It all started with a desire to hear the sweet, melodic voice of her brother in law, a classically-trained singer.
So she tapped on the shoulder of the first guy she saw with a guitar slung over his shoulder. He was ordering a sandwich from the “Big W” food truck, standing under its awning to get out of the rain.
“He’ll do it,” Amanda Bender enthused to the few patrons inside Langley’s Double Bluff Brewery on a dripping wet late Saturday afternoon. “He said he’s going to come in and play!”
And so began another djam in Djangley during Djangofest Northwest 2018, one of many that spontaneously erupted during six days and nights of toe-tapping, finger-snapping, mind-spinning gypsy jazz music.
It started with two guitar players and a few spectators.
Within an hour, six more guitar players, two violinists and a bass player had joined in, taking requests from the growing crowd, including a bachelorette party.
The annual festival is named after Django Reinhardt who introduced a new swing style of jazz in the 1930s in Paris centering on the guitar and other string instruments.
In 2001, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts became the first North American organization to host an event devoted to the music; it’s grown into one of the largest gypsy jazz gatherings, attracting some 3,000 Djangophiles to the Village by the Sea every September.
Amanda and her husband, Chris Bender, are two such jazz enthusiasts. Well, truth be told, they like any style of music as long as Chris’ little brother, Michael Doces, can sing to it. They are weekend residents of Freeland where their family has owned property for decades.
“He sang at our wedding,” Amanda said. “It was amazing. We had a full band.”
Luca Pino, a guitar player from Long Beach, Calif., said he didn’t mind abiding the shoulder tap request to play. He’d just finished performing on WICA’s Michael Nutt Main Stage with the band, Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews and His All Stars. (Vanderbilt-Mathews is a Whidbey native of many musical talents.)
“I’ve been coming here for six years,” Pino said. “This is one of the better festivals. It has the best acts and Langley’s beautiful, even in the rain.”
Elder statesman Jerry Schneider of Vancouver Island soon wanders by with his guitar and joins Pino. The two find songs Doces can sing, even if he needs to look up lyrics on his phone.
When the rain lets up, they move outside, jam in the corner awhile. Chris Bender leans his phone against a beer glass on the table and aims it at the band. The image of his Mom pops up on the other side.
“She’s in Edmonds and couldn’t make it over so she’s listening,” Amanda Bender said. “She loves to hear him sing.”
Doces, who just graduated from Pepperdine University, said he’d never been to Langley during Djangofest. It doesn’t take long for him to find out what it’s all about.
Two more guitar players stop in. Then a violinist. Somehow, BJ Scott from Bremerton, squeezes in his big blue bass.
They briefly talk, decide on a tune, and then like magic, hit all the right notes as if they’ve played together for years.
The music wafts down the alley, attracts two more guitar players followed by another guy with a bow and violin.
Sitting off to the side, a table of ten young women keep warm by a pit fire watching a concert form before their eyes. Not too long ago, the patio was all theirs.
One of the women stands up and approaches Pino.
Libby Denkmann explains that her twin sister, Jill, is soon to be married. This is their bachelorette getaway from Seattle. It included a stop to see alpacas at Pronkin’ Pastures in Greenbank followed by another outdoor activity on the water that got canceled. Drinking beer on the bricks seemed a good alternative.
Bride-to-be Jill Denkmann then receives a most unexpected gift — the impromptu tradition of jamming gypsy jazz musicians turning their instruments and attention toward her. She glows as Doces belts out the old Frank Sinatra standard, LOVE:
L is for the way you look at me, O is for the only one I see, V is very, very extraordinary, E is even more than anyone that you adore can. Two in love can make it, take my heart and please don’t break it. Love was made for you and me.
A round of applause, a cascade of thanks. And a compliment: