Noted Acoustic Musician and His Ensemble Perform as Part of Piccolo Spoleto Opening Weekend
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Unless you’re a fan of classical and world music or jazz guitar the name Stephane Wrembel may not ring a bell, nor does the Sinti-Romani guitar genius Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt (1910-53) Wrembel has paid tribute to over the past seven years. Since 2016 the 48-year-old Paris, France native now residing in New Jersey has released seven albums honoring the contributions of Reinhardt beginning with ‘The Django Experiment’ in 2014 through Wrembel’s most recent ‘The Django Experiment VI’ in 2021.
His appreciation for Reinhardt whose own career developed during the first half of the 20th century goes way back. “I was born in Paris. Everyone is exposed to Django in Paris. Django revolutionized the modern guitar movement and was influential to many guitarists who followed him. There is no one like Django.”
In April of 2021 Wrembel further honored Reinhardt releasing Django L’Impressionniste a beautiful bound book of transcriptions by the renowned guitar master. Wrembel’s current tour Django a Gogo: The Music of Django Reinhardt pays tribute to the genius and is part of Piccolo Spoleto. The five-piece ensemble including Wrembel will perform opening weekend at the Charleston Music Hall.
By age four Wrembel was studying classical piano in Fontainebleau, France, winning prizes in the Lucien Wurmser competition and at the National Conservatory of Aubervilliers. But as many young teens do, he became intrigued in the musical stylings of rock royalty, taking up guitar to learn play songs by the likes of Genesis and Led Zeppelin.
However, one particular group attracted him even more. “I was really drawn to Pink Floyd because they had a sound like no other band and the guitar work of David Gilmour floored me. Of course, several of the British bands had an impact on me including The Police, Genesis, and The Who.”
Wrembel admits he’s more enthused by their musical stylings than by their so-called rock and pop success. “Absolutely. I don’t classify an artist or band regarding to genre. They’re all unique because of what they do and how they do it. I’m definitely very open to all types of artists. I appreciate Santana, Metallica, and the music of Frank Zappa.”
Having been brought up on classical music and studying piano, surprisingly Wrembel took to guitar rather quickly. “Having studied music for so long, I could hear the music and find the notes. I also had the dexterity it took to play a stringed instrument.” He adds, “I think I began playing in April of 1989 when I was just 16 and by June when we went on vacation, I had a decent handle on the guitar.” Within a year he was teaching other guitar hopefuls.
However, his first introduction to guitar came at an even earlier age. “When I was around eight years old my grandpa was plucking them. I wasn’t drawn to them as much as I was later on, but I always loved the sound of a guitar and as I grew older, I could see how playing them made sense.”
He would eventually go on to earn a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston Massachusetts. “I had been going to the American School of Modern Music in Paris for quite some time, and they sent a team to over to evaluate prospective students and I was fortunate to earn entry into the program.” Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. “It certainly did not. I was 25 when I accepted the scholarship into Berklee.”
Wrembel’s own recording career didn’t begin to take shape until he was 30 years old. Including his most recent he’s released 16 albums focusing primarily on what many call gypsy jazz guitar. A music historian Wrembel begs to differ. “I understand why they classify my music, but I disagree entirely.”
He explains further. “There are two general styles of music. There is classical born over a 1000 years ago during the renaissance era and then there’s jazz that emerged in the early 20th century out of New Orleans. All forms of music have originated from those two styles, with artists taking on their own styles.”
Throughout his two-decade career Wrembel has been lauded as one of the finest guitar players in the world. Several trade publications including renowned guitar magazines list him as a virtuoso. He takes it humbly. “I leave that to others to decide. I’m continuing to frame my music and be the best Stephane I can be. I’m overjoyed music lovers appreciate my music.”
While he can easily entertain audiences on electric guitar, Wrembel prefers the acoustic version. “Definitely. I’ve learned acoustic instruments are much more powerful than those that are electric. When I first discovered Django I really learned how to play the acoustic guitar.”
It’s fair to say Wrembel is a historian of modern music. He enjoys playing the guitar without any boundaries and lets the music speak for itself. Likewise Wrembel is unable to even fully interpret his sound. “I can’t describe it. I can’t even talk about it. It’s transcendental. It’s powerful. It’s something you feel and are moved by.”
He describes further in detail. “That’s why I prefer not to classify music, because every artist plays different. There is only one Django. Only one David Gilmour and only one Stephane Wrembel. We may be influenced by other artists, but once you start performing the music becomes our own and the artist frames his or her music and his or her sound. I only want to be the best Stephane I can be.”
Wrembel believes the so-called gypsy jazz movement which was bestowed on Django during his heyday and gained traction again in the early 1990’s is just another way for for industry types to package music. “It’s a title they adopted and gave to Django because he was a gypsy. He played his own style of French jazz improvising his newfound interest in the sound coming out of America and particularly New Orleans.”
Wrembel’s own guitar wizardry has gained popularity among Hollywood elite. Famed actor director Woody Allen included Wrembel’s song ‘Big Brother’ in his 2008 romantic comedy ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. Allen would tap Wrembel again in 2011 adding ‘Bistro Fada’ to ‘Midnight in Paris’. “He asked me to use my music for his films and I was delighted to have them included.”
On his most recent album ‘Django Experiment VI’, Wrembel performs with his quintet featuring Nick Anderson on drums, Josh Kaye on guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass, Daisy Castro on violin and Stephane on guitar.
The five member group of musicians will perform at the Charleston Music Hall on Sunday May 29th. It’s not his first time at the Hall or in Charleston. “I’ve been to Charleston at least 10 times. I love Charleston and its rich history with music. I played there in 2019 at Awendaw Green.”
The concert is part of Piccolo Spoleto series. For more and info on tickets visit https://www.charlestonmusichall.com/event/django-a-gogo-the-music-of-django-reinhardt/. For more on Stephane Wrembel visit his website at https://www.stephanewrembel.com/
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