The return of one of the most exciting and innovative musical events in Mill Valley is almost upon us.
After a pandemic-fueled hiatus, DjangoFest, the longstanding event inspired by the late gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, returns to the Throckmorton Theatre Sept. 29-Oct. 2 for five blockbuster concerts, including a DjangoFest D’Jam featuring all of the performers on one stage.
The event, which regularly attracts legions of fans of the “hot” jazz sound Reinhardt pioneered as well as guitarists from all over the Bay Area, has long been one of the landmark local venue’s most popular events. Djangofest kicks off Sept. 29 at 8pm with a performance by Barrio Manouche, a multi-cultural ensemble that music journalist Aaron Carnes says “makes magical acoustic music mashed together from all corners of the globe — a new form of Americana, if you will, where flamenco guitar drifts above Brazilian beats, clashing with Gypsy-jazz melodies. It could very well qualify as Americana in another decade or two. Or maybe its rich, gorgeous blend of acoustic Latin-French jazz will always remain distinctly Barrio Manouche.”
One day later at 8pm features the Jimmy Grant Quartet, a Bay Area mainstay who from a young age gravitated towards Reinhardt’s music and now plays a blend of music from all over the world and his own compositions. Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8pm, spotlights the Gonzalo Bergara Quintet, led by the virtuoso composer and lead guitarist who mixes a cascade of arpeggios with the sounds of Paris and his native Argentina, to forge his own style of progressive Gypsy Jazz.
At 4pm on Sunday, Oct. 2, Duo Gadjo performs music largely inspired by the sounds of the 20’s and 30’s, when jazz was the new thing and Paris was the place to be. Duo Gadjo’s repertoire features Isabelle Fontaine on vocals and includes many French classics as sung by Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand and others, as well as standards from the Great American songbook. Their distinctive French Cafe sound emanates from their Gypsy guitars, with the addition of the melodica.
The musical barrage concludes with all of the bands hopping on stage on Sunday, Oct. 2 (time tba)
Though Reinhardt died 65 years ago, gypsy jazz continues to find new audiences. Its 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.
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,” said Nick Lehr, the late 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 411: Djangofest is Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at the Throckmorton Theatre. MORE INFO & TIX.