When Christian Lange decided to play gypsy jazz, he didn't do it half way. He traveled to Romania to learn from musicians for whom the music came naturally.
"I studied Romanian for a full year before I went," says Lange. "My whole house was labeled with notes with the Romanian words for things ... I found a place on the Internet where I could watch the news in Romanian ... So, by the time I got there I could pretty much express my needs."
Lange is the co-founder and violinist with Swingbooty, a 7-piece Knoxville-based gypsy jazz group that has just released its debut album, "Hot Damn Them Peanuts." The group formed in mid-2012 when Lange, guitarist Sam Harding and flutist Sara Daniels began jamming for fun.
"Then it began to get serious," says Lange.
Drummer Garrit Tillman, rhythm guitarist Jake Smith and bassist Andrew Piarrot came on board. Vocalist Clint Farley was recruited for one song on the CD and has since joined as a full member.
"Many of us were friends and knew each other socially, but the passion we all share for gypsy jazz is what galvanized the group," says Lange.
For Lange's part, he says he grew up on rock but had "serial infatuations" with ska, punk and jazz. "And yes, you can play violin in all those styles of music," he adds.
His love for gypsy jazz led him to that Romania trip five years ago. He found an apartment in Bucharest, but he regularly explored the countryside, sometimes hitchhiking from place to place. He always took his violin and when he would play Romanians thought he was strange.
"They're very stand-offish at first," says Lange. "They don't let you in easily. They'd say, 'Why aren't you in Paris or somewhere? And why the hell are you playing our music?' "
He connected with a native guitarist named Vlad and by way of Vlad's very Romanian habit of going with the flow and Lange's very American habit of needing rules and deadlines, they managed to get some pretty good gigs.
"Vlad started booking shows, telling everyone about this 'very famous American violinist'," says Lange with a laugh.
He says Vlad never knew the details of a show, including the time they were supposed to be there, but that was in line with most everything in the country. Vlad simply told Lange "not to worry."
While Lange was stressing with a promoter the night that the duo was scheduled to perform an opening gig at the University of Art in Bucharest (the duo's last gig in the country), the show suddenly turned into a headlining spot when the scheduled headliner ended up stranded in Bulgaria.
"I was on stage with my back turned (tuning and setting up) and when I turn around there's 3,000 to 4,000 people in the audience. I said, 'Vlad, there must be 4,000 people out there!' He said, 'See, I told you everything would be fine!'"
Things are a little more predictable with Swingbooty, but maybe not stylistically.
Currently, Lange says he's deep into Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli with the Hot Club of France, Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats. However, other influences regularly show up. The group plans on opening its upcoming gig at Relix with a version of the Skatalites' song "Christine Keeler."
"I would like to do more ska just to liven things up," says Lange. "The beat of ska is surprisingly similar to the gypsy jazz beat. They both make you want to dance."
Everyone in the band, he says, comes up with their own parts and contribute pretty equally. "It's a very organic process," says Lange. "Everybody brings something to the table."
The band's fans are an eclectic group — everyone from people who have long been into acoustic swing and gypsy jazz to college kids to Widespread Panic fans. "Every show is like a party. We get spinners and (hula) hoopers and we throw out things into the audience, glow sticks, beach balls, whatever. I think we play best when our audience is having fun and interacts with us. It puts us in a great mood."
With: Honey Dutch
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25
Where: Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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