It Must Mean A Thing

Because we sure have that swing. This week’s Music City Roots will celebrate that elusive and wondrous musical quality that put the snap in American music for decades, often in unexpected ways. Say “swing” to most folks and it will probably conjure up an image of dance bands from the 1940s or for country fans maybe Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, which did with fiddles what Tommy Dorsey did with horns. All that is absolutely on point, but the feeling of swing also permeates jazz, bluegrass and even some pop music, when the timing is right. It’s a heartbeat. It’s a groove. You know it when you hear it.

Nashvillians have been hearing it for nearly two decades in the music of the Gypsy Hombres, a trio that’s changed personnel over time but that has always included founding member, violinist Peter Hyrka. I asked him to sketch a quick history of the band and here’s what he offered:

“I moved here in 1991 with my rock group Human Radio, and while going broke after signing to a major label, I decided to start SOMETHING to ease the pain. This was an obvious choice. At the time, Nashville had absolutely nothing like it. The timing was awkward, as the big swing (dancing) craze was gearing up, and folks thought that I was trying to get in on it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no idea what the current crazes are, and really don’t care. I just knew it was something close to my heart and my heritage, being of East European descent.”

Django Reinhardt, the pioneering guitarist of the gypsy jazz style, was one of the Roma, an ancient group from Eastern Europe, but he grew up near Paris and crafted his incredibly influential sound there (with violinist Stephane Grappelli) in the 1920s and 30s. Today’s version of the Gypsy Hombres has the gifted Rory Hoffman in the guitar chair, and he’s one of the most talked about instrumentalists in town right now. The late Chet Atkins, a long-time fan of the band, would be excited to see them now.

Also on the bill is one of the finest western swing singers in the business. The dreamy-voiced Carolyn Martin is best known around Music City for her many years as co-lead vocalist in the celebrated Time Jumpers. But on her own she’s won all kinds of awards from the societies that recognize excellence in western swing music. She’s only a throwback artist if you think that singing with emotion, phrasing, nuance and power is old fashioned.

Rounding out an exciting night, we’ll also be welcoming back to the Roots stage the remarkable J.D. Souther. You know this fellow even if you don’t. He was a virtual member of the influential Eagles, writing songs like “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid In Town” among many other enduring hits. In recent years, Souther has drawn on his life-long love of jazz and classic popular song (not to mention swing) and put a band together that sets his songs – new and old – in a perfect, jewel-like setting. His music is pure and rootsy but also sophisticated and urbane. It’s some of my favorite stuff being made in Nashville these days.

So it should be a glorious late summer night. Vietti emerging artist Erika Chambers will be there too. Please swing by.

Craig H.

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