BY BETTY FREEMAN
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Sept. 16, 2013
“What’s a DjangoFest?”
That’s the question Whidbey Island Center for the Arts Executive Director Stacie Burgua asked 13 years ago when DjangoFest founder Nick Lehr approached her with a proposal to create a Northwest version of the festival in Langley in 2000.
Burgua was skeptical, but Lehr kept after her because he knew gypsy jazz music and believed people would come from off-island to hear it.
In 2001, the first DjangoFest was held in Langley, with two concerts featuring Pearl Django and the Robin Nolan Trio playing both nights.
The phenomena of people coming from afar to those 2001 concerts made Burgua a believer, paving the way for WICA’s five-day, internationally recognized festival, now in its 13th year.
DjangoFest Northwest starts Wednesday, Sept 18 and continues through Sunday, Sept. 22, five days when master musicians from around the world and gypsy jazz fans convene for a celebration of “le jazz hot” á la Django Reinhardt.
Reinhardt was born in Belgium in 1910, a member of the Manouche gypsies, who lived an open air, nomadic life in the countryside near Paris. At age 12, a neighbor gave Reinhardt his first instrument, a banjo/guitar, which he quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of other musicians he watched. Soon he 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 Reinhardt spent 18 months 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, Reinhardt developed his signature playing style, along with his reputation as a master improviser, seldom playing a solo the same way twice. He was considered a genius composer and a master musician, turning out a seemingly unending series of beautiful melodies and sophisticated harmonies.
In 1934, 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, Reinhardt and Grappelli reunited to continue their memorable collaboration onstage and in the recording studio, until Reinhardt’s retirement to the village of Samois sur Seine in 1951.
This year’s DjangoFest lineup has a satisfying mix of respected masters of the form and the treat of seeing up-and-coming, young musicians performing, too.
Headlining DjangoFest 2013 is guitarist and composer Fapy Lafertin of Holland, who kept Reinhardt’s style alive in the 1970s with his first band, Waso.
Lafertin will play Sunday night with special guests Tcha Limberger, the Belgian violin virtuoso who captivated last year’s DjangoFest audiences; veteran guitarist Dave Kelbie; and world-renowned bassist Simon Planting.
Opening on Sunday night is the new Whidbey Island trio 3-Cent Stamp featuring the young (but extraordinarily accomplished) violinist Gloria Ferry-Brennan, along with the stellar James Hinkley on cello and the ever-enjoyable Levi Burkle on guitar.
New to the lineup this year is 23-year-old Finnish guitarist Olli Soikkeli, and the Canadian group Brishen, featuring 17-year-old guitarist Quinn Bachand and violinist Richard Moody, a folk music veteran. Brishen headlines the Thursday evening concert.
A Pacific Northwest favorite, Pearl Django, featuring Langley’s Troy Chapman on lead guitar, will play Friday night, with Olli Soikkeli as the opening act.
Gonzolo Bergera returns to the festival this year, along with another local audience favorite, the John Jorgenson Quintet. Bergera and his New Hot Club of America will play Saturday night. Jorgenson’s Quintet headlines the Friday night show.
Young players will learn from veterans in workshops and jam sessions throughout the festival, new techniques will be mastered and shared, and lucky audiences will witness some truly inspired collaborations and exciting performances. Quite simply, DjangoFest is a not-to-be-missed annual treat.
Tickets range in price from $32 to $70 and are available online at tickets.wicaonline.com or by calling the WICA Ticket Office at (800) 638-7631.
For festival information, including artists line up, workshops, bios, music, and videos, also visit tickets.wicaonline.com.
Betty Freeman, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Clinton. Once she discovered gypsy jazz in 2006 she became an instant fan. She can’t wait for this year’s DjangoFest to begin.
(Pictured at top, Fapy Lafertin of Holland headlines DjangoFest Northwest at WICA./Photo courtesy of WICA)