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Happy birthday, Django! Time to jam, gypsy-style
Bainbridge Islander Ranger Sciacca and his father Michael had no idea their trip to Europe would end in a turning point in both their musical pursuits.
Nor did they know it would ultimately bring about the gypsy jazz quintet, Ranger and the ‘Re-Arrangers.’
But upon their arrival to the town of Samois sur Seine, France in 2006 for the annual Django Reinhardt Festival, it was clear they would be taking the experience home with them.
The Scaccia’s have attended a Django festival every year since. And in September 2011, they even landed a stage performance with their group Ranger and the ‘Re-Arrangers’ at the largest Reinhardt festival in the U.S. that takes place on Whidbey Island.
In France, the two spent the five-day festival jamming all day and attending the main stage performances in the evening. The real fun was behind the main stage, Ranger Sciacca said, where pockets of musicians were set up jamming everywhere.
A circle would form around one or two artists losing it on their instruments. A crowd would gather where a 12- or 13-year-old would be playing better than most of the older more seasoned festival-goers. Musicians from all over the world milled around with their instruments in hand: fiddle, guitar, upright bass. Gypsys were allowed free entrance.
But it wasn’t the fanaticism encircling the gypsy jazz genre Reinhardt is known to have birthed that sparked inspiration in the Sciaccas.
“It was just the music itself,” Sciacca said.
By that time father and son had already performed side-by-side for many years (Michael on guitar, Ranger on violin).
Ranger Sciacca started playing jazz as a violin student with long-time Island Music Guild instructor Stuart Williams and with songs like “Lady Be Good” by George and Ira Gershwin. He remained Williams’ student for the bulk of his adolescence. Around the same time, his father began performing alongside him on guitar. They started out performing for children’s dance classes, farmers markets and art gallery exhibitions.
Though “Lady Be Good” still has a place with Ranger Sciacca, nowadays, it’s Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” that the Sciaccas and their band the ‘Re-Arrangers’ find themselves going back to over and over again.
“It’s a great starting point for improvisation,” Sciacca said as he hummed the familiar tune.
His inclination to improvise while performing or practicing is what won him the nickname ‘re-arranger’ as a student. As many pieces he worked on with Williams were considered arrangements, Williams joked that Sciacca instead liked to re-arrange the music. The catchy name stuck after the instructor jokingly introduced him as the ‘Re-Arranger’ at a student performance.
This reputation isn’t too far off from what earned the renowned Reinhardt his notoriety as a musical prodigy. Reinhardt was a master improviser, and it’s this element that in many ways has come to define gypsy jazz.
Nonetheless, Sciacca and his father went to France knowing just enough about the genre and the Django Reinhardt Festival to be interested in learning a different style of music.
They departed, however, knowing they would have to pull a band together if they wanted to bring out the heart of the gypsy jazz sound and Reinhardt’s legacy.
It was the summer of 2006. By the end of the year, the two had gathered a talented group of like-minded ‘re-arrangers’: bassist Todd Houghton, percussionist Jeffrey Moose and mandolinist Dave Stewart. With Michael Sciacca on rhythm guitar and Ranger Sciacca on violin they formed Ranger and the ‘Re-Arrangers.’
The group has since established a name for themselves in the Northwest’s gypsy jazz scene. They have two albums already produced and another expected to come out in March.
On top of their regular performances in and around Seattle, though, they continue to honor the artist that inspired it all. This Saturday Jan. 19, they will be performing at the Treehouse Café at 8 p.m. where they are hosting their fourth annual Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration.
Performing with them will be special guests Roger Ferguson (guitar), Tony Kahn (guitar), Monica Finney (vocals) and Chris Laughbon (trombone).
“I’ll probably talk a little more about the history of gypsy jazz and Django,” Sciacca said.
But he assures that it’ll be a party first and foremost.
While donations are accepted, it is a free event for ages 21 and over.