Tchavolo Schmitt is a legend for lovers of Gypsy Swing, despite the fact he has recorded a handful of CDs only and has never tried to carve out a career for himself. Those who had the chance to hear him in the ’70s playing Gypsy waltzes in the bistros around the Marche aux Puces in Paris still remember the occasion. His performances were to leave their mark on a whole generation of guitarists enthralled by the style.
Born in Paris in 1954 (as Charles Schmitt) into a family of musicians, Tchavolo took up the guitar around the age of six. His name started to be known in wider circles from the time he took part in the Darmstadt Musikfest der Zigeuner (where he brought the house down) and through recordings that attested to his amazing performances. Tchavolo found himself playing alongside the great violinists of the time, like Schnuckenack Reinhardt, Schmitto Kling, and Wedeli Kohler. Kohler took him on board his group, the Hot Club Da Sinti, and they toured for several months and made a recording.
In 1979 Tchavolo vanished from the professional circuits and returned in Strasbourg where he settled down. Having traveled there for a party with his two brothers, he ended up by staying, doing the round in small bars and giving some private concerts. He played with his Strasbourg friends like Patrick Perez and brothers Mandino and Sony Reinhardt, or those passing through, like Bireli Lagrene, Dorado Schmitt or Stochello Rosenberg. During these years he just selected a few events to participate in: the Garnier Opera in 1992, the Route Tsigane at La Villette and the Gypsy Swing Festival in Angers.
There is probably no microphone able to catch the whole burst of Tchavolo’s guitar. In order to capture the intensity of his music, one must attend a concert or, even better, share the inexpressible moments encountered in traditional Gypsy meetings.
Peaceful and burning at once, Tchavolo had already touched movie director Tony Gatlif by becoming one of the characters of his movie ‘Latcho Drom’ before he became the pretext for Gatlif’s latest movie ‘Swing’, where he was also enrolled and was in charge of the soundtrack. Tchavolo Schmitt is for the Manouche people what Tomatito (Camaron de la Isla’s guitarist) is for Andalusian Gitanos says Tony Gatlif about him!
His recorded work includes “Wonderful” (with the Hot Club Da Sinti), “Gypsy Reunion” (1993) (with Dorado Schmitt and Hono Winterstein), “Miri Familia”, “Alors? Voilà!”, “Swing” (the soundtrack for Tony Gatlif’s movie), “Mémoires” and, finally, “Loutcha” (2004), arguably his best recording.