Two acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass and a violin make up the Cincinnati-based band, The Faux Frenchmen. The band has been plucking, strumming and fiddling their way around Cincinnati for the last two decades, making a name for themselves and introducing the area to the genre of gypsy jazz.
The band is composed of Brian Lovely (guitar), George Cunningham (guitar), Don Aren (bass) and Paul Patterson (violin). Cunningham spoke to The News Record about gypsy jazz, his musical history, the band’s unrecorded fifth album and their 2016 plans.
The News Record: What characterizes gypsy jazz music? Most would say it started with Django Reinhardt, right?
George Cunningham: It was really the first great European jazz musicians, starting around 1934. There were a lot of Americans who had gone to Paris and had success, and records coming across the ocean introduced people to jazz. This is kind of setting the grounds for Europeans to start making jazz themselves.
The audience was just suddenly there. So, the fact that Django was a guitar player, and most of the guys he played with were string players, that made their take on jazz different, simply because there were no saxophones, no pianos, no drums, no singer.
TNR: How did you end up in a gypsy jazz band?
GC: I had heard Django Reinhardt records when I was like 20 and thought, not only would this be a good way to make some money — because it’s just such likable music — but it would also be a challenge to play it. So, I saw it as a way to grow as a musician.
I had that idea in the back of my mind for I don't know how many years, and then finally got the opportunity to do it. I got a Monday night gig at a place called Tinks, which is now the restaurant — Harvest — that just changed over from La Poste.
We were there every Monday for seven years and what started out as just a Monday night gig turned into a band. We started rehearsing, writing to the style. We had to learn the style from scratch. Then we started writing to it and recording, and we started getting asked to do national festivals and stuff like that. The crowd response was just so good. People just ate it up and it sure was fun to do.
TNR: Do you feel like audiences respond well to your music around Cincinnati?
GC: It’s why I moved here. People here expect musicians to give them something, because they do. There are really good players here. So, after having been in the best band in Toledo for three years, there’s nothing else to do there. So, I came some place where I knew there was a better scene both in terms of players and audiences.
TNR: Is most of what you are playing original compositions?
GC: It depends what the night is. If you see us in concert, yes, probably 60 percent. And, I think from this point, recording, it will all be our own. Our next album is written, we just haven’t recorded it. It’s been written for two years.
TNR: Do you record independently or do you go to a studio around here?
GC: Both. We have done our basic tracks at a place called Group Effort, a studio in Kentucky. The cool thing about that is, we record to two-inch tape, because digital recording just sounds ping-y to me. You can really hear the warmth and the breadth of the analogue tape. That’s what we’ve done the past two records. Then, we all have home studios. So, we might do some of the solos there.
TNR: I’ve seen you guys play at Urban Artifact in Northside, where else around Cincinnati do you play?
GC: That was a good show. We had just done the Chamber orchestra gig, and we had just done a festival in Cleveland, so we were on a roll. We were playing really good.
We just played at the Esquire Theatre on Ludlow. The building that was once La Poste — it just changed names to Harvest — we play there about once a month. That room has been a constant for us.
TNR: Does the band have any exciting plans for 2016?
GC: Here’s what we got. We’re doing various concerts around town, of course. In September, we are doing the Allegheny Jazz Festival in Cleveland, which we’ve done for the last 11 years or so.
Then we go to south east Iowa where we are going to play with the Iowa Chamber Orchestra, and that is based on them hearing about our success with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra last September.
TNR: Would you talk a little about working with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra?
GC: Each of us writes and each of us had one of our original compositions arranged for chamber orchestra last fall. Took up the better part of our year to get those arrangements together. But, it was worth it. It translated really well.