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Thursday, May 23, 2024
midwest gypsy swing fest
Courtesy of Gian Compuesto

Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest blends local, international talent

Gypsy swing jazz’s energetic style inspires community within Madison

The energetic rhythms and peppy vocals that characterize gypsy swing jazz filled the vaulted ceilings of Garver Feed Mill on Jan. 27, showcasing the variety of talent available in Madison and internationally. 

The performance was one of many as the Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest makes its way through the United States, providing audiences with an intimate and lively chance to connect with gypsy jazz. The music genre blends local American music forms with international twists, altogether creating an atmosphere of community.

The exhibition at Garver Feed Mill, located on Madison’s east side, featured three gypsy swing jazz groups, each with a distinct sound that fit neatly in the pocket of gypsy swing jazz’s guitar-based, folksy rhythms. Of the three groups, only Harmonious Wail, made up of vocalist Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, mandolin player Sims Delaney-Potthoff and bassist Pete Olig, were local. The other artists, Leïla Duclos and Robin Nolan, hail from France and the Netherlands, respectively.

The unique combination of international and local takes on gypsy swing jazz illustrated the beauty of the music style. It also exhibited the emphasis gypsy swing jazz places on improvisation or different styles to create refreshing takes on classic hits.

Harmonious Wail kicked off the evening with their plucky, upbeat sound, reminiscent of Tom Sawyer strolling through sun-kissed fields of wheat, barefoot near a lively creek, filled with the clear, crisp vocals of Maggie Delaney-Potthoff. Their performance stood out for its syncopation and movement stemming from a grounding bass line and bright mandolin melodies. Their rendition of gypsy swing dance fed off the crowd’s energy, growing in intensity and excitement.

While Delaney-Potthoff’s vocals made audience members lean into every word, the next performer, Robin Nolan, was more subdued and demanded their deep focus.

His guitar’s melodies still contained the youthful, classic sound of gypsy swing jazz but felt more seductive. He didn’t sing, instead letting his guitar speak for itself. During his set, Nolan said the Beatles were a big influence on his career, which was felt in his jazz-injected interpretations of Beatles classics and through his other stylistic choices. 

Nolan’s syncopation was not as intense as other jazz artists and was more like classic rock. Still, he took a specific theme on the guitar and carried it through to the end. 

Even though he was playing with a new house band, his versatility made the overall performance feel like these musicians had been playing together since the start of their careers. They were able to feed off each other’s musical energy and change the pace or vibe of a song with a single head nod or chord progression.

Later in the night, Garver Feed Mill’s incandescent lighting transitioned into the streetlights of Paris as Leïla Duclos charmed the audience with her youthful voice. A Paris native, her musicality was energetic and bubbly, a reflection of her personality. With original songs inspired by art and her family, she provided a good contrast to Nolan’s contemplative interpretation of gypsy swing jazz.

Her scatting — a common vocal improvisation in all forms of jazz — grabbed the audience’s attention and held it. Her songs flowed into one another while still offering something unique.

To close out the night, the Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest combined all three artists and illustrated the value of cooperation within music. While all three performers had different styles, they came together to create a cohesive ending with the same rhythms, patterns and iconic sounds of gypsy swing jazz.

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Such a feat proved music’s community-building possibilities, as all three styles simply co-existed to create something special. 

The Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest may be leaving Madison, but its artists’ positive energy and inspiring performance will continue to echo throughout the city as it patiently anticipates their return.

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