By ALLEN MORRISON
"A standout performance on the festival’s last day was by the Django Festival All-Stars, from France, who in their first appearance at Newport proved to be a crowd favorite and a top candidate for the hardest-swinging group at the fest. The quintet, now on a national tour, is modeled after the Hot Club of France, including two guitars (Samson Schmitt on lead and DouDou Cuillerier on rhythm and scat vocals), violin (Pierre Blanchard), button accordion (Ludovic Beier) and bass (Brian Torff, the sole American), with the occasional addition of a guest, pianist Peter Beets from Holland.
Django Festival All Stars Starring Dorado Schmitt
The Wall Street Journal wrote (2013)
"The Best Jazz Show in town"
The Newport News (Summer/August 2014)
'One of the treats of every jazz festival is being knocked out by a performer you had never heard of. That was the case with the sweet and low down Django Festival All-Stars, ...Think of the jazzy soundtracks for many Woody Allen films..They played inside the Quad Stage while McFerrin chirped and whooped on the main stage. The Django Festival All Stars were the more exciting and surprising choice.
The burly Schmitt, looking like a more swinging version of Ernest Borgnine, was dressed all in white, with a white fedora and black band. His lightning licks, touched by a kind of melodic genius, were nothing short of sensational. Yet matching him in impact was accordionist Beier, who looked like he might be the band’s accountant but played like an angel. On his own ballad, “Fleur De Brasil,” his heart-wrenching playing on the accordina (similar to a melodica but with buttons instead of a keyboard) was reminiscent of harmonicist Toots Thielemans at his zenith and as good a solo as was heard at Newport this year."
By WILL FRIEDWALD
Django Reinhardt NY Festival
Django Reinhardt's original jazz inspiration was Louis Armstrong, and his closest American counterpart was Art Tatum. Like both, Reinhardt's greatest gift was turning sheer virtuosity into exuberant showmanship. It wasn't just that he could leave a crowd breathless with a dazzling run along the guitar neck, but that his remarkable sense of composition and context could command an audience's attention. Like Armstrong, Django held the crowd like a magnet; now imagine a stage filled with six contemporary Reinhardt descendants, and you'll get a sense that the collective talent pool on the bandstand is larger than the Arc de Triomphe. With guest stars Anat Cohen, Grace Kelly and Cyrille Aimée, the DjangoFest is, even with its occasional gladiatorial aspect, the best jazz show in town.
Pierre Blanchard, Evan Perri, Samson Schmitt, Brian Torff and Doudou Cuillerier honored the great Gypsy guitarist on Tuesday.
Armstrong assembled the pandora's box known as jazz, but Reinhardt (1910-53) was the first to open that box in Europe. That achievement—finding a uniquely European (and specifically Gypsy) approach to North American jazz—sent out shockwaves that are still being felt all over the world. And, as the world becomes a smaller place, we realize that there are Gypsy brass bands in Bulgaria that have incorporated New Orleans beats, and flamenco pianists from Spain who owe as much to Bill Evans as any local hero. In the 1950s, Armstrong began to extensively tour the world, but wherever "Ambassador Satch" went, he invariably found that jazz had already gotten there before him, thanks largely to Django and his Gypsy brethren, who transported the music throughout the continents by means of radio, recordings and caravan.
This year, the basic rhythm section at Django Festival is Gypsy guitarist Doudou Cuillerier (who also scatted on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Undecided") and bassist Brian Torff, a Chicagoan who worked for decades with two Eurojazz superstars, George Shearing and Stephane Grappelli, Reinhardt's own longtime musical partner. At Wednesday's late set, the first guest, guitarist Evan Perri, leader of the Hot Club of Detroit, was pleased to commune with his fellow Django-ites on one of Reinhardt's iconic swingers, "Belleville," before three more featured stars entered: accordionist Ludovic Beier, violinist Pierre Blanchard, and guitar star Samson Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt, as producer Pat Phillips pointed out, has practically grown up on the stage at Birdland, having long served as rhythm accompanist to his father, Gypsy king Dorado Schmitt. This is the first year that the younger Schmitt is spotlighted as a headliner. The second number, however, was Mr. Blanchard's chance to shine; lately there are a lot of jazz violinists, but none captures the true romantic fire of Grappelli the way Mr. Blanchard does on "Troublant Bolero." Israeli saxophonist Anat Cohen, the featured guest on Tuesday and Wednesday, wielded her soprano on "Sweet Georgia Brown," which she made into a hard-driving feminist anthem. No gal made has got a shade on Ms. Cohen: Grace Kelly, who plays tonight, is a promising youngster who still has a long way to catch up with her, although French vocalist Cyrille Aimée, who guests over the weekend, is a unique phenom unto herself. For most of the last 70 years, Reinhardt's most famous composition was the ballad "Nuages"; Ms. Cohen slowed it down to the point where it was indistinguishable from either the "Honeymooners" theme or Jerry Herman's "If He Walked Into My Life." Another ballad, "Manoir De Mes Rêves," essayed by Mr. Beier on what he calls "accordina" (a love child of the harmonica and accordion) was possibly even more breathtaking and beautiful. In the 13 years since the Django Fest became a regular event at Birdland, "Minor Swing" has become the international anthem of Djangology. The late set on Tuesday built to a thrilling climax, with Ms. Cohen returning to the stage and wailing like a gypsy from Tel Aviv. She too is one of Django's children.
Wall Street Journal
Birdland June 2011
315 W. 44th St., (212) 581-3080
Independence Day doubtless puts all of us in mind of France, America's ally from the Revolutionary War onward; surely it's no coincidence that the French were the first to produce a great jazz musician on the level as the American innovators with the amazing gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-53). This summer's Django Fest lacks a central star, but I've never heard the collective—with bassist and musical director Brian Torff and Samson Schmitt as the guitar glue that holds it together—play harder or more like a real band. The line-up of guest stars is particularly strong, with Colombian harp virtuoso Edmar Castaneda (Friday and Saturday) and Brazilian trumpet headliner Claudio Roditi (Sunday). Mr. Castaneda especially fits the profile of a DjangoFest guest because he with remarkable speed and skill, and because he's best experienced visually as well as aurally.
The Django Reinhardt Festival, which for the first time is being presented in a special Summer edition, is a different kind of musical event. It has about as much in common with a conventional night-club experience as a tight-rope walker does with a ballerina, or Coney Island does with Carnegie Hall. There's a more visceral thrill to it, and a hard competitive edge. DjangoFest is the NASCAR of jazz: You feel like you should root for your favorite player, and even make a side bet.
The late set on opening night started with the core trio—Mr. Torff, Mr. Schmitt (making a rare appearance without his father, Dorado Schmitt), and the Manouche rhythm guitarist Doudou Cuillerier. They were quickly joined by a third guitarist, the Swiss Andreas Oberg, for Richard Rodgers's "This Can't Be Love." (Like Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me," heard slightly later, it was precisely the kind of American standard that Django would have played with his famous Quintette, although he never actually did.) The three guitarists played in the Quintette's trademark "pumping" rhythm, a unique groove that suggests 2/4 and 4/4 at the same time, especially clear on Reinhardt's driving, "Djam" session classic, "Douce Ambiance."
Accordionist Ludovic Beier, another regular headliner of the series, made his entrance playing the most beautiful of Reinhardt's ballads, "Manoir De Mes Rêves." In Reinhardt's generation, Gypsies who lived in France didn't generally regard themselves as Frenchmen or even Europeans, but "Manoir" (aka "Castle of My Dreams") shows that Reinhardt was a close cousin of Ravel and Debussy. The gifted Mr. Beier extracted all of its impressionistic beauty via the "accordina," a mouth-blown device that looks like the love child of a concertina and a giant tootsie roll. "Manoir" was one of very few tranquil pieces in an otherwise high-energy, boxing match of a set.
The evening's guest star, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, joined the group for Mr. Beier's "Brazilian Fingers." He played with an aggressive tone, like a Sonny Rollins calypso, but never completely stole the spotlight, instead blending in with the unusual ensemble and an equally individual tune, which felt like a Cuban samba, a Rio choro, and a klezmer bulger all at once.
Things calmed down momentarily with a surprisingly tender moment—Mr. Cuillerier singing an authentic Gypsy love song, Tuti Echi," in the Manouche language, before the entire ensemble revved back into high gear with an ecstatic "Orchitchonia." By now, Gypsies and Russians in the house were on their feet and cheering, and it seemed more than ever like a musical World Cup. My money's on the Frenchmen.
DORADO SCHMITT and The DJANGO FESTIVAL ALLSTARS
DORADO SCHMITT and The DJANGO FESTIVAL ALLSTARS
The DJANGO FESTIVAL ALLSTARS carry on the legacy of the great great 'gypsy' guitarist DJANGO REINHARDT , HOT JAZZ at is best ! It's star, DORADO SCHMITT , from the Lorraine region of France, is a gypsy legend in the true style of DJANGO. The Band grew out of the very successful DJANGO REINHARDT FESTIVAL going into its 16th successful year in America with its home at Birdland and major tours across the country. Hailed by LEONARDO DICAPRIO as some of the greatest musicians in the world, DICAPRIO has become their greatest fan! Joining DORADO is LUDOVIC BEIER from France who Downbeat just wrotE after his appearance at The Newport Jazz Festival " BEIER played as great a solo on his accordina as Toots Thielemans at his zenith ". PIERRE BLANCHARD on Violin is a sensation. On rhythm, gypsy great FRANCKO MEHRSTEIN also from France and top Bassist BRIAN TORFF from Chicago. Joining the band on this major tour is DORADO'S young son, AMATI SCHMITT, now 19, a virtuoso and rising star !
HOT JAZZ harkens back to the 30's and 40's in Europe where DJANGO teamed with top Jazz Violinist STEPHANE GRAPPELLI to create The HOT CLUB QUINTETTE of France ...the greatest musical partnership in European history Jazz history. The ALLSTARS follow in their footsteps taking the music beyond with original compositions , hip improvisations and some of Django's lasting greats. This 'hot-swing' form of jazz has its roots in American popular music and in the reverence for Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and other top American jazz figures. They swing like crazy and will break your heart with a ballad. Each of them are composers and while this music can harken back to the great music of the past, their interpretations, arrangements, virtuosity, and original compositions bring a newness to Django's style and take it beyond. The Producers call it HIP HOT !...
DORADO SCHMITT'S virtuosity was on full display via lightning-fast finger work, powerful strumming, wild sweeps across the fingerboard and astonishingly fast tempos. Schmitt displayed complete mastery of Gypsy jazz guitar technique while frequently alluding to the trademark elements of Reinhardt's style: darting arpeggios, fretboard-sweeping slides, half- and whole-note bends, sparkling harmonics, vocal-like phrasing. ........ LA TIMES
_______________________________Review by Elizabeth Ashfold
Releasing Django’s Spirit, With No Brakes Applied
There was a time, not long ago, when the Django Reinhardt Festival felt disarmingly like a séance. The spirit of that incomparable Gypsy guitarist was summoned, fearlessly and flagrantly, by a pack of his stylistic heirs. Personalities were celebrated but constrained among the gathered faithful, who strove toward an emulative ideal.
That hasn’t all changed, exactly.... But in its eighth annual incarnation at Birdland, the tribute is sounding noticeably less single-minded. On Wednesday night strict homage took a backseat to some looser pursuits, like buoyant rhythm, blinding technique and alert interplay...it made for solid entertainment. Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, the festival’s producers have cultivated a stable of dynamic Europeans with roots in Gypsy swing. And their labor of love has evolved into a brand. There are DVD and album releases of the festival, which set up shop this week on the heels of a cross-country concert tour.
Dorado Schmitt, a veteran guitarist with the roguish charisma and pencil-thin mustache required of any French Gypsy paragon, was the show’s inexorable star. Emerging in a tuxedo with rhinestone trim, he first played a sentimental new original on violin. Then he switched to his primary instrument for “Coquette,” which served as a feature for the exceptionally gifted violinist Florin Niculescu.
Mr. Schmitt has the springy phrasing and effusive flow of a Djangoloist; he’s clearly born to the style. But he projected a lot of himself too, with some insistence. The set included a few more of his songs, among them “Souvenir,” a showcase for the accordionist Ludovic Beier....Samson Schmitt embroidered one of his father’s best tunes, “Bossa Dorado,” with a breathless torrent of arpeggios...
Given the festival’s exuberant overload of digital dexterity — even Mr. Beier, fingers flying on his button accordion, compounded this feeling..... Howard Levy, appeared near the set’s close. He was meeting the other musicians for the first time, but he plunged right in, with the appropriate dash of brio.
By Elizabeth Ahlfors
Birdland - June 28 - July 3, 2011
For twelve years, November has been Birdland's traditional season for celebrating the jubilant swing of Jean "Django" Reinhardt with jazz musicians from around the world. This summer, Birdland added a second festival, proving that for a jolt of pure joyful music, the spirit and sound of this legendary gypsy jazz guitarist is irresistible, an earthy exuberance not to be missed.
Django Reinhardt (1910 to 1953) has influenced most of the great guitarists who followed, like Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, B.B. King, and Chet Atkins. Reinhardt's guitar finger-work has echoed through the Texas string bands of the 1930s into country music today. In contemporary cabaret, he has influenced guitarists like Bucky and John Pizzarelli and jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein. In fact, Reinhardt spent his early years in Paris cabarets with Jean Sablon, later joining with Stéphane Grappelli to form one of the greatest jazz partnerships in Europe, the Quintette du Hot Club de France in pre-war 1930s. Their "hot jazz" has been used in numerous films, like Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, for which Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden contributed to the soundtrack. The hot jazz mix of romance and brio was also used in films like Chocolat, The Matrix, and Stardust Memories.
Reinhardt learned Manouche gypsy jazz as a child, but an accidental fire in 1928 threatened any future for the teenaged musician. It severely injured his legs and hands. He learned to walk again but never regained the use of the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand. Persevering, he devised a new method of using those fingers on the fretboard and brought his unique style of driving rhythm and intricate harmonies to the jazz clubs of Paris and around Europe.
"It's the hippest music out there, at least in my opinion," said co-producer of the Festival, Pat Philips, in an interview with Jazz.com. "I don't think there's any comparison. It's very romantic, melodic, very swinging; it gets inside you and makes you feel great—and I'm talking kids, all the way to old people. I just think it's hip and cutting edge forever."
With her co-producer, Ettore Stratta, and Gianni Valenti, owner of Birdland, Philips has hosted this Festival since it began at the legendary club. They called in many of the key players of Romany gypsy jazz, not to form a band but just to get together for a few days and make music. American bass player Brian Torff was the regular musical director, introducing the other musicians and sometimes, not always, naming the tunes. This week featured Samson Schmitt, the son of French gypsy guitarist Dorado Schmitt. Sweden sent renowned jazz guitarist Andreas Öberg. Another regular was Ludovic Beier on accordion and accordina (which resembles a mix of harmonica and small accordion), and the immensely talented French violinist Pierre Blanchard. Playing rhythm guitar was France's Doudou Cuilerier, often called "Mr. Django," who, incidentally, showed an additional talent for fantastic scat singing. Let's just say he used his face as well as his voice. He also demonstrated a talent for foreign accents, singing "Undecided" (Sid Robin, Charlie Shavers) with a precise American accent. This was a crowd-pleaser. On Friday and Saturday nights, the special guest was Edmar Castañeda, playing jazz on a Columbian harp.
Though the warmth and enthusiasm of Reinhardt's music are always evident, the Festival musicians are not glued to the 1930s and '40s. Reinhardt, himself, was eclectic, venturing into evocative solos and discordant bebop along with roots of strong swing, dazzling technique and a distinctive European melodic link. Öberg, versatile in fusion and bebop as well as gypsy jazz, added an up-to-date rhythm to his gypsy guitar, scatting along to "This Can't Be Love" (Rodgers & Hart). Beier, on the accordina, paired with guitarist Schmitt to deliver the seductive beauty of Reinhardt's "Souvenirs." In the ensemble's up-tempo "Them There Eyes" (Maceo Pinkard, Doris Tauber, William Tracey), flittering fingers raced over accordion and strings in a vortex of traded ideas.
"The Young Lions of Gypsy Jazz," while not fluent in English, are dazzling making music. Most are young, many in their 20's, demonstrating that Django Reinhardt's Manouche gypsy jazz possesses the musical elasticity to elicit international acclaim over a quarter of a century later. This is what Reinhardt struggled to achieve before his early death at age 43, which is to create music that continues to get inside you and make you feel good.
November 19, 20
The Spirit of Django Haunts Birdland
Bill Barnes is jazz.com’s resident expert on Gypsy jazz. Regular readers may recall his intriguing three-part article here on life at a Gypsy jazz camp. Now he turns his attention to the ninth annual Django Reinhardt festival, that one time each year when a little bit of jazz Manouche comes to New York. T.G.
It’s been said that, in New York clubs and bars, there really are no strangers and Birdland is no exception. I find myself sitting at a table with one such ‘un-stranger,’ a nice, if somewhat eccentric lady ‘of a certain age,’ as they say, with whom I am engaged in lively conversation before the first set. Despite the awe inspired by the history of all the great players and singers who have graced Birdland’s stage over the decades, this is still the friendliest, classiest and most comfortable jazz room in New York—due in no small part to owner John Valenti’s constant and tireless personal attention.
It’s the first week of November and, once again, this hallowed temple of jazz reverberates with the siren song of the Gypsy caravan as the ninth annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival returns. This year producers Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta have assembled a stellar international roster representing the latest generation of Django-inspired musicians they have dubbed the “Young Lions of Gypsy Jazz.”
My newfound friend turns out to be the only person in the room who isn’t aware of tonight’s program and our lively conversation has become a detailed interrogation as she asks “why Gypsy jazz? What do Gypsies have to do with it?” I try to give her a thumbnail sketch of the history of jazz Manouche, but she isn’t letting me off the hook. “Who was Django Reinhardt?” she asks. I have her write down the name of Michael Dregni’s comprehensive Django biography, along with a list of material and CDs which could help bring her up to speed. “Why do you spell his name with a D?” Mercifully, the first set begins, perhaps saving me from the inevitable water-boarding.
“What do Gypsies have to do with it? Who is Django Reinhardt?” she asks. “Why do you spell his name with a D?”
Producer Pat Philips introduces the program with a comment on the election. “I feel that this is a very special night because tonight, we can celebrate America.” It is the day after the historic Obama landslide and the crowd roars in approval. But, of course, we have come for the music—the audience is crackling in anticipation as bassist Brian Torff, the festival’s musical director, takes the stage, followed by Philadelphia’s top hot swing guitarist Kruno Spisic and Andreas Öberg, Sweden’s rising jazz guitar star.
The trio opens the set with a moderate swing, “Coquette,” both guitarists displaying their extensive command of Djangoese while getting a feel for the sound of the room. Kruno’s playing is firmly anchored in the disciplined Gypsy style, while Andreas is more eclectic in his approach, integrating elements of straight-ahead bebop with Django-rooted phrasing. The contrasting solo styles actually work well together.
“Coquette” is followed by a languid ballad based on a Grieg melody, “Danse Norvégienne.” Öberg’s solo intro is an elaborate display of arpeggios incorporating a few well-placed false harmonics, a technique perfected by the late Lenny Breau, but mastered by few guitarists since. I have followed the career of this remarkable young jazzman for several years; in fact, his playing was the catalyst which sparked my initial interest in the Hot Club Swing revival. If anything, tonight’s performance has increased my respect.
French accordion virtuoso Ludovic Beier now joins the onstage trio for an electrifying rendition of “Bernie’s Tune,” demonstrating the power of an instrument which, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, is still not taken seriously by many in the U.S. jazz community. His fingers dance across the changes in rapid-fire triplets. Kruno takes his chorus with the crispness and energy that has helped forge a reputation as one of the top jazz Manouche guitar players in North America. Andreas follows suit, scatting along with his solo (à la Benson) before the quartet trades fours in a whirlwind of ideas that seem to connect each others’ thoughts.
But wait—there’s more…harmonica master Howard Levy! Simply put, Levy is a shock. I’m not normally prone to exaggeration, but what this cat does with an ordinary diatonic harmonica may be beyond the science of modern physics. A veteran of the Bela Fleck ensemble, as well as years of session work on both sides of the Atlantic, Levy is considered by many as the most advanced harmonica player in the world. Tonight his version of Django’s celebrated anthem of occupied France, “Nuages,” brings down the house.
Up to this point, all the players on stage have been Gadje, or non-Gypsies. With the introduction of Samson Schmitt and his younger brother Jean Baptiste, we are about to hear the real Magilla. Sons of the legendary Sinti guitarist, Dorado Schmitt, they provide the only element so far missing from the night’s display of virtuosity—the heart and soul of the Romani musician. Sampson galvanizes the crowd with a full-throttle, authoritative version of Django’s swing classic, “Daphne.” His eighteen year old brother Jean Baptiste leads the other guitarists pumping out a powerful la pompe rhythm.
Brian introduces the extraordinary French violinist Timbo Merstein, who frequently plays and records with Sampson. Suddenly the group is transformed into the quintessential Hot Club lineup as the fingers fly into a furious, blistering arrangement of the perennial swing favorite, “Stompin’ at Decca.” Stephane Grappelli’s influence is obvious in his quotes and phrases.
Another surprise: Ludovic brings out an odd-looking free reed wind instrument from France, the accordina, which appears to be the unintended result of a clandestine tryst between a harmonica and a button accordion. It has been making somewhat of a comeback in recent years due to its potential for subtle expression, as Ludovic admirably demonstrates in the poignant ballad “Souvenirs,” played in a duet with Sampson Schmitt. With the solid backing of Toriff’s bass, the intimate exchange between Sampson and Ludovic is intuitive and delicate. In the middle of his solo, Ludovic suddenly leaves the stage and walks through the audience, wielding the accordina like a Jaipur snake charmer. Freed of the microphone, the notes waft through the air as if they were part of a film noir soundtrack, transporting the mesmerized audience back in time to a 1930s Parisian café.
After a spirited “Lady Be Good” the whole ensemble caps off the set with a bouncing, up-tempo “Minor Swing,” perhaps the most ubiquitous number in the Django archives. As the first set audience leaves the room, you can still feel the energy from the steady pompe rhythm. I say farewell to my inquisitive new friend, who is now clearly becoming a fan of Gypsy jazz.
This is the end of part one of Bill Barnes’s two-part report on the Django Reinhardt jazz festival. Come back soon for part two, in which Bill takes us behind the scenes.
Backstage at the Django Reinhardt Festival
In part one of this article, Bill Barnes reviewed the ninth annual Django Reinhardt jazz festival at Birdland. In this second, and final installment, he takes us behind the scenes for conversations with the performers and Gypsy jazz advocate Pat Philips. T.G.
Offstage at the Django Reinhardt NY Festival, guitarist Andreas Öberg allows me to noodle a bit on his $30,000 Benedetto archtop. His recent release on Resonance Records, My Favorite Guitars, has him squarely back in the mainstream, where his formidable bebop chops are in full swing. For much of tonight’s sets he opted to play the archtop, rather than his more traditional Selmer-style AJL acoustic. As the author of Gypsy Fire, one of the best instructional materials on Django guitar, he is a dedicated advocate of the Gypsy technique, but lately has been increasingly drawn back to his earlier influences, mainstream players such as George Benson and Pat Martino.
Öberg admits that he isn’t doing as many Hot Club swing gigs as he was a few years ago. Still, he remains a proponent. “There’s real power in the Gypsy technique,” he says. “You can play so much faster, with greater clarity.” He will be expanding access to his experience and knowledge in the near future with an interactive instructional website, in partnership with AOL. For now, I’m content to observe and attempt to steal bits and pieces of his remarkable technique.
While hanging out in Birdland’s green room between sets, I had the opportunity to sample the Selmer-style guitars the Schmitt brothers have been playing, courtesy of Manouche Guitars North America’s representative, Barry Warhoftig. These are just stock production models but, in Sampson’s hands, they sound like vintage Selmers. Everybody is plucking away backstage—it’s interesting to hear the different approaches to the guitar during the interplay between Kruno, Sampson and Andreas. Kruno suddenly breaks into song, demonstrating a surprisingly good voice, as he renders a lovely, poignant ballad in his native Croatian. I recognize the tune, “Letch Gurgo,” written by violinist Schnuckenack Reinhardt, a cousin of Django. Ludovic joins in with the accordion, followed by Sampson, providing the perfect guitar embellishment. This wasn’t on the program, but I’m thinking it should have been.
Producer Pat Philips and her long time partner, Ettore Stratta are by the bar, waiting for the second set. Arguably New York’s most ardent supporters of Gypsy jazz, they had actually built their reputations working with a broad array of major talent (a very long list, trust me!) from Lena Horne and Count Basie to Lew Tabackin and Joshua Redman. Ettore has produced, arranged and conducted for so many prominent artists, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Tony Bennett and Eddie Daniels. So what has made them so passionate about Django Reinhardt and jazz Manouche? Pat responds, “It makes me feel good. I just fell in love with the music and with the artists.”
“Half of the people we bring here live in caravans or cottages. They could afford to buy big houses but they don’t think that way—it’s all about the music, it’s all about the family.”Pat Philips
I ask for her take on why there is such a resurgence of interest now, after all these years. “It’s the hippest music out there, at least in my opinion. . . . I don’t think there’s any comparison. It’s very romantic, melodic, very swinging; it gets inside you and makes you feel great—and I’m talking kids, all the way to old people. I just think it’s hip and cutting edge forever.”
They have been involved in the jazz Manouche revival ever since 1988, when they produced Stephane Grappelli’s 70th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Michel Legrand, the Juilliard String Quartet, Maureen McGovern and Toots Thielemans. Since then, they have produced regular Django-inspired events at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Birdland and other venues, getting to know many of the key players in the process—Dorado Schmitt, Angelo Debarre and Stochelo Rosenberg, to name a few.
Pat Philips loves the Romani musician’s esthetic. “Half of the people we bring here live in caravans or cottages. They could afford to buy big houses but they don’t think that way—it’s all about the music, it’s all about the family. They grow up with the music—they play for the joy of the music. That is the difference. That’s why you feel it. You feel what they feel. If they were home tonight, they’d be sitting in the living room playing music. When they get up after breakfast, they’re going to play music.” The search for the heart and soul of Gypsy jazz has led her to Romani camps across Europe. “We’ve gone there, we’ve been in their caravans, it’s all guitars, putting them in the hands of a three year-old. . . . It’s in the culture; it’s in the family.”
While the second set audience is not quite the overflowing capacity crowd of the first, they’re every bit as enthusiastic. Among the repeats of the first set’s tunes, the group offers some more classic Django numbers: “Troublant Boléro,” which is actually more of a rumba, and the popular “Swing Gitan.” The performance ends with an exuberant, buoyant crowd pleaser, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
That’s pretty much summed up the feeling when, at three o’clock in the morning, Birdland finally closed its doors behind the last of the stragglers and turned us out into the misty November night—we couldn’t feel anything but love. Latcho Drom and long live Django!
This blog entry posted by Bill Barnes.
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times
November 19, 2005
The Los Angeles Philharmonic's Art of the Guitar Festival this week has been showcasing the remarkable versatility of this seemingly uncomplicated instrument. And that is without exploring any of the sound-stretching offerings of the Jimi Hendrix-Eric Clapton-Jimmy Page era.
But even excluding the thicket of amplification, feedback and beyond, there's still plenty of guitar territory to cover. In Wednesday night's Disney Hall concert by Dorado Schmitt's sextet, the spotlight focused on a unique time and place in the instrument's history in a program devoted to the memory of the great French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
One of the only (if not the only) European jazz artists to rise to the level of influential innovator, Reinhardt, in his relatively brief career (he died at 43 in 1953), produced a collection of hard swinging, emotionally buoyant recordings. Working frequently with violinist Stephane Grappelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, he incorporated the passion of his Gypsy heritage with the musical adventurousness of jazz improvisation.
Guitarist Schmitt is one of several contemporary European artists carrying the Reinhardt standard forward. And the program's opening numbers, especially a highly charged romp through "I'll See You in My Dreams" — in which he was accompanied by his son, Samson Schmitt, on rhythm guitar and Brian Torff on bass — bristled with the upbeat, joyous approach to jazz that is at the core of the Reinhardt style. Here, as elsewhere throughout the program, the elder Schmitt's virtuosity was on full display via lightning-fast finger work, powerful strumming, wild sweeps across the fingerboard and astonishingly fast tempos.
It was the three principal non-guitarists in the group — violinist Pierre Blanchard, accordionist Ludovic Beier and alto saxophonist Tom Scott — who moved the evening beyond the sincere tribute much of Schmitt's program represented.
Blanchard and Beier, in particular, playing instruments usually operating on the fringes of jazz, transcended with invenntiveness.
Django Festival at Birdland
written by Dan Adler
New York Festival
Live at Birdland
November 10, 2005
PERSONNEL: Dorado Schmitt, lead guitar and violin; Angelo Debarre, electric guitar; Ludovic Beier, accordion and accordina; Pierre Blanchard, violin; Brian Torff, bass; Samson Schmitt, rhythm guitar; Gordon Lane, drums; Lew Tabackin, tenor saxophone; Roger Kellaway, piano; David Langlois, Washboard.
By Dan Adler
The annual Django Reinhardt Festival at Birdland in NY is now celebrating its sixth consecutive year. Playing to packed houses for an entire week, the all-star cast of French gypsy musicians is joined nightly by some of the great
local American players, and the results are always extremely satisfying.
The evening opened with producer Pat Philips giving some background on the Festival and on the players. Pat and Ettore Stratta are jointly
responsible for putting together this spectacular festival and have now expanded its scope to other major US cities.
The music opened with the great Angelo Debarre playing a solo guitar piece. Angelo, who still lives in a gypsy caravan in France, surprised us all by playing a hand-made electric guitar rather than the more common acoustic guitar associate with Django’s early years. Angelo’s awesome technique, sensitivity and authentic gypsy feel were immediately apparent, and one
of my table-mates described the experience as “visceral.”
The entire program was well thought out, building the excitement slowly by introducing the musicians in various small groupings. After the solo piece, Angelo was joined by American bass player (and the group’s musical director and English announcer) Brian Torff as well as Samson Schmitt (Dorado’s son) on rhythm guitar and Ludovic Beier on accordion. Beier is a phenomenal musical talent who plays in the gypsy tradition and also dabbles in other musical settings.
The second half of the two-hour set featured the second guitar virtuoso on the program, Dorado Schmitt, in a variety of settings. First he played in trio, and then he was joined by violinist Pierre Blanchard, whose playing had traditional Grappelli elements, as well as some traces of Jean Luc Ponty. Their rendition of Django’s classic ballad “Manoir de mes Rêves” was beautiful and very poignant. They followed with a great Dorado Schmitt original samba, which sounded very modern.
The two American guests on the program were Lew Tabackin on tenor saxophone and Roger Kellaway on piano. Tabackin joined the group for several numbers including “What is This Thing Called Love?”—with the entire
group quoting “Hot House,” proving that they are well-versed in bebop as well as swing. Roger Kellaway opened his portion of the program with a long solo-piano introduction to “Honeysuckle Rose” where he brought together
shades of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson blended with his own brand of musical magic.
To top off the set, all performers joined in for two gypsy jazz classics: “Minor Swing” and “Dark Eyes” with a dazzling display of virtuosity and intensity that provided a great climax to the set.The most noticeable aspect of a great gypsy jazz performance such as this is that it seems to appeal to a very wide audience in a powerful way that few other forms of jazz can achieve.
For those who missed this year’s Festival, there is a new CD as well as a DVD of some of the previous year’s performances available online at
Oct. 31, 2005
The Django Reinhardt Festival at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Friday night couldn't have made Franco-American relations seem more harmonious.
Though the transatlantic array of talent was weighted in favor of French musicians, the arrangements neatly accommodated all six players. The center of focus was French guitar virtuoso Dorado Schmitt. Beginning with a Reinhardt favorite, the pop standard "I'll See You in My Dreams," Schmitt displayed complete mastery of Gypsy jazz guitar technique while frequently alluding to the trademark elements of Reinhardt's style: darting arpeggios, fretboard-sweeping slides, half- and whole-note bends, sparkling harmonics, vocal-like phrasing. Schmitt's son Samson mostly played rhythm guitar in swing time, more often than not with propulsive power. When he played lead, however, he dashed off single note lines with clarity and verve. Tel pere, tel fils .
The performance, hosted and nimbly underscored by bassist Brian Torff, also pointed to Reinhardt's ties to Stephane Grappelli -- whenever violinist Pierre Blanchard's deft touch and singing tone was showcased -- and referenced swing-era recordings made on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, saxophonist Joel Frahm never sounded more soulful than when performing "Body and Soul," conjuring a resonating warmth that recalled Coleman Hawkins's definitive version of the tune.
Heightening the Gallic swing mood on "Sweet Sue" and other tunes was accordionist Ludovic Beier, who also contributed the evening's loveliest original composition, "Souvenir of Autumn." Rendered as a duet, the reflective ballad was subtly enhanced by Samson Schmitt's altered guitar tuning.
-- Mike Joyce
(Birdland; 150 capacity; $30)
A presentation of Wild Turkey. Produced by Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta. Musical director, Brian Torff. Opened, reviewed Nov. 8, 2005. Runs through Nov. 13.
Musicians: Dorado Schmitt, Ludovic Beier, Angelo Debarre, Pierre Blanchard, Samson Schmitt, Tchavolo Hassan.
By ROBERT L. DANIELS
A distinctive group of European musicians is celebrating the life and legacy of legendary Belgian-born Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who died in 1953. Violinist Pierre Blanchard and guitarist Dorado Schmitt, who will lead a Reinhardt program at L.A.'s Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday, pulled off a true re-creation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France that worked as a dutiful salute to Reinhardt and another master, Stephane Grappelli.
Opener featured Angelo Debarre on electric guitar and Ludovic Beier on accordion with Reinhardt melody "Fantasie." Beier's lines were richly tailored with passionate romanticism. In a duet on "Hungarian Rhapsody," the musicians captured the humor and folksy legacy of a Gypsy campfire.
Blanchard and Schmitt journeyed from the delicate strains of the Charles Aznavour ballad "Mourair d'aim" to "Melodie au crepuscule (Love's Melody)," bathing both in a sublimely melodic moonlight reverie. The latter tune, long attributed to Django, was most likely composed by brother Joseph "Nin-Nin" Reinhardt, according to jazz historian Michael Dregni, author of the first major critical bio of the guitarist, published last year.
Blanchard played with dazzling fluidity and an infectiously colorful improvisational technique. He not only re-created the pliant bite that was Grappelli's signature, he added a brightly nuanced flavor that displayed his own sense of style. "Bossa Dorado," a contemporary composition by Schmitt, conceived in the Django Reinhardt mood, revealed the guitarist's loping, languorous strength.
Debarre and clarinetist Ken Peplowski returned to join the ensemble for a rompin' take on "Minor Swing," and Joel Frahm on tenor sax made it an octet for "Dark Eyes."
Throughout, the sturdy, confident bass accompaniment by musical director Brian Torff and the fiercely chomping rhythm guitar of Samson Schmitt served as a platform that lifted the soloists to soaring heights.
Birdland fest continues with guests Roger Kellaway on Friday, Frahm returning Saturday and Dominick Farinacci on Sunday.
Guests:, Ken Peplowski, Joel Frahm.
by RICHARD S. GINELL
November 21, 2005
Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Performers: Dorado Schmitt, Samson Schmitt, Ludovic Beier, Brian Torff, Pierre Blanchard, Tom Scott. Reviewed Nov. 16, 2005.
Few could have predicted that the first European to come up with a unique jazz style would be a peripatetic, three-fingered, Belgian gypsy guitarist named Django Reinhardt. Fewer could have prophesized that Reinhardts style would endure for decades, influencing bands as far-flung as the Western swing outfits of the American Southwest. And fewer still would have dared to believe that Reinhardts 1930s Euroswing would light up a futuristic 21st century concert hall, outshining later styles on the program.
So went the Django Reinhardt Festival at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Wednesday night, a traveling homage that began in New York Citys Birdland club in 2000 and has since spawned some CDs and a DVD. It was part of a wide-ranging Guitar Festival this week at Disney Hall, a good programming idea that sweeps through classical, jazz, folk, country and world music territory without compromising any of them.
Although the protean bassist Brian Torff was the music director, spokesman, and solid anchor of the night --- he even took the only unaccompanied solo bow on Willow Weep for Me --- the program was mostly built around the talents of French guitarist Dorado Schmitt.
Whether at the leisurely loping pace of Je Suis Seul le Soir or the uptempo four-on-the-floor swing of Ill See You in My Dreams, Schmitt had the Reinhardt vocabulary down perfectly, every run and bent note in place --- and he also played competent violin in Sinti Rhapsodie and sang a little.
Dorados son Samson energetically duplicated the thrumming rhythm-guitar harmonies of Reinhardts brother Joseph, and violinist Pierre Blanchard emulated the mauve-colored tone and lyrical swing of Reinhardts co-conspirator Stephane Grappelli. When they played together, this was Reinhardts Hot Club Quintette of France --- with much of the fire intact, erasing the decades with amazing clarity.
They could have gone on all night in this fashion, but for the sake of a balanced show, some wrinkles were gradually thrown in. Ludovic Beiers accordion added a dollop of sentiment in the ballads that Reinhardt would have disdained, but he fit well within the style in the uptempo numbers and proved to be an even more effective exponent of the accordina --- which is played like a melodica and sounds like a harmonica. Conversely, Tom Scotts pungent alto sax seemed at odds with uptempo Reinhardt swing yet was much more at home in a ballad like Souvenir.