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

Catch the Vibe Newsletter

See this weekend's events in the area!
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Fairfield Pets Rock!

Pet Photo Contest––Deadline Sept. 20

World Fashion

Buying for good: local store sells beautiful items by fair trade artisans

Party on the Go

A purse that dispenses wine!

Fairfield Out & About - Sept/Oct

2017

20 Years of Local Art

Pequot Library’s Annual Art Show––Oct 14-22

Profiles

Your Guides to Leading Local Professionals

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

September 2017

The 30th Annual Bigelow Tea, 5K Run, 2 Mile Fitness Walk and Kid's Fun Run will take place at Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, Southport on Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 9:00 to noon,...

Cost: $10, $15, $25

Where:
BTCC @ Wakeman Boys & Girls Club
385 Center Street
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Bigelow Tea
Telephone: 203-330-2530
Contact Name: Elaine Gavoli
Website »

More information

Celebrate the colonial legacy of the honey bee and learn about beekeeping, enjoy sun tea and refreshments. Make family-friendly crafts and learn about the Colonial Kitchen Garden with volunteers...

Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5 Adults, $3 Children, free for children 5 & under

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

See your favorite authors in person during Pequot Library’s on-going Meet the Author series. This month welcome Duff McDonald, author of “The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School,...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext.115
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

The harmonica wielding frontman of Blues Traveler, John Popper returns to FTC and in The Warehouse as a duo to share "The Hits, The Stories, The Experience." From 90s jam-rock stardom...

Cost: $45 Reserved/ $35 Standing Room Members Save: $10/ticket

Where:
The Warehouse FTC
70 Sanford St
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 120-325-91036
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

Over 20 farms and food producers will have everything you need for beach picnics, Sunday dinner, even your weekly shopping. Five CT farms, including Fairfield’s own Little River Farm,...

Cost: Free admission.

Where:
Sherman Green
1451 Post Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The 2017 Progressive® Insurance Norwalk Boat Show®, the Northeast’s premier in-water boating event, docks at Norwalk Cove Marina September 21-24, 2017, offering water lovers an...

Cost: $15 for Adults, Free for Kids Under 15

Where:
Norwalk Cove Marina
48 Calf Pasture Beach Road
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Stepping Stones Museum Invites Event Planners, Families, and Vendors to Venue Rental Showcase Event Stepping Stones Museum is not just a wondrous place for children. It’s also a unique...

Cost: free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Sponsor: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Meg Robustelli
Website »

More information

FTC Film Club continues this fall with 4 nights of film. Each film will be followed by audience Q&A facilitated by a member of the faculty from the Film and Television Masters Program (FTMA) at...

Cost: $5

Where:
FTC StageOne
70 Sanford St
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 120-325-91036
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

Nikon Small World  exhibition runs July 29 - October 29, 2017 at Bruce Museum This exhibit showcases the top 20 award-winning photographs of the 42nd annual Nikon Small World...

Cost: $10 adult,$8 senior/student, under 5 and member free. Free on Tuesdays to all

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


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Dr. Ross Frank, Director, Plains Indian Ledger Art Digital Publishing Project, and Associate Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies, UCSD, will deliver a lecture titled "Picturing History:...

Cost: Free

Where:
Diffley Board Room Bellarmine Hall at Fairfield U
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 203-254-4046
Contact Name: Lauren Williams
Website »

More information

Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians will be on view at the Fairfield University Art Museum from September 27 - December 20, 2017; an Opening Reception will take place on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield University Art Museum Bellarmine Hall
200 Barlow Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Telephone: 203-254-4046
Contact Name: Lauren Williams
Website »

More information

Nikon Small World  exhibition runs July 29 - October 29, 2017 at Bruce Museum This exhibit showcases the top 20 award-winning photographs of the 42nd annual Nikon Small World...

Cost: $10 adult,$8 senior/student, under 5 and member free. Free on Tuesdays to all

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


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Dr. Mara Davidson and Dr. Andrew Cummins of the Shalva Clinic in Westport to discover some of the causes of anxiety and digestive problems and natural ways to treat these conditions. Some of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext.115
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Nikon Small World  exhibition runs July 29 - October 29, 2017 at Bruce Museum This exhibit showcases the top 20 award-winning photographs of the 42nd annual Nikon Small World...

Cost: $10 adult,$8 senior/student, under 5 and member free. Free on Tuesdays to all

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


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Consider you and your plus one cordially invited to the Bridal Event of the season! Wedding OR Knot makes its debut at the beautiful Sheraton Stamford located at 700 E. Main Street, Stamford, CT on...

Cost: $10

Where:
Sheraton Stamford Hotel
700 East Main Street
Stamford, CT  06904
View map »


Sponsor: Clear Vision Productions
Telephone: 203-745-4946
Contact Name: Charlene Chiaro
Website »

More information

Nikon Small World  exhibition runs July 29 - October 29, 2017 at Bruce Museum This exhibit showcases the top 20 award-winning photographs of the 42nd annual Nikon Small World...

Cost: $10 adult,$8 senior/student, under 5 and member free. Free on Tuesdays to all

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


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The New Canaan Historical Society announces the opening of its exhibit Waveny – Now and Then, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Town’s purchase of Waveny Park.  The show...

Cost: $25/Members $35/Non-Members

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
13 Oenoke Rdg
New Canaan, CT  06840-4195
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Society
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Website »

More information

Nikon Small World  exhibition runs July 29 - October 29, 2017 at Bruce Museum This exhibit showcases the top 20 award-winning photographs of the 42nd annual Nikon Small World...

Cost: $10 adult,$8 senior/student, under 5 and member free. Free on Tuesdays to all

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


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join education staff for coffee and learn more about docent opportunities at the Fairfield Museum. Docents are trained volunteer educators who present guided tours and other education programs to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

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