Swinging into Langley with DjangoFest Northwest
September 21, 2011 · Updated 10:39 AM
Summer may be over, but hot is still the word in Langley as autumn approaches.
Mark O’Connor is hot. Stochelo Rosenberg is hot. Even teenager Daisy Castro is hot. Luckily for Langley, what all these hot musicians have in common is DjangoFest Northwest, which starts today and runs through Sunday, Sept. 25.
This year, the festival continues to stack the lineup with excellent performers of gypsy jazz. Versatile violinist O’Connor is an American sensation at the top of the heap, and will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Langley Middle School.
At the moment, O’Connor is one of the country’s favorite violinists and composers in a variety of forms, including bluegrass and classical music. But this multi-talented powerhouse brings his hot swing band to Langley playing in the style he came to love while touring with one of the masters of the gypsy jazz form, Stephane Grappelli.
In addition to being a sought-after performer and composer, O’Connor is hard at work on an upcoming Christmas album featuring James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma, among others, and promoting his revolutionary new method of teaching strings. In fact, his DjangoFest workshop, “Love and Mastery of the Violin,” from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday on the main stage, is recommended even for those who don’t play an instrument but who are interested in music for strings.
Meanwhile, back on the stages, more heat will be generated from the fingers of Stochelo Rosenberg than from any other guitarist since Django Reinhardt, for whom the festival is named. Rosenberg plays at 8 p.m. Friday at Langley Middle School with Denis Chang and Beau Simple.
Rosenberg’s unmistakable, extremely melodic playing is now universally regarded as one of the most brilliant forms of guitar playing that was ever heard. But the man is modest.
“Forget about Stochelo and all the others,” Rosenberg writes on his website. “If you want to learn and understand gypsy jazz, start with Django, the best guitarist that ever was.”
Indeed, the continued success of DjangoFest is proof that musicians from all over the world deem Reinhardt worthy of a string of festivals of homage, but it seems Rosenberg’s playing is proving him worthy of the praise. Even in the Sinti community (the nomadic Romani community from which both Reinhardt and Stochelo hail) he is regarded as a true legitimate heir of the untouchable icon of swing.
Matt Sircely is the mandolinist with Seattle’s Hot Club Sandwich and agrees that there is something particularly special about the European musicians who have grown up with generations of gypsy jazz in their families.
“When DjangoFest Northwest first kicked off years ago, it was incredibly rare to be able to see gypsy jazz players from Europe in the United States,” Sircely said.
“We feel fortunate to have been involved with DjangoFest from the very beginning — it’s almost like taking a musical vacation to Europe once a year. We’ve performed at DjangoFests as far away as San Francisco and Colorado, but DjangoFest Northwest is special because of the setting in Langley and the community that has built up around the festival over the last few years,” Sircely added.
Hot Club Sandwich takes the Langley Middle School stage at 7 p.m. Sunday.
But it’s offstage where Sircely said he likes to get a closer look at the different styles and techniques of musicians.
“When you’re walking around at DjangoFest in between shows and you hear a guitar sounding off, it’s often possible to immediately identify if the player is one of the heavyweights brought over from Europe,” Sircely noted.
“There are lots of great American players that perform or even just attend the concerts and jam. But there is a distinguished sound to the European masters — the way they hold and use the pick, the attack on the strings, the nuance of where they place the backbeat on different rhythms, the subtleties of note choices and phrasing.
“At its core, gypsy jazz and other classic forms of jazz are folk music forms — players integrate elements of the style over a lifetime, often passed between generations and accompanied by decades of dedication. Witnessing the visiting European performers at close range is certainly the experience of a lifetime,” he said.
Indeed, Rosenberg comes from a long line of musicians who passed musical skills down through the family. He plays often with his cousins, Nonnie and Nous’che Rosenberg, as the Rosenberg Trio.
But, as Sircely noted, such a musician is more than just a virtuoso player. The music is in the heart, as well as in the blood.
Rosenberg is the composer of enchanting songs such as “For Sephora,” “Rumba Sunset” and a long list of others that reveal his unique ability to bring the melody to the forefront of even the wildest, fast-fingering solo. He plays with a combination of extraordinary virtuosity and technique, but perhaps more importantly, he plays with simple musical beauty.
During the workshop series, the general public can get a glimpse of how he does it. Rosenberg and teacher Denis Chang will present “Playing the Gypsy Way!” from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday.
There’s an American family that seems to have music in the blood, as well, and the daughter returns for the second time to DjangoFest.
Daisy Castro, whose charming presence became known during DjangoFest 2010, will be guest violinist this year with the talented young French guitarist Antoine Boyer and his father, guitarist Sebastien Boyer. They’ll open for Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing at 8 p.m. Saturday at Langley Middle School.
Regardless of her youth, this teenage violinist still has the ability to capture the deep, emotional color that remains just below the surface of the virtuosic techniques of gypsy jazz.
Castro started playing violin at the age of 6, when she took a trip to France where she was first introduced to gypsy jazz.
Intrigued as a listener from the start, over the years she has found this beautiful and passionate music to be a perfect fit for her playing style. Her first CD “Gypsy Moth” released in 2010 when she was 13, reflects the gypsy jazz influence.
Castro plays also with her parents in the Infidel Castros, a band that hails from a small rural town in Maryland, and who released their debut CD also in 2010, “Strange Enchanted” on which Daisy contributes cello, violin and harmony vocals.
Needless to say, DjangoFest, now in its 11th year, provides one of the best venues for gypsy jazz musicians to reunite.
The additional performers in the virtuoso lineup include Martin Taylor, Pearl Django, Howard Alden, Anat Cohen, Gonzalo Bergara, Stephane Wrembel, Adrien Moignard, Zazi, Billet-Deux, Hot Club Sandwich, the Djangomatics, Hot Club of Hulaville, Lache Cercel Roma Swing Ensemble and Ranger and the Re-Arrangers. Look for a wild and crazy finale concert at 7 p.m. Sunday when Hot Club Sandwich is followed by a group performance by many of the DjangoFest artists in the Grappelli Jelly All-Star Djam.
Also, don’t miss the planned and spontaneous “djam” sessions that pop up around Langley during the festival. The Friday Street Djam is at the Langley Second Street Market from 3 to 7 p.m.; and after-hours djamming will be Friday at Mo’s Pub and Eatery and Saturday at Prima Bistro.
Tickets for individual DjangoFest Northwest shows range from $26 to $66; festival passes range in from $185 to $381. Get tickets by calling 221- 8268 or 800-638-7631.
Find out more at www.WICAonline.com.