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Gypsy jazz finds a home in Lynwood: Special concert celebrates Django Reinhardt
The free-spirited gypsy sound of early 20th century Europe has come to Bainbridge Island, and it seems to be right at home.
The Bainbridge-based jazz band Ranger & the Re-Arrangers, along with several special guests, will perform in honor of the 104th birthday of legendary gypsy jazz man Django Reinhardt in what promises to be an exciting and informative celebration of the international musical genre.
Gypsy jazz, the unique sound inspired by the work of early American jazz masters infused with European dance hall waltzes and gypsy folk tunes, will be center stage at the Treehouse Café in downtown Lynwood Saturday, Feb. 1.
“Part of what I enjoy about this event is making it a varied experience for the audience,” said Ranger Sciacca, the group’s frontman. “And exposing them to lots of different musicians playing lots of different instruments, to really make it like an old-time variety show.”
Of course, the true star of the show is Django.
Django Reinhardt, the father of gypsy jazz, was an itinerant gypsy who earned international acclaim in the 1930s for his uniquely European brand of jazz. Many of his compositions became classics, and he is considered today to be one of the most influential guitar players of all time.
“It has its roots in America but it came together overseas,” Sciacca said of gypsy jazz.
“Django is considered the father of gypsy jazz. He heard American jazz recordings and artists who were touring in Europe and he said, ‘I want to play that stuff.’ Of course, coming from the background he came from, he brought some of that dance hall and gypsy musical tradition to American-style jazz when he started to play it.”
Reinhardt’s influence extends beyond just the jazz genre, though, and he has been cited by the likes of Duke Ellington and Jerry Garcia as an inspiration.
“He was really one of the very first people to be playing a guitar solo,” Sciacca said. “It had been really more of a rhythm instrument up to that point.”
The magnitude of Reinhardt’s musical ability is made all the more impressive when you consider he was able to do it all without the full use of his hand.
When he was 18, Reinhardt was badly injured in a fire. His right leg was paralyzed, and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. The budding guitarist was forced to literally relearn his chosen instrument in an entirely new way, which ultimately resulted in his unique style of playing.
“Who knows if that held him back from being even better, or if that’s one the things that made him so good?” Sciacca said.
Reinhardt’s legacy had a particularly personal affect on Sciacca who, along with his father Michael, formed Ranger and the Re-Arrangers in 2006 after returning from a pilgrimage to the Django Reinhardt festival in Samois, France. It is the largest annual celebration of the musician in the world.
“It [gypsy jazz] went from an interest to a passion after that,” Sciacca said. “When we formed our band, I think that all of us had been playing instruments and music for years but we were all kind of new to gypsy jazz.”
In the years since, the band has released three CDs and played more than 400 shows, including summer concerts, festivals, dances, art openings and weddings.
The group consists of Sciacca on violin, his father Michael on rhythm guitar, Todd Houghton on bass, percussionist Jeffrey Moose, Dave Steward on the mandolin and Darin Locke on guitar.
Special contributing guest musicians for the Django birthday party include guitarist Tony Kahn, Chris Laughbon on the trombone and Amanda Grzadzielewski on the harp.
The music selected for the program includes gypsy jazz classics, original compositions inspired by the genre traditions and, of course, some Reinhardt tunes.
“All of the songs capture a mood so well,” Sciacca said. “Most of them are really happy songs. They really have a feel. You can hear the joy of the improvisers come through the music. There’s a focus on lyrical improvisation, the ultimate goal is to be composing new melodies as you play. I’m fascinated by that.”
Considering the casual music fan, for whom this concert may very well be an introduction to gypsy jazz, Sciacca said the birthday tribute is meant to be as accessible as possible.
“With this one [show] specifically, I’m shooting to make it really accessible and I’m going to talk a little bit about the history,” he said. “People will come away feeling as if they’ve learned an intro to gypsy jazz.”
Time to Django
What: Gypsy jazz concert celebrating the legacy of Django Reinhardt
When: 8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 1
Where: Treehouse Café (4569 Lynwood Center Rd. NE)
Admission: Free. Donations accepted.