Velvet Caravan, Savannah’s beloved Gypsy Jazz Swing band, are going to help audiences recover from too much turkey and Christmas shopping when they perform at Victory North for the first time on Black Friday, Nov. 29.
Fans already familiar with Velvet Caravan’s unconventional and playful take on Django Reinhardt — a Gypsy stew spiced with Latin and Honky Tonk flavors — are in for a surprise because the band are entering a new phase, pushing their music in exciting new directions, and debuting their new sounds in Savannah before they strike out across the country. “We’ve had a show for the past three years that we’ve been taking on the road and it’s been very successful,” said violinist Ricardo Ochoa, co-founder of Velvet Caravan. “It not only tells a story of ourselves, but the story of the music that we play...it tells people about what we do which is very unusual.”Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and Dine newsletters
“Now this show is beyond that...The old show was about where we came from. ‘This is Django Reinhardt. This is the music we like to play. This is Gypsy Jazz and Latin Music and Honkey Tonk.’ Now what we’re doing is running with all those influences and really putting it in a new way of forming music. We’re getting away from labeling, and focusing on a cool sound, a new Velvet Caravan sound.”
Velvet Caravan were never a traditional Gypsy band and that is part of their appeal. Their immense popularity can be attributed to the varied personalities and nationalities of the bandmates, and their exciting approach to jazz. “We’re criticized because we’re not a typical Django Reinhardt group because of elements we have like percussion and piano,” said Ochoa. “We’re not a jazz group either. If you look at us, we’re not really jazz players but every year we win best jazz group in Savannah.”
“We spice things up with what ever we feel like and our personalities come through. We’re really focusing on that now — bringing our personalities, our characters into the music a lot more.”
Two ingredients that have led to the shift in Velvet Caravan’s sound is the addition of drummer Vuc Pavlovic and guitarist Ken Allday. The band used to rely on Latin percussion like cajón to drive the music, but Pavlovic now provides “funky beats” that encourage listeners to get up and dance. And Allday’s approach to guitarbrings new forms to the music that create space for the other players to stretch out.
“He’s a great Gypsy Jazz guitarist, but he uses a lot of different influences,” said Ochoa of Allday. “One of his main influences is the jam band world. He’s a big fan of Grateful Dead and Phish. The way he combines all these creative elements with the traditional Gypsy music is very cool. He is definitely an amazing source of colors and lines that we haven’t had before. Even the old songs are changing and have a new vibe.”
Velvet Caravan are not necessarily becoming a jam band — don’t expect to see them playing for hippies and college students at outdoor festivals — but the new music can certainly be described as Django by-way-of Jerry Garcia. As Ochoa pointed out, Jerry Garcia was a big fan of Django Reinhardt, so the combination is not unprecedented.
“We’re rooted on the Gypsy element, which is a sentiment, but now we’re bringing modern flavor, horizontal lines that intertwine with each other and getting away from your typical jazz solo to a preconceived section where the band is interacting with one another,” said Ochoa. “There are now sections in the tunes that feel like a jam session. There are more transitions, more sonorities and beautiful moments, more than, ‘Wow, listen to that solo. That was amazing.’ We still got those elements, they are very important,..but we’re trying to elevate the band all around as as a group.”
“We’re surprising ourselves with what’s coming out and we’re definitely enjoying it because it’s really outside the box. We might be playing a Django tune, but it definitely doesn’t sound like Django.”