Whitehorse is celebrating “Django Week” to honour the eccentric Gypsy jazz legend and musical genius, Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday Jan. 23.
Django Reinhardt died in 1953, but his skill with the guitar and innovative style – due to his disabled fingers — still resonate with jazz musicians today.
He was a groundbreaking guitar player, and overcoming adversity only added to his technical style.
Reinhardt was badly injured in a fire, losing and paralyzing his fingers, and was told he would never play guitar again.
He persevered and developed a method of guitar playing that involved sliding up the neck of the guitar instead of reaching over the bridge. This style is emulated in modern jazz by musicians looking to add a bit of Django spice to their style.
Jazz musician Don Ogilvie, a Django expert, adds that one can play Django with all their fingers: “Some modern musicians tape their fingers together to get that authentic feel, but you can definitely learn to play using all your fingers,” he says with a laugh.
Ogilvie is headlining Django Week, beginning Jan. 18 and ending with a house concert to celebrate Reinhardt’s would-be 100th birthday.
The Vancouver-based Gypsy-jazz guitar virtuoso counts Reinhardt as a major influence in his music, and one of his bands pays tribute by its namesake — Djangoesque.
Ogilvie will be hosting a series of Gypsy jazz workshops for Django Week, as well as performing at The Capital on Friday, Jan. 22, and finishing up with a house concert.
Why bring Django and Don Ogilvie to the Yukon? Grant Simpson, bandmate of Ogilvie and MusicYukon president, hopes it brings a great learning experience to Whitehorse: “I wanted an expert to come.
“We can all benefit from having skilled musicians come and teach us their craft,” he says.
Simpson and Ogilvie have a passion for Gypsy jazz, and have performed together in a band and as a duo, including a 2008 gig in Shanghai, China.
Apparently Yukoners have a thirst for Django as well, because Simpson mentioned that the beginner, intermediate and advanced Gypsy jazz workshops for Django Week have already exceeded demand, causing Simpson to open up more classes.
“It’s great, we’ve got a lot of interested people and we’re looking at 10 to 14 people per workshop,” he says. Simpson didn’t even realize that bringing Don Ogilvie up north coincided with Django’s would-be 100th birthday until plans were already in motion, and then he thought, Why not make it a week-long celebration?
With Simpson’s dedication, Django Week was born.
For more information on the workshops and concerts, contact organizer Grant Simpson at MusicYukon at 456-8742.