ALBANY — Stephane Wrembel has spent a lifetime playing the guitar in the style of a ghost he first pursued as a young teenager.
Reinhardt’s legacy is celebrated in Wrembel’s hometown of Fontainebleau from where the Festival Django Reinhardt is hosted each summer. His styling is defined by a few names — French swing, jazz manouche or hot club-style jazz — characterized by an acoustic guitar, a swing violin and a bass player. For a burgeoning musician, Reinhardt was ever-present.
The long answer, the one that best explains Wrembel’s love for Django’s music, involves a search for what he calls the singularity. The 47-year-old speaks of the metaphysical as he explains music. As the world attempts to classify music with finite, universal labels, he said it strips away the individual behind it.
“When I listen to [John] Coltrane, I don’t hear jazz,” he said. “I can hear that the guy knew jazz, but I hear a lot of John Coltrane. When I listen to Miles Davis, I hear a lot of Miles Davis.” He explained that music goes beyond notes. “I know that it comes from jazz, but it’s not jazz. I think jazz is really the thing in New Orleans; and after, it’s personality that brings it.”
Wrembel first studied classical piano when he was 4, and like any other teenager, he discovered rock and roll. He picked up the guitar and spent hours trying to learn David Gilmour’s playing style off of Pink Floyd records. But then he jumped to jazz and grew fascinated with Reinhardt. And, like any other teenager, he wanted to learn more.
“When I started playing [guitar] in the early 90s, there was no YouTube,” he said. “There were no records, barely any records. They were impossible to find. There was no distribution. It was very difficult to have access to this music.”
So, through friendships and acquaintances, he came into the neighboring Sinti community to which Reinhardt belonged and learned about the culture behind his idol’s music. He did so for seven years, going to camps to perform at parties and weddings. In that time, he said he learned from masters, Angelo Debarre and Serge Krief.
“Jazz was born out of the brass — brass and the percussion and the piano,” Wrembel said. “That’s what manifested first, and Django manifested it on guitar.” Once Reinhardt adapted the guitar to jazz, his music revealed more of the man. “It starts very jazz and the more it goes, the more it’s Django.”
Today, Wrembel is a critically-acclaimed jazz artist in his own right. He is a composer, teacher, and one of the most heralded guitarists in the world. He has carved out a career specializing in Reinhardt’s style of play, headlining shows worldwide while releasing 16 albums under his name and the nom de plume, “The Django Experiment.”
In addition to “Bistro Fada,” the theme song for “Midnight In Paris,” his original composition “Big Brother” was featured in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Midnight In Paris won the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack, and Wrembel was hand-selected by Hans Zimmer to perform in an all-star ensemble at the 2012 Academy Awards. Most recently, Wrembel recorded the entire score for Woody Allen’s film, “Rifkin’s Festival.”
Most known for his original composition “Bistro Fada” from the Academy Award-winning film, “Midnight in Paris,” Wrembel has brought together some of the finest musicians in the world to celebrate the Sinti guitar style at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and The Town Hall.
Wrembel will make a stop at The Linda on Friday, Feb. 4 as he gears up for his annual Django a Gogo Music Festival and Guitar Camp scheduled for March 2 to 6, in Maplewood, N.J., and New York City. It will be his return to the Capital District since playing before a virtual audience from the Caffé Lena stage last January to launch his most recent album, “The Django Experiment VI.”
The second to last track from that album is Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” The answer to that question is another trip down the metaphysical that can be answered in two ways. The short answer is, he said, “I don’t know.”
Wrembel turns back to the singular experience: that love is the result of a chemical reaction in our bodies. And as we attempt to define that experience, we use a shared language to apply a universal description, we never truly know if we all feel the same way.
“It was said at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Know yourself and you will know the Cosmos and the Gods’,” he said. For him, his love of music is not defined solely by Django. When he composes, he said it comes from The Beatles and Pink Floyd, from classical and the blues.
“It comes from myself,” he said. “Django helps me achieve a reasonable, technical level and an understanding of the instrument. But in the end, I’m not Django Reinhardt. I’m Stephane Wrembel.”