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Django Reinhardt NY Festival 2004

- Jazz and Cabaret Performance Review

Django Reinhardt NY Festival 2004
At Birdland
315 West 44th Street, NYC
Gianni Valenti, Owner
Tarik Osman, Manager

Produced by Stratta/Philips Productions
Ettore Stratta and Pat Philips

Sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon, RD Wright, Inc., John Pearse Strings, Oxford University Press, The Milford Plaza Hotel, and The Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

French Ensemble – Dorado Schmitt (Gypsy Guitar, Gypsy Violin, Vocals), “Mayo” Hubert (Gypsy Rhythm Guitar), Peter Beets (Piano), David Langlois (Washboard Percussion). Musical Director – Brian Torff (Bass). Special Guests – Harry Allen (Saxophone), Dan Levinson (Clarinet and Saxophone), James Carter (Saxophone), Joel Frahm (Saxophone), Gil Goldstein (Accordion), Dave Samuels (Vibraphone), Winard Harper (Drums).

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2004

(See November 2003 Django Reinhardt Festival Review).

November 9, 2004

This second set, opening night of the 2004 Django Reinhardt Festival at Birdland, an extremely popular annual event among NY jazz aficionados, began with Brain Torff, Music Director, on bass, joined by Mayo Hubert and then Dorado Schmitt on rhythm and Gypsy guitars, in a swing theme almost as hot as Dorado’s pink, flowered shirt. Dorado was unusually relaxed this year, even though his regular sidekick, son Samson, stayed in Europe. Dorado used a new technique, tiny references to popular themes, such as The Godfather, in between swing riffs. Peter Beets, on piano, tore into What Is This Thing Called Love? with seasoned richness, and the ensemble immediately fused.

I Found a New Baby, led by Peter, brought more contemporary jazz into focus. Dorado was in peak form, as each note sounded like a chord. Brian perpetuated this rhythm, as he rose above Dorado’s scintillating Gypsy gymnastics. True Blond Bolero was introduced by Dorado, with a seductive and tantalizing change of keys. This surreal sensation was evocative of Gaucho hats and ruffled skirts. Another signature Dorado technique from France was the lowering of the final guitar note, by turning the key, as it disappeared into oblivion. Dorado also performed on virtuosic violin.

When Harry Allen joined this group on saxophone, J’Entenderai was performed on vocals by Dorado, who shared the mellow and seamless theme with Harry, a well-known figure in international jazz. The effervescent energy tonight was perfect for Harry’s exuberance, as he helped fuse Gypsy swing to an American, Big Band sound. Brian and Peter were the chords and refrains. Peter played Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor to Samba beat, with the keyboard skipping from classical to swing to Brazilian, all in improvisational, but intentional eclecticism.

When David Langlois joined on a homemade washboard, he was quite a presence, with long, braided hair and a winning smile. This metal percussion added solo syncopated beats to Harry’s sax, Dorado’s strings, and Mayo’s rhythmic effects. David added metal finger-extenders to both hands, and metal on metal was a daring and dynamic enhancement. It Was Just One of Those Things featured Harry on sax, who varied the arrangement in fascinating fashion, as Dorado added a long, rousing riff. The Finale, with a long piano lead, could hold its own in any jazz festival for any occasion.

Django Reinhardt Festival with Harry Allen on Sax

Harry Allen and David Langlois

Peter Beets, Mayo Hubert, Dorado Schmitt

Pat Philips with the Django Reinhardt Band and Harry Allen

November 10, 2004

In tonight’s second set, Brian again took the lead in a fast, rhythmically intense style. Dress was more formal, as the entire band appeared in suits and ties, different from Dorado’s flowered feature one night before. Nuages, a Django Reinhardt favorite, was a romantic solo, and Dorado took each note off edge. For Somebody Loves Me, Peter took a rapturous lead, while Brian brought standard swing to red hot French, Gypsy swing. Peter was featured once again in It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing. Dorado followed up with voluptuous vocals with guttural generosity, like candles and roses, glowing in firelight.

I Can’t Give You Anything but Love brought Dan Levinson’s clarinet to wiry intensity, as musician and clarinet melted into one image, one auditory and visual being. Stairway to Heaven, with Peter’s strong lead, displayed the underpinning of jazz and swing in a dynamic musical marathon. Sweet Georgia Brown opened with a full-out riff on David’s wild washboard, with steel fingering heard against Dorado’s twisting of notes, expanding these surreal dynamics.

Dan Levinson on Clarinet

Django Reinhardt Band with Dan Levinson

Mayo Hubert and Dorado Schmitt at Leisure

Brad and Dan Levinson

Dorado and Roberta

Birdland Ladies

Tarik and the Guys

November 11, 2004

For the second set of this third night of Django Reinhardt Festival 2004, Dorado sported a red scarf with golden notes. The core Gypsy trio, Brian, Dorado, and Mayo, were relaxed and red hot with rhythm. Peter Beets led a slow, romantic New Orleans piece with breathless abandon. Dorado’s guitar blended in, as musicians fused sound, over Mayo’s consistent backup. Winard Harper, tonight’s featured percussionist, on standard drums and cymbals, added ambiance and richness to what was becoming a nightly ritual at Birdland. And more; Brian took a stick lightly on his bass for a percussive conversation, both interesting and infectious, and the ensemble kicked the rhythm up one notch.

Melodia, sung and played by Dorado, was exquisite, and, once again, Dorado lowered his guitar key for depth and drama. On violin, Dorado was just as prominent, as his astounding abandon brought him back to guitar with effortless energy. James Carter, a familiar figure at Django Festivals, powerful and possessed, performed Sweet Sue with a roaring refrain on wild and wanton saxophone. James even dances on stage, between riffs, and his sax creates off-the-charts sounds that pierce the walls and reach the rafters. Dorado and Mayo’s guitar lead was picked up with a racing, rousing sensation, like a train powered on Ginseng.

This was personality-plus night, as James seduced the crowd with pregnant pauses and endearing glances, as his sax played on and on, notes flying like fireworks. Dorado filled in with generous heaps of Gypsy gyrations, and the finale featured Peter storming up and down his creative keyboard.

James Carter and The Guys

James Carter at Leisure

Winard, Gianni Valenti, Pat Philips

Dorado and the Guys

Winard on Drums

James Carter on Sax

Roberta and the Guys

James Carter at Leisure

Holding Up the Bar

Peter Beets at the Piano

November 12, 2004

The familiar trio of Brian Torff, Mayo Hubert, and Dorado Schmitt kicked off this second set tonight with Daphne. In a bolero, Dorado Schmitt’s guitar danced brightly against his red flowered shirt and racy, red pants. This ensemble became more and more relaxed each night, and Dorado played groups of strings in unison, like a languorous landslide. The pianist, Peter Beets, joined in with vibrant and versatile fusion of classical, Gypsy, and jazz. Dorado, on vocals, is hypnotic, and I look forward to his new CD of just vocals, currently under production. Many of Dorado’s vocals are personally composed and seem to reflect memories of women and life. They reverberate with richness and romance. In one interplay of sound, Peter created a complimentary theme, as Dorado’s voice became the fifth instrument.

Lady Be Good, with Dorado on violin, changed mood in the moment with blasts of musical bellicosity mixed with bliss. Gil Goldstein, on accordion, was no replacement for Ludovic Beier, the familiar Django accordionist from years past. His instrument was muted and passive, with little presence or passion. However, at moments, one could hear bits and pieces of his potential. The accordion, an emblematic addition to a Django Festival, needs to be focused and fiery, not quiet and complacent.

In Somebody Loves Me, Dorado shifted the lead to Gil, but the jazzy response was no match for the Gypsy refrain. New York in November, one of Dorado’s creations, was melancholy and mournful. The accordion accompanied nicely, but not noticeably. It was refreshing to hear David Langlois, once again, as his crisp, clean metallic beat brought back an energetic effect to this powerful and professional ensemble. Peter, on piano, performed an original composition, somewhat in the style of Dave Brubeck or Bill Evans.

In Nuages, a Hawaiian motif was introduced, and Dorado’s red shirt perfectly matched this undulating rhythm. Out of nowhere, the ensemble waxed Brazilian, and Brian again tried his stick against the bass for rumbling percussion. In the final work, a Django standard, Gil Goldstein seemed to open his accordion with a full fusion of theme and chords. Tonight, I noticed that Birdland was attracting “regulars”, Django Reinhardt Festival fans, who could not miss one musical move.

Gil Goldstein on Accordion

Gil Goldstein on Accordion

Gil Goldstein on Accordion

Brad and Friend

Ettore and Mayo

Roberta and Dorado with Matching Scarves

Birdland Ladies

November 13, 2004

For this second set, I’ve Got Rhythm was the opening piece, followed by the standard, Daphne. I noticed that Birdland became more and more crowded each night, and Peter Beets was wired. He and Brian were in rare form, as this high-powered combo warmed up. Dorado, on vocals, was smiling and relaxed, on this next to last night of the Django Festival. Again, he set off high a powered performance with a lower than natural final note, and Lady Be Good never sounded better.

Dorado was once again in hot pink, as his ensemble was joined by Joel Frahm on sax. There was no percussion tonight, and it was not missed, as Joel’s sax was so mesmerizing and moody. It occurred to me that the Birdland Django Festival 2004 audience had been treated to three unique sax interpretations: James Carter’s sax was progressive and contemporary, Harry Allen’s sax was seamless and smooth, and Joel Frahm’s sax was in the Charlie Parker, Be-Bop tradition, different and dynamic (and so fitting that this was Birdland, named after Parker).

When Brian assumed the lead in an ensuing piece, the band went wild with hot swing and superb sax riffs. For tonight’s Chopin Prelude, the band joined this classy motif, as classical chased jazz. The Django genre is versatile, and so was this musical ensemble, so aptly created by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta. Dorado treated his fans with a rare solo, reminiscent of traditional Django Reinhardt melodies.

Joel Frahm on Sax

Django Band with Joel Frahm

Joel and Ettore

David Altman and Brad

Django Band with Joel Frahm

Pat, Ettore, Django Band

November 14, 2004

Tonight, sadly the final set on the final night of this superb Django marathon, Dave Samuels, on vibraphone, joined the regulars, minus percussion, for what turned out to be a surprise highlight of the week-long Festival. Dave had just the right amount of involvement, inspiration, and intoxicating sound that generated an entirely new feel to these pieces, now favorites, for the diehard fans.

Some of the works tonight included Madonna, Swing-42, Tears, What Is This Thing Called Love?, featuring Peter Beets, on piano, I've Got a New Baby, Nuages, without piano, Sinti Rhapsoly (written by Dorado for violin), All of You, joined by Dave, There Will Never Be Another You (also joined by Dave), another of Dorado’s vocals, Bossa Dorado (original, sexy, and sultry), Dark Eyes, and Minor Swing, also with Dave.

Dave Samuels was impassioned, but not overly omnipresent, a perfect combination to finalize a perfect week of round-the-clock Django Reinhardt styled music with so many special guest artists. The professionally produced fusion of clarinet, saxophone, vibraphone, and accordion with Gypsy and rhythm guitars, bass, violin, vocals, piano, and percussion is a daring and detailed undertaking in today’s jazz community. Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta are masters of this unique jazz fusion genre. I look forward to the 2005 Django Reinhardt Festival at Birdland to see what new treats are in store for the growing base of Festival fans.

You can check Pat Philips’ and Ettore Stratta’s Website to learn of upcoming events, many of which are planned with just this fusion of American jazz and internationally based music, such as Tango and Latin. Kudos to Gianni Valenti and Birdland. Kudos to Pat Philips, Ettore Stratta, and the entire ensemble of nightly and guest musicians in this memorable Django Reinhardt Festival 2004.

Kudos to Stratta/Philips Productions, Inc., for another successful Django Reinhardt Festival this fall season. Kudos to Birdland for superb organization and hospitality.

Dave Samuels on Vibes

Brian Torff on Bass

Brian and Dave

Rodney, Guest, and Mayo

Peter and Evan

Ettore, Brad, Evan, Dorado

Roberta and Bernard

Gianni Valenti, Ettore, Dorado

Pat, Evan, Mayo

Pat, Dave Samuels, Brad

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at