Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ultrafaux & Hot Club of Baltimore announce 2016 CD Tour & signs with Jazz Beyond Borders!

We are very pleased to be working with Jazz Beyond Borders and The Phillips Agency on a CD tour for 2016!  The tour will include shows in Bay area of California, a tour of the midwest highlighted by an appearance at The Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, and a tour of the Northeast all the way up to Quebec City Canada including a performance with Rhythm Future Quartet at Django By The Sea in Maine.  RFQ performed at our sold out Charm City Django Jazz Festival with us in February and we are excited to be performing with them once again.  

                                                            Ultrafaux @ Charm City Django Jazz Festival

                                                      Rhythm Future Quartet @ Charm City Django Jazz Festival

This is shaping up to be a really awesome year for Ultrafaux and for Hot Club of Baltimore.  Vocalist extraordinaire, Alexis Tantau will be featured on many of the tour dates in California as we visit her home town of Grass Valley and surrounding areas.  You can look up all those show dates here.

                                              Alexis Tantau, vocalist for Hot Club of Baltimore

Look for a recent interview to be published soon in All About Jazz called Take Five with Michael Joseph Harris, composer/guitarist for both bands. Baltimore Style Magazine will also feature an interview with Michael in May, and for those of you who missed the Baltimore Sun feature, you can access that here.   Ultrafaux's new CD Deuxième will be reviewed in this next edition of The Baltimore Jazz Alliance newsletter by Ken Avis.  You can find more information about BJA here.

We hope to see you at one of our upcoming performances!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Early Bird Orders for Hot Club's new CD "Coquette" are underway!!

Hello everyone!  Our new Hot Club CD "Coquette" will arrive in one week, way before the official release date of March 10.  Only Kickstarter backers will receive CDs during this time unless you take advantage of this special offer now.  "Coquette" is packed with 14 new songs, many of which feature the magnificent vocals of Alexis Tantau.  Newcomer vocalist Charlie Dolph is also included on two tracks along with many instrumentals.  Like Place de Brouckère, Coquette features the same 15 top musicians and a variety of configurations from the string trio and quintet all the way to 8 piece band.

This offer is only for shipping within United States.  We are not yet set up for international orders which will require additional shipping.  Please contact me at MJHMusic@gmail.com if you want me to send one overseas and we can work out a fair price.  For now, its FREE shipping for all U.S. orders!

Each CD is $15.  You can also donate as much as you want.  There is also a 4-CD option if you donate $50 or more.  Click below to order yours today!


PS and don't forget to order your tickets for our official CD release show at Germano's

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2016 off to a good start!

The winter has been a lot of fun so far.  Aside from losing some weight and getting my health back in order, I have had some really amazing opportunities and shows.  Our Ultrafaux CD release at 8x10 was truly remarkable.  You can see some video footage here.  I also came up with the idea to do the 1st Annual Charm City Django Jazzfest and its actually happening!!  I proposed the idea to Josh at Creative Alliance and he ran with it!  I helped line up the talent and now we have really a world-class Djangofest scheduled for Feb.26 & 27.   Ultrafaux was also chosen by IMT to do a very cool show at Airshow Studios in Takoma Park MD.  See more here.  And we will start monthly shows in Brooklyn NY at the awesome Radegast Hall & Biergarten Monday Feb.29 8PM.

Already in 2016 I see lots of new challenges blossoming.  The main challenge is how to balance creative time as a guitarist with the busy office work of putting together shows and managing the band schedule. The biggest challenge I face currently is how to tour Europe.  I wanted to do it last year but it took so much planning and resources that I just gave up.  We were actually invited to Festival Django Reinhardt in Samois France, but we were not able to do it for various reason.  #1 it was very short notice and extremely expensive.  And now again I am faced with the same challenges and really at a loss for how to do it.  I am wondering how anyone can pull it off.  Fortunately bassist James Robbins in NYC and others have offered some advice and I look forward to taking them up on it.

It was difficult enough organizing three successful short tours of the Southeast here in the states.  I am now encountering the seemingly insurmountable task of traveling through countries with diverse languages without a car and managing a much larger budget with a lot more at stake.  The benefits do outweigh the risks however but the question is still "When?"  Its also been quite a task promoting our events, getting the word out to folks who would never ever hear about this stuff.  There are so many, thousands in Baltimore alone, who have no idea we are doing this unique music.  I am currently shopping for a PR firm to help us, but are quite pricey.  We shall see.

I may be biased, but I do think we are performing at a pretty high level especially for such a young group.  I may be older than Eddie and Sami by a long shot, but we are all collectively young as a band and fairly new to gypsy jazz style music.  Sami has the most experience of all of us when it comes to being well versed in the history of jazz manouche and Django…Admittedly, Sami has become my personal reference resource on all things Django, from who wrote songs and performed them to who taught who and how each style varies from lineage to lineage.  Its also through Sami that I first learned about Django In June, a camp devoted to the music of Django and hot jazz.  I have been two years so far and I have had really remarkable experiences there learning from the best in the world like Olivier Kikteff, Tcha Limberger, Samson Schmitt, Sebastien Giniaux and William Brunard.  These players have all influenced me in different ways as have many of the guitarists I currently listen to on a regular basis.  Aside from Django Reinhardt, Angelo Debarre might be the biggest influence on me at this moment in time, but my focus shifts according to how I feel.   Check him out for yourself.  

Arguably, what we do as Ultrafaux is not gypsy jazz per se, but it certainly fits that genre more than any other.  Its most definitely inspired by and informed by the music of Django Reinhardt, but it also has Latin, blues, Balkan, musette and funk elements.  I am personally kind of pleased that our music defies category.  Actually the entire genre of jazz is really going through a kind of facelift and renaissance in a way, and so called gypsy jazz will probably always fly a little under radar, staying out of the way of pop culture and fly-by-night trends.  Even though our music in Ultrafaux is original, it feels rooted in the tradition somehow and its this tradition that helps to stabilize it and give it depth of character.  I think there is a new appreciation happening for the older Jazz.  The new players are starting to realize how good those guys really were back in the day and how special Jazz really was when it first arrived on the scene.  Jazz is such an amazing legacy of inspired work to dip into and it compels us to be exceptional in our skills not only as a performer but also as an entertainer.  We create socially viable music, or maybe "socially valuable" is a better way of putting it.  There are fundamental qualities about the music that separate it from other current popular forms.  Qualities like acoustic, raw, authentic, improvised, created, original, and expressive.  Its challenging to play. Its moving, uplifting, entertaining, and familiar, yet always fresh and new every time.  I am very thankful to have found my way into this style of playing guitar.  I do miss playing with percussionists as I did in Bossalingo for many years.  I think about that from time to time and may even line up some shows with that format again using César Orozco or Arturo O'Farrill on piano.  I also want to do another recording using electric arch-top guitar at some point.  Maybe I can do both Latin jazz with electric guitar.  We will see!  I also have a secret project that I cannot reveal many details about, but it has to do with getting a pretty large Cuban style band together and performing some very traditional dance repertoire.  


On to current things!  I am proud to say that the new upcoming Hot Club of Baltimore CD "Coquette" will be my 4th CD in 2 years in the style of gypsy jazz.  (2 as Ultrafaux playing my original music, and 2 as Hot Club playing Django and traditional swing songs)  I have to say that singer Alexis Tantau is sounding remarkable as is violinist Patrick McAvinue.  We are so fortunate to be working with these great musicians!  They have both taught me a lot about being a bandleader and about how to get the most out of our studio time.  I feel that my playing is getting a lot better too, especially in the studio.  I thrive on playing live shows and its a real challenge playing this style of music in the studio without that energy from the audience.  Playing with headphones is a completely different feeling than playing acoustically and I have been working with recording engineers Evan Kornblum and Ben Frock to find the best sound and best vibe in the studio.  We will continue to try new things in order to get the most natural and alive sound we can.  I think you will like the results on Coquette.  The CD release will be March 10 at Germano's Cabaret.  Its truly a miracle it all came together so fast.  Big thanks to all of our kickstarter supporters who pre-ordered and allowed us to make our goal!  Look for a totally revamped website for Hot Club of Baltimore very soon!

New projects on the horizon include an album of traditional waltzes and a solo album featuring some of my favorite songs in the gypsy jazz repertoire.  These will both be recorded with various guest artists from Baltimore, New York and even Europe if I am lucky.  No solid plans as of yet, but just learning songs and figuring out which ones I want to record.  I am also writing new songs for Ultrafaux and hope to have another CD with that group by the end of 2016.  

God bless you all and thanks for checking out my blog.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Going South! Tour begins Nov.8 in Asheville NC

Hey everyone,  It's been a minute since I last wrote, but we have been very busy releasing 2 new CDs and getting our ducks in a row for this upcoming tour.  So we have a new Hot Club of Baltimore CD "Place de Brouckère" which features some great Django Reinhardt songs and vocal tunes with Alexis Tantau and Kerra Holtgren, plus about 12 other top notch musicians like pianist César Orozco & and fiddle player Patrick McAvinue !

At the very same time, Ultrafaux was busy rehearsing and recording 12 new originals titled Deuxième pronounced Doo-zee-M, which means "the second one."  Our official  CD release party is at the awesome 8x10 club in Baltimore on Friday Jan 8.   Make plans to catch that show because it will be one of the best local shows of the year.  We will be sharing the stage with Chris Pumphrey's band Mondawmen featuring John Dierker on sax and our good friend Zach Serleth's band Highland Hill Boys will be opening the night.  Tickets are already on sale for only $12 HERE

Highland Hill Boys

Chris Pumphrey & Mondawmen 

Our tour schedule for Ultrafaux takes us through North and South Carolina and into Georgia for some really fantastic venues.  Please tell all of your friends in those regions.  Here is our complete schedule 

Well, I hope to see you soon!  Check back with our blog for some funny posts from the road and please be sure to visit and like our Facebook page if you haven't already.  Its a great way to check in with what we are doing.  You may also be on our e-mailing list HERE.  

And now we have T-Shirts for SALE!!  Yay!  Go here to check those out!

Thanks a million!!  


Monday, April 27, 2015

Hot Club of Baltimore Recording Sessions!

The Hot Club of Baltimore began a 4-day recording session this past Saturday. This will be our first album together and we are extremely excited. The recording will feature 13 of the most talented musicians in the Baltimore area and one from NYC. We were very fortunate to have extremely rare vintage guitars to use for the recording courtesy of Michael Bauer who traveled here from Chicago. Sami used a 1950's Di Mauro known as HH with the heart shaped sound hole. There is a cool story about this guitar. Craig Bumgarner, our favorite luthier who happens to be based in Solomon Island Maryland, studied this exact vintage Di Mauro and used those same specs to design his model Corazón. Sami loved the Corazón so much he decided to buy it for himself. So it was only fitting that he play the vintage model for part of our recording session playing this vintage Django Reinhardt music.

Our rhythm guitarist Robert Cuellari chose a very old 30's Selmer-Maccaferri model D-Hole that once may have been played by Django's brother Joseph, and possibly by Django himself.  I played a few different guitars during the sessions, all with completely unique tonal characteristics. At various points I switched between an amazing Selmer Petite Bouche that sounds exactly like what Django would have played in the early 40's, a 60's Favino with a very brash and bold sound, and a very nice Busato. All of these guitars were not only a delight to play, they also really informed our music and brought a distinct and vintage presence to the overall sound. The guitars also affected the way we played and literally inspired us to play in a way that mirrored the style of the 30's and 40's. We are so grateful for Michael for brining his rare and unique collection for us to use.

Day 1 & 2 focused on the early Django sound featuring three guitarists, upright bass, violinist Patrick McAvinue, percussionist Dan Cohan, and clarinetist John Dierker.  We also added the wonderful vocals of Kerra Holtgren and Alexis Tantau.  Pianist Cesar Orozco and accordionist Thomas King joined us late Sunday to add even more dimension to the overall sound.  

Day 3 & 4 will focus more on the late 40's Django sound and include trumpeter Joseph Brotherton, drummer Anders Eliasson, and John Dierker, along with Seth Kibel on clarinet and flute for the 4th session.  In the end, we will have to choose from over 20 songs to decide which will make the final cut.  I can tell you right now that is going to be a hard decision.

We already have at least 10 keepers and there are many more left to record.  We will be using our Craig Bumgarner guitars for the next two sessions and I will also be using my 70's Di Mauro with a Peche a la mouche pickup through a Tone King Falcon amplifier on a couple of songs.

I cannot say enough about our recording engineer Ben Frock.  What a talented and gracious person.  His studio is called Heartwood, named after the very dense wood in the center of a tree.  The studio is filled with vintage microphones, hand made baffles and the room smells of a cedar cigar box.  
There is a gorgeous piano in perfect tune and we were able to have sight lines to each other because the baffles have built in windows.  

Keep in touch.  The CD release date should be sometime early June. We are so excited to share this unique project with you!!  

Michael Joseph Harris 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Our two days with two French maestros - Oliver Kikteff & Marian Badoi, WYPR interview, Champignons, and more!

Its actually been my dream for years, since I was a teenager, to be able to host international players from other countries at my house and perform with them.  Well my dream finally came true.  Sometime in December of 2014, I noticed that one of my favorite guitarists in the world, Olivier Kikteff of Les Doigts de l'Homme, was going to be performing in NYC at Smalls with a phenomenal Romani accordionist named Marian Badoi in January.  Olivier and I had been talking to each other back and forth about a grant proposal I was going to do with him, so the lines of communication were already open.  I had also met him at Django in June that previous year.  Anyway, I felt I knew him well enough to ask him to be my guest here and to take part in a radio interview on WYPR in Baltimore.  I was excited to hear that he was interested!  But honestly I figured he would be pulled in many different directions once here in the States and exerted the fact that it may not happen at all.  To my surprise and elation, he accepted my offer to come!

He texted me on Tuesday to say that Marian also wanted to come visit which would turn out to be just an amazing bonus.  They made there way to Baltimore Penn Station by train on Wednesday and I had just enough time to pick them up and drop them off at my house while my daughter was at Girl Scouts.  I picked up my daughter and brought her to Grandmas so I could get back and help them settle in.  After getting them set up with places to sleep etc... we decided to go out to The Other Corner Charcuterie for some delicious Belgian inspired cooking and drinks.  I was surprised to find out that both of them were vegetarian.  They loved Jeff's special seasoned mushrooms and the risotto.

We immediately shared lots of smiles and laughs talking about everything under the sun while at dinner.  Sami and his girlfriend Kat finally joined us and the conversation got even better as we shared stories and laughs over Belgian beer and good wine.  Marian could not speak English really, but seemed to understand a lot.  He was just such a warm person in general.  Olivier spoke English really well so he was able to translate easily.  Sometimes they launched into these exuberant French jokes together and I loved hearing that language fill the walls of my favorite Baltimore bar.  Part of me just could not believe this was happening.  Here we all were with two of the best musicians on the planet, just hanging out like old friends.  It was extraordinary and totally ordinary at the same time.  I love the way music just transcends everything and people feel an instant camaraderie because of this shared passion we all have for performing.

Things just got better and better.  Many cigarettes were smoked.  Many glasses of wine and beer.  But the overriding constant was music.  Marian would play at any moment, anywhere anytime, and just amaze us all.  We went to a favorite spot where Sami and I played many times, WC Harlan, to see John Dierker play jazz.  Marian started jamming with them at one point on Caravan and it felt like it would go all night!  Of course, they are strict about stopping the music there so eventually we had to leave.  But how cool and totally welcome it would have been just to stay there all night into the morning jamming with these great musicians gathered.  Instead, we went to my house and continued the music into the night.  Olivier showed total mastery of his instrument at every turn, and both of them would jam in my living room at any moment night or day during their stay.  It was quite inspiring.  I joined in on occasion and they welcomed me warmly into their circle.  My favorite memory was playing with Marian late Wednesday in my kitchen.  We played a very typical Jazz Manouche chord progression together as my housemate lingered in the doorway to watch.  The sound was so sweet and clear.  At one point I stopped playing rhythm and sat mesmerized by Marian's music as he closed his eyes in a trance.  He evoked such imagery and emotion.  Every passage melting into the next with virtuosity and feeling.

The next day we had a radio interview at WYPR  where we played Joseph Joseph, Anniversary Song, and then Marian and Olivier played an original.  Click the link to see the video I took of them while in studio.  The show will air Feb.9 at 9:30AM but they will archive it so you can hear it anytime I believe.   Tom Hall was the host and he did a great job asking questions about gypsy jazz and our original music.   It was certainly Olivier's band Les Doigts d l'Homme that inspired me to compose original music and practice gypsy jazz in a more serious way.  Their video for the song Mumbo Jumbo really got my creative juices flowing.

That evening, both Marian and Olivier agreed to sit in on a show we were doing at Germano's.  I could not dream of a better way to end our time together.  I knew that Olivier was planning to sit in because we had spoken about it, but what a thrill to have Marian share the stage as well!  And all this was done for the love of the music.  No thought of compensation, no money, just for the pure love of music.  It was phenomenal to play two full sets of Jazz Manouche with these guys.  It was probably the most fun I have ever had playing rhythm guitar too.  I got to be the audience and the performer all at once.  It was also nerve-racking in a good way.  Intense to say the least.  I love the pressure of performing live though so I was enjoying every minute.  I only wish I was a little less starstruck and a little more relaxed!  I could hardly play my own solos at one point!!  Of course the tempos were so fast that all of our heads were spinning.  Suffice to say, Olivier has no problem playing at breakneck speeds.  I did manage some sweet solos on Nuages which, oddly enough, we played super slow.  I joked that it was probably the slowest Olivier had every played that tune.  He smiled warmly, then promptly launched into the next song with even greater ferocity.

Sami, Eddie, and I all hung in there and held our own alongside Marian and Olivier.  My favorite moment was probably playing Birelli's Made In France waltz because Olivier and I had played through it together earlier that day.  He just ripped it and gave us all ample time to solo as well.  He was very gracious and went out of his way to include everyone on solos.   Olivier was really impressed by Eddie on bass.  Of course who isn't?  The dude can play!

credited photos above by Jeffrey McMillan

After the show, we were all so high from the experience that we had to go sit down somewhere and just chill out.  I asked the guys where they wanted to go.  I said, "I will take you anywhere you want to go in Baltimore.  Where would you like to go?"  After Marian gave his usual answer, "somewhere I can get an omelette," they both agreed to go back to The Other Corner Charcuterie.  The mushrooms had made a deep impression!  We went there and sat for hours talking and laughing over delicious food and French red wine.  What an amazing night.  Fortunately Sami was thinking straight and he went online to get the bus tickets for Marian and Olivier.  We realized that they would have to leave fairly early if they were going to make their 7PM international flight our of JFK back to France.  We all went home for a few hours sleep and had to get up early to make it to the bus station by 8:30.  They had to meet Tanguy the bass player in Manhattan so it was best they left with hours to spare.  

I came home to my house and it was so quiet.  Those guys brought such life into my home, and into Baltimore in general.  What a cool thing to happen.  Very grateful things worked out the way they did.  

Michael Joseph Harris 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our first HD concert video! Kennedy Center! Spring & Summer Tour

You know sometimes in life you just have to go for it, take a huge risk, and see what happens. Ultrafaux has embarked on a quick progression of such risk/reward scenarios. Every indication is that we are doing something right!  Our latest risk had to do with hiring videographer Harry Bechkes to shoot an entire two hour concert, our biggest show of he year right here in Baltimore city. The pressure was intense. Not only did we have a packed house, we had a huge repertoire, no sheet music, and 4 guest artists to feature. We were prepared though and we delivered!  We hope you agree that we are producing world class gypsy jazz you all can be proud of supporting. See the video here and please subscribe 

We have been getting a lot of good recognition by the press and great attendance at shows, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Our plan is to do another series of shows in the south, then a European stint in late June followed by a New England and Canadian tour in late summer. Oh and we have a ton of new music being tweaked and finished for another upcoming recording session. And if that's not enough, we also have solid plans to record a Hot Club of Baltimore album featuring all the amazing players we have been featuring all year long. Alexis Tantau - vocalist, Cesar Orozco - pianist, Joe Brotherton - trumpet, Dan Cohan - percussion, Seth Kibel - clarinet & flute, John Dierker - bass clarinet and many more.  Look for a kickstarter for those after the holidays.

Ultrafaux will be featured at Kennedy Center Millenium Stage on Tuesday January 6 at 6pm.  Please try to make it and let all your DC friends know we will be in town. I believe its a free concert. Best thing is that they will provide us with a DVD of the entire show!  Also we have a big show at Ottobar in Baltimore on Feb.20 with friends The Highland Hill Boys and 99.5 Blues Band.  This will be a seriously fun night and only $10 in advance.  Early March begins our Southern tour with Conundrum in South Carolina on March 6, and an appearance on the Blue Plate Special radio show in Knoxville on March 10 at noon. Be sure to tune in. Apparently they have a pretty big audience in France which is pretty cool.

Summer plans begin with Sami and Michael going to Django in June which happens in Northhampton Massachusetts every June, then to France for Festival Samois.  Hopefully we will get a spot performing on one of the smaller stages there this year. Also booking tour stops for all over Netherlands, London, Ireland, Belgium, and France.  We end our tour traveling up through New England and into Canada where there is a huge gypsy jazz scene. We will of course try to stop in Manhattan and Brooklyn along the way.  Anyway 2014 has been fun and productive, but we are looking forward to more shows as we get better and better at performing this complex and demanding style known as gypsy jazz.  It's also the funnest music in the world!  See you at a show soon and please take a moment to join our mailing list and subscribe to our You Tube Channel.