What do you get when you combine the gypsy-jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt and the torchy-twangy mezzo delivery of Patsy Cline with a rowdy troupe of Romani-esque instrumentalists? The only correct answer would be the Bonaventure Quartet, an Atlanta-based confederation founded at the turn of the millennium by guitarist/composer Charles Williams.
The Bonaventure part of the group's moniker seems inclusive enough when considering the range of territory covered by the BVQ: le jazz hot and cool, Broadway show tunes, Latin noir, folk ballads, sea shanties, and the occasional twinge of rock 'n' roll. Actually, the name refers to the street on which Williams lived for 20 years in a house just a few table dances away from the Clermont Lounge. Williams' observations of the comings and goings at Atlanta's iconic strip joint inspired most of the 15 tracks onLost and Found at the Clermont Lounge. The music and the stories that each song tells resonate with the polished seductiveness of frontwoman Amy Pike's soothing voice, regardless of whether you've ever spotted a celebrity at the Clermont or watched Blondie crush a beer can between her breasts.
Lost and Found is derived from the score for a yet-to-be-staged theatrical production, which was scripted and composed by Williams and his wife, Lynne Dale, a former producer for "Dateline" with Diane Sawyer and ABC. The storyline focuses on a young girl from Macon who moves to Atlanta with dreams of becoming an artist. When fate intervenes, she ends up dancing at the Clermont Lounge. Our protagonist's lyrical journey is rendered captivatingly by Pike, who wowed audiences back in the days when she sang with Greasetrap and the Lost Continentals.
Recorded and mixed by Ken Gregory at his Atlanta studio, Lost and Found exudes the staged ambience of a theatrical production without compromising the beguiling nuances and sparkling instrumental flare of the individual songs. "The Clermont Lounge," a swinging up-tempo number, provides a riff-trading section for Williams and Marla Feeney to strut their instrumental stuff on acoustic guitar and violin, respectively. "Risqué" lays down a striptease vamp over which Pike intones the terms of engagement when the dancers are performing. Joel Morris' vibraphone lends just the right dusky hue to the intimate nothings exchanged in "The Things We Didn't Do." For "The Man with the Amazing Hair," Williams jaggedly saws an electric guitar in tandem with Don Erdman's lusty roadhouse tenor sax while Pike croons the lurid details that paint an amusing portrait of the type of sleazy character without which no self-respecting dive bar could rightfully assume the label.
Straying slightly from the album's theatrical premise, Lost and Found concludes with "Le Premier Anniversaire," an unabashedly romantic instrumental that regular fans of the BVQ will appreciate for its distinctly Reinhardt/Stéphane Grappelli orientation, which showcases Williams and Feeney along with Gabe Granitz on accordion, Dan Coy on rhythm guitar, bassist Mark Bynum, and drummer Joel Morris. Rounding out the instrumental cast are Herb Avery (piano) and Ken Gregory (trumpet/trombone/mellotron). Feeney is credited with all of the album's arrangements and orchestration for which she deserves major kudos.
The BVQ's previous release, The Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour, slots into the concept album category with its loosely themed songs about an eccentric bon vivant. Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge sharpens the strategy by depicting an artist's melancholic life in a series of lyrical vignettes, which rarely have been rendered with such sweetly scented ardor and empathetic candor.
Bonaventure Quartet: from gypsy jazz to Clermont Lounge and points between.
BY BOB TOWNSEND - FOR THE AJC 7/8/2013
The Bonaventure Quartet may be best known for its Django Reinhardt-influenced gypsy jazz sound, featuring the guitar virtuosity of Charles Williams and the vocal prowess of Amy Pike. Its new CD, “Songs From Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge,” is a theatrical bohemian rhapsody based in Reinhardt’s style. But the Atlanta combo’s roots and branches are mingled far and wide in rock, punk, avant-garde, western swing, folk, and popular standards. “It was Jimi Hendrix for me,” is how Williams, an Atlanta native and longtime guitar teacher and songwriter, described his first inspiration over a beer at Manuel’s Tavern one night. “When I was 16, I was listening to the radio with headphones, and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Ezy Rider’ came on. It just blew my mind, and I said, ‘I want to learn how to do that.’ ’’
Williams got a guitar and started teaching himself how to play blues and rock. Later, he decided to major in music, earning a degree in classical guitar from Georgia State, and becoming a founding member of an experimental jam band, the Aquarium Rescue Unit featuring Col. Bruce Hampton.
“At Georgia State, a guy loaned me a Django Reinhardt record,” Williams remembered. “It was the first non-rock thing I ever liked. What caught my ear was a song called ‘Daphne.’ Django uses octaves on that like Hendrix uses on ‘Purple Haze,’ so I recognized that right away.”
The Bonaventure Quartet grew from a guitar duo to a trio with a bass player and a quartet with Pike. Nowadays, though, there might be as many as 10 musicians on stage, with clarinet, violin, viola, accordion, flute, sax, trumpet, trombone and drums powering a swinging mix of sounds and soloists.
Pike and Williams have been playing together for 13 years. They first met when Williams sat in on guitar with Pike’s former Atlanta lounge-swing band, the Lost Continentals. Pike’s musical trip began playing a Casiotone keyboard in a teenage punk outfit called Daughter Damage. She got her start singing in Greasetrap, a gutsy country-folk duo. “We did a lot of older covers for a long time,” Pike said of the early days of the Bonaventure Quartet, “but we’ve been influenced by a lot of newer things, too, like Madeleine Peyroux, Amy Winehouse, Katzenjammer, Gogol Bordello.”
One thing that stands out as a real blast from the past is the guitar that Williams plays. It’s a reproduction of Reinhardt’s classic 1930s Selmer, crafted in Cognac, France, by famed luthier Maurice Dupont, and shipped to buyers all over the world with a bottle of cognac. “The original was designed in the days of no sound systems to cut through a band,” Williams said. “Everything about it is different. It’s sort of a collision between a flamenco guitar and a jazz archtop. It’s really fun to play. It has thin strings like an electric guitar, and when you hit a chord, it kind of distorts like that, too. I like classical, I like jazz, I like rock, and it’s got it all.”
Williams lived in a house on Bonaventure Avenue, across from the parking lot of the Clermont Lounge, when the Bonaventure Quartet was born. He would often perch on the front porch, playing music with Pike and other band mates until the wee hours of the morning, observing the goings-on at the Ponce de Leon landmark known for its aging strippers as well as celebrity visitors.
“Songs From Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge” was inspired by those days. But most of the story of a young woman from Macon who comes to Atlanta with the dream of becoming an artist, but winds up working at the Clermont, is pure imagination. And for Williams, the ultimate goal is to have his songs become part of a musical one day.
“When I write songs, I sort of separate that from my playing,” Williams said. “My thing has always been original music. The challenge is how do you write original music that works with the Django style? That’s been the trick. “On the new album, I wrote a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t exactly think would be consistent with that genre, because I wanted songs that would work as a musical. It’s a simple story of a heroic journey. And it takes place in the Clermont. But it’s not about any characters, living or dead. It’s just about a crazy place.”
Creative Loafing, September 2009 "The swaying, jazzy, Reinhardt/Grappelli-inspired music of the Bonaventure Quartet is a rare treat, and this group does an amazing job of capturing that era. With former Atlantan Amy Pike on vocals, this is a perfect combination" -James Kelly, Creative Loafing
Vintage Guitar Magazine, October 2008 "Only the Atlanta-based Bonaventure Quartet could concoct such a fascinating "concept album". Their Gypsy jazz is infused with humor and a dose of the bizarre, but that only adds to the band's able musicianship, featuring the guitars of Charles Williams and Dave Boling. This is a unique album, alive with vision, fun, and hot music." -Michael Dregni, Vintage Guitar, Oct 2008
Southeastern Performer Magazine, August 2008 The Bonaventure Quartet - The Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour Recorded at Ken Gregory Studios in Atlanta, GA | Produced by Charles Williams Engineered and mixed by Ken Gregory | Mastered by Alex Lowe "It never, ever, gets old hearing a band play music like The Bonaventure Quartet does on The Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour. The band’s blend of western swing and old time jazz played through a southern filter jumps in your pocket and puts a high-dollar sprint in your step. Like Christabel and the Jons or Miss Tess, The Bonaventure Quartet brings the unmistakable music of jazz clubs and cabarets of ages past beautifully to the present and in an unsullied light. The songs are steadfast and mysterious. They are sleek and sexy, smooth like honey spread on gold bars. Amy Pike’s vocals are celestial in a bawdy kind of way — sweet and sassy, delivering something both timeless and easy to swoon over. On “Henry and June” Pike coos and purrs when she sings lyrics like “They were the love of each other’s lives.” But just as the music on The Secret is from an era many will find fresh, yet it’s not without its own diversity. Note the Asian flavor lent to “Postcards” on its opening and during each break, the Mexicali flair of “Moonlight Falling” or the Henry Mancini strut of “Lily’s on the Prowl.” Don Erdman’s sax takes a wonderfully curious walk all over the track. His clarinet playing on “The World’s Greatest Lover” charms and the combination of Erdman and Pike recalls Carmen McRae’s “You Took Advantage of Me.” The music-only interludes on The Secret are like life’s playful moments, sweet pauses before strong emotions. This is a careful and cautious creation to be sure, but the band handles it deftly with uncanny inspiration. When not focused on cooking things up, The Secret moves casually along like a stroll on a weekday afternoon. Take “The Very Idea” or “Little World” which sound like the melodies echoing in the ears of new lovers or those taking the fall unknowingly. The Bonaventure Quartet takes care to swing you around in their arms and embrace you with the same soulful manner. (Château Debris Music)" www.thebonaventurequartet.com -Brian Tucker
Creative Loafing, July 9-15, 2008 Southeastern Performer Magazine August 2008 "The Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour is a velvety concept album cut from a different cloth than anything the Bonaventure Quartet has done before. The group straddles a baroque in-between area of smooth, continental jazz and secretly torchy tendencies for a release that is pure mood. Vocalist Amy Pike is as classy as she wants to be, as she gives a warm romantic hue to the album's subtler moments. Her moonlit croon carries a sense of innocence and allure to "The Scene of You", while bestowing "The World's Greates Lover" with a frolicsome air. There's no denying that it's an essential BVQ offering. It is it's most accomplished to work to date that uses shades of klezmer sounds and a gypsy jangle to add flavor to a timeless and tasteful jazz palette." Five stars! -Chad Radford
Creative Loafing, May 20-27, 2008 "The Bonaventure Quartet gives a breath of fresh air to classic jazz and swing sensibilities with a strong but elegant Gypsy flare. Django Reinhardt worship with a touch of camp gives BVQ's blend of ballroom jazz a subtle sense of humor"
The Atlanta Journal/Constitution, May 22 2008: "With the sultry, silky voice of former Lost Continentals front woman Amy Pike and the gypsy-jazz flavored guitar of Charles Williams, Bonaventure is a marvelous melting pot. They add Southern sass to the smokey jazz of Parisian cabarets between the world wars on their new album, "the Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour". -Shane Harrison.
Georgia Music Magazine, Spring Issue 2008 and INsite, April issue, 2008: The Bonaventure Quartet- The Secret Seduction of the Grand Pompadour (Self Released) Chances are you’ve never heard a band quite like the Bonaventure Quartet. Like the Squirrel Nut Zippers before them, the misnomered sextet is steeped in the old-time jazz your grandparents may well have listened to in their youth. But where that Carolina act tended to serve up Dixieland and Ragtime with a healthy dose of camp, the Bonaventure Quartet tackles Django Reinhardt’s Continental jazz with a warm sense of reverence that reeks of authenticity. The group began as an acoustic trio, but it’s hard to imagine them being this good without veteran vocalist Amy Pike, former frontwoman for swing band The Lost Continentals. The orchestral opening of “The March of the Grand Pompadour” showcases guitarist Charles Williams’ (a founding member of Aquarium Rescue Unit) classical compositional influences, but it’s when Pike’s rich vocals intertwine with Williams and Dave Boling’s strummed guitars and Don Erdman’s smooth clarinet on the frisky “The World’s Greatest Lover” that the album really comes alive. “The Scene Of You” proves the band can deliver a torch ballad with just as much personality as their swing, with Pike lamenting, “What can I say, you had it coming/What with the way you ran around/And who in the world could blame this sweet little girl/Besides, I didn’t leave any clues at the scene of you.” And so it goes throughout this fantastic 15-track LP, moving from gypsy-style jazz (“The Heat Below”) and Argentinian tango (“Moonlight Falling”) to klezmer influences (“Ou Est Pepe Lopez”) and sultry blues (“Lily’s On The Prowl”) with equal aplomb. Since each of these seasoned veterans seems to have their own side gigs, I’m guessing the Bonaventure Quartet doesn’t play out all that often. Which makes it all the more essential for jazz fans to catch them when they do. – BRET LOVE
Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz In this book, which will become one of the few academic resources on Django Reinhardt and the style of music he created, the Bonaventure Quartet has been profiled as one of the groups in America that is helping to keep this music vibrant!