FEATURE: Daniel John Martin - (at Pizza Express Dean Street with ‘Romane’ on 25 February 2018)

Daniel John Martin and Romane
Photo Credit: Didier Portal

Renowned violinist DANIEL JOHN MARTIN is making two special appearances in the UK in February alongside his lifelong friend and guitarist extraordinaire ‘Romane’. Leah Williams speaks to him on a cross-Channel call to find out all about this duo’s upcoming gigs.

Born just outside Manchester to a British mother and French father, followed by formative years in Africa (Senegal and then South Africa), and finally settling in Paris in his late teens, Daniel John Martin knows more than a little about the nomadic life. Was this what eventually drew his destiny to the gypsy jazz music founded by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in the 1930s, or was it simply a natural path taken with the instrument he readily confesses he is “totally mad about”? Per-haps a little of both. But first, Daniel hastens to point out, there really is no such thing as ‘gypsy jazz’.

“The term ‘gypsy jazz’ has been popularised and we use it because it’s well known but, in reality, the music that Django Reinhardt and others were making was so much more than any narrowed term. I think Reinhardt is comparable to someone like Thelonius Monk; his music was ahead of its time and its legacy still is in many ways. He was a jazz man first and foremost who found a way to express himself and his desire for liberty in a new and refreshing way,” says Daniel.

Of course, the fact that he was a gypsy, from the Manouche clan (a reason ‘gypsy jazz’ is also sometimes referred to as ‘Manouche jazz’), would have naturally influenced his playing and his music now forms a part of the rightly-proud gypsy community’s identity. However, as Daniel points out, it’s still “just jazz” and doesn’t need to be limited by any other label.

Starting on the violin aged six in South Africa, Daniel has nurtured a lifelong obsession with the in-strument, admitting that when he’s not practising, he can often be found hanging out with modern luthiers learning more about the violin’s workings and anything new on offer: “I love playing on modern instruments and staying up to date with everything that’s available to push the boundaries of the sound. It’s why I’m such a fan of the Wittner fine-tune pegs and other accessories that allow me the freedom to do this.”

This desire to explore every aspect of the violin’s capabilities is perhaps one of the reasons he fell so hard for jazz and the ‘gypsy jazz’ style in particular. When he was first introduced to it as a young violinist in Paris, being taken to gypsy camps all over France by young gypsy friends from the Mayer, Weiss and Reinhardt families, he was simply whisked away by this sound that opened up so many possibilities for him and his fiddle.

“Jazz is like a virus really and once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it! It’s a very complex musical form that I find represents life especially well. It has a lot to do with ego; you’re always expressing yourself instead of at the mercy of someone else’s will, which is great but also brings its own com-plications. You’ve got to remember to share, share the music and the emotions with the audience and your fellow musicians.”

During this early jazz awakening was also when he met ‘Romane’, now one of the world’s foremost guitarists flying the flag for this style of jazz and with whom he has been dear friends and musical comrades ever since.

“Romane and I started out playing as a duo on a boat on the Seine. We would just jam and play for hours on end; it was a very happy period of my youth,” Daniel remembers fondly. “He really is one of my favourite people to play with. His ears are always wide open; he really listens, is very calm and never overbearing, giving everyone space.”

The duo have been invited to showcase their special partnership at the Liverpool Philharmonic on 24 February and, luckily for us, they’ve decided to come to London the following night. Audiences can expect to hear some Django Reinhardt favourites, of course, but also a wide array of other jazz standards and perhaps even some originals.

Citing Coltrane’s Giant Steps, amongst others, as another strong influence, Daniel emphasises again that ‘gypsy jazz’ is part of the wider jazz repertoire and that it’s not just the recognisable tunes that can benefit from its stylings: “It’s not so much about the notes themselves as the orchestral formula and the intrinsic sound of the music. Within that, we love to just play our instruments and find ways of integrating modern harmony and other influences into this form.”

Daniel John Martin and Romane will be joined at Pizza Express on 25 February 2018 at 8pm by Andy Crowdy on bass and Ducato Piotrowski on guitar. (pp)

LINK: To buy tickets, head to the Pizza Express website: Pizza Express

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