In late-August, 2005, powerful Hurricane Katrina compromised an inadequate U.S. Federal levy system leaving 80% of the city of New Orleans under water. Among the over four-thousand displaced musicians was clarinetist Evan Christopher, a California native who first moved to the Crescent City in 1994. With little more than his clarinet and a suitcase full of clothes, Christopher chose Paris, France for his exile at the invitation of the City of Paris. During this artist residency, funded by an American program called French-American Cultural Exchange, he worked diligently to raise awareness about the musical culture of New Orleans through concerts and masterclasses. He also formed his own groups, the JazzTraditions PROJECT and Django à la Créole.
For Django à la Créole, the idea was simple enough: Spice up the Hot Club texture pioneered by Django Reinhardt by emphasizing hallmarks of New Orleans Jazz including blues, rhythms of the monde Créole, and collective improvisation. The project debuted in August 2007 with performances in Great Britain and a small international jazz festival in Haugesund, Norway. As early as February 2007, Christopher began commuting back to the United States to work with touring New Orleans groups but in December, just prior to his move back to New Orleans, he made this recording. The quartet released the CD in New Orleans during the 25th anniversary of the famous French Quarter Festival.
Christopher and his colleagues took their primary inspiration for Django à la Créole in the legendary guitarist’s collaborations with American musicians, which included New Orleans clarinetists on several occasions. In 1934, Django performed and recorded with the New Orleans Créole clarinetist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie who had moved to Paris in the mid-20′s. However, the most significant precedent for the fusion of New Orleans clarinet with the Gypsy Swing style was a loosely organized recording session in 1939 with Duke Ellington sidemen Rex Stewart and clarinetist Barney Bigard. When one hears Bigard’s fluid lines and distinctly New Orleans sound artfully juxtaposed with Django’s angular, virtuosic flights, it hardly seems coincidental that just a few months later, Django used violinist Stéphane Grapelli’s departure as the perfect opportunity to use clarinetist Hubert Rostaing in the role of the Hot Club’s lead instrument. Rostaing’s style was, of course, heavily influenced by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but on several recordings his warm, woody tone in the low register, rhythmic flexibility, and contrapuntal interaction with Django is more evocative of players such as Bigard or Omer Simeon.
Clarinetist Evan Christopher is a refreshingly bright light on the international jazz scene. His unique brand of contemporary early jazz combines virtuosity and immaculate taste with a deep commitment to exploring the full range of possibilities of the traditions of New Orleans Jazz. Mr. Christopher’s highly personal voice is anchored in the musical language created by early Creole clarinetists such as Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon, and Barney Bigard with particular emphasis on the flexibility and distinct rhythmic character of the clarinet as it has evolved throughout “Le Monde Créole.
“[Evan] is, in my estimation, not only the greatest jazz clarinetist alive, but one of the greatest of all time”
- AHMET ERTEGUN, FOUNDING CHAIRMAN OF ATLANTIC RECORDS
He left his native Long Beach, California in 1994 to be a part of the New Orleans music community and with varied work ranging from Al Hirt to Galactic, he quickly established himself as an important advocate for New Orleans music. Recognized worldwide as an ambassador extending the legacy of the clarinet in jazz, Mr. Christopher tours with his own bands Django à la Créole and the JazzTraditions Project, and also as a featured soloist with groups such as the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. The Remembering Song with Bucky Pizzarelli, Delta Bound featuring pianist Dick Hyman, and his Clarinet Road series are among the recordings under his own name and he is featured on many others alongside New Orleans artists including Duke Heitger, Irvin Mayfield, Big Al Carson and Tom McDermott.
Mr Christopher’s dynamic presentations are informed by his passion for musicological study, which he shares generously in outreach as a community artist. Artist residencies abroad, and work at schools including the University of New Orleans are indicators of his ongoing efforts to impart the spirit of the music younger musicians as well as students and enthusiasts of New Orleans culture. As a composer, his original songs are the high point of CDs such as Delta Bound (Arbors Records, 2007), The Remembering Song (Arbors Records 2010), as well as the Grammy-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s release, Book One. In July 2010, he will debut an original work in a concert with the Minnesota Symphony. This commission is to be the first concerto written for clarinet in the New Orleans style.
Mr. Christopher began his musical training on clarinet at age 11. In high school, he received the Louis Armstrong National Jazz Award and was one of the first graduates of the prestigious Idyllwild Arts Academy. He continued studies at the University of Southern California and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach before moving to New Orleans.
His published research and academic presentations on the New Orleans clarinet style initiated the pursuit of a Masters degree in Musicology at Tulane University. In August of 2005, the Federal levee failures that flooded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina sent him traveling continuously on “Clarinet Road” until he returned in November of 2007.
“A forthright sound and a hungry energy”
- NEW YORK TIMES
Don Vappie is a world renown jazz musician and presenter from New Orleans. He leads the Creole Jazz Serenaders, a classic New Orleans jazz orchestra, as well as his various jazz and R&Bcombos. He has produced and recorded numerous CDs and film sound tracks and is star of the PBS documentary AMERICAN CREOLE: NEW ORLEANS REUNION. As an educator, he has participated, presented and/or performed for programs at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Tulane University, Historic New Orleans Collection, NPR, Smithsonian, Appalachian State University and many more. He currently serves an adjunct instructor at Loyola University and instructor at the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music. In the span of his 43 year career he has performed with Peggy Lee, Joel Gray, Carol Channing, Danny Barker, Wynton Marsalis, Otis Taylor, Terence Blanchard, Johnny Adams, Eric Clapton, Cheick Hamala Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate (both of Mali), Demma DIa of Sengal, Bette Midler, Ellis Marsalis, Diana Krall and many more. As a headliner, heʼs performed at numerous festivals and venues around the world. His transcriptions of early jazz recordings are available from Warner Bros. Publishing and his orchestral arrangements for banjo and orchestra are distributed worldwide on the NAXOS label.
“Dave Kelbie’s rhythm guitar is a joy in itself, firm but relaxed, clearly executed but never obtrusive. Dave knows exactly the best chord voicing for every moment and will add spice with the occasional flourish or series of brisk arpeggios reminiscent of Eddie Lang”
- Charles Alexander
Over the last 20 years Dave Kelbie has been a prominent accompanist to many of the worlds leading Jazz soloists and Gypsy musicians. He has an extended professional role as a tour promoter and a record producer.
Lejazzetal, set up by Kelbie in 1989, has won international recognition for initiating and promoting the highest quality jazz and European Gypsy music projects on tour worldwide. At the core of the company’s work is a strong emphasis on Gypsy culture through which has come partnerships with many of Europe’s most gifted Roma musicians. Lejazzetal has created a platform for many previously unknown Gypsy groups with a role as a catalyst for the further career development.
Lejazzetal Records has become a leading company in representing acoustic jazz and Gypsy music internationally. Started in 1990 with the first release by Manouche guitarist Fapy Lafertin, and the latest by Tcha Limberger’s Kalotaszeg Trio. High praise has come for the select catalogue of 11 titles.
“the rhythmic rumbling of a folksy freight train”
- Raul da Gama – Allaboutjazz.com USA
A self taught guitarist, Dave Kelbie’s first professional engagements were with the celebrated Gypsy guitarist from Holland Fapy Lafertin. He initiated the first European tour in 1989 with the quartet Lejazz and this partnership has lasted until recently with CD releases on Lejazzetal Records including “Swing Guitars” and the highly acclaimed “Hungaria” with tours as recent as 2004.
Through his alliance with Lafertin have come performances with musicians such as Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos, USA Clarinettist Bob Wilber, Bireli Lagrene and Lollo Meier.
Until recently, the groundbreaking UK-based, multi-national Balkan music cooperative Szapora is perhaps his best known project. Szapora’s fore-runner, The Budapest Cafe orchestra was formed in 1996 after a chance meeting with Bosnian singers Mirella & Tea Hodzic. The band has received much praise for it’s concerts Europe-wide and consistently featured some of the finest UK musicians such as Christian Garrick, Dylan Fowler, and Eddie Hession. Szapora has released three CDs on Lejazzetal.
Kelbie continues to work in his own quartet with the great Angelo Debarre, the lyrical Lollo Meier, and UK legend John Etheridge. With his last project though, Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, Kelbie has become one of the most sought after rhythm guitarists on the worldwide stage.
Powerful and swinging, Australian bass player Sébastien Girardot has built a highly personal style on a foundation of classical training and early experience with New Orleans Revival style groups. He is in wide demand across Europe and has appeared at the continents’ foremost jazz festivals and clubs. Mr. Girardot has also developed his international reputation on recordings for jazz labels including GHB, Jazz Crusade, Fremeaux, Jazzology and Black & Blue.
After more than a decade of Parisian living, Sebastien has developed into an extremely versatile musician, well-versed in many early 20th Century musical styles from blues to swing, biguine to choro and Gypsy jazz.
“Generates a remarkably cohesive and constant swing”
- Jazzman FRANCE