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September 29, 2023

Jittery Jazz Style Returns to Healdsburg

‘Gypsy jazz’ ambassadors bring back the Hot Club de France

Gypsy jazz is a category all its own, and one that has become familiar to Healdsburg audiences over the recent years. There are several local purveyors of this jittery jazz, including the Gypsy Duo (sometimes a Trio), Trio Paz, the Haute Flash Quartet (an all women’s group) and others, but like champagne, the real stuff comes from France.

It’s a kind of caffeinated jazz, the hot percolating music of European cafés, its sped-up rhythm like the train trestles, trollies and trams wending through cobbled streets. Sometimes it races, sometimes it soars, but it always keeps moving, and it always swings. 

It was popularized in the 1930s and ’40s by Django Reinhardt, a fleet-fingered Romani guitarist from France—Romani are also called the Roma, or gypsies. The musician gave up his first instrument, violin, when he was badly burned by a fire in his traveling caravan; it caused first- and second-degree burns over much of his body, as well as the loss of the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand. 

But as a guitarist, Reinhardt was something else. With violinist Stephane Grappelli, he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France in Paris in 1934, and their jittery yet melodic music became hugely popular in Europe, winning many fans among American servicepersons. He played with Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and even toured with Duke Ellington in the U.S. in 1946. He died at a relatively young 43, his career in full swing.

Cut to Healdsburg, 2017. The artistic director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, Jessica Felix, was approached about booking a French group called the Django All-Stars. “I didn’t know their music that well, but I knew they played in New York a couple times a year,” said Felix. “They gave me the opportunity to book them on a Sunday afternoon, when they could squeeze in a date before a show in San Francisco that night.”

That’s when the Django Festival All-Stars made their Healdsburg debut—and those who saw them that June afternoon remember the raucous good time the six-member band brought to the stage. Despite limited English, they cracked jokes, and ended their set with the Raven audience stomping for more.

This month they come back, for two shows at The 222 on Nov. 19. For the most part, it’s the same group that showed up five years ago, though the paterfamilias of the band, Dorado Schmitt, rarely travels. His son, Samson Schmitt, takes the lead guitar seat, with Pierre Blanchard on violin, Ludovic Beier playing accordion, Michael Joseph Harris on rhythm guitar and Antonio Licusati on bass.

“It’s exciting and exotic, a fun style,” said Felix, “and these are the experts, carrying on the tradition in France.”

There will be two shows on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 6:30 and 8:30pm. Tickets are $55 and $95, on the 222 stage at Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Ave. For tickets, visit the222.org. 


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