Swingin' on a single string

A single string drives Djug Django.

Ithaca's Gypsy jazz band features the washtub bass playing of Syracuse native Jim Sherpa. A Bishop Ludden alumnus, Sherpa began thumping the gutbucket in the mid-1970s with the Water Street Boys jug band in Oswego, where he studied theater in college.

Now, after several years in New Orleans, Sherpa holds down the bottom for Djug Django, a snappy septet also featuring fiddler Eric Aceto, clarinetist Brian Earle and guitarists Harry Aceto, Dave Davies and Doug Robinson.

Djug Django specializes in the music of Gypsy guitarist Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt (1910-1953), who founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France which also featured fiddler Stephane Grappelli. Django's genius bloomed in the quintet's blend of New Orleans jazz, French waltzes and Romani dance tunes.

Djug Django Sunday in CamillusIthaca College trumpeter Frank Campos adds some brass to Djug Django's string-oriented sound from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday Nov. 7, at McNamara's Pub, 5600 Newport Road, in Camillus. The concert is hosted by the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse, and admission costs $10 for JASS members, $12 for others; 652-0547.

Sherpa has built several one-string basses over the years, including his first made from an antique copper washing machine and his current ax, a converted bass drum.

Posting on Metafilter.com, blogger Bill Garrett had high praise for Sherpa's homemade sound.

"The best washtub bass I've heard was built and played by Jimmy Sherpa, aka Dr. Rhythm, the greatest washtub bass player ever," Garrett wrote. "He's a great innovator on the instrument because instead of an aluminum washtub he uses a bass drum."

Syracuse jazz musician Pat Carroll stood in awe of Sherpa's sound after catching Djug Django last year playing tunes like "Tiger Rag," "Sweet Sue" and "Nuages."

"I've heard others play this seemingly simple instrument who fail to pass the first test," Carroll observed. "The gutbucket is a rhythm instrument and Jim has a natural sense of rhythm plus the skill to obtain a full range of sound out of a single string. Simply amazing!"

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