Art Wachter said the genre infiltrated pop culture through movies like "Chocolat," starring Johnny Depp, and Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."
It starts with stringed instruments. Musicians stroke them with a plucking motion to create rhythm. The melody swings off of that.
Locals can learn more about the music and Gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt at the East Coast Django Gypsy Festival Saturday.
Wachter, a radio host and entertainment professional from the area, has been trying to organize the event for years. This summer, dates aligned and, in Elicker's Grove, Wachter found a venue that could accommodate an outdoor music festival.
In Europe, similar events attract thousands. But celebrations of Reinhardt's legacy in the mid-Atlantic region are rare. That's why Gypsy jazz artists and aficionados clamored for a spot in the lineup.
"The quality of musicianship and the level of playing ... will be an awakening to some people," Wachter said. He counts festival performer Frank Vignola as one of the top-five guitarists in the world.
And, like many musicians, Vignola can recite Reinhardt's story. Born in
Belgium and reared among Gypsies in France, Reinhardt was nearly illiterate and couldn't read music. But he could play - even after he lost fingers in a caravan fire when he was 18. His musical skills might have helped him escape Nazi persecution in occupied France during World War II.
He toured America in the late 1940s with Duke Ellington's band. He also befriended electric guitar pioneer Les Paul, who ended up paying for Reinhardt's 1953 burial costs.
"For a guitar geek like me, that's pretty big news," Vignola said with a laugh.
As a child, Vignola was
introduced to Gypsy jazz, or Django jazz as it's also known.
"It's almost like European bluegrass music," he said. "It's very infectious."
Vignola developed an
appreciation for everything from rock 'n' roll to classical and became a touring musician with pop artists, including Madonna. But when he formed his own band in the late 1980s, Vignola turned back to the Gypsy jazz sound.
These days, he books about 200 dates each year. But events like Saturday's festival are a treat, Vignola said, especially when he gets to share the stage with Bucky Pizzarelli. The 86-year-old played with Reinhardt, Benny Goodman and Doc Severinsen's band on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
In his travels, Vignola has discovered small pockets of hot club disciples, even in small towns.
And this region won't disappoint. Ryck Kaiser helped found the local group Hot Club Du Jour about eight years ago.
The music, he said, got its name from music critics. It's a nod to where the music was first played - small, smoky cellars or pubs.
Kaiser played fiddle in an Appalachian string band and first started to learn the Django style in the '80s.
Saturday's festival - complete with a music lesson and artist discussion - will be true to the Gypsy way, Kaiser said. In that culture, musicians play for hours. They teach, tell stories and trade tunes.
Wachter said Gypsy jazz traditions have enjoyed a
resurgence in the past decade. And after the festival, which he hopes to turn into an annual event, even more people will be able to recognize and identify the sound.
If you go
The East Coast Django Gypsy Festival is slated for Saturday at Elicker's Grove Park, 511 Roths Church Road near Spring Grove. Gates open at noon. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. Children younger than 16 can enter the festival for free with an adult ticket holder. Food and beverages will be available for purchase and there will be a children's play area. The event is rain or shine. Visitors are welcome to bring lawn chairs and blankets. For details, visit djangogypsyfest.com.
1 p.m. - Shepp from Ameranouche
2 p.m. - Hot Club Du Jour
3 p.m. - The Gypsy Moth Trio featuring Daisy Castro
4 p.m. - All about Django and the music artist Q&A
5 p.m. - Gonzalo Bergara and Evan Perri
6 p.m. - Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub
7 p.m. - Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo
8 p.m. - Gypsy Caravan Finale hosted by Vignola and featuring all artists