Monday, March 14, 2011


New Jersey has always been famous for the great musicians who either come from here or come to live here. Maybe it's the proximity to Manhattan but with lower rents and more room (I pay about half what I'd be paying for my apartment if I were living in the city). Or maybe it's the complex ethnic mix that welcomes (though at times in a not so gently Jersey way) a variety of backgrounds into it.

Whatever it is, when I moved back after forty years away, it seemed to me there were more musicians than ever in the area I grew up in. Thelonious Monk Jr. lives in my old hometown, and Bill Charlap was living in the town I moved to when I arrived. Two great jazz musicians.

More recently, the apartment across the hall from mine, which I share a wall with in some parts of my place, has housed a couple that includes a guitarist whose skill and technique rivals that of the iconic Django Rienhart. Originally from France, and known for a Django show he does, besides his own shows, I can hear him practicing sometimes when my place is quiet and I'm near points in our apartments that share a wall (I can hear him faintly as I write this—one of the reasons I always dug living in apartments, especially in old houses like the one I'm in now).

It makes me smile and fills my heart with joy to hear him, even when he's just doing the same complicated riff over and over again. The speed and complexity of his virtuoso guitar playing is humbling. Now and then I play the old piano I grew up with, in my childhood home, that my last brother to pass left behind with me when he moved away, and which sits against the wall of my living room here with its broken keys from his kids when they were small, and is out of tune, and which, especially since my brain surgery, I sometimes mess up the notes on anyway, and think, "Hope Stephane's not listening."

That's his name—"Staphane Wrembel"—and if you Google him (which I only did just now for the first time) Wikipedia says he's known for playing "Gypsy Jazz." You'll also discover he had a song of his on the soundtrack for Woody Allen's most recent masterpiece, VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. Pretty heavy recommendations right there.

There are also several videos of his playing on Youtube, many of them from earlier times (I can tell by the shorter hair and/or beard or lack of one) but here's one I found that shows you how good he is and by his look I'd guess is relatively recent. (Make sure you watch it all the way through, to get the full effect of his talent.)

Phew! Obviously, if you live in the New York area and see Stephane is doing a show, go. Or if and when he might be traveling to somewhere near where you are. Or, just order his CDs online or download them from iTunes. You won't be sorry. The best introduction might be, obviously, his INTRODUCING, a two CD disc project that has Stephane playing the same seventeen songs on each, only "separated by nearly ten years of growth and re-interpretation."


kip said...

This is so cool Lals. I feel like I'm hear your apt too and can hear him practicing.

Robert Berner said...

Yeah, Lal--Stephane Wrembel flat out C O O K S.
Bob B.

Lally said...


tpw said...

Very cool. He sure can play. But just think of how much better he'd be with fewer fingers.

Lally said...

True enough TP, Django has the advantage there.