just one year ago in June at the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti. At the reins is guitarist Joe Summers, leading this caravan inspired by Europe's most famous Gypsy, Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt, along with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, formed the profoundly influential Quintet of the Hot Club of France in the 1930s.
Although primarily self taught, Summers has great technical virtuosity, lightning-quick finger execution, and a hand-fret stretch nothing short of jaw-dropping. He admits to one year of formal instruction with Detroit-based jazz pro Bob Richter: "He was my only formal teacher and actually saw Django play in Europe during World War II." But Summers also drew inspiration from local guitarist Hugh Nicks. "Mr. Nicks played mostly rhythm, but he knew his changes and could lay down a groove you would not believe. He was the real deal and could be pretty intimidating. I could fake out my punk friends, but I couldn't fool him. I must have been about thirteen when he surprised me with an invitation to a jam session. It was quite an evening in old Ypsilanti, long ago, and I count it as one of the high points of my life. At that session was the great Jack Molete — he went on to play with Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, and Ernest Tubb — and thumb-style wizard Jerry Duncan. These guys were first-rate pros, and I owe a lot to them."
Summers's music has a multilayered complexity, and his improvisation skills are otherworldly. This gypsy is part swing, part bebop, part something else. He lures and breaks hearts with "Tears," "Blue Drag," and "Nuages," and brings it uptown with "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Lady Be Good."