Jan 14, 2013 - Eicher & His Band Of Gypsies present



            TO THE JAZZ HALL OF FAME ON SATURDAY,  JANUARY 19.                                                                   

            Although its roots stretch back to the 1930s and the Paris-based Hot Club of France, built around violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt, Shelby Eicher’s Band of Gypsies took shape far closer to Tulsa. The location was Winfield, Kansas, and the event was the Walnut Valley Music Festival  It may seem improbable that a new hot-jazz band in the Grappelli-Reinhardt tradition was born in a place long known for its live bluegrass music. But,says Eicher, that’s not really the case. 

            “People think Winfield is a bluegrass festival, but they’ve got music there that’s all across the board,” he explains. “They’ll have a Celtic group, a western-swing band like Hot Club of Cowtown, and then they’ll turn around and have [famed acoustic guitarist] Tommy Emmanuel. There are a lot of swingers who play there, and in 2004, when we first started, we all just got together because we loved playing hot swing.”


            Eicher and other acoustic-swing aficionados would jam for hours around the Winfield campground, with nothing else in mind but trading hot licks and having fun with the tunes. That music and the joy it represented stayed with them, and soon, the players who were reasonably close to the Tulsa area -- Eicher’s home turf -- were meeting up to replicate their Winfield sessions.

            “Someone would call and say, `Hey, when you’ve got a night off, do you want to get together and play some of those French tunes?’” Shelby recalls. “Somebody would bring in some food, someone else would bring beer, and we’d just start playing that hot swing. Six or eight hours later, we’d still be playing.”

            That approach, as well as the music, all fits into the “Night in Paris” experience Eicher and the group hope to bring to the Jazz Hall on Saturday.

            “When Stephan Grappelli would play in town, in Paris, he’d walk out of the club with his violin and head for the gypsy camps, which were right outside of town,” says Eicher. “He’d visit Django in the camps, and there’d be wine and pretty girls and hot jazz music well into the morning hours. We’re hoping to impart that feeling at the Jazz Depot – the feeling of the gypsy camp. It’s the same kind of feeling that playing this music in the campground in Winfield gives you.”

            Although Saturday’s show marks the official debut of Shelby Eicher and His Band of Gypsies, all the group’s members come with impressive resumes. That includes Eicher himself, who toured with Roy Clark for many years, fronts the western-swing group the Tulsa Playboys, and plays weekly with guitarist Mark Bruner – among other gigs. It also includes another veteran Tulsa-area musician, Rick Bentley, who’s a master of the banjo. While it might seem a rather unusual instrument for a hot-jazz aggregation, many area music fans remember Bentley’s improbable but impressive work years ago as a blues banjoist with vocalist E.G. Kight and violinist Rick Morton.

            “Rick is rather unique,’ says Eicher. “He plays lead, and he plays chords and rhythm, too. He’s really an important part of this band. And, you know, Django’s first instrument was a banjo.”

            Band member Tim McGeorge, adds Eicher, “is one of the greatest rhythm gypsy guitarists I’ve ever met.” He has similar praise for lead guitarist Ivan Pena, bassist Trish Webster, and mandolin player Isaac Eicher, an award-winning instrumentalist who’s also Shelby’s son.

            In addition to songs identified with Grappelli and Reinhardt, such as “Swing ’39,” Eicher and His Band of Gypsies plan to tackle some numbers made famous by big-band legend Benny Goodman’s smaller groups, including “Lullaby of Leaves” and “Undecided.”

            “They’re really in the same style as the Hot Club of France stuff; they were just played with different instruments,” notes Eicher. “It’s all hot, swingin’ jazz that’s fun to play – great harmonies, great melodies.

            “What I love about jazz,” he adds, “is that you’re just so free when you play it. How crazy do you want to sound? How far out there do you want to be harmonically? You’ve got this beautiful melody; how much do you want to incorporate it into what you’re playing? You have so many choices, and you’re free to choose. That’s so much of what attracts me to this music.”   

              Eicher and His Band of Gypsies are set to begin Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. 

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.