June 17 & 18: Django Reinhardt Festival Celebrates Gypsy Swing

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Next month, Django Reinhardt lovers will want to gypsy swing their way over to Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz in West Los Angeles to celebrate the legendary Belgian-born French guitarist. Artists Yorgui Loeffler, Samy Daussat Quintette and Trio Dinicu will treat audiences to a taste of “jazz manouche,” accompanied by scheduled film screenings, lectures, workshops, a jam session and more that will take place the weekend of June 17 and 18. What better way to kick off the summer?

Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grapelli. (Photo courtesy of Toomperep)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Django Reinhardt put manouche, otherwise known as French gypsy swing, on the map during the 1930s. Sadly, he was only 43-years-old when he passed away in 1953. Despite his brief life, Django left a tremendous musical legacy in his wake, paving the way for countless other practitioners of this soulful, heartfelt and virtuosic music.

Gypsy music takes several forms. The Spanish or gitanos have flamenco, while the Macedonians have their own version. In Eastern Europe, we also encounter gypsy music in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. Add to this vivacious mix klezmer music, a related musical celebration of the Jewish and Yiddish cultures.

Django was self-taught and already performing in clubs in Paris by his early teens. His musical career nearly came to a halt one night when he suffered horrible burns resulting from a tragic caravan fire. A lit candle had fallen on the celluloid flowers that his wife was making to supplement the family income, setting their home ablaze. Django’s left hand—the fretboard or “business” hand—was so severely burned that he lost several of his fingers. In the course of his recovery, Django devised a new method of playing that allowed him to play with his thumb and the two remaining fingers on his damaged left hand.

Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium jazz club in New York, 1946. (Photo by William P. Gottlieb)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

His virtuosic playing took him on tour through France, Belgium and even Germany during World War II. This was unheard of for a gypsy, as Hitler routinely singled gypsies out for certain death in the concentration camps. But Django was well-liked for his extraordinary musical dexterity and larger-than-life personality. A superb billiards player, his extra cash earnings were lavishly spent wining and dining friends and fans alike. Talk about a colorful character.

In that spirit of joyous celebration, the Django Reinhardt Festival on June 17 and 18 at Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz promises to be a fantastic two days. Yorgui Loeffler, Samy Daussat, Noé Reinhardt, Frank Anastasio, Aurore Voilqué, Claudius Dupont, and the Los Angeles-based Trio Dinicu are exceptional in their own right. These artists don’t perform very often in LA—if ever—so any chance to catch them and spend a full weekend gypsy swinging your hips to this priceless idiom should not be missed. For tickets and more information, click here.

Still not convinced? Just watch these videos.

Brittany’s Samy Daussat of Nouvelle Vague fame performs Django’s “Minor Swing.”

Yorgui Loeffler of Alsace performs at a 2008 Django Festival in Hildesheim, Germany. (Ignore the banner in the middle; it’ll pass. Loeffler’s performance is worth it.)

Yorgui Loeffler improvising on the standard “All of Me.” Watch his fingers fly!

Finally, the Trio Dinicu performs the Hungarian Roma classic, “The Lark.” Check out the violinist!