Photo courtesy of the Castro Family
Song-- "Stardust"-- plays
Jo Reed: That's Daisy Castro playing the Hoagy Carmichael classic, "Stardust". It's from her first solo CD, Gypsy Moth, which she recorded at the ripe old age of 13.
Welcome to Art Works, the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. I'm your host, Josephine Reed.
Daisy Castro began playing the violin when she was six. The story goes that her parents found a violin in an antique shop. They handed it to Daisy and asked, "Do you want to play this?" It turned out that she did, and it turned out that she was extremely talented. She learned to play with the Suzuki method, which emphasizes learning by ear along with the more traditional music notation, and having music and a musical community central to a child's life. There Daisy lucked out, both her parents are musicians, playing guitar, cello, and percussion, so she grew up in a musical environment--where hearing live-performances was just a part of everyday life. Somewhere along the line, Daisy heard gypsy jazz-- a style of jazz that began in France in the 1930s with guitarist Django Reinhart, who was soon joined by violinist Stephane Grapelli. Daisy was hooked by its mixture of melancholy and exuberance, and gypsy jazz became her passion. At 13, she played at her first annual Django Reinhardt Festival in France and wowed the crowds. She's returned every year since. Stateside, she's played at some of the legendary jazz clubs like Birdland and Blues Alley. So far, her sixteenth year has been a good one: she just completed the Strathmore Artist in Residency program, her second CD Deviation, or Déviation, has been released, and even as I speak, she's playing at the Django festival in France. I spoke to her the week before she left for Europe and I asked her to describe gypsy jazz.
Daisy Castro: I think it's very strange, it's obscure, and it's really interesting actually. Like it has more passion and a lot of emotion; like a very wide range of emotions are displayed by the musicians that are playing it. It's very difficult to explain because it's such a strange genre of music. But it's not like anything else that I've ever heard. Like it does take influences from a lot of other things, like American jazz and swing. But then there's this other additional feeling that is very different from other things.
Jo Reed: There's a melancholy tone sometimes…
Daisy Castro: Yes.
Jo Reed: …there's songs that are so upbeat, and--
Daisy Castro: There are songs that can really make you feel just like serious energy; especially like being on a stage and playing with the musicians and connecting with them and playing these really fast songs, you can feel like everything is just alive.
Jo Reed: And there's no drummer, per se, in gypsy jazz typically.
Daisy Castro: No.
Jo Reed: Is that true?
Daisy Castro: The guitarists are actually the rhythm section; and the bass, if there is one.
Jo Reed: Daisy, you began by playing classical violin. How long were you playing classical music?
Daisy Castro: I was in a junior symphony, the York Junior Symphony, for about five seasons. I started when I was in second grade and then I believe I stopped after sixth grade. It was a really awesome experience because there were so many other people my age that were really great musicians, and it was nice to play with them. But I took lessons, classical lessons, for about six years maybe. But I actually prefer jazz because it's free and you can just do anything.
Jo Reed: How did you first discover jazz?
Daisy Castro: When I was six years old, my parents and I went to France; and that was conveniently the same time that I started playing the violin. So I discovered the music of Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, the great kings of gypsy jazz. And I like it. Like I had been listening to it since I discovered it but I didn't really start playing it until maybe four years ago.
Jo Reed: And what made you begin to play?
Daisy Castro: Well I just really liked the style. Like, I had been listening to it for quite awhile, and I wanted to be able to sort of recreate and do the kind of stuff that they did in the recordings.
Jo Reed: Your parents are musical as well. They play.
Daisy Castro: Yeah.
Jo Reed: And they play gypsy jazz too, don't they?
Daisy Castro: They play--
Jo Reed: I mean, they play a lot of different things.
Jo Reed: But it includes gypsy jazz.
Daisy Castro: It does. It's not all gypsy jazz, in fact as a band we do all sorts of stuff, alternative stuff. We've done more popular stuff, and just everything pretty much. So it's really nice to have grown up with them, because they're really supportive of the music that I'm doing and they understand about the music and they help me as much as they can. And it's quite pleasant.
Jo Reed: When you moved from classical to jazz, how was it going from playing set pieces to improvising?
Daisy Castro: Actually to be honest, for the first couple of years I was absolutely terrified of improvisation. Like I could do some; but it was difficult for me to grasp the concept of say like improvising on an actual gypsy jazz tune. Like "Minor Swing" was horrifying to me, just thinking about trying to play without seeing things on a page. Or actually it wasn't necessarily because there was no music written down for me. But it was just the fact that I didn't think that I could possibly come up with the amount of notes that I needed to create a decent solo in the amount of time that I had. So, I mean, it was very challenging. But it was definitely worth it to practice and learn how to do it.
Jo Reed: How did you learn how to do it?
Daisy Castro: Mostly I listened to CDs of the players that I like; and like solos that I'm particularly fond of on the songs that I want to learn. And I kind of pick up stuff from people, but then I add my own things as well. It's very hard to explain; like I guess playing and styles for everyone are constantly evolving. So it's hard to sort of like pinpoint where exactly you picked something up from.
Jo Reed: No, of course.
Daisy Castro: Like it might have just come from yourself or your mind or your heart.
Jo Reed: To me, it's just mind boggling about how skilled you have to be in order to be able to improvise.
Daisy Castro: It can be very difficult, like what intimidates me now are very fast songs. Maybe not intimidation but like just anxiousness, if I'm trying to improvise on a very fast song. Because you have to have like a quick sort of mind for that; like maybe not mind but just something about you has to be quick. And I think at some point it sort of just becomes like an instinct for you, once you've been playing for long enough, that it just comes out and you don't really think about it.
Jo Reed: Somebody told me it was like driving a car-- clearly you need 80-gazzilion times more talent-- but in the way that when you first start driving, every single thing has to be thought about: Okay turn the key, do this. And now you get in the car and you just go. There's an instinct…
Jo Reed: …that takes over.
Daisy Castro: Yeah that's-- that's actually a good comparison.
Jo Reed: What also strikes me about improvising, it's not even that you yourself need to come up with the notes but that you also have to be so good about listening to your fellow musicians and picking up when they improvise. Because there's give and take going on.
Daisy Castro: Honestly I would say that I learn so much from just playing with other people; like instead of having to sit there and consciously practice stuff like that, just playing with other people and picking up stuff from them, and picking up stuff, just like hearing stuff and sort of absorbing it as you are jamming , very, very valuable.
Jo Reed: Do you remember your first performance, the first time you stood up in front of people?
Daisy Castro: No I do not. I couldn't tell you anything about that because I have no idea when it was.
Jo Reed: Okay. What's the first performance you remember?
Daisy Castro: I remember we played a song called "Rock Salt and Nails". I remember playing it in my parents' barn. We have a party there like every year. It's a harvest party and a bunch of people come and there's music and everything. But that is one of the first things that I ever played on the violin with my parents as a band. And it was like-- I believe it was like the first violin that I ever got and it was a one-eighth size and it was tiny. So that's pretty much the first thing that I remember about playing in public.
Jo Reed: Did you like playing in public? Or was that something you had to get used to?
Daisy Castro: I still get nervous now whenever there's a stage involved. But I don't remember really consciously having stage fright or getting nervous when I was younger. I think it was just that I was so young that it was like a normal thing to do. So I've grown up with that; and I guess that's probably an advantage.
Jo Reed: Your parents and you, you play as a family and you're called the Infidel Castros.
Jo Reed: Which is a great name. Were you playing as a family pretty much all along…
Jo Reed: …when you were in the symphony?
Daisy Castro: Definitely. We started playing more after that, like maybe eighth grade to now we've been playing the most. But when that was going on, I mean, we would do some shows here and there. But we really started playing like a lot out when I was in middle school.
Jo Reed: You were homeschooled…
Daisy Castro: I am still homeschooled.
Jo Reed: Yeah you are still, of course, because you're 16, you are still homeschooled.
Jo Reed: I'm assuming because when you're playing it's a very different schedule from a school schedule, among other reasons.
Daisy Castro: Well, yes definitely. Being in school, like it was so hard to travel because just all the stuff that you missed--the whole school system is so fast that you can't afford to miss just a couple of weeks of education or else you're not going to be able to do well on tests or anything like that. But homeschool for me has been a really good thing because I have so much more time to travel and more time to do stuff, like real life stuff, besides education. So I think it's important for like musicians to be able to have that experience and not be stuck in public schools, unable to really work around that schedule.
Jo Reed: I would also think travel and playing with other musicians is an extraordinary education unto itself.
Daisy Castro: Yes it is, definitely. For me personally it's a lot better because I can get out and learn things that I wouldn't have learned in school about the world and about music.
Jo Reed: Let's hear a song from the Infidel Castros. This is from the CD Strange Enchanted, and it's called "Bacchanale". Tell us something about it.
Daisy Castro: That song was actually based on one of the pieces from Samson and Delilah. And I actually played it when I was with the Junior Symphony. But this is sort of like our rendition of it. It's like--we put a very original twist on it.
Jo Reed: Okay. So here we go.
Song-- "Bacchanale"-- plays
Jo Reed: That is wonderful. How old were you when you did the CD?
Daisy Castro: I was 11. It was the first CD that I did ever.
Jo Reed: So it was your first time in a studio.
Jo Reed: What was that like?
Daisy Castro: It was very new; it was different. I sort of just went with whatever because it seemed like sort of natural. The studio that we recorded it in, the other two CDs were also recorded there, is really nice. It's actually, it has a very homely feel and it's very comfortable. It was easy to do it.
Jo Reed: Now obviously with your third CD, Deviations, I'm assuming that you really had a lot more input about the songs that you chose and how the whole thing came together.
Daisy Castro: Definitely. Because from the first two CDs I had gotten more experience and learned more about how exactly to put things on the CD and what my stronger points, what I would want to be recorded for forever, just like a landmark of what I've been doing.
Jo Reed: And you also wrote two songs for…
Daisy Castro: I did.
Jo Reed: …your latest CD. This is yet another new experience.
Daisy Castro: Definitely. Actually these were the first two songs that I wrote, with minimal help. Like, of course my dad helped me come up with the chord progressions sort of because I don't play guitar, unfortunately. But all the melodies I managed to write myself. And it was the first time I'd ever written a song just completely on my own; the whole structure was up to me. I was very nervous about it. Like it was-- I think the anticipation of actually having to write it was a lot worse than actually just going for it and writing.
Jo Reed: That's true for so much.
Daisy Castro: Yeah, I mean, it really does feel good once you have finished writing it. Because you have this thing that you have created, and hearing it being played back to you is also a really nice experience because it's like wow, I actually made this.
Jo Reed: How is sitting down and writing a song different from kind of the musical muscles you use when you're improvising?
Daisy Castro: Well it actually involves serious thinking; like you have to put thought into it. It has to be original. Like I would prefer if it didn't- it wasn't based off of something else that I heard. Of course every song that's written has to take some influences from somewhere. But, like, I try to keep it as personal as possible; like as close to what I like and what I like to hear and what I like to play as possible. So there's a lot of you put into it. So you have to sort of reach into yourself and find things that you didn't exactly know were there before. And it's fascinating to do it. But it can be frustrating. But it's always worth it in the end.
Jo Reed: And which-- tell me again which songs on Deviations are yours?
Daisy Castro: "Déviation", which is the title track and--
Jo Reed: Excuse me.
Daisy Castro: Sorry. And also "Quatrepine"-- excuse my murdered French.
Jo Reed: Your French is beautiful. Do you speak French?
Daisy Castro: I speak a little bit; but I'm working on it.
Jo Reed: How often do you go to France?
Daisy Castro: Every year now.
Jo Reed: Because of course Django Reinhardt lived in France.
Jo Reed: And is adored there.
Daisy Castro: Definitely.
Jo Reed: That's a question. When you tour in Europe, and especially France, do you find that people are more aware of this type of music, of gypsy jazz? Perhaps--
Daisy Castro: Yes definitely.
Jo Reed: Yes?
Daisy Castro: Because it was born there, a lot more people know about it than the people here. But I have noticed that it is spreading to other countries, especially in the U.S. It's popping up everywhere and it's getting a lot more known and a lot more people are trying it out. So I think that's pretty cool.
Jo Reed: Yeah me too. So why don't we hear Déviation. You see, you think your French is bad.
Song-- "Déviation"-- plays
Jo Reed: That is a terrific song.
Daisy Castro: Thank you.
Jo Reed: I didn't know you wrote it; and I've been listening to the CD over the past few days and every time this would come on I'd be bopping around the house. You can't sit still and listen to it.
Daisy Castro: Oh, I should mention that I was frustrated in the midst of writing and I actually got sort of tired of it. I didn't really have trust in myself that I could write any more songs. And so I just popped out with this melody because I was so irritated.
Jo Reed: It's a great illustration of the peppier side of gypsy jazz. Because as we said, there's this kind of lament or melancholy strain that goes through it. But then there's also this other side; and that's a great illustration of it.
Listening to Gypsy Moth, your first solo CD that you made at 13, and then Déviation that you made at 15, the progression of your musicality is really quite extraordinary. Can you hear that as a musician, too?
Daisy Castro: I definitely can. Like I'm always trying to improve. I know as a musician or an artist of any sort you don't stop improving and-- or you shouldn't stop improving; and that's what I hope never to do. But actually listening to Gypsy Moth is bittersweet for me. I feel tortured at the same time as I feel like oh wow, at 13 I made music and that's pretty cool. But I get embarrassed sometimes just listening to the songs; because like I know that I've improved. But just rewinding my life to that stage was kind of awkward for me because it was so-- I don't know-- different and not as advanced, I guess.
Jo Reed: Well, it was your first solo CD.
Jo Reed: You were 13. I think it's pretty damn impressive. The difference between performing and recording.
Daisy Castro: There is a very, very vast difference between those two things. There's also a different energy. Like recording I find is more nerve-wracking because you know that you're creating music that will be heard by people and is going to be permanently on a disk; and you probably shouldn't mess it up because you're going to have to live with that for a long time. But performing is a completely different story. When I perform I feel a much different kind of energy because I know that you get one chance at this performance because you're not going to have the same performance again; and you kind of have to give it- just give it your best every time. And I think it's easier for me to not hold back when I play, because it's one chance and it's just- it's going to be gone after you do it. So you should just go for it.
Jo Reed: And do you find the audience helps energize?
Daisy Castro: Definitely. A lot of times-- actually all of the time-- audiences make a huge difference in a performance. When they have huge amounts of energy, as opposed to maybe politely golf clapping, it makes such a big difference; and it's so nice when the audience- you can tell that the audience is really enjoying it and the audience looks like they're having a good time and enjoying the music, it makes such a difference in the way I feel about performing the show.
Jo Reed: And you just recently ended a residency at the Strathmore Music Center.
Jo Reed: Tell us about that.
Daisy Castro: There is a lot to say about the Strathmore, actually. There's workshops and stuff like that and you get sort of like a music business education at the same time as meeting other people and sort of connecting with other people in that area. So you do three performances-- two public ones-- in one month, every Wednesday, and then one educational workshop. I think my favorite part about it without a doubt is the collaborations. Because there's six artists in residence in all, and you have the option to collaborate with each one and, like, join them, play on a couple of songs in their show. And just the way you can like learn different styles of music and be exposed to all these different styles that you didn't really play, or wouldn't have played otherwise, or maybe didn't really think about very much, is really fun. Just the exposure I think of being bombarded with all sorts of different, sort of like music cultures and being educated by various genres and adding them to things that you can play or can't play and just figuring out more about yourself and what you can do. So I think it's really nice because we're all like younger and we can connect with each other because we have pretty much the same experience levels as far as music goes, like we're just starting out. And it really helped me grow, like as a musician and as a person.
Jo Reed: You're leaving for Europe. How long are you going? What's going on there?
Daisy Castro: Actually next week I will be in Europe. And I'm going to the Django Festival in Samois; which is a city that-- or it's not even a city, it's like a little village that's an hour sort of southeast of Paris. So it's along the Seine River. And I believe it's the biggest gypsy jazz festival in the world. And it's really great; like there's a lot of things to do and a lot of things to see and experience there.
Jo Reed: And how long will you be in Europe?
Daisy Castro: I'll be there for about two weeks. I'm actually going to Barcelona afterwards. But that's just a vacation. I'm not sure if I'm playing there or not.
Jo Reed: Why don't we go out on one of your songs? And the song "Indifference".
Jo Reed: And do you want to tell us just a teeny bit about that before we listen to it?
Daisy Castro: Well the guitarist who plays on my album, the one who's doing the solos, is named Gonzalo Bergara; and he is an absolute genius when it comes to writing music and arranging things. And he made a really nice original arrangement for the song; because he actually admitted to me that he doesn't like waltzes but he likes this waltz. And I can agree with that; because it has a really incredible arrangement.
Jo Reed: Okay. And here we go. Daisy Castro, thank you so much.
<Song-- "Indifference"-- plays>
Jo Reed: That was sixteen-year-old violinist Daisy Castro. Her recent CD is Deviation, or Déviation.
You've been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.
Excerpts from "Déviation" written by Daisy Castro and excerpt from "Indifference" based on "Indifference" by Tony Murena, arranged by Gonzolo Bergara from the CD, Déviation. Both performed by Daisy Castro.
Excerpt from "Bacchanale", based on "Bacchanale" from the opera Samson and Delilah, composed by Camille Saint-Saëns arranged and performed by the Infidel Castros from the CD, Strange Enchanted.
Excerpt from "Stardust" from the CD, Gypsy Moth, written by Hoagy Carmichael, performed by Daisy Castro.
The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at arts.gov. You can subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U -- just click on the iTunes link on our podcast page.
Next week, we're taking a break to celebrate the 4th of July.
To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Have a great holiday and thanks for listening.
16 year-old Daisy Castro gets to the heart of gypsy jazz. [28:00]