Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Ferret Brothers - Guitarists In Django’s Shadow (1)

Georg Lankester
Georg Lankester tells the story of the Ferret brothers – contemporary Gypsy guitarists of Django Reinhardt. The story is in three parts, below follows the first part, part two and three are published later.

The Ferret Brothers
The name  Ferret or Ferré does remind us of a great musical family that later produced a prodigy called BoulouFor many decades these gypsies (no Manouches) were living in the French town of Rouen and not in a caravan like eg. the Reinhardt / Weiss family. Father Gousti  and mother Douderou had two daughters and three sons.This article deals with those three sons, called Pierre Joseph (“Baro”), Etienne (“Sarane”) and Pierre Jean (“Matelo”). Further their cousin Renë (“Challain” Ferret) should also be mentioned, since he was more or less considered as a ‘fourth brother’.

The Ferrets lived for many decades in France although they were of Andalusian origin. We can really speak of a musical family: Douderou was very fond of Operette and the girls became singers. The three boys were soon familiar with string instruments since their uncles, who used to play these, learned them the technique. In those years the banduria (a Spanish kind of mandolin) and  the banjo were popular instruments;  much later the guitar would become important.

In the Thirties Baro and Sarane left home and went to Paris; rather soon they formed part of the world of entertainment while playing in Russian cabarets and at balls where they accompanied accordionists. The French Musette which started around 1900, had become very popular and the top accordionists preferred to be backed up by gypsies because of their rhythm and control of string instruments .

The role of the banjo
This instrument on which the young Django Reinhardt was a star player, gradually became less popular for the following reason: In 1928 Django – who was involved in a fire accident -  became seriously injured. However, during his recovery period  he learned to play guitar and developed an amazing technique and great virtuosity despite a crippled left hand. He came back in the Parisian world of music, at first to accompany singers, later playing with jazz musicians (e.g. saxophonist André Ekyan). From late1934 he became one of the star players in the Hot Club quintet next to violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

Django’s  unparallelled guitar playing made great impression on his fellow gypsies and consequently many changed from banjo to guitar. So the former Musette changed into Swing Musette whereby accordionsts were backed by guitarists, one of which was Matelo, a master in this kind of music. 

The career of the three Ferret brothers

Pierre 'Baro' Ferret (1937)
Pierre “Baro” Ferret (1908 – 1976)
His official  name was Joseph, however, he was usually called Baro and later Mr. Camembert since he liked cheese. He started to play the Spanish banduria, but then switched to banjo, very popular in the Musette. And in the Thirties he really would become an exceptional guitarist. Already in 1931 he and Sarane left home in order to settle in the French capital and he found work in the Musette scene and soon made recordings with the well-known accordion player Guérino – (NOTE Django recorded with this artist on banjo in 1928.).
Sarane (g, left) and Baro (g, right) with accordionist Guérino’s orchestra 
Baro was such a talent that his solo playing later almost equalled that of Django.The two guitarists respected each other and often played together, then experimenting for fun. The musicians had, however, totally different characters: Django was in fact a good man, Baro was not a very easy person and often he came in touch with bad guys, sometimes even swindlers. Due to his friendship with Django, serious problems fortunately could be avoided.
Starting from 1935 Baro became a member of the Hot Club quintet and we can listen to his fine rhythm in recordings from those days, e.g. as released by the French company “Frémeaux”. On top of that I refer to his recordings of beautiful waltzes issued in 1939 by the Trio Ferret with solos of Baro accompanied by his brother Matelo and Maurice Speilleux on bass. Some titles: “Ma Théo”, “Gin-Gin” (also known as “Chez Jacquet”) and the most famous gypsy waltz composed by Gusti Malha “La valse des Niglots”. 

And even before, Baro recorded “Wind & Strings” with Albert Ferrari (tenor sax), the “Swing Valse” and “Swing Cocktail” joined by Gus Viseur on accordion.
Baro Ferret (left) with accordionist Gus Viseur (late 1930s)
Here's an example from the recordings with Gus Viseur, Swing Cocktail 1938

In the summer of 1940 the guitarist played with Viseur’s orchestra and provided some beautiful solos – I can recommend those records.
Jo Privat
After the war he joined accordionist Jo Privat, who since many years was the owner of the well-known “Balajo” club. This formation produced hits from those years as well as Reinhardt compositions. Sometimes, when people listened they thought that it was Django himself who played the solos !
The Baro Ferret Ensemble (late 1940s)
In 1949 Baro formed his own group The Baro Ferret Ensemble and recorded several titles for the Odeon label. Those performances include Jo Privat, guitarist Jacques Montagne and Jéremie Grand’son double bass. The recordings show elements of the new American jazz form Bebop which inspired Baro to even create Bop-Waltzes. His compositions show a great musicality and a new approach e.g. an  6/8 jazz rhythm.

During the Fifties he recorded again with his ensemble and a piano player; these are more modern themes which remind us of Django’s last recording sessions.  At that time Baro owned a bar where gypsies dropped by to play and where he often joined them. However, slowly the interest declined and eventually he sold the bar.
Pierre 'Baro' Ferret (1908-1976)
The guitarist died at the age of 68 years, more or less in silence. During his career he was in fact never in the spotlights.

Georg Lankester

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