interview with Angelo Debarre:
French Guitar Magazine #6 1998
By Fred Loiseau
Translated by Alain Cola
We're at the Hotel du Nord. I get out of my car, it is rainy, and I am in a bad mood. I go inside. The smoke is so thick; you can cut it with a knife. Then I hear a guitar sing: celestial phrasing, divine melodies, a touch as light as a feather. All this tests my curiosity. I get closer, swallow hard. In front of me is Angelo Debarre, playing guitar.
Angelo, thirty five years old, is a Manouche. He grew up in a fascinating musical universe. His parents played all kinds of musical instruments; his grand-father was a musician. In the caravans where he lived, there was always a guitar. That's all it took. At seven, Angelo found himself with a guitar. He taught himself how to play. He memorized and played everything that he heard. He progressed quickly, facilitated by his contacts with the musicians around him, in particular his uncle Jim. Louis Fays taught Angelo some rudiments so that he could accompany his son, Raphaël, who at fifteen was already a Master in the style. Their collaboration lasted a few months and Angelo progressed further. The guitar became his passion. He quit school at fourteen and became an "unemployed professional musician." For a few years he hung out at the clubs of Montmartre, the Chope des Puces, anywhere where his sensitivity took him.
In 1985, luck smiled upon him. He was hired to play at La Roue Fleurie, a small Parisian café managed by Serge Camps with an audience for Gypsy jazz. I mention luck because this meeting with Serge Camps was essential: Serge introduced him to the music of the Tziganes, the Russian, Rumanian and Hungarian folklore. To quote Jon Larsen, a witness of the time: "without knowing what was in store for us, we welcomed the musicians by our applause: Angelo Debarre, Serge Camps and Frank Anastasio, on guitars, Pierre Camps, Serge's father on the acoustic bass. All that in a décor of musical instruments, photographs, posters and the large and small mementos of a long life dedicated to music, which papered the walls and the ceiling - balalaïkas even in the bathrooms! "Jon Larsen, the head of Hot Club Records - a Norwegian label, was under the musician's spell and offered them a recording deal. Recorded as a trio, with Frank Anastasio on the acoustic bass, the album "Gypsy Guitars" was fabulous and catapulted Angelo Debarre amongst the Masters of the style. "Gypsy Guitars "is a cult album for the aficionados. On that album you can find pieces of bravura in different genres: some of Django's compositions, a waltz signed by Paul Tchan Tchou Vidal (La Gitane) and another by Fapy Lafertin (Valse a Bamboula), some Hungarian songs, some traditional compositions of Rumanian folklore and some jazz standards, like "Cherokee" or "After You've Gone"…an ambitious program.
After the Roue Fleurie closed its doors, the neighbors complaining about the noisy applause, Angelo worked in most of the Russian restaurants in Paris, where he met the great Petro Yvanovich (Yugoslav Tzigane), Master of the balalaïka played with a pick. This technique impressed Angelo so much that he decided to work at it for some time. During these years, Angelo participated in several recordings: "Portrait of Django" (Hot Club Records) and the album of Hot Club of Norway: "La Roue Fleurie".
The creation of a new label, Hot Club Records/France, under Pascal de Loutchek in partnership with Jon Larsen, allowed Angelo to record a much anticipated new album. This album was released at the end of March 1998. Along with Angelo came his loyal sidemen: Doudou Cuillerier and Max Robin on guitars, Bernard Maladain on bass, Bojan Zulfikarpasic at the piano, Xavier Dessandre on percussions and Florin Nicaulescu on violin. On this album the titles were divided between Django's compositions and those of Angelo, which he conceived for piano and percussion. "I have composed these new titles with a precise idea of the arrangements. I find that it is always interesting to enrich the music. For the purists I kept the basis of the quartet, three guitars and a double bass. The release date coincide with that of the third album of Arbat in which I play, as well as an album of Jimmy Rosenberg, which will offer some titles in trio: Jimmy, Bireli Lagrene and myself. In March, I also will record in Germany with the group Bratsch." During that period, Angelo also played on one title on Romane's new album.
ONE MORE FINGER
To describe the playing style of Angelo Debarre is simple and complex at the same time. Simple, because it comes straight from Django Reinhardt's legacy. I suspect, because I have heard him do some of them, that he has memorized many of Django's solos. Complex, because his technique is phenomenal and very personal. What strikes me first is the permanent use of the small finger of the left hand, whereas in this style, most guitarists play with three fingers. The strength of his left hand is impressive, as for his right hand it is quite simply unreal. His comping is powerful and harmonically rich; he has mastered all the possible voicing. When improvising, he is at his best. Angelo's solos are impressive with virtuosity and timing. He is always surprising and takes enormous risks without ever failing, something that for us other earthy guitarists, is totally irritating. In his harmonic meanderings he is in complete command of his use of triads and diminished arpeggios. What also surprises, when one sees him playing, is the formidable vitality which animates him. Angelo is a "killer," he doesn't waste any time and comes to the point rather quickly in his solos. In conclusion, I will say that Angelo Debarre is certainly one of the best representatives of jazz manouche on the acoustic guitar.
DIALOGUE WITH THE ANGELO
"Are you a jazz musician? "
No, I am just a musician who plays many different things. As a youngster, I did much listening of Django, who was a great jazzman, and Bireli Lagrene, who I found promising. Like many Manouche musicians, I also have lent an attentive ear to Brazilian music and, through Charlie Parker, I discovered Be Bop. I did not learn how to play Be Bop. I like it, but I don't play in that style. I learned two or three tunes for my pleasure, but I do not feel like a "Bopper". It is necessary to do what one can do best to play a style correctly, it is necessary to invest yourself completely. I will say quite simply that I am a swing musician.
"And the gypsy music? "
I love it! I consider it "my music". What I mean is that this music is in my blood, in my roots: my grand-mother was a Russian Tzigane. I first studied the music of Django. Gypsy music came much later when I met Serge Camps at La Roue Fleurie. I have invested much less time to assimilate the gypsy music than the music of Django. The gypsy music is full of sensitivity, of nuances, but it is not very difficult to play, it is enough to be....sensitive. It is true that certain songs require a good technical level, but it is not more difficult to play than any other music, it is enough to feel it. It is not a music which is played with the head, it is played with the heart. There are no scores: you start with a theme and find yourself on something else, progressively the music evolves. There are codes, references, "landmarks," modes. It is a modal system and the pieces have the same structure of that in jazz, verse, theme, and chorus. It is a free music, with much space. It is this freedom which I like. This music is the history of many people and when it is played, it becomes somebody's history. Needless to say that it changes according to the musician who interprets it. It is for this reason that I only play gypsy music with qualified musicians in this style. I try not to mix Jazz Manouche and gypsy music, they are two completely different things. I never mix them in a show. I reserve myself the choice to be a purist and I am proud of it. I would like very much to play some Tzigane themes in a forthcoming recording.
IS IT NECESSARY TO BELIEVE IN SANTA CLAUS?
"Do you practice your guitar much? "
I never practice the guitar, I do not have the time. Brother, I have other things to do!
"the arch top guitar? "
The arch top guitar is very nice. I would like very much to play one more often, but for that it is necessary to put together three elements: an arch top guitar, an amplifier and electricity! (Angelo lives with his family in a caravan). My inclination is to play an acoustic guitar. Currently, I play on an Anastasio made in 1990, which sounds very good. At the Hotel du Nord, I use a Stimer pickup. I cannot afford an electro-acoustic system of quality. I would like to find a "sugar daddy" luthier sponsor who would trust me! I know that in France one finds excellent guitars.
"Do you give lessons? "
Well, for the moment I only have one pupil. He is lazy, undisciplined, never works and I have enough worries about him. It is me!
To finish I couldn't resist interviewing Angelo's friend, his favorite rhythm guitarist : Doudou Cuillerier:
I have known Angelo for a very long time and yet, each time he plays, he surprises me. Mother nature has given him incredible ears: he hears everything. Angelo is very attuned to Rumanian gypsy music. He loves the violin, the cimbalom, the accordion. You play something to him by Tony Lordache, the master of the cimbalom, he falls over! I think that his encounter with Petro Ivanovich towards the end of the Eighties, was very important for him, and the technique of the balalaïka marked him profoundly. He certainly integrated something in his technique after his contact with Petro. These encounters are what made him evolve, he owes to them the richness of his playing.