The external scenery for the Django festival in Norway was a temperature of just a few degrees below zero, partly sunshine, but also quite a bit of snow. Obviously the perfect weather to invite for an indoors festival with very hot music. It was the 21st annual festival and this time to celebrate the 90th anniversary of our hero, which was 23 January. The place was the new jazz scene in Oslo, Cosmopolite.
Two nights in a row, the enthusiastic audience of approximately 400 people (each night) had the pleasure of listening to several of the hottest musicians in the field, some almost legendary, and a few newcomers. Among the public were visitors from all over Norway, as well as from Sweden, France and the USA.
The big surprise this year was the presentation of the 19 year old violinist Ola Kvernberg, from the northwestern part of Norway. He appeared out of the blue, sat in with Hot Club de Norvège, and tore the building down with his hard swinging, elegant, Grappelli-inspired improvisations. A great, new violin talent, with perfect classical technique, but pure jazz in spirit, and with a remarkable stage appearance; a red chinned, smiling teenager, slightly overweight, but swinging like crazy!
The Corsican guitar ace Rodolphe Raffalli flabbergasted everyone with his elegant, eclectic playing, also as a guest with Hot Club de Norvège. This excellent jazzman is now the bandleader at Clarion des Chausseurs (where Maurice Ferret used to play) at Place de Tertre, Paris, where he is playing every Thursday-Sunday night. This marvelous musician must be the most gentle guitar player since Henri Crolla!
René Maihles presented pure gypsy bebop on electric guitar, one night in quartet with Raffalli and yours truly, plus bass, and the second night in trio format with Finn Hauge on harmonica. They played bop standards, and received a warm applause.
The quartet Latcho Drom from Toulouse presented pure acoustic Hot Club music, very much in the footsteps of the young Django. The repertoire was Django and several compositions by Dorado but also a few by their brilliant solo guitarist and bandleader, Christophe Lartilleux. However, the favourite of the public, at least the feminine part of it, was the violin player and his very hot hip movements…
Christian Escoudé (electric guitar) and the accordion legend Marcel Azzola (who played with Piaf, and even for Django!) played a gentle mix of musette, neo-bop and original compositions, among them waltzes by Azzola. The first night, somehow the audience disturbed their concentration closely to the point where it would have been impossible to play. But on the second night they delivered, and were rewarded by a standing ovation. A historical concert, and the art of Hot Club music par excellence.
Serge Camps' quartet Opus 4 was the perfect showstopper around midnight: their catchy mix of jazz, Russian melancholy, gypsy fire and French cabaret chansons, melted everybody's hearts. The four musicians have a delightful and rather impressive stage appearance, and would be a top of any festival (just a tip!). Their sound is personal (using dobro/banjo, in addition to guitar, bass and violin), and all four members of the band are virtuoso instrumentalists as well as good singers. It looks as if they really, really love what they are doing…, which is always a joy.
The second day ended up in a jam, and most of the musicians participated. It continued into the early morning, with a lot of fun! At the most 12 musicians played at the same time - and for a change, when there are many string instruments together, it sounded in tune! Not bad, taken into consideration that the dry winter climate in Norway can be very cruel to wooden instruments…
No Django festival is complete without merchandise and the latest gossip, it's part of the fun. Most musicians brought records and most records were sold out. Even a few guitars and a Stimer microphone changed hands.
Finally, here is some gossip:
The late guitar pioneer Robert Normann will be honoured in his home town (Sarpsborg, one hour by car from Oslo) with a museum. The new Robert Normann Society is responsible, and the museum will exhibit the guitar genius' instruments, his inventions and objets d'art, and the society itself, including their large archive. The museum will open in May 2000.
The Danish guitar player Jens Fuglsang Nielsen has completed his masters degree at the Copenhagen University. The title of his work is "Django - the gypsy guitarist's journey from Musette, via Swing, to Bebop". When will we see the first doctorate on Django?
The bass player Pierre Procoudine-Gorski informed that Angelo Debarre, disillusioned by the lack of success with his new CD (Caprice), etc, has burned his guitars, guitar amp, and even his plectrum, and stopped playing. He refuses to talk about music, and is now working at the local post office. Oh my God!
But apart from this horror story, it was all pure pleasure!