Everyone has a first cherished childhood memory of Disneyland: meeting Mickey, realizing your parents lied about your great steering on the Autopia, barfing spaceburger chunks into the starry void of Space Mountain. For Tommy Davy, though, it was being 2 years old and hearing John Jorgenson and Raul Reynoso playing Gypsy-style jazz at the faux New Orleans Square. Sixteen years later, 18-year-old Laguna High student Davy is sharing the bill this weekend with Jorgenson and other prime pickers at Djangofest Laguna 2006.
“My dad was always playing Django's music around the house. Hearing that music live at Disneyland really cemented my interest in it,” Davy recalled.
When I was 2, I was busy cementing my diapers, but some people do figure out early in life what matters to them. In his younger teens, Davy went through “phases of playing 1960s psychedelic music, then Captain Beefheart, sound-sculpture stuff like Snakefinger, into Danny Gatton and the East Coast Telecaster school.” Then, four years ago at the NAMM show, he spotted new re-creations of the Maccaferi guitar favored by Gypsy jazz progenitor Django Reinhardt, bought one “and devoted myself full-bore to playing it.”
The object of his musical devotion is Reinhardt, the Belgian Gypsy guitarist (1910-1953) whose phenomenally lyrical, inventive and technically astonishing playing remains Europe's chief contribution to jazz. Reinhardt's music influenced and challenged virtually every other guitarist who ever heard the stuff, from jazzmen to pickers as disparate as Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Trey Anastasio, Julian Bream and Richard Thompson.
Davy and some others take the influence a few steps further, playing the same repertoire on the same obscure-design guitar in the same instrumental context (generally a drumless group of acoustic guitars, violin and bass), preserving Reinhardt's fiery legacy while the best of them still find plenty of room for individual expression within its improvisations. To be utterly true to Reinhardt's style, some even do their fretting with just two fingers, because two of Reinhardt's were paralyzed in a Gypsy caravan fire.
The Djangofest will also feature several repeat performers from last year's fest, including Jorgenson (the mind-disarraying, multi-award-winning former Desert Rose Band, Elton John Band and Disneyland guitarist, again joined by singer Beryl Davis, who performed with Reinhardt in her youth); Parisian Gypsy Angelo Debarre, joined this year by accordionist Ludovic Beier; Amsterdam's Robin Nolan Trio, featuring contemporary chanteuse Brandi Shearer; the Hot Club of San Diego; and the fest debut of French guitarist Stephane Wrembel and of the group Davy's in, the Gypsy Kidz.
In a sense, they're sort of a hot jazz New Kids on the Block, a manufactured youth band put together by a music-biz exec. The difference here is the exec is Amoeba record stores owner Dave Prinz, and the motive sure can't be money, since most kids in the 1940s never heard of this music, let alone the ones now.
“He wanted to put something together that had the chance to appeal to young people specifically because the music doesn'thave much of a young following in the United States,” Davy said. “He loves the music—I first met him at the San Francisco Djangofest—and he wants to help promote it.”
Prinz put together the best young players he could find, coming up with bassist Samson Grisman, violinist Annie Staninec, and guitarists Davy and Ivan Pena, who just joined the group. They range in age from 16 to 20. They've already done a tour of West Coast clubs, opening for mandolinist David Grisman (Samson's dad).
Davy's also already had the daunting experience of being called onstage to perform with Debarre, Beier and others. “From hardly knowing anything about playing this music four years ago to having the chance to play with them was mind-boggling to me. I couldn't have imagined it,” he said.
“I think there will always be a little stage fright going into a situation like that, but at some point the music takes over. You get so absorbed into the qualities of it that you forget everything else. That's one of the reasons why I intend to play this music for the rest of my life.”
Djangofest Laguna 2006, at the Festival of Arts Forum Theatre, 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-5088. The Gypsy Kidz, the Robin Nolan Trio and the Stephane Wrembel Trio perform Fri., 8 p.m.; the John Jorgenson Quintet and Angelo Debarre with Ludovic Beier perform Sat., 3 p.m.; the Gypsy Kidz, Robin Nolan with Brandi Shearer and Angelo Debarre with Ludovic Beier perform Sat., 8 p.m.; and Hot Club of San Diego, Robin Nolan with Brandi Shearer and the John Jorgenson Quintet with Beryl Davis perform Sun., 7 p.m. Check the website for workshops. $34-$40. Info at www.djangofestla.com. Tickets online at www.ticketleap.com.