An interview with Stochelo Rosenberg
For a minute I was almost considering calling this interview ‘Stalking Stochelo Rosenberg.’
The much sought after guitarist was in Montreal to play a concert at the Place des Artes Theatre on June 5, 2011. I was referred to Stochelo’s agent, Ivan, by my friend Denis Chang, who had helped to organize the concert.  I made it to the sound check at the theatre, accompanied by Max Schang and his girlfriend Stacy Keating. We had access to the green room[s], but the scene was very hectic to say the least. Sound techs getting levels, [for what seemed like forever!], artists prepping for the show, etc. [Stacey is quite a good photographer, and she was able to get a lot of great shots during the rehearsal and show, as you can see here. I was able to catch up with Stochelo and company at an outdoor café the next morning after a phenomenal show. After exchanging greetings, I jokingly asked Stochelo If I would need to start smoking cigarettes again in order to be a virtuoso Gypsy Jazz guitarist, since it seemed that Marlboros were in fashion with many of the top players. [He said no]!
B. Do you think that Django worked out his solos ahead of time? Kind of a tough question.
S. [Smiling], ah, that is a big question for me also! Because sometimes I think that from the time that Django was recording, that I propose that he perhaps arranged something, because at that time, you really had one chance, [you had to do one take, no punching in, etc.] So if it wasn’t good you had to do the whole take over again. So sometimes I think he prepared something, but not much.
If you hear for example the alternate takes on the Intergale collection, you can hear that the Song’s arrangement is the same, but that Django’s solos are different.
B. Yes, right. Yet when you hear what Django plays on the later , version of ‘Dark Eyes,’ [the one most often quoted], his ideas are quite thematic and perfectly organized. I guess that either way, whether he worked some things out or composed on the spot, he was a genius.
S. Yes, that was his genius! That’s why, over one hundred years after his birth, he is more popular than ever.
You know, now people say ‘oh Django Reinhardt, right, yeah’ but he was alone, the first, there was nobody before him to lead the way, to innovate as he did.
You know I did a little bit of searching out [guitar], recordings from the 20s & 30s and there was not really anybody playing at Django’s level.
B. Yes, right. I mean for instance Oscar Aleman, he played well, did some nice things, [S. Sure, I have the CD], B. But he really didn’t play at Django’s level. B. Even though the critic Leonard Feather evidently preferred Aleman’s playing to Django’s.
S. I think that Aleman’s playing is more commercial sounding to my tastes.B. A bit more ‘pop’ sounding, nice but a different bag.
S. Yes, I agree, whereas Django at that time was really more pure [Jazz], music.
B. Interesting too that with Django’s music, ‘Gypsy Jazz,’ that it appeals to folks that aren’t really
Jazz fans. There’s something about Django & Grappelli’s music that appeals to people even today.
S. Yeah, it’s really special.
B. So I read that you started playing the guitar at age 10, and hat you had no formal instruction.
S. Yes, that’s right. I just learned on my own, picked up a few things from an Uncle or Cousin.
At a certain point when I wanted to go further get more serious, my Father said;
‘Then you must listen to Django.’ So I got his records and I spent a long time learning everything that he did note for note. I copied it all down to the last detail, including vibrato, bends etc. So I could play all of Django’s solos from memory at that time, when I was coming up.
If I went to a jam session then, and they say played ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’ in the key of ‘G,’ then I could play Django’s choruses from memory and it would be fine. However again, at that time if I was somewhere and they called ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’ in the key of F, then I wouldn’t quite know what to do. I remember talking to my cousin Fapy about it, and he said, [imitating Fapy with a friendly tap on the shoulder], ‘don’t worry, it will come in time.’ [In other words, he learned as most Gypsies do by rote].
I understand that in the Gypsy tradition you start with Rhythm, and you don’t play lead until you’ve mastered the ‘pompe.’ How long did you play rhythm before you started on lead?
S. I played rhythm for two years [!] If you play good rhythm, and you have a good sense
of swing, then your solos will swing.
B. So you did a lot of work with chord shapes, [arpeggios]?
S. Well in the beginning and for a while, if you said ‘that was a nice D minor arpeggio, that you just played,’ I wouldn’t know what you were talking about. I would have just known that it was something that I got from Django’s records and I knew how it sounded.
B. Interesting. From what I see of how music is passed down and learned in Gypsy culture, I now feel that a method that starts with rote playing and ear training really works best. You don’t need to teach children learn to read music at first. They can be taught to play their instruments by ear, [a la Suzuki], count, etc. You can teach reading after a while.
B. Let’s talk about some of your recordings for a bit. You did some tracks with Stephane Grappelli. That must have been quite an experience. S. Yes, we were very honored to be asked to perform with Grappelli for the first half of his Carnegie Hall Concert in 1993, and then we recorded together for the ‘Caravan’ CD. [Stochelo also played with Grappelli on the Manhattan Transfer CD ‘Swing,’ 1997].
S. Although, I was quite young then… it would be great now to be able to play music with Stephane, since I feel that I am so much more experienced now[!]
B. Ah, well they’re wonderful recordings, and it’s good to know that a player of your ability is as human as the rest of us. B. By the way, I am really enjoying your latest CD, ‘Djangologists.’
S. Yes, I really feel that it’s probably our best so far.
B. Really cool to hear you and Bireli Lagrene playing with such beauty and heart. Virtuosic when it’s warranted, but mostly quite restrained. [Especially considering that Stochelo and Bireli can certainly burn up the fret board]!
B. Fitting that it was released in 2010, which was the Centennial of Django’s birth. Basically sort of a love letter to Django in a way.
S. Yes, [with obvious respect for the master]. B. I recall reading a quote from Grappelli in ‘Downbeat Magazine not long after Django’s death. He said, basically that great jazz guitarists will come and go, but there will only ever be one Django Reinhardt.
S. very true. Before him, few Gypsies played Jazz, and after him, we all do.
Partial Recommended Discography;
‘Caravan’ Rosenberg Trio with Stephane Grappelli, 1994 Verve
‘Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival’ Rosenberg Trio, Polydor 1993
‘Seresta’ [Trio], Hot Club Records 1989
‘Djangologists’ Trio with Bireli Lagrene 2010 Enya 18 tracks + 57 minute video +6 bonus tracks
The Rosenberg Trio’s website is www.theRosenbergTrio.com
You can find them on Facebook here; facebook.com/rosenbergtrio
Tchavolo Schmitt Interview [originally published in Just Jazz Guitar, Aug 2010]
My friend Alex and I are standing in front of the Flatotel on 53rd Street at about 5:00PM on a Saturday in November. I’ve arranged, [albeit tenuously], an interview with French Gypsy Jazz guitar legend Tchavolo Schmitt. The slightly enigmatic and elusive French Gypsy, seldom comes to the US. He’s here in NYC for a week long performance at Birdland. He’ll be with his cousin Dorado Schmitt. The yearly show is billed as the Django Reinhardt All stars. Pat Phillips, the show’s co-producer, set up the interview with Tchavolo, and Alex and I are hoping that he’ll be there.
There’s a moment of panic when we are told at the front desk that he’s not in his room. I call the cell phone of Dorado’s son, guitarist Samson Schmitt, but he doesn’t answer. At this point Alex and I stand outside in front of the Hotel, as evening begins to fall, unsure of what to do To our great relief, Tchavolo appears, laden down with bags of swag from a NYC shopping trip. He agrees to meet us at the hotel in an hour. Now the only problem is that we need a translator, as Tchavolo speaks little English and Alex and I don’t speak French. We go back to where I’m staying, the 1291 Bed & Breakfast on 55th trying to think of a translater. By an amazing, [“Seinfeldian”] coincidence the place is run by folks from Switzerland, all of whom of course speak French. The manager, Gabriela Potts, graciously agrees to do the translation for us. We all walk back to the hotel lobby, where we are soon joined by Tchavolo. He’s as dapper as Django, in a red blazer and a black scarf.
The only place that we can use for the interview is the hotel’s restaurant. We plead our case and they graciously agreed to help us. [The Flatotel also sponsored the show, many thanks to them for all of the above].We get the manger of the hotel’s restaurant to turn down the 80’s rock droning from their sound system.
[My little prayer, if you will; Lord, help us to put aside the temporary and trivial crap of the world so that we can talk about Art, and Music, things great and everlasting, Amen]!
So, I order a bottle of wine, we toast each other, drink and begin.
Barry Wahrhaftig: So you were born in the Bellevue section of Paris?
Tchavolo Schmitt: Yes, that’s right.
BW: And your Mother taught you to play the guitar?
. T: My Mother started to teach me when I was six.
. BW: And later you played music with Babik and Mandino  and your learning continued?. T: Yes, I knew Babik very well, knew him from the neighborhood. [They were ‘running buddies’ I hear, getting into all kinds of scrapes].
. T; Later on we played music together, but we really grew up together.
. B: And you know David Reinhardt, [Babik’s son], as well?
. T: Yes, quite well.
. B: I really enjoy Babik’s playing.
. T: For me and my colleagues, players like him, [Babik], will always be alive…
. They’ll always be there to look up to and follow.
. B: Yes, I understand.
. T: They, [Babik and Django], were always my heroes.
. B: You know, for us here, [players in the US], we look to you and Dorado and Samson
. In that way, we hold you all in the highest regard. [Tchavolo seems moved by my comment, and perhaps uncomfortable being compared to his heroes]. T: Django was like my Father… I understand what you’re saying, and that is nice but the comparison, [for me], is a bit.. overwhelming.
B: Yes, I understand. From what I know generally about you, you would rather not be in the limelight much at all.
T: [Look], I am who I am, but I‘ll never be a star, that’s for sure.
That’s how I was born, and that’s the way that I feel… Some people are different, but I’ll never change. B: Good!
B: Who do you cite as your influences, who do you enjoy listening to?
I know that you are a fan of the great Edith Piaf, but who else?
T: I didn’t know her personally…
[He also mentions the French crooner Jean Sablon, popular in the 50’s].
T: They [Piaf and Sablon], lived their performances. It wasn’t just an act, it
was real life, that’s what they portrayed.
B: For the best music, that’s always the case.
T: You must be real in a performance. The audience can always tell if you
are “faking” [he says ‘bull-shiting’], or not.
B: I remember taking Dorado to the airport once and I had a CD of a
famous Gypsy Jazz guitarist, [who shall remain un-named], playing in my car.
Dorado said, “He can play a lot of notes, but for me, the feeling is most important.”
T: Yes, it’s not a matter of just playing fast, no matter what the instrument is…
If someone can manage to almost bring you to tears by what he does,
to be able to transfer the feeling in his heart to the instrument, then he has succeeded.
B: I recall seeing [violinist], Florin Niculescu bring the audience to tears,
at Birdland a little while ago.
T: A Manouche, [Gypsy], bathes, [immerses], himself in the music, and it all comes out.
B: We see how important music is to the Manouche culture.
T: Oui, of course not every Gypsy is a musician, but when you play music it’s such a special pleasure to be able to play an instrument and share.
B: Yes. By the way, as far as family, Dorado Schmitt is your cousin?
T: Yes. Dorado’s Father is my Mother’s brother, so we are cousins, yes.
B: Right. So where are you performing in Europe these days?
T: I have traveled a lot and hope to continue to.
I love the states and have been to Tokyo, all over Europe, etc.
I’ve been here two or three times… [thinking],
Been to Seattle.
B: For the DjangoFest Northwest, run by my friend Nick Lehr.
T: Yes, [laughing].
B: OK, here’s a question from your “son” Alex,
He wants to know how much you practice?
T: I don’t believe much in rehearsing; obviously we need to set some things up,
But I don’t really prepare much for my shows.
[Note, it may be that there was a bit of a misunderstanding between the idea of practice and rehearsal]. [At this time Tchavolo asks to take a cigarette break].
Our wine glasses are re-filled, Tchavolo returns, and we all drink and toast one another again(!)
B: [This from Alex], Did he lose family in WWII?
T: Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it.
B: Would you like to talk about some of the films that you were in?
T: Yes, it was a lot of fun. I was in Latcho Drom, of course! 
Ten years later, Gatlif asked me play a part in the film Swing. 
B: Out of your CDs, do you have a favorite?
T: [Laughs], They are all good.
B: And guitars, I see that he is usually playing a [Maurice], DuPont.
T: I rehearse, [play], with them.
[He is using one in the Birdland show.]
B: Where do you see the music going in the future?
T: To me Django’s music is like Mozart, [classic],
in that it never grows old. Really, I’m not concerned about the future
because there will always be new players coming up who will be learning the style and making it their own.
T: Like the classics, it will never go away.
B: Right. And Django is everyone’s “Father.”
T: Yes. You know some people say that basically “Minor Swing” and “Nuages”
covers Django’s style totally, but really there is much more to him than those pieces.
He was really “without walls,” limitless.
B: Exactly. Not just for his innovations as a player, really inventing a style, but also as a composer in his own right!
B: [And from Alex], do you have children?
T: Yes, [laughs], of course. [He says that he’d rather not talk about them in detail].
Alex: Did you transcribe solos as part of your studies?
T: I learned them by ear, but I don’t read music.
A: How about working out fingerings for different phrases, etc.?
T: It’s spontaneous.
B: It’s interesting to see that there are players who are well “schooled,” can read
and write music and know theory, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be any good as a jazz player.
A: Do you read chord changes?
T: Sometimes I think it would be helpful, but I don’t really care.
B: I ask Gabriela to tell him that he’s doing just fine!
Everybody drinks more wine.
B: Does he teach ay students?
T: I don’t have much patience for that, but every once in a while I’ll see one of the kids in the family playing, and every now and then maybe show them something for say five minutes.
B: That’s how his Mother gave him pointers?
T: In the old days, the people sat together and played, and we kids were around this all of the time, and we wanted to play, you know how kids are…
“I want to do it, c’mon show me how, etc.”
T. Right. My Mother would sit me down for five minutes and say “ Look, that’s how you do it,” but only for five minutes, that was it. So I took my guitar and copied what she did, but it
wasn’t like she really sat me down and taught me say, three times a week.
I played because I wanted to, not because of anybody else.
Alex asks; What about your right hand technique, did anybody show you that?
T. No, not really, that’s just me. But to be in the presence of the great ones, that has influenced me of course. You learn every hour, every day, if you are open to it.
B. I believe that too. I think that’s wonderful advice to all aspiring players.
T. Yes, if you are open you are like a sponge.
B. Right. By the way, what do you think that this music should be called?
- I think that Gypsy Jazz or Jazz Manouche is appropriate.
Alex; What music do you listen to at home?
- I like Sinatra, Michael Buble, Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole.
At around 7:00 in the evening I like to have a glass of wine and listen to
Ruben Gonzalez and the singers that I mentioned.
B. Sounds like you really enjoy listening to singers. That’s interesting, because when I hear you play the melody to a song, like many great jazz players, it sounds to me like
you are trying to portray the lyrics, to tell a story.
T. I never really thought of it that way!
Alex, Do you also sing?
T. [Laughing], no!
B. Dorado is the singer! [Laughs].
B. Do you think that you’ll return soon to America?
T. I hope so, I like to travel and perform my music.
Alex. So did you spend a lot of time practicing when you were younger?
T. Again, music for us is part of life, not something that is “practiced,”
You don’t rehearse it, you live it.
B. Merci! Great.
Perhaps we can play some music together sometime when I visit France.
T. Yes of course.
Interview by Barry Wahrhaftig with help from Alex Siniavski
[Special thanks to Gabriela Potts, for her wonderful translation].
 Babik Reinhardt 1944-2001, one of Django’s sons
 1919-2003 Cuban pianist. Well known thru his work with the Buena Vista Social Club
‘Reves d’Automne,’ ‘Sonny Boy’ & ‘Seul Ce Soir,’ from Mira Familia
‘J’attendrai,’ & ‘it Had to be You,’ from Alors? Voila!