Alouette, the Lark
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Alouette, the Lark

Brooklyn, New York, United States

Brooklyn, New York, United States
Pop Jazz

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"Giant and gypsy meet for music in Germantown"

Every artist discovers his or her musical calling in a different way. For Daryl Davis, it was sneaking into Elvis’ hotel room. For Mary Alouette, it was responding to an advertisement on Craigslist.

The combined passions of the two Silver Spring artists will collide at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown Thursday, in an evening of boogie woogie, blues and jazz.

The pair first met through an event for Strathmore’s Artist in Residence program, where Davis was a mentor for the 2010-2011 season and gypsy jazz vocalist Alouette is a current resident artist. After playing together in October, Davis again invited the singer to perform alongside him for the BlackRock gig.

“When I was young, people gave me the opportunity,” Davis says.

Now a noted blues and boogie pianist, Davis spent some of his childhood overseas due to his parents’ work in the Foreign Service, and originally dreamed of a career as an espionage agent. But he fell in love with the music of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry and instead turned to the piano.

“They had made millions of people happy all over the world.

Their music transcended race, religions,” he says. “I thought, ‘You know what? That is what I want to do.’”Growing up in Potomac, the Thomas S. Wootton High School alum went on to study jazz at Howard University. And although he first met one of his heroes by sneaking into his hotel room as a child, Davis would later go on to form a friendship and longtime musical collaboration with Chuck Berry.

“I think the greatest thrill on stage is playing my favorite song in the word with the man who wrote it,” Davis says about Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

In addition to his work on the keys, Davis is a Renaissance man of sorts, with a career as a lecturer, author and even actor, having appeared on the HBO television series “The Wire.” In 1997, Davis released his book “Klan-Destine Relationships” about his experience with racism and the Ku Klux Klan, specifically a Klansman who approached him at a show in Frederick that he later befriended.

The Daryl Davis Band concert is part of BlackRock’s Third Thursday’s program that transforms the venue into a nightclub-like setting with bistro tables, beer and wine, says Laurie Levy-Page, director of marketing and communications.

“For Daryl Davis, we’re pulling out the dance floor.” Levy-Page says. “I think of it as a really fun night out and way to start the weekend.”

As BlackRock continues to grow the series that previously only featured folk artists, it found Davis and his band to be the perfect fit for the upbeat type of program they are looking to create.

“He brings in a style of music that we didn’t have in our season yet and he’s a great performer,” Levy-Page says.

While Davis is now touting his greatest hits CD, Alouette is just wrapping up work on her first EP to be released in April. The album, blending gypsy jazz instrumentation with electronic elements, is the first songwriting venture for the artist.

“I haven’t heard anyone do the music in this style,” she says.

Gypsy jazz is a style of music made famous by Jean “Django” Reinhardt and his band Quintette du Hot Club de France (Hot Club of France Quintet) in the 1930’s. Alouette has been performing standards by Reinhardt and other artists, but recently learned how to play gypsy jazz guitar as a way to bring her own style to the genre.

Alouette studied classical vocal performance at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and frequently has performed the National Anthem for the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Nationals and other regional sports teams. A trained opera singer, Alouette got her start in the gypsy jazz genre when she responded to a Craigslist ad by the Hot Club of DC. The group had been looking for a singer who could perform in French.

“The more I learned about the music the more I fell in love with it,” says Alouette, who continues to perform with the Hot Club of DC as well as the Lower East Side Hot Club in New York City.

In collaborating with Davis, Alouette says she has learned a great deal from working with the veteran performer, and has enjoyed fusing her style with his blues and rock and roll to create a show she expects will be truly unique.

- by Cody Calamaio - Maryland Community News


"We Love Music: A Q&A with Mary Alouette"

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.

Aloutte took some time to speak with We Love DC via e-mail about her upcoming EP release show (Wednesday April 25) at Strathmore Mansion, where she is currently an Artist in Residence.

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!

- by WeLoveDC correspondant Rachel Levitin - WeLoveDC


"Interview with Indie Monday"

Mary Alouette is composing music at the crossroads of classical, electronic, and jazz music. Mary is an Artist-in-Residence at the Strathmore, a performing arts center in Bethesda, MD. She released her new EP, “Midas,” two weeks ago. The record is heavily influenced by gypsy-jazz, a guitar-based form of swing music pioneered by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930’s.

“With the EP, I hope to bring gypsy-jazz to new audiences and to open a path of new musical direction and instrumentation for the genre,” Mary explains.

Mary spoke with us shortly before the release of “Midas”, and discussed the new record, her eclectic musical background, and the resurgence of gypsy-jazz on the musical landscape.

Q: You’ve got quite a diverse musical background. Can you explain how gypsy jazz became an interest of yours?

A: I was studying opera at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, when I was first introduced to the music of Django Reinhardt. Having grown up doing a lot of musical theater and pop since I was very young, I found his melodic approach to be familiar.

I was in Maryland for a few months and stumbled across an ad in Craigslist posted by the Hot Club of DC (a gypsy-jazz group). They needed a singer who could sing in French for a Christmas party at the French Embassy. I auditioned, joined the band as a singer, and the ball kept on rolling.

Q: You’re seen as bringing about a renaissance in gypsy-jazz. What is this movement all about, and what’s it like to be at the forefront of this growing musical genre?

A: I’m flattered to be considered as such. After Django’s death in 1953, his family followed the Romani gypsy tradition of burning his worldly possessions and forgetting that which belonged to him. Since the 60’s it’s slowly been coming back, though in very small pockets.

I’d say there’s been a resurgence in the ’80s and another in the past 10 years, though now it’s more popular than ever. It also helps that Woody Allen has featured this music in three of his past four movies. In fact, ‘The Sweet and Lowdown’ was about a gypsy jazz guitarist that was second in the world to Django.

Gypsy jazz is definitely a growing musical movement. I find it’s an inclusive community and is growing in popularity. Generally, when people hear it, they like it. It has to do with its infectious rhythms and beautiful melodies.

Q: Can you tell us more about the incorporation of electronic elements into your music?

A: I became interested in electronic music and its fast drum beats in high school, but really fell into it in the scene in Montreal. I’m really into Berlin techno, UK dubtsep, and post-dubstep producers.

At first, it was hard imagining my voice in different musical contexts, since I was so used to a classical approach. I felt the lines were very segmented. Opera. Musical Theater. Pop. R&B. Jazz. Blues. But now, I say, screw it. all I want to do is sing and compose what I hear.

Q: What insights can you offer about “O Be I Your Bluebird?

A: “O Be I Your Bluebird” is a love song. It’s very organic and is about freedom. There’s the gypsy jazz “pompe” (rhythm guitar) and there’s also the solo guitar. I also feel myself really singing in this song – being the bird and singing the song. It’s about someone very close to me who is Native American.

The song actually came about as I was riding a bus back from Montreal to NYC. I was messing around with Pro Tools loops, and found this sweet violin chordal pad. The following day, I sat down to write a melody to a poem I had already composed, and Imogen Heap’s vocal lines (like “Just for Now”) came to my mind. As a singer, I’m drawn to melodies that cover larger ranges and manners of expression.

I took the violin loop, figured out the chords on the piano, then transcribed them to gypsy jazz chord shapes (using a chart a fellow player gave me). Because I love electronic music and classical music, I want to bring aspects of them into the style. That brings music that is thoroughly-composed and doesn’t necessarily follow a standard format or other instrumentation.

-- by correspondant Greg Ayers - Indie Monday


"Mary Alouette: The TVD First Date"

Mary Alouette plays Sofar Sounds this Friday, May 11 and the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on May 24.“Records lived in boxes in my basement when I was growing up. They belonged to my dad, and having no record player at home, they sat preserved. There had obviously been some love given to them as their covers were a bit rough around the edges. They’re a bunch of cool records.”
“My dad was somewhat of a hippie – he went to a small college of 300 people in Wisconsin, and a professor at his school lived in a teepee. His record collection defines the ’60s and these times of experimental adventures. I’d always been curious about these records, but for a long while, they sat under the table, waiting in the dark.Jump forward. My friends in Montreal had record players and we’d sit and listen to their records, hearing warmth in the sound as if a live band were playing. We also found that listening to records took you on a journey. Just letting the sides play from beginning to end takes you on the musical road with the band.

My first time collecting records happened at the music library of my school, McGill University. They were giving away classical records, and I grabbed about 15 operas – Tosca, Fidelio, Carmen, and le Nozze di Figaro were among them. At the time, I had no record player, but I had a big empty wall in my bedroom that was openly asking for some love. I tacked nails in the walls and hung the records on them. I was studying opera singing in school, so having the records of my idols on my wall was inspiring to wake up to. They looked glorious to me, but I couldn’t wait for the chance to hear their stories. Yes, I could’ve bought a record player, but I was poor and spent money on headphones and music lessons instead.

Fast forward again three years. My roommates in Brooklyn had a record player, so I jumped on board and brought my dad’s records (the Beatles – all of the Beatles records were sadly worn out, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Procol Harum…) and my opera records to my home.

Having access to a player fueled the need to pick up more and more music. I bought a bunch of great ragtime piano records cheaply in the backstreets, and my boyfriend encouraged my love for Django Reinhardt and found some special records of his at various shops in NYC. He was big into Delta Blues, so we’d listen to a lot of Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and Big Bill Broonzy, among others. I had the most indulgent experiences, especially alone. My favorite way to enjoy a record was to smoke a special cigar, enjoy a neat whiskey, read a big, thick book on Dalí, and drift away to the record playing. An added pleasure was listening to an old record of my dad’s and think of what was going on when the records were played back when.

I’ve since inherited a record player from a friend and now pick up loads of records in thrift stores in the DC area. I get them all for $1. Recently, I’ve gotten vinyl by Debussy and Chopin, and also picked up Switched on Bach (I play a Moog Voyager, so the vinyl is certainly an experience, though the music is a bit much to me).

The funny thing is that I love electronic dance music and don’t pick up those records. Mainly because I get albums online or from friends. I think that’s gotta be my next move. Another move awaiting is to press my next project to vinyl.

Yet, the most urgent awaiting move is the indulgent experience calling me to the player now…” - The Vinyl District


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Still working on that hot first release.

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