French jazz guitarist, known for adding music to Woody Allen films, appears in Chicago

French jazz guitarist, known for adding music to Woody Allen films, appears in Chicago

Stephane Wrembel, and his band, at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Friday, April 22, 2022. (Photo credit: Lawrence Hartmann)

Chicago received a much-needed shot in the arm on Friday night, April 22, at 8:00 p.m. when the Stephane Wrembel Quintet took the stage at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway.

Wrembel, one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the music of renowned Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, filled the storied room with his warm chords and mellow flavors. His band, including a second guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and a violinist, sometimes rocked Al Capone’s bar with a mélange that sounded a bit like jazz, rock n’ roll, and classical music all rolled into one delicious sound.

In addition to being an interpreter of Reinhardt, Wrembel is also a composer of original music. This is delightfully apparent in Woody Allen’s most recent film, “Rifkin’s Festival,” (2022), for which Wrembel wrote the entire score.

Wrembel also contributed music to the Allen films “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008), and “Midnight in Paris” (2011).

Music-loving Chicagoans, thirsty for good music and good drinks after two years of pandemic restrictions, started trickling into the Uptown bar on April 22 around 8:00 p.m., at the start of the Wrembel Quintet gig. By the end of the second set, the place, famously aglow in muted red and orange, was jam-packed with a crowd ready for a touch of European magic.

In a brief interview between sets, I asked Wrembel how he would describe his music.

“I can’t describe it,” he said. “It’s my music. I think it’s really hard to describe music. There are a few archetypes. But the rest is just music… (A) lot comes from the dream life. You don’t have to be asleep to be dreaming.”

Wrembel, 48, was born in Paris. He grew up in Fontainebleau, France, a town just southeast of the French capital. The guitarist currently lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, right outside of New York City, when he’s not delighting audiences around the world with his music.

In 2022, Wrembel and his band are scheduled to play in such disparate locales as California; Texas; Ohio; Quebec, Canada; and New York City.

The Romani people of Europe, also known as gypsies, seem to have played an important role in creating Wrembel’s sound. For instance, Django Reinhardt was of Romani-French heritage. And Wrembel learned to play guitar at gypsy campsites in the countryside of France.

I asked Wrembel what that was like, learning his instrument in these gypsy campsites.

“It’s really like entering a different world,” he said. “Like taking a journey to a different world. The gypsies have such a different way of life. They’re way closer to nature. And probably their humanity. Their minds are not all possessed by the Western corporate mind. Their minds are closer to the natural state of man.”

Finally, I asked Wrembel what it was like to work with the film director and writer Woody Allen.

First, he said, referring to Allen, “He was so organic.” Then, he continued, “My interactions with (Allen) and his team are very professional and humane. Everyone has been so professional. And that’s uncommon in (this) industry.”

“I love to work with Woody Allen,” Wrembel said.

“I know what he has,” he said. “He knows what I have. But there’s a bit of surprise there. When you choose to work with the right people, you let the flow happen.”

The Stephane Wrembel Quintet is scheduled to play tonight, April 23, 2022, from 8:00 p.m. to midnight, at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway, Chicago. This is the last scheduled date for the group at the Green Mill this spring. Cover charge is $20. Cash only.

Stephane Wrembel CD’s are available at the bar, or through the bar’s ace waitstaff.

Stephane Wrembel’s website is www.stephanewrembel.com.

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A long-term resident of Chicago’s Ravenswood area, Hartmann worked in reference publishing for 20 years. He was a researcher for “Who’s Who in America,” and was a longtime editor of a newsletter covering developments in the U.S. Congress. He’s currently working in directory publishing. He can be reached via e-mail at lawrencehartmann7@gmail.com.

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