Django Tango to play Chester Village Green Aug. 21

The Chester Community Association presents a concert on August 21 that will take you way back and bringing you a style of music that represents jazz as in Gypsy Jazz, through the Gypsy Jazz band “Django Tango.”  

If you heard of or listened to fast-paced jazz from the early 1900s, you’ve probably heard Django Reinhardt compositions. Gypsy Jazz offers one some of the quickest guitarists in music. Even now the genre of music can be heard in modern songs.

Russ Hanchin leads the band of four with a smoking-acoustic-lead guitar. Backup consists of a chromatic harmonica, rhythm guitar and standup base. But don’t let that fool you; this band rocks.

“French dance hall and musette musicians in the 1930s started hearing American jazz such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. They began to incorporate those sounds into their own style,” Hankins said. “A Belgian gypsy born in 1910 named Django Reinhardt was performing in Paris during those years and was at the vanguard of this new trend in music, and his approach of integrating the French and American styles using his unique guitar style and virtuosity is what we today call Gypsy jazz.”

This type of jazz is beginning to catch on with the younger generation, and more millennials can be seen at their performances. A little listening, dancing and understanding of the music that has eluded most for almost 100 years.

“I think more and more people are becoming aware of Gypsy jazz. Actually, there are Gypsy jazz bands and festivals and clubs in most major cities across America,” according to Hankins. “I think it caught on some time ago.  Richmond has had gypsy music played locally for over 10 years. Also, there is the annual Gypsy jazz concert call ‘Djanguary’ at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center.”

Jean-Philippe Cypres, the Frenchman in the band, who plays chromatic harmonica, via Knoxville and Richmond, said, “I’ve always loved the ballads of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Jacques Brel and innovators such as: George Brassens, Michel Legrand, Toots Thielemans. But when I joined the gypsy band in Knoxville, Django quickly became my religion. My new quest, to play like Stéphane Grapelli.  The music reminds me of home in Paris, and of all the glorious gypsy families: The Russians, the Tziganes, the Arabs, and of course the French.

A local Chester resident, Nicole Jordan enjoys the music in whatever way she hears it.

“I have heard Gypsy Tango a couple of times in the last couple of months,” Ms. Jordan said. “I can’t get enough of that sound. The musicians are accomplished performers with two great guitarists, one super bassist and a virtuoso harmonica player.”

Hankins has described the music the band plays, but when you hear it, there’s no explanation needed.

“We do mostly Django Reinhardt music but also songs from the 20s 30s and 40s in the style of Django Reinhardt,” Hankins said. “ Compositions include jazz standards like ‘Blue Skies’ or ‘All of me’ and ‘Night & day’ and French folk music such as ‘La vie en rose’ and ‘Under Paris skies.’ We even play some bossa nova music like ‘Wave’ or ‘Blue bossa’ in a Gypsy bossa style.”

If you want to dance, you will have plenty of chance to do that; It’s danceable music.

Gypsy jazz conquers your music taste after awhile and Cypres explored a number of types of music and wails on the harp.

“My parents’ favorite thing to listen to was classical music:  J.S. Bach, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, and Granados,” Cyres said. “I grew up outside of Paris and my first harmonica was a gift when I was ten. My favorite was Bach because his melodies are vibrant, and his phrasing is like the pulsing rhythm of a breathing heart.  It enchanted me.

“In the eighties, I moved from France to Tennessee and discovered Blues and Bluegrass. I became obsessed with learning those haunting riffs. My style of playing remained very melodic; I was no Sonny Terry or Little Walter. I met a Piedmont style Blues player in Knoxville and we have been playing together for over 20 years.  In 2004, I became seriously interested in Gypsy jazz and a Knoxville band invited me to apprentice with the goal of mastering the chromatic harmonica.”

The band members are:
Russ Hanchin - Lead guitar -  Richmond
Jean-Philippe Cypres - Chromatic harmonica – Richmond
Joe Workman -  Rhythm guitar -  Powhatan
Vince Newton - Acoustic bass - Mechanicsville

“Jazz is an American legacy born out of the pain of slavery, the search for freedom, and the influences of many cultures and styles. Gypsy music is born from a nomadic life that honors different cultural influences as well. For me, the American approach is based more on rhythm and allows you the freedom to improvise in ways that you cannot in Gypsy music,”  The French approach to jazz is based more on the discipline of maintaining the melody and traditional phrasing. I do not see one as better than the other. It is simply a matter of two different ways of experiencing the journey

Django Tango will play in Chester on August 21 at 7 p.m. on the Village Green opposite the Chester Library on Centre Street. The concert is free. Bring your blankets or lounge chair and get ready to enjoy a real cultural experience.

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