The Olivarez Trio

Posted on February 10, 2010 by


Charlottesville is filled with niche markets, and thus, niche products. The Olivarez Trio, Charlottesville’s renowned gypsy jazz band, represents an accessible yet high-end niche product.

“It’s a limited market,” explains guitarist Rick Olivarez, “but it’s a special, unique product.” Guitarist Jeff Cheers adds, “Ethnic music reaches the soul, and when you hear it done right, you want to recreate it.” Olivarez, Cheers, and upright bassist Dave Berzonsky have done just that.

Although the history of gypsy jazz goes back to cultural gypsy roots, the phrase was coined in the 1980s. Monumental gypsy jazz figure, Django Reinhardt, born in 1910 in Belgium, transformed the classical gypsy music of waltzes and folklore. When a fire damaged his hand, he formulated a new two-finger style of guitar-playing, and used American jazz as an inspiration to fuse the gypsy ensemble (string instruments) with jazz music, founding a “hot club” style of gypsy-jazz music.

“Gypsies don’t have a lot of heroes,” explains Olivarez of Reinhardt’s life and death. “His legacy almost died out.”

However, in the 1970s, a new generation of gypsy pride reignited interest in the genre. WASO, a Belgian band formed by Fapy L’afertin and Koen De Kouter, both from a lineage of musicians, re-inspired Reinhardt’s original repertoire.

In a series of unique events, Olivarez stumbled upon a box of WASO bootleg tapes in New Orleans, giving the Trio a repertoire no other U.S. band has access to.

After playing with a trio in Canada, Olivarez returned to Charlottesville hoping to continue in the same vain, and stumbled upon Cheers, who had always admired Reinhardt from a far. Berzonsky, who has a jazz background, joined shortly after, and “gave the band an extra push,” affirms Olivarez.

These three guys with rock backgrounds hail the legendary moments the Reinhardt and WASO, while remaining humble and true to the essence of the music.

“We aren’t trying to educate people, or play note for note from a 1937 Django record,” explains Berzonsky. “Live music as a museum exhibit or performance piece is lame… [Like WASO], we make our music a living breathing form that’s always evolving.”

Each Tuesday night, the Trio plays at C&O, but each week, something different happens.

olivarez trio

“Two years from now, our music may sound completely different,” explains Olivarez of these ‘pure heart musicians’ playing simply for the love of the music.

The organic authenticity of the Trio’s music is enough to draw a loyal crowd to all their shows, affirming Olivarez’s belief that “you don’t have to have a finely tuned ear for music” to see the passion behind the musicianship.

“Gypsy music is a musical companion when you walk the dark edges of consciousness,” explains Berzonsky of the historically marginalized gypsy culture. “It is exciting, heartfelt, romantic, timeless and sometimes a little bit sad maybe,” adds Olivarez, of the melancholy tone of gypsy jazz.

This summer, Olivarez hopes to travel to France for a Django festival outside Paris to network and lay groundwork for the Trio. “Our music is a journey and who knows what’s next,” says Olivarez.

For now, the musicians are filled with admiration for the local music scene in Charlottesville. Berzonsky believes in the long-term cultural viability of Cville, and is ready and willing to pitch his ideas for making this an economically thriving and community of high-end niche products.

The Trio is available for booking weddings and other special events. Also, their CD is available on To check out their music and upcoming shows, visit Or, better yet, catch them on a Tuesday night at C&O.

Posted in: 10 in 20ten, 2010, music