Django in December: Acclaimed guitarist Stephane Wrembel plays a livestreamed show from Northampton’s Academy of Music

  • French-born guitarist Stephane Wrembel, now living outside New York City, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music Dec. 19 with his band to play two live-streamed shows inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt. Image courtesy Stephane Wrembel

  • French-born guitarist Stephane Wrembel, left, now living outside New York City, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music Dec. 19 with his band to play two livestreamed shows inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt. J. Elon Goodman

  • Wrembel has hosted an annual Django Reinhardt festival in New York for years. In 2020, the shows will be livestreamed from Northampton’s Academy of Music Dec. 19. Photo courtesy Stephane Wrembel

  • Stephane Wrembel produces an annual festival in the New York City area, Django A GoGo, that will take place virtually this year on Dec. 19 from Northampton’s Academy of Music. Image courtesy Stephane Wrembel

  • French-born guitarist Stephane Wrembel, now living outside New York City, comes to Northampton’s Academy of Music Dec. 19 with his band to play two live-streamed shows inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt. Photo courtesy Stephane Wrembel

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2020 3:26:10 PM

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel, one of the foremost interpreters of the music of Django Reinhardt, was all set to play some live outdoor shows in Haydenville in August.

Then came an uptick in COVID-19 cases, and Gov. Charlie Baker, less than a week before the concerts, issued new restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings. Just like that, the shows had to be canceled.

But Wrembel and his band are coming back to the Valley this Saturday, Dec. 19, to play two livestreamed shows from Northampton’s Academy of Music that will offer Wrembel’s take on the music of Reinhardt, considered the founder of Gypsy jazz, or jazz manouche, as well as Wrembel’s explorations in swing, jazz, blues and rock. The concerts, organized by Laudable Productions of Easthampton, will also be seen in France, Canada and other locations.

Laudable, which has produced many past outdoor shows in the Valley such as Millpond Live in Easthampton, has also livestreamed a number of events from the Academy and other venues since the pandemic began.

Now the company has formed what it calls “Third Row Live,” a partnership with other arts organizations that aims to produce high-quality, livestreamed events that thousands of audience members can see from their homes — and which also allow performers to see many of the viewers themselves via large computer monitors mounted on the edge of a stage.

“We see this as an important model that can help sustain musicians and other artists in a really difficult period,” said Kyle Homstead, Laudable’s founder and lead producer. “It’s about letting artists and audiences share a moment in time, to try and recreate the dynamic of a live show as closely as we can — it’s also an opportunity for audiences to be seen, and for (audience members) to see each other.”

Through the use of multiple cameras set at different angles, high-definition video, and professional lighting and sound, these livestreamed shows also offer the kind of vibe for performers that they’ve mostly lost since the pandemic arrived, says Cassandra Holden, Laudable’s creative director.

And by adding multiple computer monitors to the stage, she added, performers “are not just speaking or singing into the empty void. They have an audience in front of them … they can see people clapping to the music, or dancing, or engaging in some way.”

In a recent phone interview, Wrembel, a native of France who now lives in northern New Jersey near New York City, said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen of Laudable’s streaming shows. “They are doing an amazing job. The sound quality is amazing … it’s all very professional.”

He’s only been able to play a few live gigs this year since the pandemic set in — small outdoor shows— and he’s not that enamored of virtual performances. “This is different,” he said. “It feels much closer to a live show.”

What’s being billed as the “Django a GoGo Festival” — the events include an interactive guitar workshop Wrembel will lead — is being presented in partnership with a number of other organizations in the U.S. and in France, as well as the Alliance Française Toronto; the production also has received support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

‘It blew my mind’

Wrembel says he’s excited to be coming to the Valley, especially after his planned concerts in Haydenville — they were to be part of a series of modest outdoor shows also produced by Laudable— were abruptly canceled because of an increase in COVID cases in Massachusetts.

“That was a big disappointment,” he said.

Wrembel is generally viewed as the premiere jazz manouche guitarist in the world today, though he sees his music embracing multiple styles. But he traces his love of guitar to discovering Reinhardt’s music when he was 18, growing up in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, where Reinhardt once lived. Close by was the town of Samois-sur-Seine, site of the Festival Django Reinhardt, the biggest annual event in Gypsy jazz.

Reinhardt himself came from a musical family of mixed gypsy and Belgian-French background and found fame in the 1930s by wedding gypsy music styles to American jazz. He was a virtuoso on guitar despite being able to play his leads with just two fingers, the result of a serious injury to his left hand as a teenager.

It was at one of the Samois-sur-Seine festivals that Wrembel got his first real taste of jazz manouche; he says he then spent several years soaking up the music and culture at the camps that sprang up in the town every summer. He was already a classically trained pianist who had begun playing rock guitar a few years earlier, and he eagerly began to absorb this new sound.

“It blew my mind,” said Wrembel, who has played a few times previously in the Valley. “The harmonies, the rhythms, they were just amazing.”

He later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has now been in the U.S. for about 20 years, from which he’s toured all over the world; he’s also released multiple albums, and he won wider fame in 2012 when his composition “Bistro Fada,” a Django-influenced swinging waltz, became the theme song for Woody Allen’s 2011 Oscar-winning film “Midnight In Paris.”

On Saturday, he’ll play a 3 p.m. show primarily featuring songs from his 2020 release, “The Django Experiment V,” accompanied by longtime collaborators Thor Jensen (guitar), Ari Folman-Cohen (bass), and Nick Anderson (drums), with special guests Nick Driscoll on saxophone and clarinet and Daisy Castro on violin.

At 9 p.m., Wrembel’s eight-piece band will perform a more traditional Django Reinhardt repertoire, but with plenty of opportunities for improvisation; additional instruments include washboard and oud.

Wrembel will lead his guitar workshop at 11 a.m. with a focus on rhythm, melody, harmony and improvisation within the Django Reinhardt style. The workshop is open to all ages, levels and instruments, and participants will be able to submit questions to the guitarist during the course.

At Laudable Productions, Homstead and Holden say they’ve planned a number of other livestreamed shows through the first quarter of 2021. Given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s duration, they believe high-production virtual shows may well become a regular feature in the future, even after clubs reopen for live music.

“We’ve seen reports that as many as 90% of music venues in the U.S. may be forced to close,” said Homstead. One of them, Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, just announced last week that they had been forced to shutter.

“The landscape will change,” Homstead added. “An analogy might be what life was like before cellphones and what it is today…. But the silver lining may be that people will be more willing to explore different kinds of music if they can do it from their homes, so artists may find new audiences.”

Tickets for the Django A GoGo Festival range from $15 to $50. To order and for more information, visit and

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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