Akron’s Only Gypsy Jazz Quartet Shines in the Valley
by Brittany Nader
Tucked away deep in the Valley sits a small theater nestled in the back of Pub Bricco, where locals can typically expect to witness performances ranging from comedy shows to dramatic plays. Walking through the pub’s dark, maze-like hallway on a chilly February night, patrons were guided in the right direction by the warm tones of gypsy jazz quartet Moustache Yourself. The intimate None Too Fragile Theater was transformed that evening into a Romani caravan, taking the audience across the waters and back in time as the Akron musicians performed intricate compositions, many of which were written and made famous by Jean “Django” Reinhardt in the 1930s.
As the players settled in, seated only a few feet away from others in attendance, Brad Wagner’s clarinet sang out the first notes of the opening tune, recalling sounds from those seedy French establishments notorious in the late 1800s where a barrage of bohemians, thieves, gangsters and other less-than-favorable folk would gather. But on this particular evening, the crowd was quite contrasted with the patrons one would have expected to see back in those days. The theater was filled with small tables, warm meals and hushed conversation from couples and friends, perhaps regular attendees of the venue’s special Pub Jazz performance series held each Wednesday.
The waves of sound produced by Wagner’s instrument filled the space, passing off to Brent Hamker’s electrifying guitar, embodying the improvisational traditions of gypsy jazz with laid-back grooves. As the quartet seamlessly transitioned from songs like Reinhardt’s “Blues For Ike” to Wagner’s original compositions, upright bass player Matthew DeRubertis served as educator and rhythmic guide, directing the music with steady, skilled basslines and engaging the crowd, both musically and verbally, on the traditions of this jazz style.
The group’s dark, chromatic gypsy flavor, married with the lively swing style common in the beginning half of the 20th century, was highlighted especially as Jeremy Jones strummed his Selmer style guitar with smooth, fast up-and-down movements. The rhythm guitarist’s particular technique utilizes a special method referred to as “The Pump” by gypsy jazz artists from France, Italy and beyond. From “Minor Blues” to “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a special waltz, the mustached musicians cohesively performed their take on hot club jazz with strings and clarinet filling the small room with lush sound and highly skilled playing.
During the second set, the audience grew most attentive, even inspiring an attendee to make a request to the band. Jovial and compliant, Wagner busted out a few bars of the so-called “Star Wars Cantina,” before he, DeRubertis, Jones and Hamker finished off the evening with a crowd favorite, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” another gem from the ‘30s that was an appropriate fit in Moustache Yourself’s repertoire. Ohio’s only gypsy jazz quartet will return to Akron March 26 to perform a lively set at Mustard Seed café in Highland Square in between shows in Willoughby and Cleveland, undoubtedly prepared to send listeners back in time with musical traditions gathered from across the sea and cast upon us here in our little Midwestern home.