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Django Festival Allstars: Strong Picking Hands and Big Hearts

With help from Hollywood royalty, the Django Festival Allstars triumph at Carnegie Hall

Samson, Dorado and Amati Schmitt of the Django Festival Allstars (photo c/o the artists)
Samson, Dorado and Amati Schmitt of the Django Festival Allstars (photo c/o the artists)

On a warm night at the beginning of May, one of New York’s most prestigious venues was taken over by a band of Gypsies. The venerable walls of Carnegie Hall resonated with the classic timbres of le jazz hot, in its manouche translation: sassy violin, ebullient accordion and multiple dexterously played acoustic guitars. Although the concert was called “Forever Django,” in tribute to the undisputed king of Gypsy jazz, Django Reinhardt, the man in the brightest spotlight was 60-year-old French guitarist and violinist Dorado Schmitt. A veteran performer in the Django Festival that’s been a feature at Birdland for the past 18 years, Schmitt is one of the principal modern-day keepers of the Reinhardt flame. And at Carnegie, in time-honored Gypsy style, he was figuratively passing that flame on to the younger generations of his family.

Guitar-playing sons, guitar-playing grandsons, even a hard-belting vocalist granddaughter—all of them fearsomely talented—shared the stage with Schmitt over the course of the evening. One son, Samson, took the helm for the entire first set, flanked by violinist Pierre Blanchard and accordionist Ludovic Beier. Together, they tore through several impressive compositions that they’ve recorded as the Django Festival Allstars for a new album. Titled Attitude Manouche, the disc cannily blends vintage Hot Club aesthetics with a greater harmonic adventurousness reminiscent of Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin. A few special guests showed up at Carnegie too, most notably singer Melody Gardot, a newcomer to the group who sounded like a longtime band member on sensitive renditions of Reinhardt’s “Nuages” and her own “Les Etoiles.”

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