Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

A Gypsy Jazz Journey

Brian Torff looks back on collaborating with legends



Torff strums away on his bass, practicing some new music in his Fairfield University office.

Photo by Ryan Lavine

Perched on a shelf of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in Brian Torff’s office at Fairfield University and surrounded by an extensive collection of CDs and books are two photos. Together, they suggest that Torff is a good deal more than a longtime popular music educator at Fairfield, and a noted national authority on the Gypsy jazz of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, who influenced such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and BB King. Torff is also a jazz bassist himself who—in the course of the past four decades—has played some of the world’s largest stages with an array of important musicians, including the great jazz pianists Erroll Garner and George Shearing and celebrated bandleader Benny Goodman.

The first photo, from 1986, depicts Torff onstage at Carnegie Hall beside the pre-eminent jazz vocalist Frank Sinatra. It’s an encounter that, to this day, Torff remembers with a sense of happy astonishment. In the second image, a decidedly younger looking Torff—with shaggy dark hair and a well-kept beard, at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1977, is standing next to a musician who would have a profound effect on the trajectory of Torff’s career.

Though he was in the twilight of his career when the photo was taken, renowned French musician Stephane Grappelli had lost none of his virtuosity. Grappelli, a pioneering violinist in his own right, was also a major early artistic collaborator of Reinhardt, with whom he formed a band known as the Hot Club Quintet. He would function as the young Torff’s entree into the fascinating world of Reinhardt and Gypsy jazz.

“Django was so far ahead of his time as a guitarist. He was really the first to be able to play fluent solos, not just chords. Jazz guitar was usually a background instrument because it wasn’t loud enough, it couldn’t compete with drums and horns,” says Torff from his office in a recent interview. “Once you heard his recordings, you realized there’s a whole language that this guy is playing on guitar that no one had really heard before.”

On the road with Grappelli, Torff began to learn that complex language. “Django and Stephane are the first European jazz musicians to find their own voice. They took the American form and did their own thing with it,” Torff explains. “Now people are taking jazz all over the world. But they were really the first to say it’s not just American music, it’s a universal music.”

Torff’s involvement with Grappelli led to a lifelong fascination with Reinhardt. 

Beginning in 2002, Torff served as musical director of the Django Reinhardt New York Festival and played with the Django Reinhardt All Stars, a group that reinterpreted the fast fingerpicking and “hot swing” of the legend in a modern context. 

Torff credits his passion for music to his upbringing. During his childhood in the early 1960s in a Chicago suburb, his father, a lawyer, would play everything from opera to jazz to classical on their home stereo. As a teen, by which point he had dabbled with piano and guitar and had dedicated himself to bass, Torff became transfixed by rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Cream, as well as bands fusing rock and jazz, like Chicago and Weather Report, which opened Torff’s eyes to the freedom of playing jazz. “Jazz was like another world. It opened up all sorts of possibilities for me in music,” Torff says. Indeed it did. By the age of 20, Torff had played his first show at Carnegie Hall. Barely a year later, he was touring with Grappelli.

“There’s nothing like playing with the source. It’s one thing to play Muddy Waters’ tunes, but it’s not the same as playing with Muddy Waters,” Torff says of the early thrill of performing with Grappelli. “He was the first guy I worked with in the Django style. And who better to work with than the guy who was there, the guy who helped create it?”

Though Torff left the Django-festival directorship in 2015 to focus on other artistic projects, the influence of the “hot club style” associated with Reinhardt and Grappelli persists in his playing.


IN THE ARENA  Brian Torff spends his days in front of a Fairfield U classroom, and many nights jamming with top jazz musicians. 

Add your comment:

Connect With Us

               

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

TownVibe Green Awards 2018

Fairfield Out & About - May/June

Inner Artist

Places for adults to express themselves in the Fairfield area

Warmer, Safer, Drier

Fairfield Fixer-Uppers in West Virginia––Senior Pilgrim Fellowship

Art: Tropical Waters

Artist Katy Ferrarone is inspired by nature and the sea

Profiles

Your Guides to Leading Local Professionals

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

April 2018

Earth Day with The Wildlife Line FREE admission ~ You’re invited, to come and celebrate ( : Sunday April 22nd, from 11-4, at beautiful Harrybrooke Park, in New Milford, CT. Live...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Harrybrooke Park
100 Still River Drive
New Milford, CT  06776
View map »


Sponsor: Harrybrooke Park
Telephone: 860-799-6520
Contact Name: Billy Buckbee
Website »

More information

Registration Closes: Friday, April 13th Jenna graduated from F.I.T with a degree in Fashion Design. She started her career working for the high-end Accessory Brand, Isabella Fiore and later moved...

Cost: $155.00

Where:
DayDreamer Studio
@ The Yellow Monkey Antiques
792 Route 35
Cross River, NY  10518
View map »


Sponsor: DayDreamer Studio
Telephone: 914-977-4243
Contact Name: Nicole Mata
Website »

More information

The Theatre Artists Workshop (TAW) will present a reading of Norwalk writer Jim Gordon's new comedy "The Incident” President Durak's approval rating has crashed. He needs...

Cost: ​A donation of $15 is suggested

Where:
The Theatre Artists Workshop
5 Gregory Blvd
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Telephone: 203-854-6830
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Lecture by Dr. Courtney Doucette, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Connecticut College. This talk explores the material, political, and cultural challenges of collecting Soviet art during...

Cost: $10 non-members; Members and students free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

In Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, composer, musician, and Beatles expert Scott Freiman looks at Sgt. Pepper from multiple angles, exploring the history behind the...

Cost: $10

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company StageOne
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield , CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 203 259 1036
Website »

More information

The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

On Wednesday April 25 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. join us for a leisurely stroll down our stream-side trail in memory of one of our founding Board members, Helen Hermes, to discover some of her...

Cost: FREE

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
View map »


Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

More information

Join us for a FREE lecture! In the U.S., back pain is the second leading symptom driving patients to their doctor’s office. Degenerative conditions of the spine can lead to chronic pain...

Cost: Free

Where:
HSS Stamford Outpatient Center
1 Blachley Road
Stamford, CT  06902
View map »


Sponsor: HSS
Telephone: 203-705-2956
Contact Name: Pamela Villagomez
Website »

More information

Come see Edith+Eddie, a 2018 Academy Award® nominated best documentary short film, followed by a panel discussion of esteemed experts in the fields of estate...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Ferguson Library
One Public Library Plaza
Stamford, CT  06902
View map »


Sponsor: SilverSource, Inc.
Telephone: 203-324-6584
Contact Name: Kathleen Bordelon
Website »

More information

Join Grace Farms Foundation and New Canaan Library for an insightful conversation about global policy and America’s potential for growth and leadership with retired United States Army General...

Cost: Free

Where:
Grace Farms
365 Lukes Wood Road
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Grace Farms Foundation & New Canaan Library
Telephone: 203-920-1720
Contact Name: Regan Hayes
Website »

More information

The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Discovery Museum Art Exhibition The Paintings of Dr. Jeffrey Rosenthal Reception and Viewing of Dr. Rosenthal's Art - 22 Inspiring Paintings Thursday, April 26, 2018 5:00...

Cost: Donation

Where:
The Discovery Museum Of Bridgeport
140 Sherman Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: The Discovery Museum
Telephone: 203-335-3223
Contact Name: Jeffrey Rosenthal
Website »

More information

Support your local artists! Pequot Library is proud to partner with Music for Youth with this concert series. Each artist is an emerging and extraordinary talent who is either attending a music...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Tracy Steneken
Website »

More information

The rustic Jonathan Edwards typified the young, folkie troubadours of the early '70s. It's fair to say that Jonathan Edwards' claim to fame as a recording artist rests upon...

Cost: $38 Members Save:$3 /tckt

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company StageOne
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield , CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 203 259 1036
Website »

More information

The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages: K-5 Registration Closes: Wednesday, April 25th In this workshop, Lil’ Dreamers will have a ton of fun learning marbling techniques while creating their own unique papers.  Each artist...

Cost: $30.00

Where:
DayDreamer Studio
@ The Yellow Monkey Antiques
792 Route 35
Cross River, NY  10518
View map »


Sponsor: DayDreamer Studio
Telephone: 914-977-4243
Contact Name: Nicole Mata
Website »

More information

Join us Friday, April 27 from 8pm – 10pm for a Live Jazz Night at the Carriage Barn Arts Center. Performing jazz musicians are Rob Duguay’s “Songevity Trio” featuring Noah...

Cost: Advance tickets $15 / $20 at the door

Where:
Carriage Barn Arts Center
681 South Ave.
Waveny Park
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Website »

More information

Our 2nd Annual Dance Party celebrates disco and the dance-floor divas, one-hit wonders, and out-and-out legends who made the music that, to this day, signifies nothing less than good, clean,...

Cost: $100 Single Admission + Open Bar / $50 Single Admission

Where:
The Warehouse at Fairfield Theatre Company
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield , CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 203 259 1036
Website »

More information

The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

One-Time Cladies Night for Adults Interested in Learning to Use the Potter’s Wheel Looking to get your hands dirty and learn how to use the potter’s wheel? Try Clay Center’s...

Cost: $50

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

On Saturday April 28 from 10 – 11 a.m. veteran fly-tier New Pond Farm Program Director Tim Laughlin, would like to introduce you to the art of fly tying. Learn to tie a “Woolly...

Cost: $15 per New Pond Farm member child, $20 per non-member child

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
View map »


Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

More information

Take Part in this Entertaining and Interactive Afternoon of Clues, Challenges, and a Race to the Finish Line and After Party! Saturday, April 28, Meet-up 10:30 AM, Hunt 11 AM-1 PM,...

Cost: $40

Where:
??? :-)
Norwalk, CT


Website »

More information

Norwalk Now Presents a City-Wide Adventure NORWALK CITY HUNT Saturday, April 28, Meet-up 10:30 AM, Hunt 11 AM-1 PM, After Party 1-3 PM Norwalk Now presents Norwalk City Hunt, an...

Cost: $40

Where:
93 N Main St
norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Now
Telephone: 203-561-9878
Contact Name: Linda Kavanagh
Website »

More information

On Saturday April 28 from 1 – 2 p.m. join New Pond Farm Program Director, Tim Laughlin, and learn how to fly cast. Fly-fishing is becoming a very popular sport for ladies. Once you learn the...

Cost: $15 per New Pond Farm member and $20 per non-member

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
View map »


Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

More information

Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County to Honor Margaret Keane at Benefit Concert Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County (CLC) will honor Synchrony Financial CEO...

Cost: $55

Where:
Palace Theatre
61 Atlantic Street
Stamford, CT  06901
View map »


Sponsor: Children's Learning Centers of Fairfield County
Telephone: 203-653-1369
Contact Name: Mike
Website »

More information

Ability Beyond's signature annual black-tie “Masquerade Gala" fundraiser seeks to unmask the ability in everyone. The elegant evening will feature both...

Cost: Individual tickets are $250

Where:
Amber Room Colonnade
1 Stacey Rd
Danbury, CT
View map »


Sponsor: Ability Beyond
Telephone: 203-826-3183
Contact Name: Kelsey Rondeau
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags