Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt is widely regarded as the first real jazz talent to emerge from Europe. And in 1953, he died young, at age 43.
Nearly 70 years later, his music still hasn’t.
Keeping his legacy alive are the Django Festival Allstars — guitarist Samson Schmitt, accordionist Ludovic Beier, violinist Pierre Blanchard, singer and rhythm guitarist Philippe Cuillerier, and bassist Antonio Licusati — strumming, stomping and scatting Reinhardt’s legacy into the 21st century.
For those who are unfamiliar with gypsy jazz, Beier broke it down during a recent email interview from France, in anticipation of the group’s upcoming performance on Saturday, June 22, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
The Sag Harbor Express: What can audiences expect from your show at Guild Hall?
Ludovic Beier: To have a good time! The band is in the legacy of Django Reinhardt music, but adding new fields to his music. Every musician is different, but we’ve succeeded in creating a common music together that lets everybody express ourselves very well. That’s really important — and also very rare.
How would you describe gypsy jazz?
Beier: It’s the first and only answer to Afro-American jazz, created by Django in France in the ’30s. No brass and drums, only string instruments, reproducing the swing with the manouche pompe(a rhythm guitar sound). It’s a really swinging music style taking its roots with the encounter of traditional gypsy music from East Europe and swing jazz standards from the USA.
What do you enjoy about the music?
Beier: The interaction with all the musicians in the group. It’s a free ground of exploration and sharing. Also, all kind of moods could be reached: energetic and fast tunes and also emotional, touchy and sad melodies. The music, also, is sincere and real, giving joy to the audience.
How did The Django Festival Allstars form in 2002?
Beier: We met during the annual festival organized by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta at Birdland in New York City, but of course we knew each other before. But it was the first time we had the opportunity to play with this particular group all together.
How long have you been interested in music?
Beier: I think music has always interested me, and I remember myself playing the keys along with the radio from the age of 3.
Why the accordion? What attracted you to the instrument?
Beier: This is a children choice and later a love affair. I am playing on a chromatic buttoned accordion, which is very specific to Western Europe and Russia, allowing a wide variety of tuning and sounds that give you the right choice in your music to be soloing, or making strings-like lines or chords.
Were you a fan of Django Reinhardt’s music before The Allstars formed?
Beier: Every musician I know is a fan of Django because he was one of the geniuses the world had a chance to listen to in its history. The player, composer and human being were, in fact, one unique entity while listening to his music.
How much inspiration does the group take from his music?
Beier: Our music is an eclectic and forward-looking repertoire that re-imagines Reinhardt’s pioneering sound.
What is the composition process like?
Beier: It’s very easy. Each of us is bringing his own tunes and the group just starts to play to and find arrangement ideas together.
How do you feel when you are performing gypsy jazz?
Beier: Music should always be a pleasure. Once you’re on stage, your main concern is to share our music with the audience, making a connection between the musician’s performance and the emotions you’ll share. If you’re sincere and having fun on stage, the audience will feel it. Of course, at each concert, we play the game, giving the best of us to the audience and the music!
The Django Festival Allstars will perform on Saturday, June 22, at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. Tickets range from $30 to $100, or $28 to $95 for members. For more information, call (631) 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org.