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‘Hot jazz’ on a cold Saturday

January 9, 2009
By KURT NESBITT Journal Staff Writer

NEW ULM - Robert Bell says there are a number of ways to describe the music his band, Twin Cities Hot Club, plays and gypsy jazz, hot club jazz and gypsy swing are the three most common tags his group's sound receives.

Twin Cities Hot Club is most easily found playing the handful of jazz clubs in the metro area, like the Dakota, the Artist's Quarter and the Times Bar and Cafe.

But on Saturday night, Bell and his bandmates will bring their brand of gypsy jazz - or whatever you might call it - to the Rhein River Arts Center.

Article Photos

Submitted Photo
(From left) Gary Schulte, Matt Senjem, robert Bell, Reynold Philipsek are members of the Twin Cities Hot Club that will perform Saturday night at the Rhein River Arts Center. in New Ulm.

Bell defines Twin Cities Hot Club's sound as a style of music developed in 1930s Paris whose most famous proponents were jazz guitar great Django Reinhart and violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Gypsy jazz typically uses a double bass, two acoustic guitars and a violin. It is one subgenre of jazz that does not rely upon amplification or upon drums.

Unlike other styles of jazz like swing or bebop, gypsy jazz has historically not held as much of a foothold in the popular mind as the subgenres of jazz that are more mainstream, until recently.

Bell said he had played guitar "on and off" until he was driving and listening to KBEM, a Minneapolis radio station, when he heard some of Reinhart and Grappelli's music. He instantly pulled his car over to call the station in order to find out what - and who - he was hearing. He went out and bought one of the duo's records and began learning the style.

Around the same time, more popular groups like the Cherry Poppin' Daddies began to re-popularize 1940s-style swing jazz, which reached its peak in the late 1990s.

A series of films that played on Reinhart's life and music followed. First, there was 'Sweet and Lowdown', then came 'Chocolat' and finally 'Head In The Clouds', all of which made reference to Reinhart and featured some of his music. The gypsy jazz style began its ascent into popularity.

Bell was playing guitar by himself in the Times when the owner asked him if he'd play some gypsy jazz. Bell took the entire night, rounding up any musicians that were in the club to play their music in the corner, like Reinhart and Grappelli once did.

Patrons at the Times started to like Bell's music and more started to drop in to hear him play. As he earned more money, Bell was able to hire more musicians, and voila ... the Twin Cities Hot Club was born.

"That was almost five years ago now," Bell said.

These days, the group mainly stays within the Twin Cities jazz circuit although it also plays in small theaters as well as weddings, dances and corporate events.

As it happened, Bell was backing up singer Robin Pluer, who has performed at the Rhein River twice herself, at Bastille Day in Milwaukee this past year. After the performance, Rhein River co-owner Anne Makepeace approached Bell about the possibility of a Twin Cities Hot Club performance in New Ulm. Bell agreed.

"I'm excited. It's quite different from anything we've ever had," Makepeace said.

Bell said the Saturday show will run more along the lines of a Twin Cities Hot Club concert than one of its dance performances because the group will be showing the audience the different styles of gypsy jazz, such as swing, musettes, French boleros and bossanovas.

"It should be high-energy and a touch of romance, I'm hoping," Bell said.

The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce for $10 or for $12 at the door.

The group's CDs and a live DVD filmed at the Times will be on sale Saturday night.

The band's website is: It also has a MySpace page.



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