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Forever Django, “Passing the Family Torch”, Stars the Django Festival Allstars at Carnegie Hall
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Forever Django, “Passing the Family Torch”, Stars the Django Festival Allstars at Carnegie Hall

- Jazz and Cabaret Corner: Special Events
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Pat Philips-Stratta
in association with

Leonardo and George DiCaprio

Forever Django
“Passing the Family Torch”
Dedicated to Maestro Ettore Stratta

Starring the Django Festival Allstars

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Dorado Schmitt: Lead Guitar & Violin
Samson & Amati Schmitt: Lead Guitars
Ludovic Beier: Accordion and Accordina
Pierre Blanchard: Violin
Doudou Cuillerier: Rhythm Guitar & Vocal
Antonio Licusati: Bass
Francko Mehrstein: Rhythm Guitar
Gino Roman: Bass

Melody Gardot: Vocalist
Ken Peplowski: Clarinet
Veronica Swift: Vocalist

Directed by Pat Philips-Stratta

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 1, 2018

What a thrill to see this fantastic ensemble again, after first meeting the Django aficionado, French guitarist Dorado Schmitt, his son, the supremely talented Samson, and the accordionist, Ludovic Beier, in 2002, the first time I reviewed what would be multiple Django Reinhardt Festivals, as well as the band’s personal recordings, over 16 years. The Django Festivals were originally produced by the vibrant and renowned jazz impresarios, Pat Philips-Stratta and her husband, Ettore Stratta, to whom this concert is dedicated. The late Ettore Stratta’s 40-year career as a record producer and orchestral conductor included 25 years of conducting Stephane Grappelli, Django’s enchanting violinist.

Each Django Festival, mostly at Birdland, intermittently at Rose Theater, Iridium, or Carnegie Hall, has been exceptionally produced and warmly hosted by Pat Philips-Stratta on stage, introducing the evening’s virtuosi, and her audiences are always vocally enthused and appreciative. On each occasion we have been transported to the 1930’s-40’s, Hot Club of France. In tonight’s orchestra seating was George DiCaprio, who Co-Produced this special event with his son, Leonardo. He seemed enraptured with the music.

As with most jazz and improvisational concerts, a written tune list was not included, so the audience can experience a serendipitous tonal adventure, as the performers are inspired in the moment. They are at liberty to shift the order of rehearsed works and to add others, as the ensemble spotlights its stars in solos, duos, trios, and groupings formed in the wink of an eye. In fact, as Pat Philips-Stratta introduced Dorado to the stage, he handed his guitar to Samson, “passing the family torch”, as the program was presciently titled. We knew that Dorado’s son, Amati, a rising star in the Django genre, would also be included, but little did we know that Samson’s daughter, Stefi, a Piaf-styled vocalist, and son, Stan, the latest guitarist in the Schmitt troupe, would also entertain us.

The first number, with Pierre Blanchard, a Django Festival regular, on violin, also featured Samson, with the guitar handed to him by Dorado, Antonio Licusati on bass, Doudou Cuillerier on rhythm guitar, and Ludovic on accordion. This loosely arranged, eloquently enchanting piece immediately drew the audience in. Collectively, we all leaned forward in anticipation of what would certainly be a long-lasting, musical memory. The second piece, with pink-enhanced house lights, included a tango inspired ballad. Ludovic next led his own composition, and his accordion turned into a rolling train motif. Pulsating, energized musicality ensued with ethereal interludes. The following number, with a sultry, soothing introduction, led by Samson, was imbued with romanticism. Samson’s “Charlie”, a tribute to Chaplin, inspired me to note on the program that this could be an award-winning composition.

Ludovic introduced his own tribute piece, for Toots Thielmans, who was an exceptional virtuoso in harmonica. Pat Philips-Stratta had created a tribute event on this very stage for Toots in 2006. Ludovic’s piece was mournful and poignant. On his accordina, his arrangement had a larger than life sensuality, creating the stage emotionality of an intimate club. Veronica Swift, a sexy, sassy scat vocalist, was brought out, followed by generous applause. She sang the rhythmically swinging “Avalon” with personality and charisma. Doudou then sang a number, with more scat, fun, fast, and oh, so French. At the end of the first set, the superbly talented Pierre appeared on his featured, exotic violin in his own composition, "Balkanic Dance", lushly imbued with an Eastern European motif. Ludovic’s accordion took off on a wild ride with the gorgeous guitars. Ludovic and Pierre played a sumptuous accordion-violin duet, right then and there.

After intermission, Dorado was finally onstage, firmly on lead guitar, as were Samson and Amati, with their cousin, Francko Mehrstein, on rhythm guitar, and yet another cousin, Gino Roman, on breezy bass. Dorado introduced the second set with a tribute composition, “For George”, in honor of the DiCaprios. In the motif of “passing the family torch”, Dorado and Amati (recently added to the scene) sat tightly, as Amati watched Dorado’s exquisite performance. Seated on the other side of Dorado was Samson. Then followed a piece for Leonardo, rapid and scintillating, with miraculously split-level timed twists and turns on the strings.

The full ensemble shared one more charming tune, before Dorado switched to his violin. Samson’s son, Stan, on guitar, appeared next to his father and grandfather, Dorado, for a few tunes, including a Grappelli-inspired ballad, prior to a piece with tonal evocations of sunny Spain. Dorado stood, this time, on his featured violin solo. I noted that Isaac Stern, for whom this auditorium is dutifully named, would have been so proud to hear Dorado’s sensational violin. Next, Amati played a featured solo with the band, with Dorado on violin. Stefi Schmitt, a youthful, blonde Piaf tribute singer, soon belted out her ballad, transporting the hall to the Left Bank.

Then, it was Amati’s showcase turn, on a languid string solo, joined by Francko on guitar and Gino on bass. This elegant, classically-infused tune riveted the now highly energized crowd of longtime and first time Django Allstar fans. A Godfather-themed moment even ensued, amidst the melody. Amati’s next solo had rapidly flowing rhythms and crisply challenging fingering, and this rising guitarist, Dorado’s youngest, shone brightly. Melody Gardot, arriving late in the evening, sang in English, sitting on a lonely barstool. Her charismatic crooning was mesmerizing, enhanced by the supportive band. The finale, "Bossa Dorado", titled for its namesake, brought back the entire Django Allstar ensemble, plus Samson’s son and the very talented Ken Peplowski on his blazing clarinet. Kudos to the Django Allstars, kudos to Pat Philips-Stratta, and kudos to Django Reinhardt. Here is Django, performing “Somebody Loves Me”.

Pierre Blanchard, Francko Mehrstein, Gino Roman,
Stan Schmitt, Samson Schmitt, Dorado Schmitt,
Amati Schmitt, Ludovic Beier, Ken Peplowski
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Dorado Schmitt on Guitar with Amati Schmitt
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Francko Mehrstein and Samson Schmitt on Guitars,
with Gino Roman on Bass
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Samson Schmitt on Guitar, Veronica Swift, Vocalist,
Antonio Licusati on Bass, Doudou Cuillerier on Guitar
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Samson’s Daughter, Stefi, Vocalist, Gino Roman on Bass,
Samson Schmitt and His Son, Stan on Guitar
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Melody Gardot, Vocalist
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Ludovic Beier on Accordion
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Pierre Blanchard on Violin
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Samson Schmitt, Dorado Schmitt, Amati Schmitt
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Doudou Cuillerier on Guitar, Ludovic Beier on Accordina
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

Pat Philips-Stratta, Producer-Director,
Thanks the Audience and Django Festival Fans
in "Forever Django" at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Nick Carter

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at