From gypsy jazz to alternative rock

It’s not everyday you find a local band that specializes in the Gypsy Jazz style of music made popular in the 1930s and 1940s by the French guitarist Django Reinhardt and his violinist partner, Stephane Grappelli.

To do that, you would have a niche, to speak, and that is exactly what the Wilton-based instrumental trio Swing 42 appears to have done.

“I think so too, we have a real niche,” said McNeil Johnston, the longtime Wilton resident who plays violin in the group, named after a song Reinhardt wrote.

Swing 42, with John Taylor of Wilton and Rob Stagno of New Fairfield joining on acoustic guitars, will take the stage July 29 at 5 p.m. at Merwin Meadows Park, in the free summer concert series present by the Parks and Recreation Department. They will play Gypsy Jazz and a lot more, presenting standards from the Great American Songbook, some classics from the Beatles, and a few other surprises. In the Wilton Summer Concert, the trio will be joined by bassist Charles Casimiro.

But there’s more. Johnston and Taylor also play violin and acoustic guitar, respectively, in the trio known as Joni and the Keepers, featuring Wilton resident Joan Wallace on vocals. It’s a contemporary style of folk and country to rock and alternative, and they’ll be on stage July 22 at Schenck’s Island at 5 p.m.

The concerts are underwritten by the FAIR Group - William Raveis Real Estate, Wilton Kiwanis, and Lynne and Paul Vanderslice.

The concert series begins on July 15 at Schenck’s Island at 5 p.m. with the Wilton Rocks For Food All Stars, and concludes Aug. 5 at Merwin Meadows at 5 p.m. with the Treeshakers.

As for Swing 42, “everytime we play, we get a request for cards. You’d be surprised that every single private gig we’ve ever done is from playing live,” said McNeil, who is known as Mack.

It’s a deeply rooted style of music.

“The progenitor of this style of music was Stephane Grappelli who was a classically trained violinist, and came to jazz  late in life, and brought a kind of elegance to it, which makes the violin do what it does best, tug at the heart strings and mirror the human voice. The guitar is almost percussive. It's a lot of fun doing this,” he said.

He’s glad to be a violinist. There don’t seem to be many of those around on the local music scene.

“I’m a firm believer that if you want to call yourself a violinist you’d better aspire to learn everything the violin can do. It transcends itself and becomes an extension of the human voice,” he said.

Swing 42 is into its sixth year. Joni and the Keepers is a much newer outfit, having been together only a short time. “The three of us were in the same charity event, and we had been fooling around jamming together for years, and crystallized this idea of pursuing it more seriously with more regularity,” Mack said.

“It's nice to have variety playing all kinds of music. That’s a whole different way to play,” said acoustic guitarist John Taylor, who, like Mack, is classically trained  on his instrument. “I’m looking forward to the concerts. It’s a great series,” he said.