From gypsy jazz to choro: Django in June founder brings music fest back and starts a new one

  • Christine Tassan (at far right) & Les Imposteures, who hail from Montreal, bring their gypsy jazz and original swing songs to the Academy of Music on Saturday as part of Django in June. Photo by Sylviane Robini

  • Violinist Daniel John Martin, left, and guitarist Patrick “Romane” Leguidcoq, both of France, will lead their gypsy jazz quartet at the Academy of Music on Friday. Photo courtesy Andrew Lawrence

  • All in the family: Choro das 3 consists of three Brazilian sisters and their father, who play traditional Choro music. They’ll play the Academy of Music June 29 as part of Choro Camp New England. Image courtesy Andrew Lawrence

  • Swing of France brings its rollicking accordion, guitar, sax and drum-driven sound to the Academy of Music Friday. Image from Swing of France website

  • From left, Sami Aremin, David Newman and Alex Zelnick work on their guitar licks in “Django Camp” at Smith College during the Django in June festival in 2014.  Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2019 8:22:14 PM

It began with just a single concert and a day of workshops. But over the years, Django in June has become an institution in Northampton: a nearly week-long gathering of guitarists and other players and enthusiasts for Django Reinhardt’s music, with multiple workshops, two major concerts and other public performances of jazz manouche, or gypsy jazz.

This week the series is back, and concerts at Northampton’s Academy of Music on Friday and Saturday evening will feature three European ensembles and one from Quebec, all playing a variety of gypsy jazz.

But Django in June’s founder, Andrew Lawrence, is offering a new wrinkle this year, two weeks after “Django Camp” and its 275 students and 30 teachers pack up their instruments.

It’s called “Choro Camp New England,” in which Lawrence hopes to tap into interest in the traditional Brazilian instrumental music that traces its origins to the 19th century and blends more formal Portuguese/European classical sounds with Afro-Brazilian rhythms, in ensembles built around instruments such as guitars, mandolins, fiddles, flutes and clarinets, and hand drums.

Though “Choro” has sometimes been interpreted to mean “cry” or “lament,” the music, Lawrence says, is typically anything but sorrowful. There are several varieties of Choro, he notes, and North American listeners can detect hints of familiar sounds in them — jazz, ragtime, classical — but Choro overall is a distinctly bright, Brazilian music, he says.

“The combination of instruments, the rhythms, the voicings are all very unique,” Lawrence said during a recent interview at the Gazette. And with the success of Django in June, he added, he thought another camp arranged along similar lines could help players in the U.S. interested in Choro find a way to come together.

With a laugh, he added “I don’t really know how else to do this. I figured I’d just put the idea out there and see who was interested in coming.”

Choro Camp takes place June 24-30 and, like Django Camp, will be held at Smith College. A concert on Saturday, June 29 at the Academy of Music will feature two Brazilian Choro ensembles, including a family group, Choro das 3, made up of a three sisters and their father.

As of late May, 75 students had signed up for the camp and 10 instructors had been hired, Lawrence said — enough for him to feel the camp was getting off to a pretty good start “so that I don’t get completely hosed.”

Paying homage to Django

If Django in June is any indication, Lawrence, a veteran guitar picker who runs the community guitar program in Florence, should find an audience for Choro as well. This is the 16th year of Django in June, which has become known as perhaps the premiere gypsy jazz festival and instruction session in the U.S.

Lawrence says the event has also become well known in gypsy jazz circles in Europe over the years, an interesting twist considering it was his visit to a Django Reinhardt festival in Samois-sur-Seine, France in 2003 that gave him the initial idea of staging something like that in Northampton.

What especially intrigued him, he said in a Gazette interview a few years ago, was the informal jam sessions that took place among the many musicians who had come to that French festival with their families to camp near the concert grounds.

“It’s a culture that really celebrates music-making,” he told the Gazette. “It was a very different scene than I was used to ... you could walk around and see people jamming everywhere.”

Django Reinhardt himself came from a musical family of mixed Romani (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.

And if there’s one thing the performers and instructors at Django in June are known for, it’s musical expertise. This weekend’s concerts at the Academy of Music will offer a good dose of that.

On Friday at 7:30 p.m., the show starts with Swing of France, a French ensemble that, according to production notes, brings a “contre-attaque du jazz musette” by quickening the pace of typical French jazz with accordion, drums, saxophone and guitar.

Act two of the show is the Romane–DJM Quartet, led by guitarist Patrick “Romane” Leguidcoq of France, a leading gypsy jazz guitarist who has also been influenced by some American sounds; he recorded one of his albums in Nashville.

And Saturday’s show, also beginning at 7:30 p.m., brings Christine Tassan & Les Imposteures, an all-women ensemble from Montreal that Lawrence calls “just a really talented, fun group” that mixes traditional gypsy jazz with other songs, including originals, that they’ve arranged for the genre.

“Christine has been one of the most popular teachers at Django in June for years,” Lawrence added, and he notes that she and her ensemble sing and “have great harmonies” — something rarely seen in the mostly instrumental world of gypsy jazz.

Rounding out Saturday’s show will be a quartet that includes guitarist Noé Reinhardt, who is related through extended family to Laurence “Negros” Reinhardt, Django Reinhardt’s mother.

Bring on the choro

Lawrence says he conceived of Choro Camp much as he did Django in June: as a place where American musicians who want to play the music can come together “and not feel like they’re isolated, that they can’t find others to play with … there is something of a scene [for Choro] in this country. The question is, is there that next layer? I’d like to think there is.”

Choro is not nearly as guitar-centric as gypsy jazz, he says, though the guitar is a key part of such ensembles. But players use nylon string models and play fingerstyle, rather than using steel-string guitars and picks, and the guitar is more of a rhythm instrument; many groups also employ a seven-string guitar that has an additional low string used for playing bass runs.

Other Choro instruments include the cavaquinho, which Lawrence likens to a steel-string ukulele; the pandeiro, a hand drum; and the bandolin, Brazil’s version of the mandolin. The melody in many Choro songs is carried by wind instruments such as flutes, clarinets or saxophones. Choro das 3, which plays at the Academy June 29, also adds trumpet, trombone and piano on some cuts on its albums.

Lawrence was drawn to the music initially through his wife, Flávia Santos de Araújo, who is Brazilian. He’s been learning to play the cavaquinho as part of his interest in Choro.

What also appeals to him about Choro, he says, is what got him hooked on gypsy jazz: the joyful, community feel of the music and its combination of sophistication and accessibility. “It attracts really good musicians, but you don’t have to be a virtuoso to play it or appreciate it.”

Will Choro Camp eventually become a fixture in Northampton just as Django in June has become? Lawrence says it’s clearly too early to say. But he adds, “If at the end of the event I get a vibe that this is something that people like, and they want to hear more and be a part of it, I’m fairly confident we can bring it forward.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

For more information on the Django in June concerts this Friday at Saturday at Northampton’s Academy of Music, and to purchase tickets ($30 in advance, $35 at the door), visit djangoinjune.com. For information on Choro Camp New England, visit chorocamp.com.


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