Melodic improvisors Pearl Django, co-founders of DjangoFest Northwest, the continent’s largest festival devoted to gypsy jazz, are one of the Saturday night co-headliners at this weekend’s Victoria Django Festival.

Gypsy jazz at its finest

Victoria Django Festival celebrates a unique form of acoustic music

When it comes to categorizing the kind of material played by Pearl Django, violinist Michael Gray takes a broad-brush approach.

“You can call it hot swing, gypsy jazz, hot club music. I just call it music,” he says, refusing to pigeonhole his Seattle-based group’s style. “Stylistically, it’s based on the Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt (music of the 1930s and ‘40s). It’s very Parisian, very European sounding, but we use that as a jumping-off point for what we do.”

The quintet returns to the city this weekend to co-headline Saturday’s (Feb. 15) Victoria Django Festival performance with Reinhardt enthusiast Denis Chang at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

At last year’s festival, Pearl Django members were pleasantly surprised at the reception they received from Victoria concert goers, Gray says.

“The audience is very well educated. They know what they should hear and what they’re looking for,” he says. At the same time, there were many newcomers who gained a new understanding of and appreciation for the genre.

For the uninitiated, the elements of the style that tend to strike listeners most are the rhythm and the beautiful melodies, Gray says. While Pearl Django is comfortable playing jazz standards, the group is equally at home playing original compositions.

He refers to the group as “melodic improvisors” whose style is similar to that of violinist Grappelli and guitarist Reinhardt, who developed their own style of rhythmic jazz.

The spirit of Django Reinhardt will abound at the two Victoria festival venues this weekend.

On Friday at the White Eagle Hall, the upstairs space will feature performances by Brishen, fronted by teen guitar sensation Quinn Bachand, plus the Brett Martens String Band and guests. Downstairs, a venue labelled The Painted Caravan offers a more “chill” space where performers will jam in a cabaret feel.

“This recreates the underground of Paris speakeasies and dance cabaret,” said Django Fest co-ordinator Oliver Swain.

A similar separation of venues happens Saturday at St. Andrew’s, which will become the “Parisian Opera House” concert stage, while the church’s Kirk Hall down the corridor morphs into the Hot Club of France, with a cabaret-style vibe and dancing.

The latter is a shout-out to the 1930s French organization of jazz advocates who encouraged Reinhardt and Grappelli to form what became the Quintette du Hot Club de France, the vehicle that propelled the musician and their unique style to greater notoriety.

Swain expects there to be a free flow of people between the two sections both nights, with each venue creating its own energy.

Pearl Django winds up the show Saturday following a performance by Chang, who will play with one accompanist.

A Montreal-based guitarist who has worked hard to promote and sustain interest in this energetic form of jazz, Chang is a regular performer at DjangoFest Northwest on Whidbey Island, the continent’s largest festival devoted to gypsy jazz and co-founded by Pearl Django.

Also on the card Saturday are local artists Daniel Lapp, The Capital City Syncopaters and Chris Sartisohn. The main concert (8pm start) is all ages while the cabaret (7:30 pm start in the Kirk Hall) is 19-plus. St. Andrew’s Church is at Courtney and Douglas streets.

Friday’s show, 19-plus only, starts at 8pm at the White Eagle Hall, 90 Dock in James Bay.

Dance workshops take place at the two venues at 7:30pm Friday and 7pm Saturday. As well, an outdoor festival jam with various festival performers happens Saturday from 1 to 2pm in Centennial Square.

Advance tickets are available at Ditch Records, Lyle’s Place and Larsen Music for $20 (Friday only), $30 (Saturday only) and $40 (weekend pass). Find more information at The Victoria Django Festival on Facebook.

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