Michael-Paul Gurulé finds joy in gypsy jazz

I met Michael-Paul Gurulé when he was a student in my library research class at Whatcom Community College years ago, a friendly, outgoing guy with a curious mind. More recently, in the past few years, I’ve come to admire his musicianship and he endeavor to unite our musical community in Bellingham and beyond.

Because he’s involved in so many activities, I asked him to give me some background about his life. Because he’s an excellent writer, I’m giving you most everything he wrote. It’s long, but revealing, and tells much about how music is his life.

But first, here’s what’s coming up for him.

His Manouche N.W. Concert Series, hosted by his jazz ensemble Nuages, kicks off its season at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at a new venue, Mount Baker Theatre’s Walton Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St., featuring the Greg Ruby 6.

Here’s the rest of the season (all concerts are at the same time and place except the May 11 concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m.). Contact Mount Baker Theatre for prices, as they vary.

Pearl Django, Nov. 3

Lache Cercel, Jan. 12

Ranger & the Re-Arrangers, March 23

Nuages & Friends, May 11

Michael also directs the Whatcom Sound Jazz Singers, who’ll perform a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin on Nov. 14 at the Lairmont Manor, 405 Fieldston Road.

Michael says: The most significant driver of my life has been who am I? In my life that past has worked in my life like Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs. Somehow, I chose to pursue music, to make the soprano saxophone my passion. For years I’ve taught music first as a private instructor and then as a band director.
In the fall, I’ll be stepping into a new role as a choir and band teacher at St. Paul’s Academy. I had the opportunity to quit music teaching altogether but I’ve chosen to continue to teach middle school aged children. But why? It’s most likely because for me my most significant musical educational life shaping experiences happened in middle school. I carry my middle school band teachers close to my heart; when I spent time in their classrooms I felt that “possibility” was real. That might seem weird but there’s more to these breadcrumbs.

I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1974. From an early age I knew I was different from the kids around me; kids have no filter so they are keen to let you know when you are other. Unfortunately, that difference was in the form of racism. My earliest memory of playing at a mostly white preschool was having my face shoved into the sand and getting kicked by several kids, while they called me nigger. Confusion was the only thing that flooded my mind, I didn’t understand this word nor why these other kids were directing this at me. This was just part of world of violence that I grew up with as a child. These scars still haunt me and in this post-Obama world are sorely return as I watch the news.

I learned that I was French and that I was Mexican. But I learned to hate my Mexican roots, even to this day I have difficulty admitting that I’m Mexican. I was raised to act white. I was not taught to learn Spanish and also to look down on other Mexicans, as if that would give me ability to defy my Mexicaness. In Utah, there were two types of Mexicans, the once who came from Mexico and the ones for whom Mexico was stolen.  In Spanish society, those who are not originally from Mexico often consider themselves “better than” or “we’re not those.” This didn’t help me much; I still had to go to school where I wasn’t white and the Mexican kids didn’t like me much because I didn’t speak Spanish…and therefore a target for harassment.

It was in band that I discovered a place, a people, and more. I discovered people for whom borders don’t matter, and who appreciate color. It was in band that I made my first real friends and from there I was home. Music was home. As I grew older I learned that choral music was amazing, and most importantly, I discovered jazz. I discovered this music that I could hear clearly appreciated and valued so many peoples. I learned that there was a thing called Latin jazz and that the French, one of my European heritages, appreciated! Music was home, but jazz was my kitchen, where I cooked and tasted life.

Heritage became increasingly more important to me as I grew older. I learned to break down my ethnic map into three areas: France, Spain and the Four Corners region. I learned that part of being Southwestern American Hispanic meant that I possess a Native American heritage. I learned that because my French ancestry goes back to 1688 and that my family incorporates Hopi and other Pueblo peoples, for which there is no way to measure. I realized that my love of southwestern cuisine, the food I grew up with, comes directly from the peoples of New Mexico.  For me, food is the only connection I still have to my Southwestern ancestral home. But for my European ancestral home, my passion has been for French music, most notably Manouche (gypsy) jazz.

In discovering Django Reinhardt and other Manouche jazz masters, I discovered a people with whom I find a connection. I’ve discovered that there are other peoples in this world who don’t have a geography they can concretely identify with; either they are exiles, nomadic or both. The gypsies, (this is only a derogatory term if one is intending it to be, otherwise it is the accepted term for greater range of peoples comprised of the Sinti, Roma, Gitane, Manouche and others) were exiled from India and moved throughout Asia, Europe and North Africa. Many settled in particular areas like Spain, Romania, France, Germany, Russia, etc. and many chose to remain Nomadic.  This idea of possessing the earth is a bizarre fallacy of the human race. So, I’ve found a music where I can funnel my passion for jazz and the ability to roam the earth through music.

In Nuages, the jazz quintet for which I play soprano saxophone, we’ve explored tradition gypsy jazz, Roma folk music, standard American song book, and more recently Latin and Spanish influences. We’ve incorporated classical, folk and jazz into a single show, because it was Django Reinhardt who believed in this possibility in the style of jazz he birthed. And for this we are full of gratitude, and hearts that believe that people need to hear this music. So, we created a concert series called Manouche N.W.

Two years ago, we reached out to several groups to come to Bellingham to take part in our concerts. We wanted to have a place where people could hear the music, in a concert setting that allowed the attention to be on the music and the performers.  Allowing the performers to incorporate and demonstrate the subtleties and nuances of their take on this music. This past year we came under Allied Arts umbrella to help further our commitment to keeping this music in the front our community. We are compelled to perform this music with our Northwestern American artistic filters while showing the deepest respect for the people that gave us this music.  

Going into our third year, we are looking to expand our audience, and especially to reach those who have never had a chance to learn about this music. In addition, I will continue to lead the Whatcom Sound Jazz Choir and share my love of jazz with some grown-ups too!

For me, I feel like I’m home when I play gypsy jazz.  Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes, but for me home is where the soul is. The breadcrumbs have brought me to a place where my soul connects, dances and sings.  When I get to share this music for others, I feel like I’m giving to others that feeling of home… joy.

Here’s how to keep up with what Michael’s doing:

Call him at 360-961-1559, email him at mpg@nuagesjazz.net or nuagesjazz@gmail.com, or visit www.nuagesjazz.net.