Guitarist Christine Tassan

Guitarist Christine Tassan

Women add their voices to manouche jazz

Guitarist Christine Tassan puts the ‘e’ in les Imposteures to play the music made famous by Django Reinhardt.

Canada may have given birth to the “First Lady of the Guitar,” Liona Boyd, but there have been many women since who have excelled on the instrument predominated by men.

Adopted Quebecer Christine Tassan is  one of them.

The French-born guitarist and her band play a style of music that has typically been associated with male players and in particular, gypsy-jazz guitar godfather Django Reinhardt.

Although Reinhardt is an inspiration, Tassan et les Imposteures (the e at the end of the band’s name refers to their gender and is a cheeky reference that they are women who play male-centric gypsy music) put their own spin on “manouche” gypsy-jazz swing, à la Quintette du Hot Club de France.

“I understand it from a cultural point of view that it’s mostly men that play this kind of music and why it’s tough to find women who are not from a gypsy community to play this music,” said Tassan, who with les Imposteures plays the second concert of the North Okanagan Community Concert season, Nov. 1 at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.

“We like the freedom of changing things up and giving more variety to the different styles. It is not pure gypsy-jazz.”

Tassan and her fellow musicians’ backgrounds are as diverse as their music.

Born in France, Tassan began studying classical guitar when she was 11 and later immigrated to Montreal in 1994 to continue her studies – in engineering – at McGill University.

“I worked for 10 years as an electrical engineer and quit engineering to go into music full time about 13 years ago,” said Tassan, adding, “I know a lot of engineers who are also musicians.”

Tassan started performing her own songs as a folk singer and guitarist, but says she always added a jazz influence to her music.

“I listened to a lot of CDs from Django and saw (jazz guitarist) Angelo Debarre when he came to play in Montreal to do an homage to Django. That was a big influence,” she said.

Already friends, Tassan teamed up with fellow musician, rhythm guitarist Lise-Anne Ross (who is unable to make the B.C. tour), who has a background in jazz, and violinist Martine Gaumond, who comes from a classical background and also plays traditional Québécois music.

After replacing their bassist a few times, the women more recently added Blanche Baillargeon to the lineup. (Baillargeon also plays and sings music from the ‘50s, and is in an all-female tribute to Louis Armstrong called Miss Satchmo.)

“Compared to other gypsy-jazz groups, we are instrumentalists, but we also sing and combine our voices into three and four-part harmonies,” said Tassan.

That will be evident when the women perform songs in both French and English, as well as instrumentals from their last three albums, including latest C’est l’heure de l’Apéro, which translated means ‘happy hour.”

Tassan et les Imposteures will also perform some of the material from their upcoming fourth album, Entre Félix et Django.

“It’s based on the meeting that Django had with Félix Leclerc, the greatest folk singer to come out of Québec,” said Tassan.

Opening for Tassan et les Imposteures is another female voice in the form of 21-year-old Vernon vocalist Jenae Van Gameren, who is working towards completing her degree in vocal performance with the Royal Conservatory of Toronto.

Van Gameren has studied and trained for 13 years with Armstrong vocal instructor Terry Logan, who will accompany her on piano at the performance.

Along with finishing her voice degree, Van Gameren has been teaching private voice lessons for five years and has been a provincial delegate for voice competitions on three different occasions as well as a gold medalist for the Royal Conservatory of Toronto in her voice exams.

Van Gameren has also been active in musical theatre with Lights of Broadway, a musical theatre company that puts on full-scale Broadway musicals at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre every spring.

She has trained extensively in singing, dancing and acting with this company for 14 years and has performed the roles of Leisl in The Sound of Music, the lead role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray.

The North Okanagan Community Concert Association is also holding a fundraiser for a new piano, to replace the old Hamburg Steinway grand at the Performing Arts Centre.

“Our old piano was built in 1886 and restored in 1953 and again in 2003. The new piano was built in 1976 and is now being restored to like-new condition in White Rock for delivery in the fall of 2016,” said NOCCA president Paul Maynes.

“We will be selling all 88 keys on the piano for $100 each so that the final finishing, shipping and insurance is paid for upon delivery.”

The NOCCA has sold close to 40 keys so far, and the idea is to keep the ownership of the piano as that of the community rather than a corporate instrument, added Maynes.

Audiences can learn more when NOCCA presents Christine Tassan et les Imposteures at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Sunday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Season subscriptions and individual tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca.