The diversity of the world's musical traditions is celebrated through the music of the Dallas-based sextet Café Noir. With musicians hailing from Latvia, Germany, and the United States, the group offers an internationally flavored mix of classical, jazz, bluegrass, rock, Eastern European, French, and Gypsy influences. Formed in 1985, Café Noir represents the shared vision of multi-instrumentalists Gale Hess and Norbert Gerl.
A native of the drug-running border town of Calexico, California, and raised in Dallas, Hess has displayed musical talent since childhood. After winning many high-school competitions with her violin and clarinet playing, she turned down several scholarship offers from prestigious East Coast colleges to attend the University of Houston. Although she temporarily switched to the viola, she returned to the violin after returning home to Dallas. Transferring to Wichita State University, she remained only briefly at the school before traveling to Mexico and securing a position with Filarmonica de las Americas. Relocating to London, she earned an associate degree from the Royal College of Music and performed with various London-based orchestras including the Rossini Chamber Orchestra, with whom she appeared as a soloist. She subsequently spent a year working with Teatro dell'Opera in Rome.
Raised by monks in Augsburg, Germany, Gerl was equally inspired by the cowboy songs of the Sons of the Pioneers and the classical music of Mozart and Schubert. A graduate of the Leopold Conservatory in Augsburg, he spent a year and a half in South Africa, performing with the Cape Town Symphony. He later played for the Staatstheater am Gartenplatz, the Pro Arte de Munich, and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. After studying Gypsy guitar and rila in London, and working as a street musician in Monte Carlo, he immigrated to the United States.
Café Noir is rounded out by classically trained guitarist Jason Bucklin and bassist/guitarist Lyles West, who previously worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, Michael Brecker, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Larry Coryell, and Lou Donaldson. The son of a vodka maker, Vladimir Kaliazine has played the bayan (button accordion) since immigrating to the United States from his birthplace in Latvia. Dennis Durick, who joined in 1988, is the group's first drummer/percussionist.