Gypsy jazz aficionados won’t have to wait until September’s Djangofest to get their fix of a variety of Django Reinhardt-inspired sounds.
Sounds for which people have whipped off their clothes and danced.
Whidbey Island and Seattle-based Billet Deux joins 3 Leg Torso of Portland at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday,
Jan. 10 for an evening of spirited eclectic jazz music.
3 Leg Torso creates charming and daring modern chamber music infused with equal parts tradition and innovation.
As principal composers, founding members Béla Balogh, violin and trumpet, and Courtney Von Drehle, accordion, provide the core of 3 Leg Torso’s sound.
Now of Portland, Von Drehle hails from England and Balogh, who is of German/Hungarian descent, comes from a family of musicians including a Hungarian gypsy violinist grandfather.
They are joined by percussionists and mallet players Gary Irvine and T.J. Arko and double bass player Michael Papillo.
The band formed in 1996 as a violin, cello and accordion trio with the mission of creating original modern chamber music which they took to the streets and called “Meestering.”
Having started as a three-piece band, Von Drehle came up with the name 3 Leg Torso after having spent years studying worms as a graduate student.
“The years of invertebrate research and laboratory jobs found their antidote in 3 Leg Torso,” Von Drehle said.
“The name seemed to fit the trio and the way the sounds blended together and fulfilled all my desires to move away from worm studies,” he said.
Following the group’s early years, the band expanded both its musical mission and its size to become a quintet that now performs an eclectic synthesis of chamber music, tango, klezmer, Latin and world music.
Not only influenced by worldly styles of music, early on the band took the lead from other bands when engaging their audiences. The founders of the band are known as much for the yarns they spin on stage as for their music.
Balogh tells the story of the nude dancers.
It was backstage at a show in Portland when Brian Davis, of the band Pink Martini, joked that he used to tell audiences to dance naked if they felt like it.
“I was inspired by his tale and mentioned to our full house later that night that 3 Leg Torso does encourage nude dancing,’” Balogh said.
The band launched into an upbeat Latin tune of Brazil entitled “Tico Tico No Fuba” by Zequinha de Abreu.
“Almost immediately, a young couple near one of the aisles leaped up, stripped off all their clothes and ran right up to the front of the stage to dance,” Balogh said.
The band was surprised, he said, and more than a little distracted, but managed to play through the song.
The crowd loved it and applauded with a roar.
After the couple sat down again and got dressed, the band noticed for the first time that evening that a portion of the front row of the all-ages show was a group of now-stunned Boy Scouts.
“That must have been an outing those kids will never forget,” Balogh said.
But 3 Leg Torso can also inspire the opposite of a roar as well.
Von Drehle wrote the song “Elliot’s Dream” as a tribute to the pop musician Elliot Smith, who had died.
“We had played the song a number of times, and I mostly experienced it as ‘music’ and not the emotions of the passing of a very talented fellow musician,” Von Drehle said.
But the emotional life of the song hit him one night as the band played it and he felt the sadness of its sentiment in the audience.
“I became extra present, and at the end the audience was silent. We were all silent together in a mournful memory.”
The absolute silence that preceded the audience’s applause is what reminds Von Drehle of the power of music.
Billet-Deux understands this power, too, as it has been making a roar of its own lately.
In the months following the release of its second CD “Deux” this past summer, the band has been roaming the Northwest armed with their instruments while getting national airplay for the favorably-reviewed album.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive for the CD and the group,” band member Troy Chapman said.
The band, formed in 2002, plays acoustic jazz influenced by the work of Django Reinhardt and his musical heirs. The group has built a large and loyal following through the years with a sound that has been filtered through the cafes of Paris, classical concert halls and modern jazz.
Billet-Deux has created a modern gypsy jazz sound all its own.
And like 3 Leg Torso, the numerical part of the band’s name reveals its roots.
The story of Billet-Deux’s name comes from a song by Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli called Billet-Doux, or “love letter.”
When Billet-Deux first formed, there were only two members; deux being the French word for “two.”
“Billet-Deux would be translated as ‘two
tickets,’” Chapman said.
But with the dash between the words it has no literal translation, and the band liked it that way.
But, as the band grows, the name will not become Billet-Trois or Billet-Quatre.
“We will always be Billet-Deux,” he said.
Fans will be happy to note the band has added a new roster of songs to its repertoire especially for the upcoming concert with 3 Leg Torso. It hopes to surprise and delight fans with something new while including crowd favorites from “Deux” and the first album, “Alita,” such as the fun and whimsical “Tu Vou Fa L’Americano.”
While Billet-Deux looks forward to new beginnings in the New Year with the addition of island guitarist and composer Keith Bowers to the group, it also is saddened by the loss of master jazz guitarist Josephina Hunner, who has moved off Whidbey Island and is on to new things.
Bowers joins Chapman, guitar, Roger Bennett, drums and percussion, James Hinkley, cello and vocals, and Michael Yocco, bass.
“Keith is one of the most phenomenal musicians with whom we’ve had the pleasure to play and brings a whole new dimension to the band,” Chapman said. Bowers may be recognizable to islanders from his work with the bluegrass band Swords into Plowshares.
“We consider ourselves extraordinarily fortunate to have found someone who can bring so much musical grace into the group,” Chapman added.
To share the evening with 3 Leg Torso offers what Chapman called “a perfect musical counterpoint” to the music of Billet-Deux, naked or not.
Tickets cost $18. Call 221-8268.