‘Hot Club’ in a Cool Town—Home of DjangoFest NW

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HotClubofTroyBY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
September 10, 2014

San Francisco has one. Detroit has one. France had the first one. Even Hulaville has one. Whidbey Island has joined the club. The Hot Club, that is—the Hot Club of Troy to be precise.

The Hot Club of France was a jazz appreciation society formed by a small band of Parisian students in the early 1930s. They promoted a style of music known as “hot jazz,” descended from the Dixieland jazz of New Orleans. This progressed into the Chicago style of jazz of which Louis Armstrong was the best known proponent.

Bandleader Troy Chapman concentrates on laying down a Django groove with the Hot Club of Troy. Photo by David Welton.

Bandleader Troy Chapman concentrates on laying down a Django groove with the Hot Club of Troy. Photo by David Welton.

The club eventually hired Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli, along with three other musicians, to become the Quintette du Hot Club de France. The name was shortened over the years to simply Hot Club of France and the gypsy jazz style of music they elaborated became one of the most influential musical movements of the 20th Century.

Our island version of the Hot Club is not named after a place, however. There’s no town of Troy between Clinton and Oak Harbor. But there is a person named Troy on the island and he happens to be an exceptionally fine guitarist who has mastered several styles of jazz, but whose first love is the gypsy jazz style of the great Django Reinhardt.

“I mean the pun is obvious,” said Troy Chapman, band leader of the group. “I just thought it would be a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, that I’m one of the few people who has a name that’s actually a known town; I should take advantage of that.”

Bassist Kristi O'Donnell enjoys a brief moment between songs. Photo by David Welton.

Bassist Kristi O’Donnell enjoys a brief moment between songs. Photo by David Welton.

In fact, there may be as many as 26 towns in the United States named Troy, besides the one they are all named after—that ancient city-state with the wooden horse problem. None of them, however, can lay claim to being a host city for world-class gypsy jazz as can little ol’ Langley on Whidbey Island.

Langley has been on the radar of Django disciples for more than a decade. The Whidbey Island Center for the Arts will host the 14th year of DjangoFest this coming Sept. 17 through 21. World class artists such as Stochelo Rosenberg, Gonzalo Bergara and Florin Niculescu are slated to perform and lead workshops. On Friday, Sept. 19, the Seattle gypsy jazz quintet Pearl Django will perform as they have for each of DjangoFest’s preceding 13 years. Chapman joined the group in 2010 and is recognized as one of North America’s leading gypsy jazz guitarists.

Keith Bowers takes a turn on lead guitar. Photo by David Welton.

Keith Bowers takes a turn on lead guitar. Photo by David Welton.

Enter Trio Nouveau, the high-flying, hard swinging, quick picking jazz band founded by Whidbey residents Keith Bowers and Kristi O’Donnell. Chapman is a regular in the group, which focuses more on the Great American Songbook collection of popular songs from the 1920s to the 1950s. However, Bowers and O’Donnell share Chapman’s love of Reinhardt’s style of playing and the three of them wanted to play that style at select venues around the island.

Chapman said, “I didn’t want to do it as Trio Nouveau, because Trio Nouveau plays a different kind of music. The Hot Club of Troy is very much about the purity of the sound of Django Reinhardt and his music. We’ll be playing mostly Reinhardt compositions.”

The Hot Club of Troy has been performing this summer at Useless Bay Coffee House, Ott & Murphy’s Cabaret and a new venue on the island, the Roaming Radish (5023 Harbor Hills Drive in Freeland, formerly the Beachfire Grill). Their next performance is from 12 noon until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at Useless Bay Coffee, the day before DjangoFest begins.  The trio will continue the gig there at that day and time throughout the Fall

The Hot Club of Troy at a recent performance at Useless Bay Coffee. Keith Bowers in the foreground with Kristi O'Donnell on upright bass and Troy Chapman. Photo by David Welton.

The Hot Club of Troy at a recent performance at Useless Bay Coffee. Keith Bowers in the foreground with Kristi O’Donnell on upright bass and Troy Chapman. Photo by David Welton.

“We’ll play wherever anybody asks us to play,” said Chapman. “If you like gypsy jazz, you will really like this. If you like Django Reinhardt, you will really like this. If we get a good response, we’d like to do this for about the next 20 years.”

To see WICA’s complete schedule for DjangoFest 2014 and to order tickets, go to http://www.wicaonline.org/djangofest-northwest/.

Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He is also a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.

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