It’s only been a year since she started playing guitar continuously, but there’s something courageous about Mary Alouette when she performs. She’s vulnerable but confident. It’s alluring.
Alouette grew up with music. Musical theater, pop music, opera, film, indie rock – she draws inspiration from the gamete to produce a modern incarnation of Gypsy Jazz. That’s right, Gypsy Jazz. But we’ll let Aloutte describe the genre in her own words.
Rachel: What is it about Gypsy Jazz that you love? What reeled you in?
Mary: Gypsy Jazz is attractive in its hot rhythms, beautiful melodies, and freedom of expression. It was started by guitar legend Django Reinhardt in the 1930’s, who was a Belgian gypsy playing mostly in Paris. There is a special instrumentation and style to the music. The predominant feature has two or three guitars – one or two rhythm guitars and a solo guitar. The rhythm guitars provide the “pompe,” the pulse and heartbeat of the genre. The solo guitar can be simultaneously virtuosic, musical, and passionate. It floats on top of the rhythm guitar. The other usual instruments are double bass and violin or clarinet. In my compositions, I find the heart and soul to be the guitar, and the instrumentation is negligible.
R: Can you tell us a little bit about the Gypsy Jazz tradition?
M: It’s hot, fun music. Gypsy Jazz, having the word “jazz” in the title, is often misunderstood from only hearing its name. It’s a combination of New Orleans’ rhythms of the 20s and 30s with passionate melodies and virtuosic guitar playing. There’s a full band on stage and it’s a very entertaining show with the variety of instrumentation playing this hot style.
R: I most recently saw you perform at The Dunes during March’s Metro Music Source monthly networking event. What are your thoughts on the DC music scene and events like the one’s hosted by the Metro Music Source?
M: The DC music scene is awesome! DC isn’t known for music, but it has great pockets of exciting music. You just have to seek out the shows. The events like the one hosted by the Metro Music Source are a great way to get to know what’s going down and where cool venues are, and also give you insight into life as a musician in DC. Talking to other musicians in the area show you what opportunities to jump on and inspire you to continue moving towards the next thing.
R: You’re currently a Strathmore Artist in Residence. What has the experience been like for you?
M: Strathmore has given me an incredible opportunity to grow as an artist within the arms of guidance. Through my musical work over the years, I’ve experienced behind-the-scenes work, but usually as a witness to greater artists. This year, I’ve grown as a performer with stage charisma, vocally – finding a balance in tonal production that is technically supportive and also emotive, and in business aspects. We have monthly business workshops that show us how venue booking works on the administrative side, what to look for in a producer, and how to sustain yourself financially, among other topics. On a larger scale, I’ve never felt supported by an institution in the manner that Strathmore supports and guides me. I’ve been very lucky to be connected with their network of artists and administrators.
R: What can you tell us about the EP release show on April 25? What should we expect?
M: The EP release show will be full of energy, good tunes, and a high caliber of musicians. It’s a great way to dip your toes into this style of music if you’ve never heard it before. There will be a few special guests, so there will always be some exciting twists throughout the show. It also will move from more traditional music from the 30s and 40s to my own compositions today. The newer songs will be quite a departure from the traditional sounds of gypsy jazz because they’ll have a drum machine, a loop pedal, and synthesizers. There’ll also be a world premiere that I’m very excited to share!