After watching the Super Guitar Trio DVD, I couldn't help come back to a thought I've had many times over the years:
Why isn't Bireli famous in the US?
Ok, he isn't exactly obscure in the guitar world. However, throughout my high school years, and my college years at Berklee, I don't ever remember hearing much about him. The guys that got all the attention where Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryelle, Al Di Meola, etc. But when I listen to recordings of Bireli from the 80s, and 90s, he was clearly playing at, or above those guys. But he never seemed to get much respect for it. It's only now that he's older AND gone back to Gypsy jazz that he seems to be getting more recognition.
So here are a few of my theories. I'd like to know what people think:
1) Bireli is a victim of Gypsy musical stereotyping: I know that almost every Gypsy (including Django) that has tried to play something beyond the pre-war django style has faced heavy criticism. The public wants Gypsies to play like Django...and that's it. I know that this was an issue for Fapy. He gets pegged as being very traditional...but he actually played straight ahead electric stuff for years. But he was forced to go back to playing Django...he just couldn't get enough work doing anything else.
2) Although a technical genius, Bireli lacks a unique musical direction. It seems that Bireli likes to "conquer" musical genres one after another. Django, then Bop, then Fusion, etc. He seems to immerse himself in a style , learn all the vocabulary, and then outplay the best guys. But maybe he's missed something a long the way. Bireli definitely has an identifiable sound...he has a lot of humor in his playing which is so lacking in most players. But he hasn't really created a whole new genre...he's just really freaking good at the genres that are all ready around. So the fame of Pat Metheney is probably more about being one of pioneers of fusion then it is about being monster player (which he also is). I suppose you could say the same about Al Di Meola too.
3) Maybe Bireli just doesn't care: This is probably the main reason...he's a Gypsy so playing guitar is a lifestyle. He simply doesn't have the same career motivations that the Gadjos have. On a certain level, he's probably just happy to play, whether it's at the camp or at Carnegie hall. He's pulled a no show at more concerts then I can count. Behavior like that says it all...
I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts...