Arts and Entertainment

Djangofest

During Djangofest, jam sessions like this one at the Dog House last year, are going to pop up all over Langley. There will hardly be any local restaurant, coffee shop, bed and breakfast or street corner that won’t be hopping to gypsy jazz.   - Submitted photos
During Djangofest, jam sessions like this one at the Dog House last year, are going to pop up all over Langley. There will hardly be any local restaurant, coffee shop, bed and breakfast or street corner that won’t be hopping to gypsy jazz.
— image credit: Submitted photos

During the first weekend of October, expect the closets and walls at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts to be lined with guitar cases. Sweet ribbons of sound from violins playing will intertwine with the low thumps of a stand-up bass. Accoustic guitars will strum out a rhythm so contagious anyone within hearing distance won’t be able to sit still.

The sounds of Gypsy jazz are going to take over WICA when the third annual Djangofest Northwest comes to Langley Oct. 2-5.

The four-day event features musicians from across the U.S. and Europe in six concerts and 12 guitar and fiddle workshops. This year’s lineup features: Angelo Debarre, Serge Camp, and Patrick Saussois from France; The Robin Nolan Trio from Holland; Swing Gitan from Chicago; Hot Club of Mars and Swingamajig from Canada; Hot Club of San Diego from the Southwest; and Pearl Django, Hot Club Sandwich, The Ross Bliss Trio, and Hot Club of Langley from the Puget Sound area.

Gypsy jazz is the new hot music scene growing in the America and is something WICA executive director Stacie Burgua believes her theater needs to bring to Whidbey Island every year.

“It’s had a slow start to catch on in the U.S., but Gypsy jazz has the same pull with people as Bluegrass and people in the Northwest are beginning to get hooked like so many around the world already have,” Burgua said.

Gypsy jazz is a blend of Eastern European melodies, Parisian musette, Spanish flamenco and American swing that was created and perfected by Django Reinhardt and his fellow Gypsy musicians in the cafes of Paris during the 1930s and 1940s.

And the musicians travelling to South Whidbey for Djangofest are grateful for Reinhardt’s innovation.

“Django was a fountainhead who inspired a whole generation,” said Alfonso Ponticelli, a leaderof the Chicago-based Swing Gitan. “As much as he was influenced by American jazz, he had a huge impact on this side of the Atlantic.”

“Gypsy jazz has a highly rhythmic accoustic nature with earthy elements that remain sophisticated at the same time,” said Greg Ruby, a guitarist for the Northwest-based bands Pearl Django and Hot Club Sandwich.

Rheinhardt designed the rhythm engine of jazz to be two accoustic guitars and a bass, accompanied by the solo voice, according to Ruby. It is what remains at the core of Gypsy jazz groups, also referred to by some as Hot Club bands.

“Composers and playing groups put their own angle on things to find their own voice,” Ruby said.

Throughout the festival, the performers will mix and match during concerts and jam sessions. Each bringing their own unique twist on gypsy jazz and then further expanding that when they blend chemistries.

The music will overflow onto the streets of Langley during Djangofest. Jam sessions will be held all around town at places such as the Golden Otter, the Dog House, the Inn at Langley, the Saratoga Inn, the Fishbowl and more local businesses that are jumping on the Django bandwagon.

Since it began, Djangofest has come a long way. In its first year, Djangofest hosted only two concerts with two bands — Pearl Django and the Robin Nolan Trio. Now, Djangofest Northwest is growing into WICA’s biggest event of the year and one of only a few gypsy jazz festivals offered in North America.

The granddaddy of all gypsy jazz festivals is the Django Reinhardt Festival in Samois-sur-Seine, France, where Rheinhardt lived. Other large festivals are held in Holland, Germany, Sweden, Iceland, New York, and Langley’s own Djangofest Northwest is making a permanent mark on the scene.

“The concerts are really the side event here. In New York there isn’t really a place to do anything but the concerts,” said Nick Lehr, a gypsy jazz fan and former Coupeville resident who originally pitched the idea to Burgua and continues to organize the musicians each year. “People who come here want to go hang out and jam with their friends and these world class players and there’s places to do that,”

The workshops also offer a more intimate setting than jam sessions packed into the Dog House for players to rub elbows with and learn from the professionals.

For Gypsy Jazz fans — also known as Djangophiles or Djangoheads — no distance is too far to travel for their love of the music.

One of those Djangophiles is Sally Temen from Las Vegas. This year will be the second visit to Djangofest for the 75-year-old woman, who fell in love with Gypsy jazz a little over eight years ago.

“I’m not a musician, I’m not a jazz fan, and not even musical,” Temen said from her home this week. “Strangely though, I fell absolutely in love with this music.”

When she did she started scouring for the sometimes hard to find gypsy jazz records. Through her search she was put into contact with the up and coming Robin Nolan, who she soon began to talk to regularly.

“He convinced me to go to the festival in Samois, and I wound up spending two months in France,” Temen said. “Now I can’t stop traveling around listening to this music. I’m hooked.”

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