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ISSUE 120 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 12/1/2006

Sam Miltich's gypsy jazz inspires dancing in the aisles

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Friday, December 1, 2006

Though Sam Miltich is no gypsy - he grew up in Grand Rapids, Minn. - he and his band introduced St. Olaf to gypsy jazz, a genre that combines Eastern European and American Swing music, on Tuesday evening in the Pause. Mark Kreitzer on rhythm guitar and upright bassists Matthew Miltich, Sam Miltich's father, provided the solid beats underneath Sam Miltich's lead guitar.

Promptly at 10 p.m. the trio was on stage ready to play. Kreitzer leaned over and grabbed the mic, intoning, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage the Clearwater Hot Club." With that informal introduction, Sam Miltich plucked a few notes and the group launched into an upbeat, intricate song, Sam Miltich tapping both feet and grinning at the audience. The musicians clearly had a history of playing together.

At first, the Pause held only a smattering of listeners. Soon, however, more students wandered in and a generous handful of swing dancers filled in the empty spaces. Students took part in quiet conversations around candle-lit tables as Sam Miltich's fingers deftly wandered around the guitar neck and his feet, clad in bright red socks - a tribute to the trademark apparel of Django Reinhardt, the father of gypsy jazz - never stopped moving.

Even those unfamiliar with gypsy jazz probably recognized the sound from recent films such as "The Triplets of Belleville" and "Chocolat" (think Johnny Depp in the river party scene). Reinhardt's music was also used in other popular movies such as "Gattaca," "The Matrix" and "The Aviator."

After the up-beat "I Found a New Baby" and "I'll See You in My Dreams," Sam Miltich kicked back in his chair and rested his ankle across his knee for the slower, mellow "New Age." At 21, he looks his age, but his talent and musicianship suggest a much more experienced player.

Not that Sam Miltich hasn't had experience. He just has a natural gift, as well. He first became inspired to learn gypsy jazz from the soundtrack of Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown." He then taught himself the style from an instructional video that his dad gave him for Christmas about six years ago. Since then, he has been invited to play with groups all over the country and has toured the United States, Canada and Japan with the Clearwater Hot Club.

Aside from Sam Miltich's furious fingers exploring the fret, the trio was somewhat unexciting to watch. Sam Miltich himself began to look slightly bored around the middle of the first set, though he visually got back into the music with Lester Young's "Tickle Toe," which he dedicated to the dancers. A few songs later, on Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," he announced, "We're gonna burn it."

And they did.

A highlight of the second set was the interspersing of a few calm, introspective melodies with slow downstrokes on the rhythm guitar and simple baselines among the more buoyant pieces that dominated the concert.

The group was ready to have fun with the crowd, quietly joking around and constantly inviting the dancers to come closer to the stage, even pausing once to give them an appreciative round of applause. Later, referencing his father's dark hair and beard, he joked, "And just who is that bass player? That's right, it's just who you thought it was. It is the one, the only, Leo Tolstoy." He then went on to talk about Kreitzer's magical tie and to introduce himself as Celine Dion.

The band finished with the old standard "Pennies from Heaven" and an exciting "All of Me" with dramatic tempo changes, closing the concert almost two hours later. Though the performance crossed the border of too-long, dancers and seated audience members alike remained until the last song.

After expressing gratitude to the Pause coordinators, the lighting crew and anyone else he forgot, Sam Miltich smiled widely and thanked the audience "for just being you. This has been wonderful," he said.

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