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 August 30 with a performance by Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis, guitarist Brad Boze and bassist (and event organizer) Simon Planting, followed by an opening night party at Vasco restaurant.
Friday night’s concert features Antoine Boyer & Samuelito with opening sextet Barrio Manouche. The Evan Price Trio hit the stage Saturday evening, opening for guitarists Gismo Graf and Tommy Davy, violinist Christiaan van Hemert and bassist Planting. The festival closes out on Sunday with 14-year-old guitar prodigy Henry Acker, followed by an all-star “djam” performance featuring musicians from all three days.
Gypsy jazz guitarists and violinists will also be hosting workshops throughout the weekend.
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 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.
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.
Planting, a native of Holland, moved to the Bay Area more than a decade ago, one year after he was performing with Djangofest regulars the Robin Nolan Trio at an in-store show at Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco. He met his future wife Colleen at that show.
Planting says he was thrilled by the existence of such a tight-knit community of lovers of gypsy jazz in the Bay Area, and he’s been deeply connected to it ever since.
Planting’s first recollection of hearing Reinhardt’s distinct sound is as a 5-year-old boy in his backyard garden in Holland, when his father played Django on a 78 wind-up gramophone on warm summer afternoons. “He loved playing a Django recording of “Honeysuckle Rose,” Planting says. “I was really drawn to the enormous amount of energy that came off of that guitar.”
In 1976, Planting started taking classical training on double bass from Hans van Meegen, a well-known Dutch bass player who played at the Noord-Hollands Philharmonisch Orkest in Haarlem, Netherlands. Three years later, Planting was introduced to Fapy Lafertin, a Dutch Roma gypsy guitar player and gifted Django interpreter. The two recorded two albums together and toured throughout Europe together.
“He’s really one of the direct links to Django,” says Planting, who lives in the East Bay. “Through him, I connected to so many people in the Django community in Europe. And now I know so many musicians in the gypsy jazz here in the United States.”
The 411: Djangofest is August 30-Sept. 2 at the Throckmorton Theatre. Tickets are $38–$65. Weekend concert passes are now on sale, and single concert and workshop tickets go on sale on Aug. 8. Interested in sponsoring the event? Get in touch here. MORE INFO & TIX.
Here’s a taste of what’s to come: