You can take or leave some kinds of music, but surely there can be few more infectiously energetic artistic forms than the sonic insouciance of Gypsy swing music. The mysteries and joys of the genre will be on full display at the Gypsy Swing Guitar Camp Weekend, which will take place in Neveh Shalom on March 8 and 9.
The gathering will be very much a hands-on couple of days, with workshops and master classes for all levels of instrumental mastery. The event is organized by New York-born Modi’in-resident David Mencher – a veteran musician himself – and overseen by Swing de Gitanes master guitarist Ya’acov Hoter.
Mencher had a good grounding in music from an early age and could feed off sources close to home, he says.
“My first idol was a cousin who was five years older than me and played electric guitar,” he recalls.
“And my parents were similar to a lot of other progressive, or radical, people at the time. They had recordings that were made by people from around the South, and the usual stuff, such as Pete Seeger and the Weavers.”
Mencher was also in the right place to get a better handle on the fast-emerging sounds of the folk music revival movement.
“I went to high school in New York City, and I was a walk away from Washington Square [in Greenwich Village], so the whole folk music scene was very influential,” he says. “Playing folk guitar was also a good way to get girls,” he laughs.
“I also played a bit of bluegrass and a little bit of blues. But I only realized later on that, in the background of life at the time, in the 1950s and ’60s, was swing. The background of entertainment – movies that you saw, TV programs, and the interludes on radio – were all swing, whether it was played by big bands, or trios.”
Mencher’s ultimate musical epiphany came several years later.
“It was when I started playing with jug bands – the words, the music, the way they fit together, and the fun. I had an immediate chemistry with all that. And then that carried on with the [legendary Jerusalemite folk-bluegrass band, of which Mencher was a founder member] Taverners, especially with [Taverners ukulele player] Paul Moore. We loved to play all the jug band music together, and early swing music.”
Moore will be on hand next weekend to run a ukulele workshop.
It was an iconic American musician, best known for his country music, who gave Mencher an additional shove in the right direction.
“I got my hands on a record by Willie Nelson called Stardust. It is one of his best-selling albums, and he does a whole bunch of old jazz standards. Then I realized that this music was part of my past and part of me, and I became more and more interested in it,” he says.
Mencher’s swing music die was finally cast when he was back in the US for a couple of years studying to become a chiropractor.
“I knew a wonderful jazz singer in the States called Becky Kilgore, and I asked her if she would teach me chord shapes of swing guitar. She had lots of patience with me, and it opened up whole new vistas in the way I could relate to the music, as far as playing and listening to it are concerned. It’s been great ever since.”
On his return to Israel, Mencher wasted little time in getting into the scene here.
“I started making connections with people who played Gypsy swing music, like Django Reinhardt’s, and the swing standards. And I was always looking for an opportunity to play and listen.”
Mencher soon hooked up with guitarist Josh Goodman, who plays with the country-style Hazel Hill String Band, and he began to take part in weekly Gypsy swing jam sessions at Goodman’s home in Mevaseret Zion.
More than anything, Mencher says he wants the Gypsy Swing Guitar Camp Weekend participants to enjoy the sense of camaraderie and ease that he experiences at the jams and other fun gatherings, as well as enhancing their burgeoning musicianship.
“Those who are coming to the workshops are coming to learn at their own skill level. There are three skill level workshops – from masters, like from Ya’acov [Hoter] and the people that play along with him.
The other thing we are going to try to do – and I know it’s not so easy – is to downplay the kind of competitiveness that you find among almost all musicians. We really want to create an atmosphere where everybody is supportive and inclusive, and it’s okay if you make a mistake – everybody makes mistakes.
And if you don’t know something, somebody will help you. We are going to provide source material, charts, so that people will be able to join in at their own level and they won’t feel left out.”
In addition to Hoter’s guitar workshops, there will be a swing violin session and a swing dance workshop run by the the HolyLindyLand vintage dance school.
The two-day bash will end with a grand finale performance by Hoter and some of the workshop participants.For more information: http://gypsyswingisrael.co.il, or [email protected]