Wine, beer, delicious food and a scintillating slice of Django.

That’s the menu at the 34th Annual Mill Valley Wine, Beer & Gourmet Food Tasting on May 31 in downtown Mill Valley, where the Jimmy Grant Ensemble will deliver a sneak preview of the 2015 edition of Djangofest, the 11-year-old event inspired by the late gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Djangofest, which attracts legions of fans of the “hot” jazz sound Reinhardt pioneered as well as guitarists from all over the Bay Area, is set for June 12-14 at the Throckmorton Theatre and has long been one of the landmark local venue’s most popular events.

In an effort to promote Djangofest, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Throckmorton Theatre teamed up to bring Northern California native and gypsy jazz stalwart Jimmy Grant and his quartet to the Depot Plaza on May 31. Grant, who will play from 1–2pm at the May 31st event, has performed at nearly every Djangofest in Mill Valley to date.

“Gypsy jazz continues to increase in popularity, and I’m really excited to perform for a crowd that may not be familiar with Django’s music,” says Grant, who grew up in Grass Valley and lived in Chico and Oakland prior to moving to Booklyn a few months ago.

That popularity surged in the aftermath of Woody Allen’s 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown, in which Sean Penn portrayed 1930s, fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray, who idolizes Django Reinhardt. As proof that gypsy jazz’s resurgence continues, Grant says, comes in the form of the Selmer-Maccaferri and Selmer style guitars that Reinhardt favored.

“When I started playing 10 years ago, it was hard to find those guitars,” Grant says. “Now there era hundreds of people selling them.”

Grant grew up in a household full of rich musical influences that inspired a passion for the Reinhardt’s music. Over the years, he performed with artists such as David Grisman, Ludovic Beier, Andreas Oberg, Gonzalo Bergara and the Hot Club of San Francisco. But it always comes back to Reinhardt.

“That’s why I started playing guitar – I heard him and that was it,” Grant says. “It’s very visual as well – to really get the Django bug you have to see it performed.”

Grant is getting ready to record his first album with the Jimmy Grant Ensemble, which is rounded out by West Coast musicians Hanna Mignano on violin, Javi Jiminez on guitar and Jamie Mather on bass. Grant met each of them through Django-related events and shows, connecting with Jiminez at the annual Django in June, a Massachusetts-based celebration that features Django Camp, which gives musicians the opportunity to immerse themselves in Gypsy jazz for 5 days under the tutelage.

A Romani gypsy from Belgium, Reinhardt emerged in the 1930s as Europe’s best-known jazz musician, a virtuoso guitar player who combined his love for American greats like Louis Armstrong with the rich and mysterious Romani musical tradition. Though he died tragically young at age 43, Reinhardt’s musical legend was by that time cemented within jazz circles, and the past few decades have seen a worldwide spike in interest in both his music and his place in jazz history.

“He transformed jazz in a lot of ways,” says Nick Lehr, the co-founder of DjangoFest Mill Valley who produced his first such festival in Whidbey Island, Washington back in 2001. “Not only was he the most famous European jazz musician, but he’s also probably the only European that really contributed to the development of the art form.”

The idea for DjangoFest first struck Lehr at a similar event outside Paris, in the small town where Reinhardt lived as an adult and eventually died. Seeing the crowd’s enthusiasm for the music, Lehr thought it would be great to mount some kind of Django tribute event back home in the States.

Starting with Whidbey Island in the Northwest, Lehr has now produced editions of DjangoFest in multiple locations including Southern California, Colorado and the Bay Area.

And when Steve Jobs first introduced that most modern of devices – the iPad – to the world back in 2010, he did it to the sounds of “Swing Guitars,” one of Reinhart’s most recognizable tunes, recorded with violinist Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France back in the 1930s.

Local admirers of Reinhardt’s music and its contemporary incarnations will have a veritable feast of hot jazz — both American and European — to choose from at Djangofest, including Joscho Stephan, the world-renowned German guitarist who has been hailed as “the future of the Gypsy jazz tradition” by Acoustic Guitar Magazine. 

But Lehr is quick to point out that Reinhart’s music is for everyone, not just jazz-lovers.

“It’s not the kind of music you need a PhD to appreciate,” he says. “It’s toe-tapping, swinging music that’s very accessible to people of all ages.”

The 411: Djangofest is June 12–14 at the Throckmorton Theatre. Tickets are $45–$60. All Workshops are $45. Click here for the full schedule or to buy tickets.

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