A lot of Berklee College of Music students meet their future bandmates in classes or school groups. Scott Kulman met his through a random encounter on a park bench.
He was sitting by Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island one day a few years ago when he struck up a conversation with a passerby who happened to be a fellow musician.
“Being the mobile musician gypsy that I am, I had my guitar in the car,’’ Kulman recalled. “I took it out and we played for a couple hours. Then I went back to Berklee and didn’t see him again for almost a year.’’
Kulman’s vision of himself back then as a “musician gypsy’’ turned out to be prophetic.
The guitarist he jammed with that day in Rhode Island was Brett Feldman, the leader of a band that was then called the Gypsy Jazz Quartet. When Kulman, who had since graduated from Berklee, called him almost a year after their first meeting, Feldman said the band had lost a couple of members, and suggested Kulman jam with him and his brother, bassist Jeff Feldman.
“At that time, it was pretty much a Django Reinhardt cover band, playing straight-ahead gypsy jazz,’’ said Kulman. “When I joined them, we changed the name to Occidental Gypsy and I brought a different sensibility because of my background in rock, pop and blues. And then, since I’m a songwriter, I said to the other guys, ‘You guys ever think about writing original material?’ They wanted to hear what I could create, and that led to our first album.’’
Kulman brought more than just his own talents to the group; before long he’d introduced the Feldmans to two of his Berklee classmates, violinist Jakub Trasak and percussionist Francisco Vielma, who now round out the lineup.
A typical Occidental Gypsy concert consists of a mix of original pieces by Kulman, traditional gypsy jazz from 1930s and ’40s icon Reinhardt, and covers of songs from other genres — the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,’’ the theme song from the Harry Potter movies — but with a gypsy jazz spin.
And its appeal is turning out to be widespread.
“Gypsy music is reminiscent of a retro period; it has a warm sound and an acoustic instrumentation that is easy on the ear,’’ said Kulman. “So anyone who has heard it before is a little nostalgic for the sound and likes us because of that. But we also play with a high energy that appeals to younger ears.’’
When Feldman first invited Kulman to jam with his band, Kulman knew little about the genre of gypsy jazz, but he did own a couple of Reinhardt CDs “because anyone who digs deep into great guitar players is going to discover Django before too long, and appreciate what he has accomplished,’’ Kulman said. “So I was familiar with his music from a listener perspective, but I’d never tried to play one note of gypsy music.’’
Feldman and the other band members brought him quickly up to speed. A turning point came in the spring of 2011, when the band traveled to Holland. There they met a guitar-maker famous in gypsy jazz circles; he made instruments for the group while also talking with Kulman about “hearing the nuances in the music, so that my playing would be more accurate to the gypsy style,’’ Kulman said.
Occidental Gypsy — the name refers to Western musical influences fused with the jazz style’s Eastern European roots — performs Friday at 8 p.m. at the
Amazing Things Arts Center, 160 Hollis St., Framingham.
Tickets are $16; $15 for students and seniors; $13 members; $8 for children under 12. For tickets or more information, call 508-405- 2787 or go to www.amazingthings.org.
FAMILY FROLIC: Southborough Summer Nights continues its popular tradition for the ninth consecutive year Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Neary School, 53 Parkerville Road in Southborough.
A family-friendly community event, Southborough Summer Nights will feature food vendors, live music by the Infractions, face-painting, an obstacle course, a firetruck slide, pony rides, a moonwalk, and a fireworks display. The rain date is Sunday; for more information about the event, visit www.southboroughrecreation.com.
OEDIPUS REVISITED: The Arsenal Center for the Arts presents “O/A: The Sophocles Project’’
at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday in its Black Box Theatre, 321 Arsenal St. in Watertown.
The original play looks anew at the story of Oedipus as framed by “Antigone’’ nearly 2,500 years ago. Admission is $5. For tickets, go to www.arsenalarts.org.
MUSEUM DISCOUNT: The deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is offering half-price admission to its grounds on Sandy Pond Road in Lincoln through Sept. 1 while the building’s interior is closed for installation of fall exhibitions.
The outdoor sculptures on display include a wide range of abstract and representational works by artists including Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Chakaia Booker, Isaac Witkin, William Tucker, Sol LeWitt, and Albert Paley.
The discounted admission price is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for children ages 12 and younger. For more details, call 781-259-8355 or go to www.decordova.org.