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Jean “Django” Reinhardt was a Belgian-born French jazz guitarist. While he passed away over 60 years ago, Django remains one of the most popular guitarists of all time as many of his compositions have become jazz standards. The list of guitarists he influenced includes Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa and Stevie Ray Vaughn; the Allman Brothers Band song “Jessica” was notably written by Dickey Betts in tribute to Django. Another film about Django is set for theatrical release in the coming months.

On Mar. 3, the Django A Gogo Music Festival will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a show at Carnegie Hall. Performers will include headliner Stephane Wrembel, American fusion hero Al Di Meola, Dutch-born Stochelo Rosenberg, David Gastine, Ryan Montbleau, Larry Keel, Nick Anderson, Thor Jensen and Ari Folman-Cohen. Django A Gogo started with an intimate concert at the Brooklyn spot Barbes, later growing to Joe’s Pub, now touring around beyond moving into larger venues like Carnegie. This year’s run also includes the Django A Gogo Music Camp, which has master classes in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Downtown spoke with Stephane, Al, Stochelo and Larry to learn more about Django’s influence, the Mar. 3 event, and what else they have coming up. More info on all Django A Gogo-related events can be found at www.djangoagogo.com. Stephane Wrembel can be visited at www.stephanewrembel.com.

Do you remember the first time you heard Django Reinhardt?

Al Di Meola: First time I heard about him when I was 19 and played with Return To Forever in Europe.

Larry Keel: I discovered the music of Django when I was about six or seven years old, and my family was big into the first generation bluegrass greats, like Don Reno; he was an ultra pioneering banjo player — and flatpicking guitar player — who covered a lot of Django’s songs on the banjo. No one else in country and folk music was doing that at the time, and it really made an impression on me and on a lot of people in the Bluegrass culture of the 1960s and 70s.

Stephane Wrembel: I grew up in the Fontainebleau’s area in France, where Django was based. I have always heard of him and his music since I grew up. In this part of France you are raised in the sounds of his music! I remember clearly the first time I rediscovered him as a musician. I was 17 and wanted to study guitar in depth, so Django was the obvious next step. I bought the record Djangologie 49 and listened to “Minor Swing” for the first time. It was maybe the greatest musical shock I have ever had — I had never heard those notes or those rhythms before.

Stochelo Rosenberg: When I was a little kid, we played his records all the time.

Do you have a favorite song by Django Reinhardt?

AD: I love the improvisation parts of all of them.

LK: I love “Nuages.”

SW: My favorite composition by Django Reinhardt is for sure “Nuages.”

SR: My favorite song is the most famous song he composed, “Nuages,” because it is a fantastic melody. I like the melody very much.

Stephane Wrembel

Stephane Wrembel

Any idea what you’ll be performing at this tribute show?

AD: This year we are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Elegant Gypsy.

LK: Lots of Django and the Hot Club Of Paris-type tunes, I’m sure. And I’m hoping I get to jump on any originals from Al Di Meola and any of the other iconic artists involved in the concert.

SW: This show is a concept: Django guitar masters and non-Django guitar masters performing Django’s music and non-Django music. For example, we are going to play “Nuages” with Stochelo Rosenberg, Al Di Meola and Larry Keel. Al and Larry are not Django players, but will provide an incredible and unique angle to this song. It will be fresh and new!
Also, Stochelo, Al and I will perform “Mediterranean Sundance,” Al Di Meola’s hit from Friday Night In San Francisco. You will also hear a lot of Django’s compositions, “Bistro Fada” — soundtrack from Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris — a couple of old French songs and waltzes which are at the base of Django’s virtuosic style, “Spain” by Chick Corea, etc. It will be the most amazing guitar adventure one can think of!

SR: I discussed this with Stephane Wrembel. It will be a mix of own compositions by all of us. Also some jazz standards as well as Django Reinhardt standards.

Have you ever performed alongside anyone else on the bill?

LK: I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Stephane Wremble in a guitar “super jam” that I coordinated at Rooster Walk Festival in Virginia. He blew my mind!

SW: Besides my band members, I have performed with Larry Keel, Ryan Montbleau and Nick Driscoll. I only jammed with Al Di Meola and Stochelo Rosenberg.

SR: I never played with Stephane Wrembel or Al Di Meola on stage. But I did play many times with David Gastine in France.

Larry Keel

Larry Keel

Tribute show aside, what’s coming up for you career-wise?

LK: Currently I’m involved in a lot of songwriting, on my own and co-writes with several great composers. I’m continually touring my own trio, The Larry Keel Experience, and I’ve got several unique collaborative ensembles that I lead or take part in throughout the calendar year. Lots of festivals and concert spaces all over the U.S. and beyond.

SW: Two new albums to be released the day of the Carnegie show, another one to be recorded in April in Mexico, and a lot of touring!

SR: Of course the Django movie. I composed some songs for the Django movie. It will be released in April, so that will be a good project for the Rosenberg Trio.

When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?

AD: I’m spending time with my one-year old daughter Ava.

LK: I’m into being outdoors, mostly. Fishing, walking gardening, cooking, exercising, loving on family.

SW: Philosophy, meditation and painting.

SR: Mostly when I don’t have concerts I don’t touch the guitar, maybe one or two weeks. I like to work a bit on the guitar though, new compositions…but actually I am too busy with the family, taking care of the children.

Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola

Do you have a favorite New York City restaurant?

AD: Best Italian food in town: Paola’s on Madison.

LK: I wish I could remember all the names of the killer places I’ve enjoyed in that city over many years. I’m always into finding a new favorite every visit. In dining as with music, I like anything with authenticity and soul.

SW: Definitely Buddakan in Chelsea!

Finally, any last words for the kids?

AD: If you want to be successful in music or anywhere else, shut your phone off and focus on what you want to achieve.

LK: If I’m speaking to kids involved in music — and I sincerely hope EVERY kid gets exposed to music whether to play or appreciate any kind and all kinds of excellent music — then I’d say to apply yourself seriously to your practice. Challenge yourself to learn and master techniques, but find your own “voice” with your voice or your instrument. Above all, enjoy every note of the music you play. My motto is: “Serve the music.” That’s deep, huh?!

SW: Like my mum said to us as kids when we didn’t want to practice our classical piano: “Music is part of education. No matter what you do with it later, it will affect you in very positive ways forever.” She was right.

SR: If they like to play Django music, they must listen to Django. That is the first thing they should do. How Django played and also the rhythm guitar, like Joseph. I think the first step to learn gypsy jazz style is to go back and listen to Django.

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