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Live Reviews

The 4th Annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival

By Published: November 15, 2003
When Django Reinhardt infused American jazz with his Gypsy soul, the result was a “swing with strings” that has remained a landmark in jazz/world fusion. With the addition of two rhythm guitars, a bass, and his longtime partner violinist Stephane Grapelli, a unique sound developed. This continental brand of jazz delighted pre-WWII Paris at the “Hot Club” and allowed the world to see the full capabilities of jazz improvisational guitar and violin. With their “Django Reinhardt NY Festival”, Stratta/Philips Productions have continued to make audiences aware of the power of this music while infusing it with new life.

Developing out of a long-time association with the late Stephane Grapelli, Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta have become key elements in a new “Gypsy jazz” scene. Modern caravans serve as the proving grounds for both young players who are continuing the Django tradition and other artists who are taking this music a bit farther out. Philips is passionate and feels the music has much to offer today’s musicians, “I feel the music, while it comes out of the 30s and 40s is the hippest thing. It’s joyous and it gets into your heart, it’s infectious, it’s real, it’s authentic and it’s melodic. I think melody and joyous music with technical virtuosity is missing from the scene today.”

Produced in a way that introduces European practitioners and American jazz musicians to each other while showcasing the latest in European virtuosity, the festival has played to packed houses and resulted in a live CD ( Django Reinhardt NY Festival , Atlantic 83498-2). Given the strong following that several of the European musicians have established and the success of the “Spirit of Django” event at Lincoln Center this past July, attendees at this year’s festival will be seeing some familiar faces. Highlighting the European contingent are traditional Django disciple guitarist Dorado Schmitt and accordionist Ludovic Beier plus Dorado’s son, guitarist Samson Schmitt. These musicians will be appearing each night along with bassist and musical director Brian Torff.

While these established European artists are on the bill, this year’s “Django Festival” will continue its tradition of introducing new talent to NYC audiences. Guitarist Joshco Stephan’s trio and violinist Alexandre Cavaliere, both discovered by Philips at the Samois festival outside Paris, will be making their first US appearance at this year’s event. “(Joshco)...is a technical wizard and we added Alexandre Cavaliere who is so amazing. He plays with Dorado and also with Joshco. On top of that we have fallen in love with Vitali Imereli who is a great virtuoso violinist, he has played this music a lot in Europe and is an amazing dynamic player. So sometimes you will see two violinists and sometimes three because Dorado also plays violin fantastically.”

A highlight of past festivals has been the nightly participation of well known American jazz musicians. That will continue again this year with drummer and vocalist Grady Tate, saxophonist James Carter and swing clarinetist Ken Peplowski; each slated for individual evenings. Philips relates how Grady Tate got involved, “When Dorado arrived last year he said you know I have a new ballad that I want to do it is called "Sad and Beautiful" but it needs someone on the brushes....it was last minute and I called Grady... he came over...and he sat in the rest of the night...he was floored by the talent...This year I asked him to be a special guest, which he will be on the first night.” According to Philips, James Carter found the music on his own. “He had done a Django album before (Chasin’ the Gypsy, Atlantic 83304-2) ...we invited him to be a guest in 2001 and he had a ball with everybody...he is such a fun guy and an amazing player...if he is a guest the first night, he has so much fun he comes back every night and sits in whenever there is an opportunity. This year he will be our guest Saturday night and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up on Sunday.”

As this music is an important part of the Gypsy culture, Philips is cognizant of ensuring that each guest’s musical style will fit in and give the music the respect it is due. “We try to get musicians that are compatible...Most of them really are not tremendously familiar with the music although some of them are. When James Carter plays with the Gypsy’s from Europe it sounds more “Django” then if he did it with American musicians...There is something in their soul. They are born with this. It’s their life and their culture. It really reaches to people and doesn’t just stay on the stage like a performance. It makes you feel like you are part of it.” To be a part of it this year, check out the “Django Reinhardt Festival”, again sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon at Birdland, November 18th-23rd, 2003.



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