Music isn’t usually Reel Honest Reviews’ market, but Black Market Trust is just one of those bands that hooks you. It’s a throw-back to a by-gone era, with modern tones and updated beats that transports you back in time. I had the opportunity to talk with the band’s rhythm guitarist, Chris Irwin, about his training and Black Market Trust’s start . He also stumped this film critic with some intriguing Woody Allen movie trivia!
Reel Honest Reviews (RHR): How did you all meet and start this unusual band?
Chris Irwin (CI): We started off mainly interested in the music of Django Reinhardt and that style of guitar. It’s so different than anything before or since. It’s jazz, but it’s mixed with Eastern European folk tradition and it’s all acousitc. All the guitar heroes from the jazz greats in America through Eddie Van Halen all played electric guitar. Then you have this one guy, Django Reinhardt, who played acoustic guitar. He played these really beautiful and technically difficult passages and only used two fingers. If you’re a guitar person, there’s always some mystique associated with that and [also] becuase it’s a niche or subgenre of music or of jazz. Once you start going down that path you quickly meet all of the other people who are in a hundred mile radius who are into that kind of music and you get together and jam. That’s how we got together with Jeff and how we met Nick the violin player.
RHR: Who is Django Reinhardt?
CI: He was a Gypsy from Belgium. When he was a young man, his caravan caught on fire and he was badly burned. There was a lot of damage done to his left hand and his pinky and his ring finger were completely scarred over and he wasn’t really able to use them. So all his guitar soloing was done with only his index finger and his middle finger.
RHR: I can’t imagine having that type of handicap as a guitarist. Can you?
CI: No, no! Not at all! Its’ really crazy! There are some people out who have specialized in trying to do what he did and really stick to trying to use two fingers. There are a few people who do that, but most of us have a heck of a time just trying to play that stuff using all four fingers. There’s only one video out there of him playing live and for a lot of us that’s what hooked us on his style.
RHR: I understand that you studied with Lollo Meier and Fapy Lapertin in Europe at a Sinti Gypsy camp. What did you learn there that you couldn’t learn listening to recordings at home?
CI: You get close to the source. You see and hear things a little bit different. For somebody living in LA tyring to learn this from the original records or even from modern recordings of Gypsys playing this stuff, you’re basically just guessing. You’re hearing it and you’re trying to understand it. How do I make my instrument make the same sound as what’s coming out of the speakers? Just being there and playing with these people who have learned it from people who have played it with Django Reinhardt as he died in 1953. Fapy is probably 60 right now. He grew up playing in Gypsy camps with people who were intimately familiar with how people played and what they were playing or where they put their fingers and how they moved their arm. If I didn’t learn anything, it was just exciting to be a part of that tradition, but it turns out that there were plenty of things that I wasn’t doing quite authentically or the same way that the Gypsys had grown up learning in Holland. They were very generous in showing me… this is the way we do it, this is the way we play this song. It was real eye-opening. It was just a totally different thing to be able to sit and play with people who had been living and breathing this music their whole life as opposed to me who had just gotten into it.
RHR: So tell me, what did you find that you were doing differently that they noticed?
CI: My main role in the band is the rhythm guitarist and the rhythm guitar in the Django Reinhardt band was a really interesting situation because they didn’t use a drummer. So you had to make the chords but also play very percussively. If you listen to all the old Django Reinhardt recordings, most of these were made int the 1930s and the 40’s. The recording technology was just not great and so it’s hard to imagine what it really would have sounded like. When I got to Holland, in a very nice way, the people that I played with kind of laughed at [me] and were like ok, that’s interesting that that’s what you hear when you listen to old recordings, but really what they were playing was like this. There was a thing that I was doing where I would hit the strings without making notes on them to just make a drum sound. And they would say, that was just the microphone on the recording. I assure you they were playing it more like this…a chord ringing on guitarjust played forcefully. It was fun and interesting to learn new things like that. And it was really liberating for me because they don’t sound like the records either. That make me feel a lot better about the idea that I don’t have to play that one certain way and anytihng else is going to be inferior. When Brandon joined the band and we had a durmmer that really made me feel emboldened to make different choices on what I do on the song.
RHR: Quite honestly, I didn’t know there truly were Gypsy Camps. How did you find these men who played with Django and what was their response to you joining them to learn from them?
CI: Everybody’s on the internet today. It’s not hard to find the website of some of these artists. I just sent some e-mails out. There were some Americans who went out in the 90’s, in the pre-internet era [and] they love to tell me about how hard it was when they had to do it! Going out there, it’s pretty interesting. Dutch society is really very segregated so the camps are apart from the rest of the city and it really still is a very insular community.
RHR: What type of music did you grow up with? Did you hear this Gypsy Jazz from your parents?
CI: Growing up was all classic rock—Beatles, Beach Boys, then maybe a little Frank Sinatra. Even when I was into Frank Sinatra as a high schooler, my parents thought that was pretty strange. My mom was a big Jimmy Hendrix fan and my dad was a big Eric Clapton fan so I grew up on that. I learned about Django Reinhardt late in high school or early college. That was a time that it was so hard to find resources and it was so virtuosic that it was fun to listen to, but I just never really thought that it was something I would be able to play myself or get into…I didn’t even know how. It wasn’t until much later in life where I was just tired of playing the same old Crosby Stills and Nash songs on my guitar that I thoought, maybe there’s something out there on the internet or resources to learn this today. But the thing that got me into this originally, and this is a pretty common thing, Woody Allen is a big Django Reinhardt fan and he made this movie SWEET AND LOW DOWN that s a fictional biography [of Reinhardt] so a lot of that style of music is in that movie. And even MIDNIGHT IN PARIS he uses a lot of Gypsy Jazz music.
RHR: How is your band different from others?
CI: I think the biggest thing that has been helpful for us, is the more people we play with individually the more we realized there’s no one way to do what you’re doing. This idea of orthodoxy or remaining authentic, when you’re lucky enough to get to play with the giants in the field, you find that what they care about is: does it sound good? does it swing? does it feel good? are you playing from the heart? That has opened up all of us to then play. We do a little bit of the Django Reinhardt, but we also have the classic American swing stuff… Because we love it so much and because it’s so meaningful to us, ultimately audiences enjoy it better than if we were just strictly one thing as authentic as we could possibly be. They’ve heard that one thing before, but nobody’s heard 5 people singing 4-part harmony and making as tremendous a racket as we do when we get going.
And by “racket,” Irwin really means beautiful and fun music that you’ll want to hear over and over again. You can find more information about the band at www.theblackmarkettrust.com
To read the latest review of their new album, go to Reel Honest Reviews