When La Pompe Jazz's singer and guitarist David Lawrence first started learning how to play gypsy jazz, he had to break some old picking habits. Lawrence, who had spent many years playing the blues, essentially relearned how to attack the strings with his picking hand. For nearly two years, he’d sit in his room just focusing on hitting the strings with force and properly building up speed and tonal quality.
Lawrence says that with gypsy jazz, it’s not so much the notes you play as it is how you play them. When he originally formed La Pompe Jazz with guitarist Andrew Hannum and bassist Kevin Laxar in 2013 (violinist Erik Fellenstein joined a year later), it was a way to learn the gypsy-jazz style that Django Reinhardt pioneered in the ’40s.
“This style is very kind of codified,” Lawrence says. “There are specific ways to play the rhythm guitar. Everything is very specific. How you strike the strings. All the lines.”
Lawrence and Hannum even have vintage French guitars from the ’40s and ’50s that were typical to those used in gypsy jazz. When they first started, they were really trying to learn the style and how to play it as authentically as they could.
“I think we came to the realization that we’re not gypsies,” Lawrence says. “We’re not Django Reinhardt. We’re not going to be able to play this music exactly how it was played in the ’40s, and we all have so many creative juices going on and different things that we want to bring to the music. So we were just hearing different things and then would kind of bring them to the table.”
Using gypsy jazz as something of a backbone to build on, the group members started injecting some of their own musical personalities into the mix. Lawrence, who spent close to six years listening exclusively to blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and BB King, says the blues is still a huge part of his playing. And the classically trained Fellenstein, who's also fluent in bluegrass, incorporates both genres into his solos.
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While the guys in La Pompe Jazz do their share of classic gypsy-jazz songs, American jazz standards and French tunes in the live setting, they also write their own original material. The band’s new three-song EP of originals, LPJ, which will drop at Dazzle on Wednesday, December 13, shows that these musicians know their way around gypsy jazz ( “Love Letter"), the blues ("Railroad Track") and bouncing, energetic swing (“Jersey [Ain't Going Back]").
After 3dB Studio awarded La Pompe Jazz studio recording time as part of its Producer’s Choice award at this year’s Westword Music Showcase, the band was able to cut the new EP — a followup to the full-length Lush, which was released last January — as well as a bonus track that will be released later.
Although Lawrence shows off some accomplished guitar playing on LPJ, he says he is still very much a student of gypsy jazz, adding, “They say in gypsy jazz, the first five years are the hardest."
La Pompe Jazz EP-release, 7 p.m. December 13, Dazzle, 303-839-5100, $15.