2016 off to a good start!

The winter has been a lot of fun so far.  Aside from losing some weight and getting my health back in order, I have had some really amazing opportunities and shows.  Our Ultrafaux CD release at 8x10 was truly remarkable.  You can see some video footage here.  I also came up with the idea to do the 1st Annual Charm City Django Jazzfest and its actually happening!!  I proposed the idea to Josh at Creative Alliance and he ran with it!  I helped line up the talent and now we have really a world-class Djangofest scheduled for Feb.26 & 27.   Ultrafaux was also chosen by IMT to do a very cool show at Airshow Studios in Takoma Park MD.  See more here.  And we will start monthly shows in Brooklyn NY at the awesome Radegast Hall & Biergarten Monday Feb.29 8PM.

Already in 2016 I see lots of new challenges blossoming.  The main challenge is how to balance creative time as a guitarist with the busy office work of putting together shows and managing the band schedule. The biggest challenge I face currently is how to tour Europe.  I wanted to do it last year but it took so much planning and resources that I just gave up.  We were actually invited to Festival Django Reinhardt in Samois France, but we were not able to do it for various reason.  #1 it was very short notice and extremely expensive.  And now again I am faced with the same challenges and really at a loss for how to do it.  I am wondering how anyone can pull it off.  Fortunately bassist James Robbins in NYC and others have offered some advice and I look forward to taking them up on it.

It was difficult enough organizing three successful short tours of the Southeast here in the states.  I am now encountering the seemingly insurmountable task of traveling through countries with diverse languages without a car and managing a much larger budget with a lot more at stake.  The benefits do outweigh the risks however but the question is still "When?"  Its also been quite a task promoting our events, getting the word out to folks who would never ever hear about this stuff.  There are so many, thousands in Baltimore alone, who have no idea we are doing this unique music.  I am currently shopping for a PR firm to help us, but are quite pricey.  We shall see.

I may be biased, but I do think we are performing at a pretty high level especially for such a young group.  I may be older than Eddie and Sami by a long shot, but we are all collectively young as a band and fairly new to gypsy jazz style music.  Sami has the most experience of all of us when it comes to being well versed in the history of jazz manouche and Django…Admittedly, Sami has become my personal reference resource on all things Django, from who wrote songs and performed them to who taught who and how each style varies from lineage to lineage.  Its also through Sami that I first learned about Django In June, a camp devoted to the music of Django and hot jazz.  I have been two years so far and I have had really remarkable experiences there learning from the best in the world like Olivier Kikteff, Tcha Limberger, Samson Schmitt, Sebastien Giniaux and William Brunard.  These players have all influenced me in different ways as have many of the guitarists I currently listen to on a regular basis.  Aside from Django Reinhardt, Angelo Debarre might be the biggest influence on me at this moment in time, but my focus shifts according to how I feel.   Check him out for yourself.  

Arguably, what we do as Ultrafaux is not gypsy jazz per se, but it certainly fits that genre more than any other.  Its most definitely inspired by and informed by the music of Django Reinhardt, but it also has Latin, blues, Balkan, musette and funk elements.  I am personally kind of pleased that our music defies category.  Actually the entire genre of jazz is really going through a kind of facelift and renaissance in a way, and so called gypsy jazz will probably always fly a little under radar, staying out of the way of pop culture and fly-by-night trends.  Even though our music in Ultrafaux is original, it feels rooted in the tradition somehow and its this tradition that helps to stabilize it and give it depth of character.  I think there is a new appreciation happening for the older Jazz.  The new players are starting to realize how good those guys really were back in the day and how special Jazz really was when it first arrived on the scene.  Jazz is such an amazing legacy of inspired work to dip into and it compels us to be exceptional in our skills not only as a performer but also as an entertainer.  We create socially viable music, or maybe "socially valuable" is a better way of putting it.  There are fundamental qualities about the music that separate it from other current popular forms.  Qualities like acoustic, raw, authentic, improvised, created, original, and expressive.  Its challenging to play. Its moving, uplifting, entertaining, and familiar, yet always fresh and new every time.  I am very thankful to have found my way into this style of playing guitar.  I do miss playing with percussionists as I did in Bossalingo for many years.  I think about that from time to time and may even line up some shows with that format again using César Orozco or Arturo O'Farrill on piano.  I also want to do another recording using electric arch-top guitar at some point.  Maybe I can do both Latin jazz with electric guitar.  We will see!  I also have a secret project that I cannot reveal many details about, but it has to do with getting a pretty large Cuban style band together and performing some very traditional dance repertoire.  


On to current things!  I am proud to say that the new upcoming Hot Club of Baltimore CD "Coquette" will be my 4th CD in 2 years in the style of gypsy jazz.  (2 as Ultrafaux playing my original music, and 2 as Hot Club playing Django and traditional swing songs)  I have to say that singer Alexis Tantau is sounding remarkable as is violinist Patrick McAvinue.  We are so fortunate to be working with these great musicians!  They have both taught me a lot about being a bandleader and about how to get the most out of our studio time.  I feel that my playing is getting a lot better too, especially in the studio.  I thrive on playing live shows and its a real challenge playing this style of music in the studio without that energy from the audience.  Playing with headphones is a completely different feeling than playing acoustically and I have been working with recording engineers Evan Kornblum and Ben Frock to find the best sound and best vibe in the studio.  We will continue to try new things in order to get the most natural and alive sound we can.  I think you will like the results on Coquette.  The CD release will be March 10 at Germano's Cabaret.  Its truly a miracle it all came together so fast.  Big thanks to all of our kickstarter supporters who pre-ordered and allowed us to make our goal!  Look for a totally revamped website for Hot Club of Baltimore very soon!

New projects on the horizon include an album of traditional waltzes and a solo album featuring some of my favorite songs in the gypsy jazz repertoire.  These will both be recorded with various guest artists from Baltimore, New York and even Europe if I am lucky.  No solid plans as of yet, but just learning songs and figuring out which ones I want to record.  I am also writing new songs for Ultrafaux and hope to have another CD with that group by the end of 2016.  

God bless you all and thanks for checking out my blog.

Michael Joseph Harris