If you stroll into the Ritual Tavern in North Park on any given Wednesday, chances are you will hear a rhythmic and jivey music swelling from a corner of the dimly lit main room. These beats being laid out are not those of a swing, funk, blues, or classic jazz band but the sound of a music that took to the streets of Europe in the 1930s, namely Gypsy jazz. The band is Trio Gadjo, three local fellas that have been playing together and spreading the sound all over San Diego for the past five years. The trio is composed of Jason Durbin, Jeremy Eikam, and Aaron Mahn. This band has a history that was 80 years in the making, beginning with Gypsy jazz itself.
Jason, the serious one, sat me down first to give me the history. He stated that the trio’s music wasn’t so much gypsy jazz as “bastard Gypsy jazz.” He described the music as “an amalgamation of swing, classic jazz, and gypsy jazz with a pinch of blues.” I was curious about the gypsy jazz and listened intently as Jason gave me a quick rundown of the music’s history. On the streets of Paris during World War II, Gypsy street performers heard the swing music of the American soldiers playing and began to mimic it. The Gypsies played the swing-type music using their guitars, banjos, basses, and fiddles, which created a unique sound all their own. The lack of a drum forced one guitar or banjo player to act as the rhythm while the lead guitar or fiddle carried melody. This music came to be known as Gypsy jazz and spread from France through the streets of Europe. The father of Gypsy jazz was Jean “Django” Reinhardt who had actually suffered a severe burn on his banjo strumming hand during a caravan fire and was forced to switch from playing banjo to guitar for this reason. Jason explained that his guitar strumming follows a two, four chord that is much like a snare drum in a regular band; this was developed by Reinhardt and is a cornerstone of Gypsy music. The history of Trio Gadjo is much like that of Gypsy jazz. Many differing factors and twists of fate somehow led these guys to play together. Jason, who is originally from Ohio, is the latest member to join the band after the original guitar player, George Moynier, stepped out to pursue other projects. Jason had played with Jeremy, the bassist, in a band previously and when a spot opened up in the band with Aaron, Jason was a great fit. The guys briefly attempted to put together a five-piece band called Hot Club of Compton but it was short lived. The lack of seriousness from the other band members led to Trio Gadjo being formed. Jason describes his relationship with the other players as “a musical connection.” “Music is a conversation in itself and we constantly listen to each other and respond to what is being said,” said Jason when I asked about the great vibe they put off during the show.
What does a Gypsy band of today do when they aren’t playing in a dimly lit corner of a tavern (which, by the way, is their only practice before regular shows)? Jeremy filled me in on Trio Gadjo’s busy calendar. The band has collaborated on an album for an independent film titled The Law of Human Gravity produced by Dave Simms. The album consists of ten original tracks that were composed and written in three weeks and all named for action heroes. Song titles include “Swing Stallone,” “Li’l Willis Leaps,” and “Tango Cash.” Jeremy also let me know that you can catch the band backing up the burlesque show Cherries Jubilee at the Whistle Stop on a regular basis. The players work very closely with the stage show and on a typical Wednesday night you can catch some of the ladies performing with the band at the Ritual Tavern. The show I saw included the talented Claudia Gomez doing a tap routine as the band jammed; another lovely lady sang along for a tune or two. Guest appearances are not limited to other pros, however; the band also welcomed fiddler, Bonnie Lander, who found the band via Facebook and mutual friends. The biggest event coming up for the trio takes place within the next few months. Trio Gadjo has been invited to perform and will be traveling to Tennessee to play for a medical school fundraiser. This will be the first out-of-state gig for the guys and they were abuzz with excitement for the upcoming show. Up to the show date and post travel as well the trio will be back at Ritual Tavern occupying their corner; a loyal fan who overheard my conversation was sure to tell me the band plays every first, second, and fourth Wednesday of the month.
Before leaving the tavern after the show, I had one more member to track down and chat with. Aaron, the vocalist, guitarist, and comedian of the group, can usually be found outside where it is cool – in between sets and after shows. I sat down with him to find out how a boy from Detroit, Michigan came all the way out to San Diego to play Gypsy jazz. Aaron explained he idolized all the big names, such as “Burt Bacharach and Kendrick Lamar, of course.” I could tell getting a real answer from him would be difficult. I asked, “What is the band’s greatest accomplishment to date?” He replied, “Really just staying together as long as we have. Five years isn’t easy.” With a glimmer of seriousness shining through, I pushed and asked if he had anything else he’d like me to mention. “Yes, we also do weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events!” Trio Gadjo is really just three good friends who have been around and share the same passion for music. They enjoy making a quality sound and sharing it with whomever is willing to listen, much like their fellow Gypsy musicians of the past just playing a sound they enjoy. If you are looking for a good beer and a swinging beat on a Wednesday night be sure to stop in Ritual Tavern and say hi to the guys. Who knows, if you bring your guitar or fiddle they may just invite you to join in.
Trio Gadjo will be backing up the Cherries Jubilee’s Live Jazz Cabaret on February 14th at Seven Grand located in North Park in addition to Wednesday performances at the Ritual Tavern.