You would think being dead for 55 years would put a damper on his fame. But not the legendary gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Reinhardt, despite a partially paralyzed hand, was able to play guitar with only two fingers and could outplay and out-swing most other guitarists — a feat not easily forgotten by the music world.
Reinhardt became a fountainhead of invention, fronting the Quintette du Hot Club de France in Paris in the 1930s and became known for the enormous emotion and unpredictability of his trademark jazz solos.
His style would influence such disparate musicians as Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Richard Thompson.
The love for Reinhardt’s music is still almost viral among musicians and continues to thrive at Djangofests worldwide and stateside in Los Angeles, San Francisco, a new one in Colorado and here on Whidbey Island.
Celebrating its eighth year at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, Djangofest Northwest 2008 opens Wednesday, Sept. 24 and runs through Sunday, Sept. 28 and features performances, workshops and spontaneous “djam” sessions for gypsy jazz lovers of every stripe.
Festival attendees this year can look forward to performances from The Rosenberg Trio, John Jorgenson Quintet, Mimi Fox, the Howard Alden Gypsy Project, Pearl Django, the Sebastien Giniaux Trio, Gonzalo Bergara, Marc Atkinson Trio, Hot Club of San Francisco, Van Django, Fishtank Ensemble, 3 Leg Torso, Jessica Fichot, Hot Club Sandwich, Billet-Deux, Hot Club Pacific and Hot Club of Eugene.
Although the largest of its kind in this country, Djangofest Northwest sells only about 2,500 tickets in all for its events.
But Djangofest founder and artistic director Nick Lehr said what participants lack in numbers they make up for in enthusiasm.
“It can seem like everyone has brought their own guitar or violin to trade ideas or licks,” Lehr said. “For some of them, the festival is mainly an excuse to jam, and the concerts we put on stage are almost incidental to them.”
One main attraction coming to Djangofest Northwest this year is the Rosenberg Trio, comprised of guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg and his cousins Nous’che and Nonnie, who will present their first U.S. performance in a decade.
The Rosenbergs are Sinti gypsies and are neighbors in a gypsy community in Holland. They hail from the same clan that Reinhardt called family.
The traditions of a nomadic life still exist for the modern-day Sinti tribe and it’s people continue to spend part of the year traveling in caravans, enduring the occasional brush with the authorities.
Though Stochelo Rosenberg, 40, grew up in the era of disco music and liked it just fine, he said there was never any question about what music went to
“My whole family was crazy about Django’s music,” Rosenberg said.
“My grandparents and parents all played this music all the time. We’re very proud that he was Sinti. Even as a kid, his touch, the sound of his guitar was incredible to me, the vibrato on his solos and his incredible improvisations,” he said.
Rosenberg picked up the guitar when he was 10, and said the music to him is like flamenco, a style which he said you have to grow up with.
“You have to start young. I know some rock guitarists who are now interested in this music and they can play it fine, but you can hear that the roots are not there,” he said.
“My opinion is they never can play like Django. I have been playing his music all my life, and don’t sound like him. It is better to study him and then find your own way in this music. In my music you will always hear the influence of Django, but what you hear is me.”
These masters of the “jazz manouche” style, as it is sometimes called, will also conduct two workshops, including a special rhythm workshop which will give participants a unique chance to play with some of the greatest musicians in the world playing this style of music today.
But classic gypsy jazz traditionalists like the Rosenbergs are complemented by performances and workshops from artists and bands with new sounds in the world of gypsy jazz.
Lehr said that in booking his fests, Django is a starting point for this music, but he’s not the end.
“I book bands that are inspired by him, but also look for ones that maybe would have inspired him if he’d been around to hear them,” Lehr said.
“I’m not locked into that Paris chunka-chunka-chunka sound all the time.”
One young band he’s booked, Fishtank Ensemble, mixes elements of Romanian, Swedish, klezmer and flamenco music, among other styles, with instrumentation that includes the musical saw and Japanese samisen.
The Sebastien Giniaux Trio with Mathieu Chatelain and Jeremie Arranger are considered by many to be the hottest of the young players on the Paris scene today and the John Jorgenson Quintet has been described as no less than electrifying. That quintet brings three new members and two completely different sets of new material for each performance in Langley.
The Djangofest Northwest 2008 performer of the year is Gonzalo Bergara.
According to the Los Angeles Downtown News, the Argentinean Bergara, “though friend to the occasional AC/DC riff, has perfected the rarely attained mix of melodic sensibility and jaw-dropping speed that made Reinhardt shine.”
And, of course, local fans among the horde of Djangofest attendees who come from far and wide, will be proud to see their very own homegrown gypsy jazz band Billet-Deux hot-clubbing it with the best of them, fresh off their high from the recent release of their new excellent CD “Deux.”
Many of these fine performers will be conducting workshops and, as always, the unscheduled “djamming” will continue for five days in and around Langley.
Other workshops include “Introduction to Gypsy-Jazz Guitar,” “The Gypsy Swing Workshop,” “Rhythm Tips and Tricks,” “Gypsy Picking Workshop — Right Hand Technique,” “Gypsy Style Violin” and “Advanced Gypsy Rhythm Workshop,” among others.
Workshops are at various times between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Performances are at WICA and Langley Middle School at various times.
For tickets and schedule information visit www.WICAonline.com or call 221-8268 or 800-638-7631.
Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff @southwhidbeyrecord.com.