Django 100: Centennial Tour Celebrates Legendary Guitarist
“ Leading the memorial quintet will be guitarist, Dorado Schmitt, himself a gypsy and designated as Reinhardt's heir apparent--the winner of Europe's Django award in 2000. ”
By Larry Taylor
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the great gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, the Django 100 countrywide tour gets underway next month at Washington's Kennedy Center.
Leading the memorial quintet will be guitarist, Dorado Schmitt, himself a gypsy and designated as Reinhardt's heir apparent--the winner of Europe's Django award in 2000. His son, Samson Dorado, also a guitarist, will be in the group, along with Ludovic Beir, accordionist, and Pierre Blanchard, violinist, all from France. From the United States, esteemed bassist Brian Torff will anchor the group.
Reinhardt was born in Belgium, 1910. His family traveled in a gypsy caravan. Both both parents were musicians, his father a guitarist; his mother a singer and dancer. As a child, Django took up guitar and was playing professionally by 14. Later, in his teens, he was about to leave for England to play in a band when his family's caravan caught fire, and his left was hand was severely burned, causing him to lose two fingers. This tragic incident, however, led him to develop his unique style He played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and used the two injured digits only for chord work.
From this, he went on to fame, forming the Quintet of the Hot Club of France with the great violinist Stephane Grappelli. The group, made up of three additional guitarists, played together until WWII, gaining worldwide popularity with their original swing style, turning out many recordings.
After leaving the group, Reinhardt played throughout Europe and in America. His life was cut short, sadly, when he died in France at 42. His popularity throughout the decades has remained constant from his recordings and helped by by Grappelli who continued playing Hot Club style until his death at 89 in 1997.
A fixture in the quintet, renowned bassist Torff currently teaches in Connecticut at Fairfield University. In addition to playing with Django 100, he regularly performs in the New York-New England area. Since beginning his career in 1974, he has played with the likes of Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland and Errol Garner. Notably, he appeared with Grappelli and was part of the acclaimed duo with George Shearing in the late 70s-early 80s.
Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta started the Django Festival in 2000 at Birdland. Schmitt and Torff joined the group in 2002. Torff said, In a recent telephone interview: We're like a repertory re-grouping, sometimes twice a year. We play in Europe and always once a year in Birdland."
In other years, he says, the group was called Django Reinhardt New York Festival. Since it's a centennial celebration, it will be called Django 100 on this tour.
As for others in the lineup, Samson Schmitt, Dorado's son, has also gained a following as a gypsy jazz guitarist, while violinist Pierre Blanchard is a master of the Hot Club style. In 2004, he recorded a well-received album Rendezvous in tribute to Grappelli.
Attesting to the ongoing popularity of Django's music, Torff says that audiences are all ages, figuring that almost half are people under 40. A play list for a set will include Hot Club favorites, as well as originals by Dorado Schmitt and a sprinkling of jazz standards. The most requested numbers, Torff says,are from the old days: Minor Swing" and Nuage."
Initially the tour will take the group to nine cites, beginning January 16 at Kennedy Center, Washington, DC.. On January 17-19, it continues to The Dakota, Minneapolis and then travels to California for stops January 21-24 at Yoshi's, Oakland; January 25, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; Jan. 26-28 Catalina's, Los Angeles; and January 29-30, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa. On February 1-3 the group returns east to The Iridium, New York City; and finishing, February 4-6, at the Montreal Jazz Festival.