DjangoFest Northwest 2004

Online chat boards have been buzzing with unusual sounds as of late. A rhythmic chug-chug of a guitar, heavy thump-thump of a bass and playful intertwining of a violin have been making their way through the information superhighway towards Langley.

Since a ticket sale announcement in June, “Djangofiles” every where have been making their own sweet kind of music in the form of buzz for next week’s Djangofest Northwest to be held Sept. 30 through Oct. 3 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

Since 2001 Djangofest Northwest has welcomed musicians and fans to celebrate the gypsy jazz music made famous by Django Reinhardt during the 1930s and 40s. Now in its fourth year, the festival has grown in attendance, number of concerts, number of bands, number of workshops and distance people are willing to travel.

WICA executive director Stacie Burgua said fans are coming from around the nation, Canada and from Europe for Langley’s festival.

“This is growing into the best Django festival in this country and becoming one of the best in the world,” said local musician Troy Chapman.

Gypsy jazz, as the music of Reinhardt is mostly referred, is a blend of Eastern European melodies, Parisian musette, Spanish flamenco and American swing that was created and performed by Reinhardt and his fellow Gypsy musicians in the cafes of Paris during the 1930s and 1940s. Since that time, gypsy jazz has always maintained a musical stronghold on fans worldwide, and remains a hot music scene that continues to grow today.

“It’s sexy acoustic guitar with an unmistakably romantic 30s sound underneath,” said WICA production director Deana Duncan.

The core of gypsy jazz is the Reinhardt designed rhythm engine of two acoustic guitars and a bass, accompanied by a solo voice. There are many labels applied to the musical genre that are as diverse as the sound itself — gypsy jazz, hot club and gitan swing.

“It could definitely be termed as hypnotic because of its strong rhythm,” said Michael Nutt, a Langley musician who will perform with local act Billet Deux and the John Jorgenson quintet. “Django’s combination of creativity, musicianship and physical ability all combined to make music like no body heard before and it remains memorable today.”

In its fourth year, DjangoFest Northwest 2004 will feature headliners the Ferre Brothers and Angelo Debarre from France; the John Jorgenson Quintet with members of the Nashville String Quartet; Swing Gitan with Alfonso Ponticelli from Chicago; and Hot Club of San Francisco returns after a year away. Festival favorites The Robin Nolan Trio are back for more, along with the Northwest’s own, Pearl Django, Hot Club Sandwich, and Billet Deux.

Even the Thursday night bargain concert that has traditionally been filled with “up-and-coming” acts is growing in proportion.

“Previously is was simply the bands were less known that night, but even now those bands have huge followings and the caliber of bands keep growing with their popularity,” Burgua said.

The community of gypsy jazz musicians that spans the globe is as diverse in playing style as they are in their geographical location, and their popularity is gaining as much attention as their icon.

Clinton resident Richard Evans, still remembers when in the 1960s he first heard the music of Boulou Ferre, then a child-prodigy gypsy jazz musician.

“A friend called one day and said ‘you’ve got to hear this kid’ and I immediately loved it,” Evans said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and he remains one of the most amazing improvisors in music today.”

John Jorgenson will portray Reinhardt in the recent release “Head in the Clouds” starring Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz and Stuart Townsend. For the role, Jorgensen donned a black wig to conceal his blonde locks and grew a Django-styled mustache to complete Django’s famous look.

Six weeks after musician Troy Chapman moved to Langley in 2001, the first Djangofest also arrived. A musician most of his life, Chapman was immediately drawn to the festival, and was hooked after the first guitar lick.

“It made me realize I loved this music and wanted it to be a part of my life,” he said.

Three years later, the music of Django Reinhardt and other gypsy jazz musicians consumes his every day, he performs weekly and drives around with a license plate of “DJANGO.”

Next week, Chapman and his five-member mostly Seattle-based band Billett Deux will open Djangofest.

‘It’s a form of jazz that’s highly accessible, not over intellectual and is very emotional,” Chapman said. “It’s highly accessible — 3-year-olds can dance to it and 90-year-olds can tap their toe.”

The ultimate ode to Django and the festival every gypsy jazz musician strives to attend remains the Django Reinhardt Festival held annually in Samois-sur-Seine, France, where Reinhardt lived. Other large festivals are held in Holland, Germany, Sweden, Iceland, New York, and Langley.

The town will be on Django time next weekend when many downtown businesses will remain open late the evening of Sept. 30 to welcome Djangofest fans and musicians to town. Djangofiles can explore the arts during the first Saturday gallery openings Oct. 2 when music and visual arts merge in downtown Langley. Local businesses are also expected to hold later hours that evening.

said Nutt. “That’s the way to hear it, how they played for each other when people like Django had groups,” Nutt said. “Everyone gets a go and the music can go on for hours.”

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