(photo by Michael Weintrob)
(photo by Scott Berstein)
He has headlined at Lincoln Center, played major festivals, recorded with mandolin legend David Grisman, toured with master violinist Mark O'Connor and shared stages with everyone from Elvis Costello to Patti Smith to The Roots. The Gitane guitar company has even named a model after him.
Rolling Stone has called him "a revelation". Woody Allen recruited him to score the theme for the smash film Midnight in Paris, and he performed his original song "Bistro Fada" live during the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony.
To say that French-born guitarist/composer Stephane Wrembelwho learned his craft among the Gypsies at campsites in the French countrysidehas already had a remarkable career would be an understatement. This Brooklyn based virtuoso, has truly just begun to make his mark as one of the most original guitar voices in contemporary music.
This winter, Stephane Wrembel delivers Dreamers of Dreams, his seventh and most highly anticipated release yet. The album is a follow-up to his previous album Origins, and is a musical documentation of the band's own worldwide experiences.
Dreamers of Dreams, which Wrembel recorded with bassist Dave Speranza, rhythm guitarist Roy Williams and drummer Nick Anderson finds the multifaceted musician channeling all of his musical influences, and blending them with his experiences in Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America and the US to create an image provoking musical adventure into the realm of dreams.
Wrembel has been leaving audiences spellbound with his high-energy improvisations and an unparalleled level of virtuosity for over a decade. His ability to meld traditional Gypsy Jazz with world and rock elements has given way to a genre only identifiable as Stephane Wrembel. He finds the space where Django Reinhardt meets Pink Floyd on a path laid by John Coltrane.
"I just play my own music," he says. "I like to believe that it is beyond any one genre and that there is something in it for everyone. It's not only for the rock lover, or for the Django or jazz lover. It's for the music lover." Indeed, Dreamers of Dreams is the most sophisticated representation to date of Wrembel's superior compositional skills.
Born in Paris and raised in Fontainebleau, the home of Impressionism and Django, Wrembel first studied classical piano at the age of four. "My teacher played with many renowned musicians," he says. "She was very old school but she taught me how to interpret and how to make a phrase from beginning to end. My entire classical training from ages 4 to 16 was about how to interpret."
In his mid-teens, Wrembel discovered that he had an affinity for guitar. "I started practicing very intensely," he says. "I was a big Pink Floyd fan; that remains my favorite music. I spent hours learning David Gilmour's style. When I was 17 I decided to become a professional musician. I knew I had to practice 18 hours a day and after I got my high school diploma I decided that's what I was going to do. I had a classical background, a passion for rock music, and then I found out about Django. I fell in love with the very strong Impressionist feel in his music."
To further his knowledge of music overall, and to gain experience, Wrembel immersed himself in the Gypsy culture. "When I first started going to the camps I learned that music is not only the notes," he says. "There is an atmosphere to it. So by going there I started learning the atmosphere of what it really means to play Sinti style guitar. In the camps you play all day long, nonstop. You don't learn technical things. The culture doesn't use names for things; they just practice melody. By playing and playing and playing you get into a trance. The music just comes by itself."
As he progressed as a player, Wrembel knew where he wanted to be in order to surround himself with expert, forward-thinking players. He enrolled in Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2000, graduated summa cum laude two years later and moved to New York in 2003. Now the big question was how to make a living doing what he loved. "Most musicians arrive in New York and they look for a job to make money," he says. "But then they don't have time to practice and they have to depend on something external for money. I arrived with no money and I said, 'I have to find money right now. How do I do it?' I called every single restaurant and club in New York. I went to every place with my rhythm player. We sat with the owners, talked, and played guitar. Then we'd get the gig."
Before long, word of this remarkable European transplant began spreading among fellow musicians and denizens of the teeming New York music scene. Reviewing his 2002 debut album, Introducing Stephane Wrembel, Vintage Guitar magazine praised the recording as "pure dazzle and dash, a stunning storm of notes that blankets the melody in a rain of arpeggiated notes." Gypsy Rumble, released in 2005 with David Grisman among its guests, and the following year's Barbes-Brooklyn, also found favor with critics. Time Out New York wrote that the latter "shows off Wrembel's limber chops in a variety of settings, including ebullient French Gypsy swing, moody ballads, sultry raga-influenced numbers and a lithe cover of Mongo Santamaria's 'Afro Blue.'" Woody Allen used one of the album's tracks, "Big Brother," in his 2008 film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Wrembel's fourth album, Terre Des Hommes, was released the same year.
In addition to making a splash with his recordings, Wrembel has dazzled audiences at such major gatherings as the High Sierra Music Festival, the Berkshire Mountain Festival, Whistler International Music Festival and many others, as well as at Lincoln Center. He also created his own event, the annual Django A Go-Go Festival, where he and others influenced by Reinhardt celebrate the Sinti guitar style
Originally from Scranton, PA, multi-instrumentalist Roy Williams is fluid on the acoustic and electric guitars, piano, mandolin, and bass, and currently serves as Stephane’s rhythm guitarist.
Kells Nollenberger, originally from Duluth, MN, plays double bass and resides in Brooklyn, NY. He has been an active performer in the Chicago, Colorado, and New York music scenes with extensive classical and jazz training.
Born in San Diego, California, Nick Anderson began playing music on violin at age 8. By 11 years old, he started playing drums and in one year was performing with local punk bands. Through his teens he continued playing in the SD punk scene and, developed a strong interest in Jamaican ska and reggae music from the late 50's through the late 60's and beyond. By hearing the horn sections playing melodies and improvising and reading in liner notes how Jamaican ska musicians were influenced by jazz musicians from the states, Nick started discovering the music of Charlie Parker and of John Coltrane.
At age 20, he enrolled at Berklee College of Music where he studied with drummer John Ramsay. After Berklee, Nick moved to New York where he obtained his master's degree from NYU. While at NYU, he studied and/or performed with George Garzone, Wayne Krantz, Jean-Michel Pilc, Kenny Werner, John Scofield, and Joe Lovano.
Nick currently resides in Brooklyn and is active on the NYC jazz/improv scene with appearances at clubs such as: Blue Note, Smalls, 55 bar, Dizzy's, Barbes, the Stone, and many others. Nationally and internationally, he has appeared at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, JVC Jazz Festival, Marciac Jazz Festival (France), in Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, and various venues across the U.S.