Joe Summers Gypsy Jazz Trio
How to cure a Djangled soul
by Deborah Pohrt
It was an August night, and Ann Arbor dragged against shirt-soaking humidity and temperatures that climbed to meltdown. But the scene was a whole lot cooler upstairs at the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room on Main Street, where a packed room stood, cheered, and went wild for master guitarist Joe Summers and his Gypsy Jazz Trio. This all-acoustic powerhouse made its debut just one year ago in June at the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti. At the reins is guitarist Joe Summers, leading this caravan inspired by Europe's most famous Gypsy, Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt, along with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, formed the profoundly influential Quintet of the Hot Club of France in the 1930s.
Although primarily self taught, Summers has great technical virtuosity, lightning-quick finger execution, and a hand-fret stretch nothing short of jaw-dropping. He admits to one year of formal instruction with Detroit-based jazz pro Bob Richter: "He was my only formal teacher and actually saw Django play in Europe during World War II." But Summers also drew inspiration from local guitarist Hugh Nicks. "Mr. Nicks played mostly rhythm, but he knew his changes and could lay down a groove you would not believe. He was the real deal and could be pretty intimidating. I could fake out my punk friends, but I couldn't fool him. I must have been about thirteen when he surprised me with an invitation to a jam session. It was quite an evening in old Ypsilanti, long ago, and I count it as one of the high points of my life. At that session was the great Jack Molete - he went on to play with Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, and Ernest Tubb - and thumb-style wizard Jerry Duncan. These guys were first-rate pros, and I owe a lot to them."
Summers's music has a multilayered complexity, and his improvisation skills are otherworldly. This gypsy is part swing, part bebop, part something else. He lures and breaks hearts with "Tears," "Blue Drag,"
and "Nuages," and brings it uptown with "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Lady Be Good."
Pulling this tight trio together is local favorite Dave Sharp, who bops it righteous on an enormous beauty of a German stand-up bass, and rhythm guitarist par excellence Chris Moyer, who maintains the groove with metric precision.
You simply cannot listen to the music they make together without smiling, bobbing your head in appreciation, or tapping your foot. This music redeems and imparts sheer joy. You can catch the Gypsies at the Old Town on Sunday, October 16, and at the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room on Saturday, October 29.
[Review published October 2005]