315 West 44th Street, NYC
Gianni Valenti, Owner
Tarik Osman, Manager
Produced by Stratta/Phillips Productions
Ettore Stratta and Pat Phillips
Hans Meelen, Agent
Sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon, Sofitel Hotels, jazz 88.3 FM, Jolly Hotels, John Pearse Strings, The D'Addario Foundation, Dell'Arte Instruments, and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
Article and photos by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 19, 21, 24, 2002
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
French Ensemble - Angelo Debarre (Django Virtuoso), Dorado Schmitt (Gypsy Guitar), Samson Schmitt (Gypsy Rhythm Guitar), Serge Camps (Rhythm Guitar),and Ludovic Beier (Swing Accordion).
Django Reinhardt (guitarist) and Stephane Grappelli (Violinist) were stars in the The Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which performed in the 1930's in Paris. The Quintet was extremely popular and played jazz and pop standards from the 1920's and 1930's. Django Reinhardt, on gypsy guitar, was considered a genius. He created a very original style of swing music and influenced jazz dancers and musicians over the past decades. In fact, Swing Bands love to play "Le Jazz Hot" for avid Swing dancers at special events.
This was the third annual Django Reinhardt Festival, performed at Birdland, and the second that I attended. Gianni Valenti, owner of Birdland, and Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta, Producers of the Festival, are to be enormously congratulated for organizing and presenting this series of concerts, which took place this year from November 19 through November 24. There were two sets each night, and, on the above dates, I attended both sets, as I was engaged and energized by the amazing array of ever-changing and ever-consistent talent that treated the nightly audiences with gypsy guitars, violins, accordion, baritone sax, drums, clarinet, bass, and an off-stage Chardas dancer.
In a rare mix of special guests, from James Carter, wildly playing his baritone sax, an instrument that was used in the original Motown music, to Bucky Pizzarelli, famed, long-time Swing guitarist, to Ken Peplowski, in total control of his clarinet, to Grady Tate and Jeff Brillinger on drums, to Jay Leonhart and Brian Torff (original Grappelli bassist) on bass, to Aaron Weinstein, on gypsy violin, a high school student from Wilmette, Illinois, the prolific jazz artistry of the professional ensemble from France was amazingly enhanced and modernized in this traditional and contemporary tour de force.
The blend of the various musicians was striking, and they seamlessly interchanged the leads and backups, from Dorado Schmitt, on guitar, to his son, Samson, to James Carter on baritone sax, and on to all the exciting and eclectic guest and ensemble musicians. The German-made, acoustical guitars, with Argentinean steel strings, presented a unique song-like quality, reminiscent of Django Reinhardt's music. Some were electrified, and the microphone was placed very close. The musicians played with incredible, lightning speed, with fingers that sped faster than the mind can travel. Angelo Debarre, offstage, never released his guitar to the back room, but kept it close to him, his other self.
In each standard, such as "Someone to Watch Over Me", "The Man I Love", "I've Got Rhythm", or "Lady Be Good", the musicians would switch the theme lead from accordion to violin to guitar to sax, with a complete subconscious communication, as the entire ensemble and guest musicians were inextricably linked in the moment. In fact, sometimes the bass carried the entire theme, and sometimes the accordion, which is rare. At times, they would surprisingly end a song, abruptly, in unison, as if they had played together for years. Although these musicians had just met for this series of concerts, and some flew in just for the day, the performances were flawless and flowing, the musicians confident and poised. Dorado sported a black felt hat, open shirt, with striped pants or a brilliant yellow suit, and all the musicians were extremely sociable during intermissions and after the evening's performances.
Ken Peplowski played his heart out, on clarinet, with perspiring brow, as he filled Birdland with brilliant tones, extended in volume and quality. Dorado used Flamenco and Hungarian Chardas riffs in many songs, and, as a final encore, after the final, last night's set, the ensemble soulfully played an entire Hungarian Chardas, with off-stage dancing by Gabriella. Dorado was able to stretch the final notes of his most dynamic violin pieces (he plays both guitar and violin) by turning the violin keys in the middle of the music. Dorado's guitar can sound like a piano, and his violin can sound like a clarinet or saxophone. Samson often took the lead from his proud father and lit the audience aflame with brilliant, hot sounds and electrically infused rhythms.
Brian Torff, a Grappelli bassist, slid his fingers up and down the vertical strings as quickly as Dorado and Angelo were plucking their guitars. James Carter, on baritone sax, with remarkable facial expressiveness, changed the mood of his playing as he changed his outfits, one night in a beige formal suit, and another night in matching sideways cap, over- sized shirt and pants, with matching shoes. Carter played with intense emotion, sometimes smooth and melodic, sometimes percussively blasting high or low, adding, as did Peplowski and Torff, a contemporary balance and mix to the traditional 1920's and 1930's standards. The dissonant reeds were a striking compliment to the tuneful guitars and accordion.
Ludovic Beier, on buttoned accordion, as compared to an accordion with keys, created a full-throated ambiance and blended into the ensemble, while occasionally seizing the lead, with smiling sureness and professional purity. Ludovic is only 25 years old and is a musician to watch in the international music scene, as are all these musicians, specially recruited for this concert event. Bucky Pizzarelli, a world-renowned swing guitarist, held his own with ease, as he also took the lead with Aaron Weinstein, who flew in just to accompany Pizzarelli.
Grady Tate and Jeff Brillinger were superb on drums, and Jay Leonhart, a seasoned bassist, was a particularly strategic addition to the early week's lineup. Serge Camps was the glue that held the guitars together, a constant backup rhythm, and Angelo Debarre was a total Django sound-alike.
Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta were on constant watch and facilitated and choreographed the introductions, as musicians changed seats and switched sets and song leads. ExploreDance will continue to cover the Jazz events, produced by Stratta/Phillips Productions, as well as many future Jazz events presented at Gianni Valenti's Birdland. We eagerly anticipate exploring jazz, as it is so inherently tied into dance and dance music.
Django Reinhardt Festival Birdland November 19 and November 21
Jay Leonhart and Grady Tate
Samson Schmitt and Serge Camps
Angelo Debarre, Samson Schmitt, Ludovic Beier, Serge Camps, and Dorado Schmitt
Focus on Ludovic Beier
Serge Camps and Dorado Schmitt
Samson Schmitt and Ken Peplowski
Ludovic Beier, Samson Schmitt, Brian Torff, and Ken Peplowski
View from the Rear
Brian Torff, Ken Peplowski, Jeff Brillinger, Dorado Schmitt
Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta, Producers
Dorado Schmitt, Roberta, Samson Schmitt
Tarik Osman, Birdland Manager
Gianni Valenti, Birdland Owner
Birdland Django Reinhardt Festival November 24, 2002
Serge Camps on Rhythm Guitar
Aaron Weinstein on Gypsy Violin and Bucky Pizzarelli on Swing Guitar
James Carter on Sax and Brian Torff on Bass
James Carter at Intermission
Aaron Weinstein and Jeff Brillinger on Drums
Brian Torff and Jeff Brillinger
Ludovic Beier on Accordion and Serge Camps
Dorado Schmitt on Gypsy Violin and Aaron Weinstein
Dorado and Aaron Receive Audience Acclaim
Serge Camps Plays Bass