Hot Club de Watsonville gets London Bridge Pub’s new lounge cooking.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Paris in the 1930s was bursting with art, literature and music. A stroll along the city’s famed Champ-Elysees could uncover a black-clad Jean-Paul Sartre scribbling existential musings in a battered notebook at a café or Pablo Picasso chatting with a visiting Salvador Dali about surrealism and art. Within the Hotel Claridge, a man with a pencil-thin mustache and dangling cigarette might be found creating a new sound, his clean, acrobatic guitar dancing fluidly over frisky backing music. That man was Django Reinhardt, who developed gypsy jazz with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.
Contemporary Monterey is a far cry from 1930s France, but the area has its share of subtleties for the artistically inclined: blurred lights on the nighttime harbor recall Impressionist paintings, and nearby boat masts clank and clang in the Pacific breeze like the music of an avant-garde group.
There’s no better place to take in the scene these days than the newly renovated London Bridge Pub, which has expanded into a one-time bait-store neighbor’s space and now has a comfortable room with couches and harbor views for people soaking up the bar’s live music offerings. This Saturday, the room will be filled with the sounds of the Hot Club de Watsonville, a regional quintet that evokes 1930s Paris by performing Reinhardt compositions like “Minor Swing” and “Nuages” along with more contemporary gypsy jazz numbers, tangos, bossas and boleros.
Before Hot Club de Watsonville began playing together, the band’s guitarist Julio Cesar Alfaro was immersed in southern California’s vibrant punk scene. In the mid ’90s, Alfaro was a member of Ludeboy, a punk outfit that opened for punk rock bands The Vandals and Blink 182. But after dabbling in rockabilly, Alfaro discovered gypsy jazz and loved how the genre pushed guitar-playing to the forefront. “I found it to be incredibly challenging,” he says. “I wanted to be able to do that.”
Following a move to Watsonville two years ago, Alfaro found another Reinhardt fan, bassist John Klein of the local bluegrass band Microtonic Harmonic and of the Irish band The Shillelaghs. (In addition to Alfaro and Klein, the band includes accordion player Don Dias, violinist Alen Cileli and rhythm guitarist Mason Hutchinson.) Klein says he was also drawn to the music form due to the challenging nature of performing gypsy jazz.
Klein, who has a master’s in history from the University of Colorado at Boulder, believes there’s an added bonus to doing Reinhardt’s numbers for students of eras past like himself.
“I feel connected to history,” he says, “when I play that older music.”