Aaron Loewen is a fan of gypsy jazz.
The musician divides his year between the Okanagan, Montreal and Vancouver playing various gigs at wineries, for weddings and occasionally busking.
Loewen spoke with the Capital News to discuss what it means to be a gypsy jazz musician, and it doesn’t involve fortune telling.
Q: What is gypsy jazz?
A: Gypsy jazz is a style of music that started in France in the 1920s and ’30s by a guy named Django Reinhardt. He was a gypsy born in Belgium so he grew up playing music all his life and did the gypsy travelling thing. Django heard jazz coming from the states and decided he wanted to play it. He learned the style of music and put his own twist on it which is why it has a very European ethnic sound but it’s still jazz. They play it with this gypsy swing style.
Q: Are you a gypsy?
A: No, not at all.
Q: What drew you to this type of music?
A: I would say there’s two parts to it. The first is the swing of that style, especially with the acoustic guitar, the way it feels really gets into you. Also, Django was one of the first jazz guitarists who really improvised on his own. He just developed this crazy right-hand technique and had an incredible ear and he played all his solos with two fingers.
Q: Do you aspire to be like that?
A: That’s really amazing to me but that’s not my dream. It’s just the way he improvises that’s more amazing.
Q: Where is the best reception for gypsy jazz?
A: Definitely the Penticton farmer’s market. They love it and the setting is so perfect because you’re right on the lake and you have this fresh produce around; the music fits it so well. I play at quite a few wineries down there as well.
Q: What city do you play in the most?
A: I come to Kelowna mostly to busk. Mostly in Penticton and Vancouver.
Q: How did you get into playing this style?
A: I went to UBCO and graduated with a social sciences degree. And then I worked at UBC for a little while before travelling and went to school in Vancouver. Then I got accepted to a grad school at McGill. I lasted four months there and said ‘this is not for me. I can’t handle it. I hate it.’ So I quit. But being in Montreal and being exposed to the music, I had this romantic notion to start a busking jazz band. I started taking lessons from Canada’s most prominent gypsy jazz educator who lived two blocks away from me so I started taking lessons.
Q: Did you grow up around music?
A: I played classical piano since I was six and when I got into high school I got into punk and skate punk. In university I started listening to Jimi Hendrix and he was the first musician to make me want to learn guitar. I feel like Jimi and Django have a lot in common.
Q: Have you been a musician full time?
A: Yes, for two years.
Q: Is it difficult being a full-time musician?
A: I don’t have a 9 to 5, I don’t have a boss. I have stress of a different time, artists’ stress where you’re trying to get better all the time. But, I don’t think it’s been that hard. When I’m here I stay at my parents and when I’m in Montreal I stay there half the time. I just love to do it so much I don’t find it hard.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the future?
A: It’s hard to say, if I wanted to I could settle down here. It’s a full-time gig in the summer. But that’s if I want to stay here. I play with people all over the place but I don’t have a set group. We’ll see. I just want to keep playing and getting better.