News Column

Maine debut: Hot Gypsy jazz will heat up stage at Olin [Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME)]

May 4, 2013


LEWISTON -- A unique combination of Gypsy jazz and flickering film images from the early days of stop-action animation comes to the Olin Arts Center at Bates College on May 10 in a Mainstage presentation by L/A Arts.

Hot Club of San Franciso founder, guitarist Paul Mehling, is bringing his Gypsy swing band to Olin Arts Center at Bates College for a Maine Stage L/A Arts presentation. "Cinema Vivant," a silent film presentation, will add to the atmosphere.

The Hot Club of San Francisco, under the direction of its founder, Paul Mehling, re-creates the swing style of the acoustic string instrument quartet made famous by guitarist Django Reinhardt before and during the World War II years. In an intriguing twist on the musical presentation, Mehling blends the band's performance with a vintage silent film screening titled "Cinema Vivant."

Mehling described his 25-year dedication to Gypsy jazz in a phone interview from his West Coast home a few days ago. He said the Gypsy jazz genre mastered by Reinhardt was not widely known when he became immersed in it 25 years ago, but since then, Mehling said, "I have been dedicated to it 100 percent."

One of the biggest thrills of touring with his Hot Club of San Francisco is to have an older member of an audience come to him and say he remembers seeing Django play in France, Mehling remarked.

He described a tour some years ago when his group played for an audience at a convalescent home. "I saw an elderly woman quietly weeping as we played. I talked with her after the show, and she told me she came from France and she had dated an American serviceman. They had seen Django play at the original Hot Club of France, and the music made her wonder what had happened to the soldier."

Mehling said hearing how their music brought that flood of memories "was a huge compliment." Mehling has been "steeped in the tradition" for half a decade and his approach to the music is to present it "as if Django were still alive today."

Mehling studied in Europe with Gypsy jazz musicians including guitarist Serge Krief. "He told me gypsy music is full of emotion and that's an important part of the music. It's hot, mysterious, emotional and romantic. That stayed with me," Mehling said.

The instrumentation of Mehling's Hot Club of San Francisco duplicates the legendary Hot Club of France sound in which Reinhardt played and in which jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli contributed his distinctive style.

Master jazz violinist Evan Prince, who has performed with Grappelli, will lend his improvisational brilliance to the Lewiston appearance. Isabelle Fontaine, a native of France, contributes vocals and rhythm guitar, along with rhythm guitarist Jeff Magidson and bassist Sam Rocha.

"We're trying to challenge the tendency to slavishly imitate Django's style, without watering down the gypsy tradition or diluting the music," Mehling said.

The films featured in the "Cinema Vivant" screening include two by Ladislaw Starewicz, a stop-animation pioneer before World War I. They are "The Cameraman's Revenge," a charming piece about the marital troubles of beetles, and "The Mascot," an adventure story about lost toys.

A whimsical comedy of the 1920s by American filmmaker Charley Bowers also will be shown. Mehling said he believes the Lewiston show is The Hot Club of San Francisco's first appearance in Maine. Their next stop on May 11-12 will be The Strand theatre in Rockland.

The show at Olin Arts Center of Bates College, 75 Russell St., Lewiston, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 10. Admission for adults is $20 and tickets are $10 for students and children. For reservations call L/A Arts at 782-7228 and for more information go online to

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