Concerts and workshops by world-class musicians, and impromptu “djam” sessions all over town make for an exciting five days of “le jazz hot” as Gypsy jazz fans and musicians gather in Langley Sept. 19 through 23 for DjangoFest Northwest at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.
Now in its 12th year, DjangoFest Northwest is the premier showcase of Gypsy jazz in North America, presenting some of the biggest names in the genré.
If you stroll around Langley during the five-day festival, you’ll hear people speaking French, Spanish, Dutch and other languages as DjangoFest welcomes visitors and musicians from around the world.
“Even people who don’t speak the same language can communicate through this music,” said Nick Lehr, festival program director who organized the first DjangoFest in Langley 12 years ago.
For the uninitiated, modern Gypsy jazz is extremely guitar-oriented, centering on Django Reinhardt’s (1910-1953) signature style of lead guitar playing. Rhythm guitar provides “le pompe,” the important percussion component that signifies Gypsy jazz.
DjangoFest inspires incredible musical collaborations, both in “djam” sessions and scheduled concerts, with musicians united by respect for true gypsy jazz and the hunger to learn from each other.
“With their own creative variations, they’re all playing music that Django might like,” said Lehr.
“The level of their musicianship and the generosity of these performers makes their crossover playing fluid and creative,” said Stacy Burgua, WICA executive director.
Opening night, Wednesday, Sept. 19, features a new quartet led by guitarist Greg Ruby with Pearl Django co-founder Neil Andersson on guitar, Hot Club of San Francisco co-founder Julian Smedley on violin and premier bassist, Spencer Hoveskeland.
Wednesday night’s second act is The Hot Club of Detroit putting a modern spin on Gypsy jazz tradition, with Evan Perri on lead guitar, Julien Labro on accordion, Carl Cafagna on sax, Paul Brady on rhythm guitar and Andrew Kratzat on bass.
Thursday night’s opening act is Whidbey’s own Gypsy jazz ensemble Billet-Deux, with Troy Chapman on lead guitar, James Hinkley on cello, Roger Bennet on drums, Keith Allen Bowers on rhythm guitar, and Keenan Harshman playing bass.
“We’re especially excited to welcome the incredibly talented Keenan Harshman on the bass. He’s our ‘ringer’ this year,” said Troy Chapman of Langley, who plays guitar with both Billet-Deux and Pearl Django.
Also on Thursday night, French chanteuse Cyrille Aimée pairs with Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo. Her smoky vocal stylings
reflect Dominican rhythms and the swing of the French Gypsies.
Friday night brings back the father and son team from France, Sebastien and Antoine Boyer, who wowed DjangoFest audiences last year. At 15, Antoine is already a superb lead guitarist. Joining them will be guitarists Simon Planting and Robin Nolan.
Dutch Gypsy guitarist Lollo Meier headlines Friday night’s concert, accompanied by Belgian Gypsy violinist and guitarist Tcha Limberger.
“For pure gypsy jazz playing, you can’t beat Lollo Meier,” said Chapman.
Meier carries on the music of Django Reinhardt, said Chapman, with traditional styles and techniques that are melodious, lyrical, sensitive and joyful.
Tcha Limberger teams with Robin Nolan to open Saturday night’s concert, followed by Dutch Sinti (Gypsy) guitarist Paulus Schäfer and Dutch fiddler Tim Kliphuis, joined by special guests Gonzalo Bergara and Antoine Boyer.
Afternoon concerts will also be offered, including the Jimmy Grant Quartet and the Pacific Northwest’s own Pearl Django with guest Martin Taylor at 3 p.m. Friday.
Saturday’s afternoon concert at 3 p.m. features guitarist Joscho Stephan and the John Jorgenson Quintet.
Sunday winds up the festival with Whit Smith, Matt Munisteri and Beau Sample starting at 2 p.m. followed by the Robin Nolan Trio.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, hear Zazi, a female trio from The Netherlands that was the surprise hit of last year’s festival, and the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet with special guests John Jorgenson, Joschco Stephan and Paulus Schäfer.
“Zazi adds a fresh new flavor to Gypsy jazz,” said Burgua. “Gonzolo also gives the genré new life with his toe-tapping, spirit-lifting music.”
One master workshop will be open to the general public this year. Tcha Limberger’s Gypsy Ensemble Workshop at
11 a.m. Sunday will explore his views on properly combining guitars, violins, double basses, clarinets and more into a group in various musical situations.
“Whether you’re a musician or an audience member, the festive atmosphere of DjangoFest is guaranteed to give you the time of your life,” said Burgua.
Complete schedules for DjangoFest concerts and workshops and ticket information can be found at wicaonline.com. WICA is located at 565 Camano Ave., Langley. The box office is open Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Call 221-8268 or 800-638-7631.
Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium in 1910, a member of the Manouche Gypsies, who lived the open air, nomadic life in the countryside near Paris. At age 12, a neighbor noticed his interest in music and gave Django his first instrument, a banjo/guitar, which he quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of other musicians he watched. Soon Django was accompanying an accordionist at a Paris dance hall. He continued to play with other musicians and bands until a life-changing event in 1928.
A fire in his caravan severely burned his left hand and right side, and Django spent 18 months in the hospital and a nursing home recovering from his injuries. During this time he was given a guitar, and with great determination, created a new fingering system built around the two fingers on his left hand that still had mobility.
Influenced by recordings of jazz musicians Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Django developed his signature playing style and a reputation as a master improviser, seldom playing the same solo the same way twice. He was considered a composing genius as well as a master musician, creating beautiful melodies and sophisticated harmonies.
In 1934, Django Reinhardt met violinist Stephané Grappelli and they organized The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. The group played together in clubs and made innovative, sensational recordings throughout the 1930s, then separated during World War II. After the war, Django and Stephané reunited, again making memorable recordings and touring until Django retired to the village of Samois sur Seine in 1951. In 1953, Django Reinhardt died of a brain hemorrhage, but his musical legacy lives on.