Passion of Gypsy jazz in Django

The music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt reverberates through the Shuswap.

Players: Richard Owings

Players: Richard Owings

The music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt reverberates through the Shuswap.

On Saturday, Aug. 13 the third annual Django concert will take place at Shuswap Theatre, thanks to members of the Salmon Arm Jazz Club.

Guitar player extraordinaire, Reinhardt was born in 1910 in a Gypsy caravan on the side of a road in Belgium. Born into a musical family, he learned to play several instruments such as the banjo, violin and guitar from an early age; he spent most of his youth in Gypsy encampments close to Paris.

His family made a living from crafting furniture, but included several amateur musicians who inspired Reinhardt. Eventually, Reinhardt was given a banjo-guitar, at which point he stopped playing the violin.

Reinhardt, the meaning of whose nickname was “I Awake” in the Romani language, was severely injured in a fire losing two of the fingers on his left hand at the age of 18.  He changed his guitar playing style to adapt to his handicap and, together with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which was regarded as one of the most innovative recording groups in the history of jazz music.

“They literally changed the face of jazz,” says regular jazz club performer Willy Gaw, who notes the music, named after Reinhardt, Gypsy jazz has a danceable rhythm and beat. “Up until his time, jazz was horns, pianos, drums and no stringed instruments.”

After Reinhardt’s death in 1953 the Gypsy jazz scene was stagnant, says Gaw, noting it is now back in vogue in Europe and growing in popularity in North America.

“I learned bout Django about 12 years ago watching a film called Chocolat; they play minor swing and Johnny Depp plays Django’s signature song,” says an eager Gaw.

“At the time my son was learning to play violin with Richard Owings and he taught me to play this style of music until we got to the point where he said  “I can’t teach you more.”

Describing Gypsy jazz as exciting, infectious, toe-tapping music, Gaw says there are also ballads that evoke great passion and yearning.

Joining rhythm guitars and Owings on stage will be guitarist Jordan Dick, Stephanie Clifford on rhythm guitar, Bill Lockie on bass, Blair Shier on lead guitar and Darrin Herting on lead guitar.

Gaw points out the last two Django shows have sold out and says tickets are available at Acorn Music or the Shuswap Pie Company

Gaw is also excited that the Willy Gaw Quartet will perform at this year’s Roots and Blues Festival.


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