I recently interviewed virtuoso gypsy jazz violinist Rob Rosa for an article on music-news.com that can be seen at: http://www.music-news.com/showreview.asp?H=Maniere-des-Bohemiens&nReviewID=8727 Rosa, 30, performs in an acclaimed band from Nottingham, Manière des Bohémiens, who are known for their flawless note-perfect take on Django Reinhardt style gypsy jazz and swing.
When did you first start playing music and how long have you been performing?
“I first picked up a violin at 5 after my Dad pretended he could play to encourage me to start. I was singing along to my Mum’s Chinese cassettes from before I could talk so they realised that it was something I might be good at. It was so early in my life that I don’t really have strong memories of it, only I do remember my teacher and the book I first learned from which was a teaching method he’d developed himself.”
What was your first ever gig?
“My first gig I can barely remember but I have photos of it! I was 6 and in primary school orchestra. From then on I’ve seemed to have gigs/concerts every few months.”
When and how did Manière des Bohémiens first form?
“The band started in 2009 when Roger (my brother) and Matt Kerry were listening and imitating gypsy jazz recordings on guitars. We’d learn the chords and a few patterns and didn’t waste much time in going out and playing. The 3 of us did our first gig at an open mic and from then on were asked to play follow up gigs. We then got Matt’s brother Jonny onboard on accordion and shortly afterwards Mark Lewandowski on upright.”
What are the main influences of Manière des Bohémiens music aside from the most commonly cited
Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli? How do these affect the music?
“We all come from different, almost opposing musical backgrounds. Chet Atkins and Brian Setzer are an influence to the guitars for many of the licks and finger picking, Angelo de Barre for the rhythm and ‘comping’ of the guitars. Eastern gypsy music of Taraf de Haidouks and virtuoso classical compositions of Brahms, Sarasate and Kreisler along with the showmanship of Maxim Vengerov are my inspiration. Our different approaches certainly give us a unique sound, I like to think it does anyway!”
How much of the material you perform do you write yourself?
“We don’t do any actual writing. We get together and learn basic heads, then work out harmonies and from then on its improvised. When we do play traditional or classical melodies we heavily alter sections and change notes to more difficult ones for showmanship, and because playing originals is nowhere near as much fun.”
You sometimes borrow compositions from different styles of music, the Johannes Brahms composition for instance, and play it in your gypsy jazz style. What us good about this approach?
“From a personal level it’s about taking something from your childhood that was lots of fun to play and making it even more exciting, I really wish I could play it this way to my teacher back then. I also think it’s a nice way of presenting classical music which isn’t bastardised too much and people can dance to it. I’ve never seen people dancing to Brahms or Monti before so it’s mildly amusing and I think the composers would have approved.”
The line-up has switched since I first saw you, most noticeably accordion replaced with Clarinet. How does the rotating cast of instrumentalists change the dynamic of the band?
“We love jamming and have hosted countless jam nights in Nottingham and elsewhere giving us the pleasure of playing with a whole host of great musicians. We invite people to play with us and the band has been forged this way so I think the dynamic is a positive one where we’re seeking to develop and keep the sound fresh and new.”
What’s the most difficult thing about being a performer and the lifestyle it involves?
“Admin. It’s the most time consuming thing. Making sure Facebook/social media is up to date, replying to gig requests, merchandise. Our fault really as we do take on a lot of gigs. But we’ve given ourselves a month off for November… The gigs themselves are always fun unless you have a cathartic audience, in which case you just play, take the money and leave.”
“Oh, and travelling can be an arse if it’s late night or early hours and you’re the only sober one.”
What about performing in Cornwall makes it worth the seven hour drive down from Nottingham?
“It’s the buzz, we always seem to get a good reception in Cornwall and the crowd really get into it! It’s also a little holiday from grim ol’ Nottingham and we stay for at least one night and then explore and busk in the day before going home. We’ve been to Cornwall 5 times since last July’s Port Eliot Festival and will keep coming down so long as we aren’t getting heckled off stage.”
What was it like appearing on BBC introducing and how much did it help in terms of exposure?
“The BBC thing happened fairly early on and did get us a boost locally in terms of audience and interest. Our MySpace got twenty-thousand views in one day when we were mentioned on radio and then returned to twenty or thirty the following day.”
What’s happening next? New cd’s? Tours? Big Gigs? Radio Slots?
“We’re working on new stuff, reducing our gig schedule in Nottingham and playing in a wider range of cities/towns. A 12” vinyl is next, some point next year, probably Summer. Looking at Ireland as a tour destination, already offered a few gigs in places and I know there are a lot of musicians there so there are rich pickings for jamming! We’re also focusing on festivals with applications going out over the next few months. All in all, we just want to play as many new and interesting places to as many people we can, like most bands!”