Django Festival All-Stars kick off 2015 Vail Jazz at Vail Square series Thursday
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: Django Festival All-Stars at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square.
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Cost: Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket).
More information: Visit vailjazz.org.
VAIL — Samson Schmitt was playing guitar before most toddlers knew how to bounce a ball. Hailing from the Moselle department of eastern France, the 35-year-old’s father, Dorado Schmitt, introduced his son to the music of Django Reinhardt and had him noodling on the neck of a guitar when he was just 3 years old.
Schmitt, whose English is limited, names his father as the “master” of his musical education. He concedes that Dorado taught him “the necessary basics to play Gypsy jazz” but “then later told me that I had to find my style of music with a personal touch.”
Today, the refined embodiment of Gypsy jazz with a personal touch — not just Schmitt’s but each of his bandmate’s — is the Django Festival All-Stars.
Comprised of Schmitt and DouDou Cuillerier on guitar, Brian Torff on bass, Pierre Blanchard on violin and Ludovic Beier on accordion, the All-Stars deliver a romping, high-energy blast of Gypsy jazz — Django Reinhart classics as well as original compositions and many surprises — with what Schmitt describes as a “chemistry” that “has grown over the years to be fantastic.”
Beier, who grew up in Paris among a family of musicians and gravitated to the accordion after first learning the keyboard and drums, insists that the All-Stars’ “chemistry is not a rational fact.”
“Sometimes the magic appears without explanation,” he said. “The alchemy sometimes between musicians can create extraordinary things, and that’s the case in our group. But one of the keys of that is the listening. Everyone has a role and a precise function that blends the music without interfering with ego matters. When all those facts are put together, it works. And of course the friendship and common passion for this music is very important.”
The passion is tangible. During an All-Stars performance, each musician attacks his instrument with a ravenous but precise force that Schmitt claims is possible only by understanding three key ingredients — “heart, sensitivity and energy.”
Beier, who often speaks on behalf of the group due to his impeccable English, explains the difficulty of playing music in the Django tradition:
“Besides virtuosity, harmony and swing, which are the ‘technical’ skills to master, I can clearly identify the most challenging aspect as the respect of the tradition with a kind of ‘opening’ on something from our modern times. Tradition is so inclusive that you cannot change the basics of this music, but adding new influences from the years after Django, you can make a creative answer to Django’s legacy.”
According to the accordionist, this is why Gypsy jazz is so popular not only in France but throughout the world, among people of all ages who love every genre of music. But the genre wasn’t so popular when he first discovered it in the 1980s, when new music was largely electronic-based pop.
“But in the late ’90s, the appeal for world music revealed the Django legacy to the public and became popular among all kinds of people, from young heavy-metal fans to white-collars businessmen,” Beier said, adding that in France today, Gypsy jazz is one of “the strongest” forms of music.
Beier began playing with Schmitt when the guitarist was still performing with his father and the two bonded immediately when it was clear that they both relished what Beier calls “the new side of Django’s music.” They have been playing together as the Django Festival All-Stars for 13 years and over six albums.
When the quintet makes its debut in Vail, kicking off the Vail Jazz Festival today, Beier insists that the bright flames in the sky will come in the form of musical notes.
“We have plenty of music to share from fast tempos to lyric ballads,” Beier said. “I need to keep the surprises for the concert, but our music is easy to understand and brings a lot of happiness. Be ready for fireworks!”