On a balmy August afternoon, the gypsy jazz quintet the Tipsy Gypsies gathered in guitarist Forrestt Williams’ San Luis Obispo living room to practice for their next gig — and sip beer, swap stories and good-naturedly tease violinist Allan Dick about his choice of footwear. (He showed up for a photo shoot wearing tennis shoes.)
The lighthearted tone was typical of the Tipsy Gypsies, who enjoy an easy familiarity that most ensembles would envy.
“We all respect and like each other, which is almost unheard of,” Dick said with a chuckle.
“Everyone’s really awesome,” added singer Hilary Langdon. “It’s really fun to just come and hang out and play music and do what you love.”
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The Tipsy Gypsies have had plenty of opportunities this fall to share their unique chemistry and showstopping sound with audiences. The band played Beaverstock in Templeton in September, headlined a Central Coast showcase at Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles in October and is gearing up for more concerts this month — including a 40th anniversary celebration for public radio station KCBX.
“Old people like us. People our age ... like us. Young people like us,“ Williams said. “(Our music) is kind of universally appealing.”
Langdon and Williams formed the Tipsy Gypsies around 2007, but the band didn’t take its current form until 2013. That’s when drummer Daryl Vandruff came aboard; Dick and bassist Brian Lanzone joined the group around 2011.
“This lineup right now is exceptional,” said Williams, who shares songwriting duties with Langdon. “Everybody is an A-plus-plus musician.”
According to Williams, the Tipsy Gypsies pair technical acumen with creative flexibility to create a lively yet sophisticated sound rooted stylistically in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
They specialize in a mix of original songs and covers of tunes by the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Prima and Tom Waits. A typical setlist might feature jazz classics such as “Black Coffee,” “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)” and “When I Get Low, I Get High” as well as Britney Spears’ pop hit “Toxic.”
They may play music from a bygone era, the bandmates said, but their sensibility is strictly modern.
As the group’s name implies, the Tipsy Gypsies started out performing acoustic gypsy jazz — the genre popularized by virtuoso guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930s and ’40s.
Old people like us. People our age ... like us. Young people like us. (Our music) is kind of universally appealing.
Over the years, they’ve branched out to incorporate other influences including electric blues, rock and swing.
That may be due to the band members’ varied backgrounds. Williams, for instance, was originally a funk bassist.
While Vandruff spent his early years as a self-described “jazz snob,” Dick started out performing old-timey bluegrass, country and Western swing, followed by Cajun music and country rock.
Lanzone also began in bluegrass. “I’ve gotten influenced by all music, so I draw on a little bit of everything — funk to jazz to classical,” said the bassist, a San Luis Obispo High School graduate who performs with the San Luis Obispo Symphony. (Lanzone and Vandruff also belong to the world beat ensemble Mama Tumba, based in Los Osos, while Dick plays with the Americana band Cuesta Ridge.)
Just as the Tipsy Gypsies take advantage of their musical diversity, Vandruff said the band members benefit from their ability to improvise and adapt on the fly.
“Every time we get together, it’s free and easy,” he said. “Some people aren’t (that) flexible. Some bands are real rigid and if somebody does something different they kind of freak out. But we don’t.”
“We’re such (good) jazz musicians, we can make our mistakes sound good,” Williams added with a laugh.
So far, the Tipsy Gypsies have gained a loyal following through repeat gigs at venues including Creekside Brewing Company, Luna Red and SLO Brewing Co. in downtown San Luis Obispo, as well as several local wineries. They’ll perform at Luna Red’s Prohibition Party on Dec. 5.
In addition, the band has released two full-length albums — 2009’s “Lipstick Holdup” and 2013’s “Little Victories” — and a 2008 demo, “Sunday Afternoon.” The group plans to return to the recording studio early next year, possibly in January.
The Tipsy Gypsies’ achievements are especially impressive considering that all of the band members but Vandruff, a retired firefighter, balance once-weekly rehearsals and frequent gigs with regular jobs.
Lanzone is a phlebotomist, Williams works as a Web developer and Langdon handles graphic design, sales and social media at a local cosmetics company. Dick works in the construction field.
They’re all willing to put in the hours to make the Tipsy Gypsies a solid fixture on the Central Coast music scene.
As Vandruff put it, “What’s the point if it’s not fun? This is the most fun.”