Hot Club Jazz Travels to the Flathead

By Beacon Staff

Michael Gray’s music was born of wanderlust.

Beginning on a banjo left at his homesteaded cabin in Alaska decades ago, Gray now plays the violin in the gypsy jazz hot club band, Pearl Django. And while his group hails from Seattle, its musical roots lie deep in French Gypsy traditions.

Pearl Django is scheduled to bring its unique sound to the Flathead for two performances. The first, taking place in Whitefish on April 8, benefits the North Valley Music School.

The second performance, on April 9, will be held at the KM Theater in Kalispell as part of the Kalispell Business Improvement District’s WinterFest music series.

The band – consisting of Neil Andersson on guitar, Ryan Hoffman on guitar, Gray on violin, David Lange on accordion and Rick Leppanen on acoustic bass – takes its name from its musical inspiration, Django Reinhardt.

Reinhardt is credited with inventing a new way of playing the jazz guitar in 1920s Paris, where he and Stéphane Grappelli founded the historic and influential Quintette du Hot Club de France.

Before forming the group, Reinhardt, born to gypsy parents, was burned in a caravan fire, causing him to lose the ability to use two of the fingers on his left hand. This led to the creation of the “hot” guitar sound.

The technique allows room for improvisation and harmony, two aspects Gray said work for Pearl Django. The five-member band plays up-tempo, creative jazz without the need of drums or horns to keep time.

“Think of it as string jazz but more rhythmically based,” Gray said.

Two guitars and an upright bass provide the tempo as well as skillful solos, and the accordion evokes the music’s distinct Parisian personality.

As a member of the group for about 17 years, Gray said the hot club style gives him room to breathe and create on the violin.

“It’s so open-ended for me. I get to play kind of what I want,” Gray said. “That’s what I really like doing, taking chances and seeing what happens.”

Proceeds from the April 8 show at the Whitefish Lake Restaurant go to support the North Valley Music School. It is presented by Don K Subaru and produced by John Simpson and Miriam Singer.

Simpson said he wanted a fresh sound for the concert to draw in a crowd, and Pearl Django fit the bill.

“I’ve thought about having them come over for a year or two,” he said. “It’s a very interesting band and it’s different. Gypsy jazz is different.”

The money garnered from the April 8 concert will help pay for whatever the music school needs, Simpson said.

“They get to use the funds however they can,” Simpson said. “The school is struggling because of the economy.”

Simpson is confident the show at the Whitefish Lake Restaurant will sell out; the restaurant can hold over 100 people. Tickets cost $25, and reservations can be made at 406-862-5285.

In Kalispell, the money raised from ticket sales will go toward future events in the downtown area, according to Pam Carbonari, Kalispell Business Improvement District coordinator.

“We just wanted to bring quality music to downtown Kalispell,” Carbonari said. “We expect fully to have a sellout crowd for Pearl Django.”

Tickets for the April 9 Kalispell show are available at Noice Studio and Gallery, The Kalispell Grand Hotel, Ceres Bakery and Colter Coffee for $20.

Gray said Pearl Django is excited to bring its jazz sound to the Flathead’s stages, and that audience members should expect an evening of authentic, unique and playful music.

“Be ready for lots of really great, rhythmic music; hopefully we will transport you to another place,” Gray said. “We like to pride ourselves on doing that.”

For more information on Pearl Django or to listen the band’s music, visit www.pearldjango.com.

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