five years. And I guess, in the past 40 years as well. I just want to share it,” he says.
“I know the Whitehorse musicians are so enthusiastic, so I’m really happy to come up.”
His workshops , sponsored by Music Yukon, Jazz Yukon and Yukon Women in Music (YWIM), take place at the Music Yukon Resource Centre, beginning with a Gypsy jazz workshop and jam on Monday, January 24.
The next night, Ogilvie will appear with Simpson and other Yukon musicians at the Edgewater Hotel.
Details are available from Steve Gedrose at Music Yukon, 546-8742, or email@example.com