Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers” evoke the spirit of a Paris cafe and the raucous energy of a Romani campsite with their version of Hot Club Swing. “At the heart of their sound is Ranger Sciacca's sweet violin playing… his sense of melody and daring improvisations” (World Rhythm). The band’s repertoire includes swing standards, traditional European melodies, the music of Django Reinhardt, and Ranger's unique originals.
THE BAND Ranger and his father Michael formed the band in 2006, after a pilgrimage to the world’s foremost Hot Club Swing event, the Django Reinhardt festival in Samois Sur Seine, France. The band has now released 4 CDs and performs over 100 times each year at music festivals, concerts in the park, swing dances, weddings and events of all sorts.
Past Shows have included: Edmonds Concert in the Park, Seattle Art Museum, Djangofest Northwest, Best of the Northwest Arts Festival, Highline Classic Jazz Festival, Ethnic Fest Tacoma, and Vin du Lac Winery (Chelan)
Violin and Vocals-- RANGER SCIACCA began playing violin at the age of six. He divided his studies between old-time fiddle and classical violin until a chance encounter with a CD of violin jazz ignited his interest in the music of Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. Ranger draws inspiration from all the genres he has studied, and, according to one reviewer, “plays it like the old kings of swing jazz did”.
Rhythm Guitar -- MIKE SCIACCA is Ranger's father, and has been backing up Ranger on guitar for over 20 years. Ranger and Mike are descended from Sicilian immigrants, who played jazz in New York at the start of the 20th century.
Mandolin and Vocals-- DAVE STEWART usually performs on both acoustic and electric mandolins. He's also a tremendous vocalist, lending his silky-smooth voice to swing standards!
Bass -- MICK NICHOLSON played for 11 years with the US Navy Band in Washington, D.C. He has toured extensively throughout the world, and has performed for three sitting presidents and countless heads of state.
Percussion and Vocals-- JEFFREY MOOSE Born in Mexico and raised in West Africa, Jeffrey Moose is loved by fans for his creative, high-energy percussion and playful vocal performances. He is the director of the Jeffrey Moose Gallery in Bainbridge Island, WA.
THE GENRE "Hot Club Swing" (sometimes called Gypsy Jazz) is named after the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. In the 1930's guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli blended their own musical legacies with the new American art form of jazz. Their recordings soon brought international fame to the new genre. Hot Club Swing is characterized by upbeat, high-energy swing on acoustic instruments, especially guitar, violin, bass, clarinet, and accordion.
SAMPLE PRESS COVERAGE
Includes pictures, an article, and a 23-minute studio session recording: LINK
Heritage Music Review 2011
RANGER AND THE RE-ARRANGERS: PLAYING GYPSY JAZZ ON THEIR OWN TERMS (By Doug Bright)
Of all the genres of roots music that this publication covers, none is being preserved more successfully in the Seattle area than the Gypsy jazz style developed in France during the 1930's by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, and no one is more aware of that happy fact than Michael and Ranger Sciacca, leaders of a father-and-son-based band called Ranger and the Re-"Arrangers". "Western Washington really is a center for this kind of music," Michael observes. "DjangoFest, that's the biggest festival in North America. When we went to France we'd say, "We're from the West Coast," and they'd say, "Whidbey Island?""
Nevertheless, not all gypsy jazzers are created equal. "We have to be a little careful in that world that we don't portray ourselves as something we're not," Michael continues. "To be a gypsy jazz band without a lead guitarist, it's like we're tryin' to be a Dixieland jazz band without a trumpet. We are adding mandolin and we have percussion. Almost no gypsy jazz band has percussion of any sort besides guitars." Despite these anomalies, the Re-arrangers' sound is essentially Gypsy swing and vintage Parisian cafe. Though not nearly as famous yet as their local peers Pearl Django, they expect their new CD, DJANGO'S TIGER, to help them change that situation.
The Sciaccas' musicality is deeply rooted in their Sicilian-American family heritage. "My mother's cousin Johnny is still alive, and he's a violin player," Michael elaborates. "I haven't had the courage to talk to him much about it, but the rumor was that Johnny was in the Philharmonic in Rochester, New York. My mother's uncle was from Sicily and he was sort of a center of the musical storm. I sat around and played with him a few times. He could play clarinet, he had a banjo-headed mandolin and a violin and a guitar, he could play them all, and he could play jazz. I recorded a very homemade recording with him before he passed away at the ripe age of 95."
Born and raised in Rochester, Michael Sciacca started out on accordion at the age of seven and took up guitar at about 13. "I spent most of my adult life being a campfire guitar player," he says modestly. "I never began performing until Ranger started playing." Sciacca and his family came to the Seattle area and settled on Bainbridge Island almost twenty years ago when Ranger was three or four years old.
"I started studying classical violin when I was five," Ranger recalls, "but within two or three years, almost as soon as I had learned how to play the violin and could play songs, I was doing two simultaneous tracks." Ranger Sciacca's second musical track was an unlikely one for a classical violin student. "Ranger was only seven or eight years old at that point," his father explains. "He had a wonderful classical teacher, but he was growing a little bored." The solution came in the person of Stuart Williams, a respected scholar, teacher, and practitioner of old-time fiddling who had started journeying from his home in Seattle to teach for two days a week on Bainbridge Island. "Stuart taught me a little bit of everything," Ranger recalls. "He taught me Scandinavian tunes and French-Canadian tunes and some Texas swing tunes, and consistently, the ones that I would like the most would be the jazzy tunes. I think he taught me "Lady, Be Good". That was my favorite for a long, long time!"
Ironically, it was a family crisis that led to the next important stage of Ranger Sciacca's musical development. "My dad had died, and I did some elder care with my mom," Michael explains, "so between the years 1997 and 2003 we moved to Rochester for about half the year. I always considered it a formative time in Ranger's musical career. He was studyin' fiddlin' for six months out of the year with Stuart, and then he had the opportunity to work with Alice Kanack." Kanack's unique approach had developed from working with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the renowned violin teacher whose regimen injected a healthy dose of ear training into classical instruction. "She publishes books through Time Warner on classical improvisation," Michael Sciacca elaborates. "Alice starts her books with a small introduction to say that in her opinion the great composers were improvisers. Alice takes that perspective, and in addition to individual lessons she brings groups of the kids in and has a group improv lesson. She sits there and plays these amazing background licks on the piano, and she tells those kids, "Forget about the notes on the page, forget about the songs you know, just go where your fingers go," so Ranger had some huge advantage."
Given Ranger Sciacca's grounding in classical yechnique, folk fiddling, and improvisation, what happened next was virtually inevitable. At some point during the years spent hopping from coast to coast, he discovered a two-disc French compilation called VIOLON JAZZ (jazz violin) that included every master of the art from Stephane Grappelli to Stuff Smith to the Italian-American who started it all in the 1920's, Joe Venuti. "Before then," Ranger recalls, "I was already liking the jazz tunes that Stuart taught me and the improv that I did as part of my classical studies, but after that, I knew where I really wanted to go with this." Michael and Ranger Sciacca began their performing career on a modest scale, furnishing music for a children's dance class at the Waldorf School in Rochester. "They'd teach the kids folk dances and contra dances," Ranger remembers, "and we were the music for that." "They were very much into the arts," Michael adds, "and every Tuesday at one o'clock we'd show up. I think maybe I was even pullin' out my accordion at that point, and sometimes I'd play guitar."
The next breakthrough in the Sciaccas' musical development resulted from Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association workshops featuring two of Seattle's most respected swing fiddlers, Paul Elliott and Paul Anastasio. "This western swing guitar player, Pam Borso, ran a parallel track with both of those guys where you learn ten swing tunes in the violin class and then guitar players would learn those same swing tunes," Michael explains. "That really enabled me to get the basic swing idea down."
From that point onward, the Sciaccas honed their skills playing local art gallery exhibitions, where they always managed to sell a few copies of the homebrew CD's they produced in their living room. "We would get a microphone and plug it in and just do a real scratch deal," Michael remembers, "and we'd sell three or four of 'em. One of 'em was very modestly titled JAZZ REVOLUTION. We did that for a number of years."
By the time Ranger graduated from high school in 2005, the Sciaccas had gained plenty of valuable experience playing school functions, art studios, and farmers' markets. It was finally time to document their sound properly. "Somewhere at the beginning of that summer," says Michael, "I realized Ranger was goin' away to college. We said, "Maybe we should just capture what we have." We found a recording studio: an amazing place called Trillium Studios that has since been turned into a horse barn. It had isolation booths and a mixing board that was bigger than our living room!" The resulting CD, GYPSY MOON, featured Ranger Sciacca in a program that blended jazz standards like "After You've Gone", "Undecided", and "I Found A New Baby" with a couple of Ranger's originals, including the tango that served as the album's title tune.
In addition to his father on rhythm guitar, he was backed on bass and drums by brothers Jherek and Korum Biscoff, prominent members of the Bainbridge Island music scene. "Korum and Jherek would just nail what we thought was a complicated arrangement the first time," Ranger remembers. "They just picked it up like out of nowhere. That CD was pretty interesting: it's not pure Gypsy jazz at all. We put it in the local CD store, and when we were asked to play at a local harvest festival or studio tours at art galleries, we'd always sell our CD, but it wasn't big." "We really didn't think of ourselves as somebody who would be selling CD's outside of a show or a farmers' market," Michael adds.
The next landmark in the Sciaccas' musical life was a pilgrimage to Europe in the summer of 2006. "We went to France, to the Django Reinhardt Festival," Michael elaborates. "We didn't know a person there, but we met some really nice people, and Ranger wandered around and jammed. I certainly was not to the point where I was takin' my guitar out in front of that group, but I wouldn't be too embarrassed to do it now." The biggest boost to Michael Sciacca's confidence came with a stop in Belgium. "We stayed with Lollo Meier, who's one of the premier people on the world Gypsy jazz scene," Ranger explains. "We had gotten in touch with Lollo before. We got to learn some songs and some improvisation skills from him, and Dad learned some chords and some Gypsy strumming technique."
Inspired by their European adventure, the Sciaccas renewed their promotional effort, sending their new CD out to the venues most likely to hire them, but as offers started coming in, they realized it was time to put together a more permanent ensemble. "Korum is a graphic artist and Jherek is all over the world with music," Michael explains, "so we knew that we didn't really have a band." The solution came with the gradual addition of bass guitarist Todd Houghton, mandolinist Dave Stewart, and percussionist Jeffrey Moose, all active in the local music community. "We already knew Todd Houghton, the bass player, quite well," Ranger explains. "For both Jeff and Dave, we said, "Hey, why don't you come to this gig with us?" After they came a couple times we just started asking them regularly, and they just became part of the band."
By the spring of 2007 the new five-piece edition of Ranger and the Re-arrangers was complete, and after two consecutive summers spent performing every weekend, the band had polished up enough material for an album project. The resulting CD, DJANGO'S TIGER, recorded toward the end of 2008, features violinist Ranger Sciacca and mandolinist Dave Stewart, backed by their solid and tasteful rhythm section on a wide variety of American jazz standards, international fare, and originals that fit their broadly defined Gypsy swing and Parisian cafe orientation.
The title tune is a brisk two-beat number with a slight western swing flavor and showcases some of the soloists' snappiest improvisation. Sciacca and Stewart are stylistically well matched, and their sense of teamwork is the band's most striking aspect. On the jazzy, upbeat tracks like "Lulu Swing", "Dark Eyes", the spirited Brazilian number "Nao Me Toques", and the continental European fiddle tune "Beatrice", their interplay is characterized by plenty of call-and-response line-trading and some brilliant harmony. When in Parisian waltz mode, the emphasis is on playing the melody in unison, approaching the texture of the French musette accordion style.
Although it lacks the impassioned vibrato that characterized Stephane Grappelli's early work with the quintet of the Hot Club of France, Ranger Sciacca's approach to jazz violin certainly reflects the Gypsy master's sense of drive and syncopation. Nevertheless, it's the Quintet's legendary lead guitarist, Django Reinhardt, who provides most of Sciacca's inspiration. "I think when I listen to the old Gypsy jazz recordings," he says, "I'm tryin' to sound more like Django. I never play the Django lead all the way through, but I'll just throw in little references: a lot of fun."
Ranger and the Re-arrangers' two CD's are available on their website, www.rangerswings.com, through a link to the popular independent music retailer CDBaby.com. "I think DJANGO'S TIGER prompted us to get on CDBaby," Ranger says. "We don't really sell a terrible amount of things through there, but pretty frequently someone will e-mail us and say, "I heard you when I was in Seattle, and I live in Denver," or, "I want to buy a CD for my mom in Massachusetts," so it's really a good tool. The majority of our sales are at gigs."
Bassist TODD HOUGHTON was a member of the original Ranger and the "Re-Arrangers" quintet. Todd began performing, teaching, and producing music in the 1960’s in Colorado. Over the years he played guitar, bass and keyboard in jazz, folk, rock and C&W groups; composed for commercials, films and live theater; taught private music lessons; recorded independent studio work; and hosted an “open mic” on Bainbridge Island, for over 20 years. Blind since the age of seven, Todd was an advisor to Jack Straw Production’s Blind Youth Audio Project. He passed away in November 2014.