Let's begin with the sound: instrumental, witty and utterly complex Gypsy Jazz.
Listen to the Faux Frenchmen, and you'll become catapulted back in time. Envision film noir, lipstick, high heels, the permanent wave in a fine woman's hair. See her skin-tight, sophisticated dress. Picture sharp-suited men tipping hats. Cigars, shiny black shoes, white-sheeted tables and a certain integrity in the air.
Fall into flashbacks of hidden, smart, playful music inside a chic club, one that captures secret talents. Here, affairs might be a dime a dozen but the feel is still classy. Bon jour.
Now some history.
From 1934 to 1939, The Quintet of the Hot Club of France delivered gypsy Swing/Jazz to Europe; the group included famed guitarist Django Reinhardt. Combining Indian flavor, a strong guitar-driven rhythm section, a violin and a string bass to flesh it out, Reinhardt's group made the style wildly popular. Stay with me.
Although Cincinnati's Faux Frenchmen aren't strictly a Hot Club tribute band, they do adapt the instrumentation and style. An all-star cast of local legends, the Frenchmen quietly book gigs, playing complicated, romantic music, meshing French sound with European Pop and American greats like Leo Kotke and Louis Armstrong.
Guitarist Brian Lovely says, "The heart of the Faux Frenchmen is in the whole world of gypsy Jazz that Django represents, but we meld it with the things we already know."
Within the Faux Frenchmen, music qualifications abound.
Bassist Don Aren, known for his work with Crosswind and The Bluebirds, currently plays with Fusion Jazz band Cat City. Aren has graced the stage of numerous Playhouse in the Park and Aronoff Center productions.
George Cunningham (guitar) is well-known for his nationally successful Rock band The Graveblankets. Also of Pike 27, Warsaw Falcons and the Flammables, his 2005 solo CD received a feature in Frets magazine. Cunningham and Lovely are co-founders of the Faux Frenchmen.
A master's student at CCM, a composer and singer/songwriter Lovely delved into Pop/Rock in the '90s, starting Songwriter Night at Allyn's Café and releasing a nationally acclaimed solo CD soon after. Along with several Jazz groups, Lovely founded Flying Underground, his most recent Pop/Rock venture.
Paul Patterson (violin) plays in the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops orchestras. Also a multi-instrumentalist and composer, he contributed tracks to numerous local CDs, including recent work by 500 Miles to Memphis, Greg Mahan and Ric Hordinski.
All have been immersed in the music scene for at least 20 years.
"It's an incestuous Indie/Alternative crowd, if you will," Lovely says. "We all knew each other."
In 2002, the Frenchmen came together through Tink's Café. Searching for dinner crowd music, the club owner contacted Cunningham. (Originally, Karen Addy played violin). Soon, the group appeared for a Monday residency, unloading gear on a Clifton side street, and they've played there ever since.
From Pop/Rock to the world of Gypsy Jazz, Lovely and Cunningham have been through the gamut when it comes to the music business. Rather than chase the industry, though, they seem to have found freedom from it over time.
Focusing on academia, solo projects and producing, Lovely says, "I'm not as an exclusive member of the Rock scene like I was. Right now, I'm utterly immersed in Jazz.
"The music business is business. Attaining high level exposure, even as an Indie artist, is a game you have to be willing to play. The game doesn't interest me. Art interests me. I had to make a conscious decision to push further into the music scene or push further into the music. I chose music."
Cunningham says, "I don't really see myself or the band as part of the music industry at all, for which I'm extremely grateful. ... We're not a Rock band trying to get some magical record deal to fall out of the sky. We don't have management or a label to deal with, and I find that liberating and fun.
"Doing the Nashville label chase thing with The Graveblankets was a great experience that eventually did what most of those types of ventures do — lose impetus, not for musical but for business reasons. With the Frenchmen, all that crap is out the window, and we play what we like because it's fun, period."
After earning three Cincinnati Entertainment Award nominations, the Faux Frenchmen self-produced their first CD at Lovely's studio, The Beat Parlor. Including arrangements of Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," the self-titled CD is full of joy, intelligence and charm.
Busy with gigs, the Frenchmen play diverse venues, everything from Tall Stacks to the Mercantile Library Concert Series, not to mention performing on WNKU's award-winning Studio 89 broadcast.
Perhaps a hidden diamond in our music community, but Cunningham remains humble.
"I don't know any true 'underground' band that would do a Beach Boys song," he says. "I do think that we have a somewhat unique, distinctly mid-American take on some sort of rock-informed quasi-Gypsy Jazz mind-set. I was interested in The Hot Club the moment I heard them ... like music dropping out of the sky from outer space."
Do what you love. The rest will come. Or, how about this: Play what you love. The audience will come to you.
"This is the most successful band I've been in, and we're universally admired by more than I've experienced finding an audience and paying dues," Lovely says. "This band is kind of a reward for all of us. Perhaps when we least expected it, we have all our needs met artistically and popularly."
Both full of light and equally wise, the Faux Frenchmen's music is reflective and modern, elegant and fresh. Picture matching, stylish couples. See them dancing, immune to stepping on toes. Oui.
THE FAUX FRENCHMEN (www.fauxfrenchmen.com) play each Monday at Tink's Cafe in Clifton starting at 6:30 p.m. Get more info here.