Each note Django played called me to become my own unique player by first emulating his sound then finding my own way to play. There is an inherent integrity to the style he created and its so fundamental to the way to play jazz on the guitar. You can argue that other guitarists were also amazing from that time, but not that many, and none quite like Django.
There is something extraordinary about Reinhardt and we all know it when we hear him play on those old recordings. He transcended so many limitations including use of only two fingers on his left hand for solos, cultural stigmas, antiquated audio equipment, wartime pressures, and on and on. All these challenges and yet he was totally free in his own mind and creativity. His playing conveys a spirit of liberation.
Django wrote and performed original music during a time when most musicians only played the standards of the day. I think his example shows us how crucial it is to write music and challenge the status quo.
Django may have conceived of what is commonly know as Gypsy Jazz in the city of Paris, but it was nurtured and brought up on the road and continues to resist settling down in any one place. After all, it found me and I live in Baltimore Maryland. Now I write music that clearly follows in the footsteps of Django even though I am not of his time or place. It's a music that transcends culture and location, yet it is rooted clearly in a certain area and has had a definite history of players who have continued in the tradition.
Despite simple audio equipment and lack of amplification, Django made the acoustic guitar sing loudly and gave it a distinctive voice which stood out next to the horn bands and big bands of the day. Even musicians today, using tons of overdubs and high-end recording equipment, have a hard time sounding as fresh and exciting as those old recordings of Django. He was skilled, but improved on his abilities under adverse conditions and then he honed them to the highest art.
Players like Biréli Lagrène, Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, Tchavolo Schmitt, Moreno Winterstein, Waso Grunholtz, Fapy Lafertin and a handful of others continued the powerful legacy of Django Reinhardt. I remember speaking with guitarist Ted Gottsegen over many pints of Guinness at the Irish pub in Maplewood between workshops during Django-A-Gogo. Ted knows so many stories about the history of this music and the players who continued and expanded on the tradition. The pivotal Gipsy Project concert video by Biréli was a big moment that brought the Django-based style more into the limelight and it continues to be a huge draw for those first getting into this style. It was this same You Tube video that inspired me to self-produce a full length concert video of my own back when I was first really getting into this music in 2014.
One of the best things to happen for me in 2017 was being asked to perform at the legendary Festival Django Reinhardt in France. The festival was held in Fontainebleau this year and featured Stephane Wrembel who grew up in that same area. I am pretty sure it was a big deal for Stephane to be performing there in his hometown. It was also huge for me to be performing on the luthier stage which featured some of the finest guitar players I have ever heard including guys I had jammed with earlier that week at the Samoreau campsite. There is nothing like meeting a total stranger at a campsite, playing music, laughing, sharing a drink and then realize they are one of the top guitar players in the world! I can't explain in words how fortunate I felt to meet all these musicians.
I am sure many feel the same way I did when I first entered the world of authentic gypsy jazz. It is an inspiring scene of guitar based jazz that just does not exist anywhere else. The legacy of Django Reinhardt is real in this region and there is a strong feeling for the music in the community which includes musicians and fans from all over Europe and the world.
Many of the old timers, and even some younger players who started coming to the festival years ago, say "it used to be better then." They lament the early years when the festival was held in the mythical Samois sur seine area where Django spent his later years, and where exceptional players like Angelo Debarre live and play music steeped in this tradition. Some say there was a playfulness that is lacking today and that many modern players are too serious and competitive. I don't really see that but I don't have much to compare it to. It was my first time and I met a lot of great people and felt a good spirit of fun throughout the camp. Still, I wished it was set in the village of Samois sur seine like it had been in the past based on all the stories I have heard and video I have seen from earlier years.
Samois and Samoreau are very unique places with a special history so I was genuinely excited to be there. I wanted to meet fellow musicians, not just as players, but as people. I like the social aspect of this music and the camaraderie everyone shares from all over the world. Sure, it's serious, but it's also about having a drink and a laugh while playing some tunes. It's a mix of child-like play and brilliant musicianship and you have to have both in my opinion to get to the heart of this music. Django exudes both in his playing. You can hear this whimsical, playful feeling mixed with absolute brilliance and bold creativity.
I first heard about the Django festival from Sami Arefin who plays with me in Ultrafaux. Sami has often shared stories about the mythical Samois and I always listened wide-eyed whenever he spoke about the festival. I was entranced by stories of the campsite and hoped to someday meet the authentic players of this style. Like Ted, Sami is a wealth of information about the traditional players and history of the music.
When I finally arrived at the festival, it was bittersweet. Sami could not attend with me and my girlfriend had to return home after touring Europe with me up until then. I made the best of it and quickly found myself meeting all kinds of players from all over the world. Fortunately luthier Cyril Gaffiero, who I met at Django-A-Gogo gave me a tent to use while I was at the campsite so I was set.
It was hot when I arrived in Samoreau and I did not pack the correct clothing so I was stuck wearing my jeans and wrong shoes the entire time. I am not a savvy camper either so I was a bit challenged right off the bat. I did manage to spend most of my time jamming with the players there and meeting lots of new people. One of my first campfire jams happened to be next to a favorite guitarist, Wawau Adler. I played a tune or two with him before realizing who he was. That's what its like there. Everyone has an air of anonymity. You meet other players through the music and through the good times first, then you realize who they are later.
We will be performing and jamming in Asheville the entire weekend Jan. 26 - 28. I strongly recommend getting an Air BnB and enjoying the entire weekend there with us. Its going to be a blast. Plus it's an incredible city with plenty to do from bars, music, to hiking and zip-lining in the mountains nearby.
I hope to see you out on the road soon!
It seems like yesterday, but its really been a huge learning experience since then. I learned quickly by sitting next to guys like Sebastien Giniaux, Olivier Kikteff, Samson Schmitt, Tcha Limberger, and other extraordinary players at Django In June every year. Jamming with guys who were better, faster, and more experienced than myself. I even completely changed my right hand picking style to get a more authentic sound by using more rest stroke picking the way Django did to play those big arpeggios and diminished riffs. Rhythm guitar is no different. Its a skill that takes time and experience to develop. It has taken years to get the right feel on "le pompe," the French name used for the driving rhythm guitar sound so popular in the hot jazz of Django's time. I feel like I only recently started getting it when I was playing for hours at the Samoreau campsite next to guys like Arsène Charry, Adrian Marco, Adrien Tarraga, and Justin Geisler to name a few. There is a certain sound you want, but it is also very individual. Every rhythm guitarist has their own feel and nobody is exactly the same even though we are all playing the same basic rhythmic accompaniment. I probably learned the most about accompaniment from Tcha Limberger whose harmonic sense is unparalleled.
Mathieu Chatelain, the talent coordinator for Festival Django Reinhardt, and the well known rhythm guitarist for top players like Adrien Moignard, asked me my preferred date to play and I instinctively chose July 7th at 9pm which just so happened to be right before the headliner Stochelo Rosenberg. I was ecstatic when I heard the lineup! We performed for a large crowd who stood most of the set or gathered at picnic tables in the field. Some fans danced wildly to our music. It was quite a scene. Here is You Tube video of one of our songs with special guests Brad Brose, Lisa Liu, and bassist Deborah Lartilleux! When we were done, we ran over to see Stochelo perform a flawless and spirited set.
2017 started off with Ultrafaux performing Charm City Django Jazzfest alongside Leah Zeger, Anouman, and Russell Welch Hot Quartet from New Orleans. Then I left right away to perform at Django-A-Gogo up in New Jersey at Barbès in Brooklyn NY and lead a week of workshop jam sessions. Even got to jam with Stochelo in the bar area before our set at Barbès! Here is a video of one of our songs. (Notice the perma-grin I have, the direct result of being in the presence my guitar hero) Big thanks to Irene Ypenburg from Amsterdam for shooting the video.
The European Tour was a major highlight of 2017 as I made my way across Europe with my girlfriend Julia, stopping in Wales, London, Brussels, Lyon, Paris, Fontainebleau and Samoreau to perform. I had arranged shows with various guest artists along the way and all of them were an absolute blast. The first shows in the U.K. were with Lewis Dickenson and bassist Pete Thomas which included an absolutely cool show in Wales and the legendary Le Quecum Bar in London. Then we took a train to Brussels to perform with the fantastic Alexandre Tripodi on violin and Renaud Dardenne, a fabulous guitarist well versed in the Django style. I did a show with guitarist Brad Brose in France including Festival Django Reinhardt where we were joined by Lisa Liu and the outstanding bassist Deborah Lartilleux, daughter of guitarist Christophe Lartilleux who I had met while at Django in June. The shows were well-attended and exciting. The crowds, attentive and receptive. I sold all of my merch too which really helped pay our way while traveling through the area.
I met so many amazing musicians along the way that I have decided to include many of them as guest artists on upcoming recording sessions. I find that each player brings out different aspects of the music and also different characteristics in my own playing. Its also a lot of fun playing with different musicians which reflects the sense of community which is such a strong characteristic of this music.
Looking ahead, Ultrafaux is set to tour the Southern U.S. in January, performing for Djangoary Festival in Glen Allen, VA and opening for Stephane Wrembel at the Django Birthday Festival in Asheville North Carolina with a lot of shows along the way.