Two-day celebration of the music pioneered by Django Reinhardt features three concerts, six workshops and an epic jam session by 18 of the top gypsy jazz musicians in the world.

The featured performers of the 2014 edition of DjangoFest Mill Valley, set for June 6–8 at the Throckmorton Theatre. Images courtesy DjangoFest Mill Valley.

As the Throckmorton Theatre continues to mark its 10th anniversary this year, it’s also celebrating some of the landmark events it spawned in its inaugural year.

Among them is DjangoFest, the celebration of Django Reinhardt and the “hot” jazz sound he pioneered.

Born in Belgium in 1910, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in Basque Gypsy encampments close to Paris and began performing guitar, violin and banjo professionally at an early age. When he was 18, Reinhardt was dreadfully injured in a fire, leaving the third and fourth digits on his left hand severely damaged. To adapt to that predicament, Reinhardt developed a style of playing that emphasized his undamaged fingers and would later give birth to his signature “gypsy jazz” sound.

Rising to fame with his “Quintette du Hot Club de France” in 1934, Reinhardt played with all the American Jazz legends of the era such as Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart and Louis Armstrong. Even though he died at the tragically young age of 43 in 1953, Reinhardt’s influence has reverberated over the decades. The past few decades have seen a worldwide spike in interest in both his music and his place in jazz history.

Nick Lehr, the co-founder of DjangoFest Mill Valley who produced his first such festival in Whidbey Island, Washington back in 2001, said Reinhardt is “not only 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 U.S.

Lehr now produces three major Djangofest events a year, including Mill Valley, his inaugural event on Whidbey Island in the Northwest and an annual event in Denver, Colorado.

Reinhardt’s music and likeness have also begun to turn up more often in popular culture, including the film Sweet and Lowdown, in which Sean Penn’s mute jazz guitarist Emmet Ray idolizes Django. That film’s director, Woody Allen, is a notable jazz enthusiast and musician himself and performed with his New Orleans Jazz Band last December.

For the 2014 edition of DjangoFest Mill Valley, an opening night reception kicks off the weekend with a French wine reception plus live music and opportunities to meet and greet the musicians. The reception will be followed by a double headliner show featuring the Pearl Django Quintet and the Robin Nolan Trio.

On Saturday, June 7, guitarist brothers Kevin and Robin Nolan teach workshops at 10am and 12pm, respectively, with a concert  to follow by Hot Club d’Europe featuring the Gypsy Jazz All-Stars with Paulus Schafer, Tim, Kliphuis, Olli Soikkeli and Simon Planting.

Four workshops covering a range of gypsy jazz and swing style kick off the final day of the festival on Sunday, June 8, with a grand finale concert featuring the Rhythm Future Quartet and an epic DC jam featuring all 18 of the festival’s performers. A closing night cocktail reception will be thrown at Vasco Restaurant with additional live music to finish off the weekend.

The 411: The 10th Annual DjangoFest runs June 6–8 at the Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Avenue. Tickets are $35 to $45 general admission, $50 to $60 reserved seating for the shows $45 for workshops and $150 full festival pass. Click here for and to buy tickets

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