Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Jun 30th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Pulling a Legend’s Strings

Mus_AE_DjangoReinhardtKuumbwa Jazz celebrates guitarist Django Reinhardt’s 100th birthday in style

It’s hard to imagine a more daunting task for a musician than to try to fill Django Reinhardt’s shoes. Nearly 60 years after the celebrated gypsy jazz guitarist’s death, Reinhardt remains one of the world’s most revered jazz musicians. His superhuman chops are all the more impressive in light of the adverse circumstances with which the musician had to work: As most guitar fans know, the Belgian-born maestro was badly injured in a fire at age 18. The mishap rendered Reinhardt’s right leg—and, more distressingly, the third and fourth fingers of his left hand—paralyzed. Thwarting doctors’ attempts to amputate the injured leg, and ignoring their claims that his guitar-playing days were over, Reinhardt re-taught himself not only to walk within a year, but also to play guitar by way of a completely reinvented approach. He performed his intricate, high-speed guitar solos with the two fully operative fingers of his left hand, while he used that hand’s two partially paralyzed fingers to play chords.

Even with all four fretting fingers in full working order, precious few guitarists are capable of doing Reinhardt’s music justice. One highly notable exception is Dorado Schmitt, the winner of Europe’s Django award in 2000 and the man widely considered to be the heir to Reinhardt’s throne. (You may have heard his music in the French documentary film Latcho Drom.) Schmitt has lived and breathed Django’s music from an early age. Introduced to Reinhardt’s playing by his father at age 7, he refined his guitar playing technique by copying all of Reinhardt’s licks, right down to the most challenging solos.


“Jazz is an art form that demands a striving for authenticity. We do not try to recreate Django, but do our own interpretation of that music. The group is very spontaneous. It’s the gypsy tradition! You have to be flexible and keep your eyes and ears open.” —brian torff

It’s impossible to miss the parallels between Schmitt’s story and Reinhardt’s: On Feb. 23, 1988, a near-fatal car crash left Schmitt in a coma for 11 days. Having sustained 35 fractures and undergone several operations, Schmitt was in physical therapy for years. Like Django, however, he persevered, ultimately fully regaining his ability to play guitar.

AE_DoradoSchmittThis weekend, Jan. 23, marks Django Reinhardt’s 100th birthday. In honor of the occasion, Dorado Schmitt and his gypsy jazz group (Schmitt, his son Samson on guitar, accordionist Marcel Loeffler, violinist Pierre Blanchard and bassist/musical director Brian Torff) launched a cross-country tour that began Jan. 16 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The group plays two shows at Kuumbwa Jazz on Monday, Jan. 25.

Pat Philips, one half of Stratta Philips Productions (strattaphilips.com), the New York concert team presenting the “Django at 100” concert, describes Schmitt as “a great musician with amazing charisma and star quality.” Schmitt is a frequent performer at the Django Reinhardt NY Festival, which Philips and her partner Ettore Stratta have presented at the New York City club Birdland every year since 2000. Philips notes that the lineup of the Django Reinhardt tribute group changes frequently, but “Dorado as a leader knows how to work with the varying musicians no matter what the group is.”

Philips says it was French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, with whom Reinhardt founded the group Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934, who originally turned her and Stratta on to gypsy music. In the late ’80s, Grappelli, who had a long working relationship with Philips and Stratta, suggested that the pair go to Holland to meet Dutch guitar virtuoso Jimmy Rosenberg (then only 9 years old) and hear this exciting music for themselves. Following Grappelli’s advice, the partners spent a weekend in the gypsy camp among the caravans where Rosenberg lived. “We got caught up with the whole atmosphere,” Philips recalls. “Not only did we hear and see the brilliance of Jimmy when he was so young, but [we also witnessed] the atmosphere with the families. Everyone was into this music; everyone gathered around in someone’s caravan or small house to play and/or listen—even 3-year-olds. The music is binding.”

Philips adds that having worked with this music directly in concerts and recordings for more than 10 years, she and Stratta have formed relationships with many artists and become a part of the musicians’ lives. As a result, they’re more hooked on gypsy jazz than ever before.

Brian Torff, bassist and musical director for the Django tribute group that will appear at Kuumbwa Jazz, is similarly enthusiastic about the music. “I think people love acoustic music that is played with virtuosity,” he offers. “It has a warmth that makes gypsy jazz very appealing to even a non-jazz audience.”

Torff, who toured extensively with Reinhardt’s aforementioned musical partner Stephane Grappelli prior to the violinist’s death in 1997, says the group must avoid replicating Reinhardt’s music in order to stay true to the spirit of it. “Jazz is an art form that demands a striving for authenticity,” he notes. “We do not try to recreate Django, but do our own interpretation of that music.” This demands that the musicians fly by the seats of their pants. “The group is very spontaneous,” the bassist says. “It’s the gypsy tradition! You have to be flexible and keep your eyes and ears open.”

Monday’s concert should inspire longtime Django fans and make believers out of newcomers. As Philips states, “There is a need for joyous, romantic music these days, and this music never fails. A gypsy ballad makes you feel all those wonderful things that seem to be missing in a lot of today’s popular music: It is fun, swinging, very melodic, romantic. There’s a joyousness to it that reaches people’s hearts, makes them happy and feel part of the whole experience.”


Django Reinhardt Festival’s “Django at 100” takes place at 7 and 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25 in advance or $28 at the door for the 7 p.m. show; $20 in advance or $23 at the door for the 9 p.m. show. For more information, call 427-2227 or visit kuumbwajazz.org.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Missed it:-(
written by Jeffy, January 26, 2010
Man i bet this was a great show, Django's music is amazing, bummer i missed it, Santa Cruz has so much amazing music, i love it here!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

I Was a Teenage Deadhead

Memories of life on tour, plus the truth about that legendary Santa Cruz Acid Test

 

I Build a Lighted House and Therein Dwell

Wednesday, June 24, Chiron turns stationary retrograde (we turn inward) at 21.33 degrees Pisces. We usually speak of “retrograde” when referring to Mercury. But all planets retrograde. Next month in July, Venus retrogrades. What is Chiron retrograde? Chiron represents the wound within all of us. Wounds have purpose. They sensitize us; make us aware of pain and suffering. Through our wounds we develop compassion. Through compassion we become whole (holy) again. Chiron helps develop these states of consciousness. Everyone carries a wound. Everyone carries family wounds (family astrology tracks the astrological “DNA” through generations). Chiron wounds are deep within. We’re often not aware of them until Chiron retrogrades. Then the wounds (through pain, hurt, sadness, suffering) become apparent. They seem to break us open emotionally, psychologically. Painful events from the past are remembered. They are brought to the present for healing. Through experiencing, talking about and deeply feeling what is hurting us, healing takes place. We begin to understand and bring healing to others. All week, Jupiter and Venus move closer together in the sky. They meet in Leo at the full moon, Cancer solar festival, on Wednesday, July 1. The Cancer keynote is, “I build a lighted house and therein dwell.” The soul’s light has finally penetrated the “womb” of matter. The New Group of World Servers is to radiate this light. At the end of each sign are keywords to use and remember during the Chiron retrograde.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of June 26

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Kickin' Chicken

Local kitchen alchemist Justin Williams is fast becoming a cult flavor master. His late-night wizardry, which began last fall delivering mainly to starving UCSC students, is catching on with taste buds beyond campus. Kickin’ Chicken delivers its spicy-sweet fried chicken and waffles to Westside residents between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. nightly. Or you can catch him and his brother and sister, Candice and Danny Mendoza, serving it up at their “Sunday Mass” at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge at 1001 Center St. in Santa Cruz. Using sous vide, a French method of cooking chicken in a water bath at a tightly controlled temperature, they then flash fry it for an amazingly crispy coat. Candice Mendoza spoke to GT about Kickin’ Chicken’s rise.

 

What’s a creative new approach to addressing summer beach litter?

Robotic dogs, with duct tape on their paws, that walk around picking up litter wherever they go. Joaquin Heinz, Santa Cruz, Barista

 

Pelican Ranch Winery

The most popular red wines found on store shelves are also those most commonly known, such as Pinot, Zinfandel and Merlot. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Pelican Ranch Winery’s Cinsault ($19), it opens up a whole new world. Cinsault is a grape that can tolerate heat, so it is found in countries with warmer climes such as Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, and France. It’s rare in California but grows well in places like Lodi—Silvaspoons Vineyard in this particular case—where it’s hot and dry. Often used as a blending grape, the silky Cinsault is just fine on its own.

 

Open Wide

Soif’s soft reboot leads to expanded menu, plus the ‘thinking woman’s ketchup’