Ragwax Brings Gypsy Jazz and More To Meaford Next Friday

When Meaford gathers next Friday, July 21, for the next in the summer concert series, the opening act for HigherFunktion will be a unique young performer who goes by the name of Ragwax.  He’s been in Meaford once before, playing at The Red Door, and while he’ll be doing just a few songs before the headliner takes the stage in the Market Square, people can catch him after the outdoor concert across the street  at The Leeky Canoe, where he will be entertaining for the remainder of the evening.

Ragwax brings a fresh voice to an old style of music that never ages, the early hot jazz that was popularized by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli  in the 1930’s at The Hot Club in Paris.  This “gypsy jazz” (Reinhardt was Romani) combined the jumping flavour of New Orleans filtered through Reinhardt’s gypsy style guitar work (think Gypsy Kings) with the big band swing music popularized by bands like Benny Goodman and interpreted by Stéphane Grappelli  on violin.  The resulting hybrid is exciting enough to get anyone jumping.  We have our own heroes of gypsy jazz in this area in The Huronia Hotstrings, who played a concert earlier this week in Collingwood.

In Toronto this distinct sound is represented by a band called Club Django which has been on the Toronto jazz scene for over 18 years and is the city’s longest-running, gypsy swing band.  A few months ago Ragwax recorded three originals and two covers with this band, which has yet to be released.

Abbey Sholzberg is my main man,” he says, referring to that group’s double bass player.  He also benefitted from the talents of Leslie Knowles, who is not only a first violinist for the Toronto Symphony but is a respected bluegrass player, actor and teacher.  Ragwax is in good company.

But what sets him apart from others who reproduce this style of music is that, rather than trying to emulate the authentic sound (as Brendan Stephens of The Vaudevillian does so convincingly) is that he brings a rock and roll sensibility to his performance.  That is a reflection of the fact that he played in rock bands before discovering the music of Django Reinhardt.

“People always ask me how I got into this music,” he says, and I tell them I didn’t really get into it, it got into me.”  He was inspired by how much fun it is.  “I like the early jazz, designed to make people party.  People think of jazz as almost a snobby thing, about wine and cheese parties, music for musicians, but this isn’t that.  I like big band swing.

“If you want to hear jazz, you typically need to go to a jazz club, but I like to take it to other venues.  Most bars have bands that play classic rock and Top 40 and I figure if you want to hear that you can turn on the radio.  I like to bring something different.  The way I look when I walk in, people don’t know what to expect, but it turns out they like it.

“Jazz is great because I can make it my own.”

And he does.  His repertoire doesn’t stop at jazz, but also ranges into rockabilly and doo-wop.  He likes music that makes you feel good.

And with that, still early in his career, he’s trying to sort out how he wants to present himself on recordings.

“I want to get back in to the studio as soon as possible,” he says, “I find I’m getting some momentum with Ragwax and I want to expand that under the same name.  I’m trying to find a way to unify my voice and my name.”

And while he works that out, the one unifying factor of his live performances is that he entertains with some of the best party music ever created, done in his own style.

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