Monday, May 1, 2017

WTMD! CD Release shows! 3 Big Festivals!

We were so happy to perform on WTMD this past Saturday. We've done two live interviews on the station and they consistently play our music on shows like Paul Hartman's Detours among others. They've been really supportive and it means a lot considering we are an instrumental Django Reinhardt-inspired jazz trio. We are really looking forward to the Ultrafaux CD Release Show at Ottobar on May 4th which happens after the WTMD first Thursday.  Its going to be a great after-party capping off a big day of awesome music.  

Radio host Sam Gallant asked me a rather awkward question after the show. He said, "are you guys good?, I mean, in the genre. I know you're good musicians, but are you good compared to the best of this style?"  
It was a strange feeling to be put on the spot like that, but it was an honest question from a person who likes our music but is not 100% familiar with gypsy jazz. I thought for a moment and  said, "Yes, we are good. We can hang with the best in the world!" 

We've hung out with some the best guitarists at places like Django In June or while on tour. These guys are amazing, often playing at a very high level since they were young boys. Antoine Boyer, Sébastien Giniaux, Samson Schmitt, Olivier Kikteff, Adrien Moignard, Stephane Wrembel, Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, and many more have shown us the path. Teachers like Denis Chang really keep the authenticity of the style intact for new students of the style.  It's an amazing learning experience, often brutal and deflating but mostly inspiring and supportive. Gypsy jazz is a culture and a family, not just a musical style. 

After a few years of hard work, and composing over 34 songs, I can say we're finally hitting our stride. It's no mistake that we've been featured at the top gypsy jazz festivals in the world in 2015 & 2016 and that we're about to play the biggest Django Jazzfest in Fontainebleau, France in July. It's no fluke that we were the first gypsy jazz band to ever play Napa Valley Jazz Society. We sold out NVJS at Silo's in Napa and they said we were the best show ever featured in any style, bar none!  Now we are in the process of lining up another southern tour in January to perform at the big Django Birthday festival in Asheville NC and Djanguary Festival in Richmond Virginia. We will be putting together more shows in NC, SC, GA, etc.. during that time.  Also in the works is a tour of Northern California in 2018, probably in the Summer.  Stay tuned!  

Yes I can finally put my perfectionism aside for a moment and say we're doing pretty well, however, we all know it's sink or swim in the music business. We all have to constantly practice to stay at the top of your game. There's so much to learn and new challenges every day. Everything becomes way more intense when you make your goal to be at the top of your game.  The important thing is we have fun and we keep the spontaneity in the music.  Audiences will always be treated to a totally unique experience at every show.  It won't be scripted or formulaic and I always enjoy adding a few surprises to every show.  Something unexpected is always in the works!  

Its a big day for me because my daughter turns 9 today!  I am so happy for her.  She's learned so much more than me when I was her age including violin, piano, mandolin and some harp!

Enjoy the music and keep swingin'  

Michael - composer/guitarist 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Festivals - Tours - 2 new CDs - and Europe!

2016 was a busy year of new opportunities and the opening up of new possibilities.  Highlights include: Performing at Django By The Sea alongside Rhythm Future Quartet for the final day of the sold-out festival in Kittery Maine.  Performing at Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival with The Russell Welch Hot Quartet, who I liked so much I asked them to play our Charm City Django Jazzfest coming up Feb.24/25.  The other featured bands include Anouman who I met through an awesome rhythm guitarist I play with in NYC named Josh Kaye.  Anouman features lead guitarist Koran Agan who taught at Django in June in 2016.  Violinist extraordinaire Leah Zeger will also perform in Charm City at the festival and I will have the honor of backing her up along with Josh Kaye and the bassist Eduardo from Anouman.  This is going to be a blast!  

We also got the chance to go on three nice tours this year.  We played for a sold out audience at Napa Valley Jazz Society's main event at Silo's in Napa, plus did a bunch of cool gigs in Northern California and the bay area. We went up to Montreal and Quebec City to visit friends and play concerts all through the Northeast. We met so many wonderful people along the way. Then we did a tour down South to some of our favorite places like Asheville, Atlanta, Athens, Columbia, and Nashville before heading down to NOLA via Mobile Alabama where we performed an epic brunch after driving all night and getting about an hour of sleep in the car.  NOLA was gorgeous this time of year and the folks there were super friendly.  I think the most fun we had was jamming all night at Kala's house in Biwater near Marigny where we would later play our concert with Russell Welch and Connor Stewart.  

The seeds were planted for two new CDs in the fall of 2016 and those seeds sprouted finally in the winter of 2017, fertilized by our successful Kickstarter during that time.  As usual I proposed doing the impossible which was to complete two new full-length CDs in two months time.  The hardest part was rehearsing the challenging Ultrafaux original music, but we came together as a band to make it happen.  The Hot Club of Baltimore music was challenging too, but not quite as intense because they were familiar songs we have played before many times on gigs together.  

It was fantastic to work with our new violinist Matt Andrews who moved to Baltimore right  about the same time our previous violinist Patrick McAvinue headed to Nashville where he got a job performing for Dailey and Vincent.  Matt plays on 5 songs on the new Hot Club CD Impromptu.  I think we both love the traditional sound of Django and Stephane but we also enjoy contemporary gypsy jazz so I felt like we really enjoyed the process of rehearsing and arranging these tunes together.  Alexis Tantau is the vocalist for Impromptu and she does some amazing work on La Foule, Like Someone in Love, Blue Drag, My Melancholy Baby, and Moon Ray.  Then we have two songs featuring the incredible horns of Sam King, Nico Sarbanes, and Clarence Ward - an all-star Baltimore cast of characters!  

Ultrafaux's new release is completely different from our previous releases except for the new arrangement of our song Latcho Dromo which is more like the way we play it live at shows since first recording it in 2014. The rest of the songs are influenced a lot by Balkan music, funk, and musette, plus there is a contemporary twist on songs like Xiphoid Process and North Avenue Stomp.  The melodies are some of the most complicated I have written and they demanded a lot of work before finally going to the studio to record.  

The possibility of touring Europe finally came up after a few years of wanting to do it. We were invited to Samois Festival Django Reinhardt in France last year but could not go.  This year we will tour from Wales to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in late May, then hopefully we will perform at Samois in July.  These trips are super challenging to coordinate but they are coming together and some things recently fell in our favor.  Plus, I just got word that we are opening for Bebel Gilberto at Ram's Head Live so that will help us gain momentum.  

Be well everyone! Be your best!  See you at an upcoming show!  

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 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