Thanks to Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, Producers of this annual event at
Tully Hall and a second Django Reinhardt series at Birdland each November, a sold-out Hall was royally entertained in a well-organized and electrically charged fusion of German, French, American, Rumanian, Cuban, and other musicians, all of whom have passion for the Django genre. Each Django series that Philips and Stratta present has surprise guests and regular favorites. This year,
Dorado Schmitt, the legendary Django guitarist, and a favorite of this crowd, was convalescing in France with an arm injury. His son,
Samson, a rhythm and jazz guitarist in his own right, was featured tonight as a solo performer, and he was, characteristically, charming and charismatic with music to match.
Django at Birdland artists, Joscho Stephan, on lead guitar, and father,
Gunter Stephan, on rhythm guitar, were back to NY for a Lincoln Center debut, joined by the talented
Max Schaff on bass. The stars of the show, however, were lead guitarist, Angelo Debarre, Django specialist extraordinaire, and his musical and CD partner, accordionist, Ludovic Beier, also from France.
Brian Torff, musical director, leads with a casual, warm, bouncy bass. Florin Niculescu, Rumanian violinist, was highly featured (Dorado would have doubled on violin) and
Dave Silliman, on percussion, kept a swing beat, throughout. The Cuban born, Paquito D'rivera, seen everywhere these days in tributes, galas, and special events, served up a sensational clarinet with his usual humor and mime. And,
David Langlois, on washboard, returned toward the end of the event to repeat his hit appearance at Birdland, strumming with steel.
There were sections of performances tonight, with different groupings and blendings of available musicians. The German contingent appeared first, and Django Tiger, a red-hot swing, roared into the Hall. A more romantic song followed, with
Joscho's lyrical lead and Gunter and Max on speeding, rumbling rhythms, before
Gunter finished the mesmerizing melody. I noticed tapping patent leather shoes, a classy touch. Soon Florin joined the trio, and his violin sang in soaring sound, up and down the strings.
Florin continued to add slower refrains, which Joscho then echoed in surprising passages.
The pattern continued, as Joscho's violin infused sultry or spinning interludes to the ensuing and building, musical mix. When
Paquito joined on clarinet, with Dave Silliman on drums, Latin clave was introduced, and Django went into driven dance. Swing merged with Mambo, and
Paquito's white/black shoes tapped the floor. When Joscho again seized the lead,
Florin snuck in a Mozart moment on his vivacious violin. Steady rhythms ensued from
Joscho and Dave Silliman, while Paquito and Florin played similar, but contrasting themes to a wild, wooly effect.
Paquito is a one-man party, and he brought his enthusiasm and energy along tonight, as his clarinet merged with his pantomime. It don't mean a thing was presented in an electric fashion, with Joscho handing the lead to Paquito and then to
Florin, who shared improvisational fun with Paquito for a while. In a scene change, Brian Torff took the stage on bass, plus Ludovic Beier on accordion,
Samson Schmitt on guitar, and Dave Silliman stayed on percussion. To vocal accolades, Angelo Debarre appeared and raced into a dizzying melody of singable Fantasie.
Ludovic, who often pairs with Angelo, expands his accordion to resemble a full orchestra, and now he rapidly raced across the tiny keyboard. Angelo reclaimed the finale of the ballad with abstract accents to Ludovic's contrasting themes. These are well-rehearsed and seasoned professionals, as they finished in sync.
What Is This Thing Called Love? was led by
Ludovic in a rogue run on the keys and picked up by Angelo on scintillating strings, with this melody soon shared by Samson in lightning fingering. Brian Torff took a rare bass solo, before the song ended in one collective beat. When Florin Niculescu joined this second ensemble,
Brian Torff spoke about Florin's resemblance to Stephane Grapelli, Django's legendary violin virtuoso. The next song, almost a Rhumba, was led by
Ludovic's romantic accordion in a classical approach. Angelo kicked up the speed without changing the mood, with
Samson on rhythms. Soon Florin took a similar melody on violin, with one voluptuous note, and extended this sextet.
When Florin took the lead in the next song, Angelo offered a driven and rapid riff, just as
Paquito literally slid onstage and played his colorful clarinet to make it a sassy sextet.
Paquito and Ludovic switched clear notes to full chords, and then Joscho entered the fray. Soon an octet was brimming with bountiful music, and a jam session was before us. High notes were passed from
Paquito to Florin, who threw in quotes from A Train and other eclectic tunes.
Brian Torff was showcased generously, and it's great to hear bass solos in this genre. There Will Never Be Another You featured Paquito's soaring sounds, before
Angelo grabbed the essence of the song, fusing guitar and clarinet. With a shift onstage, a student of Midori & Friends Foundation was given a small violin by
Pat Philips, a personal family heirloom.
After intermission, Troublant Bolero and Bossa Dorado brought sultry Rhumbas and Mambos to the mix. With Latin clave infusion,
Dave Silliman used shakers and drums, and Brian Torff kept rhythm on the side of his bass.
Paquito soon joined a playful repartee, changing Latin to Swing, as Angelo added generous gyrations of contrasting rhythms. Daphne was a musical train rolling through. Some vocal and string scat was added as a surprise, just as
Paquito and Florin closed the sequence. Ludovic returned for a very fast, Sweet Sue, with charismatic and classical touches. These musicians exuded passion for the music and respect for each other, as they seamlessly shifted leads and solos. Angelo waxed exotic, for an ornamental flourish.
A duet, with Ludovic and Angelo, from their new CD, had rapid Argentine Tango rhythms, and the accordion morphed into a bandoneón. When
David Langlois took the stage for , his fingers were covered with steel, and his washboard was a huge hit with the Django fans. Two basses,
Max and Brian, added to percussion and guitars, gave the enlarged, energetic ensemble surround-sound. The encore was Minor Swing, with
Joscho taking one last rousing riff. Watch for the November 2005
Django Reinhardt Festival at Birdland, produced once again by Pat Philips
and Ettore Stratta.