Fort Worth festival celebrates the life and music of Django Reinhardt

Now in its 20th year, the event brings the musician’s unique blend of jazz and a French touch to the Texas town.

By Leah Scarpelli & Raul AlonzoJanuary 24, 2024 12:25 pm, , ,

Django Reinhardt was known for his virtuosity on the guitar – leaving an impact on jazz music that influenced countless musicians.

As Gracey Tune, artistic director of Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth says, that includes such famous Texans as Willie Nelson and Bob Wills. But Reinhardt’s ties to the Lone Star State don’t stop there.

A black and white photo shows a man seated on a stool playing an acoustic guitar, the lighting casting a large shadow of himself behind him.

Kim Platko is one of the musicians playing the festival. Courtesy of Arts Fifth Avenue

That’s because Tune is in the midst of preparing for the 20th Annual Django Reinhardt Festival, held Jan. 26-28 in Fort Worth. The festival draws attendees from around the world and many musicians take part to celebrate and play the music of Reinhardt.

Tune – along with jazz musicians Trio Blanc, Kim Platko, Mark Menikos, Rex Bozarth and Slim Richey – started the festival two years after the opening of Arts Fifth Avenue.

“It’s for our love of Django, and we all loved him and loved his music,” Tune said. “So, we just went together – you know, it’s like, what is that old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland quote? ‘We have a barn, let’s put on a show!’ That’s how I work, honey.”

Reinhardt was an active musician as Europe headed into World War II. As a Romani, he was particularly at risk as one of the ethnic groups targeted by the Nazis.

However, he was able to survive the war and his blending of traditional Romani musical styles with jazz ended up leaving an indelible mark on the genre. His style of play, made all the more remarkable because of his inability to use some of his fingers due to injury, inspired numerous guitarists.

“People even wrap their fingers, you know, wrap them up so that they can try to play like Django played – without all his fingers,” Tune said.

Three seated musicians play on acoustic guitars.

Courtesy of Arts Fifth Avenue

Gypsy Moon is one of the groups playing the festival.

Reinhardt was based largely in France throughout his life, and as such, Tune says the Fort Worth festival takes a very French character – right down to the cuisine.

“I’ve already started cooking my coq au vin,” Tune said. “We’ll have coq au vin and cassoulet, and probably some quiche, some Salade niçoise. We try to do truly French food, and that just comes with the price to the ticket. It’s our gift, you know.”

Another French touch to the festival? Its intimacy. Tune said the space largely includes just two rooms – one for films and food, and then the other for the music.

A black and white photo shows a woman smiling for the camera while holding her fiddle in a playing position.

Katie Shore, who has also been the main fiddle player for Austin band Asleep at the Wheel, is one of the musicians playing the festival. Courtesy of Arts Fifth Avenue

“The reason the musicians like this so much and come is because it’s very French. It’s very intimate. It’s very sweet,” Tune said. “People have met at the Django Festival and then married – people have fallen in love during Django. It’s just different. It’s just a different little place.”

Many of the musicians playing are Reinhardt fanatics, as well, playing his tunes and music inspired by his style of jazz.

The musicians playing the festival include Marcelo Berestovoy, Stefanie Pepping, Max Robertson, Reo Casey, Chris Curiel, Gypsy Moon, Francie Meaux Jeaux, Jimmie Dreams, Katie Shore, Kim Platko, Kirill Rashkolenko, Jason Jones and Nathan Phelps.

Tune said the Fort Worth festival is also notable because it’s the only one celebrating Reinhardt’s music that spans for three days in the U.S. that she knows of. The longevity of the festival has drawn attendees of all ages over its two decades.

“There are people that have come from all around the country, you know, from Oklahoma, from South Texas,” Tune said. “And there are young people who now know who Django is and come. And, there are, of course, people who love his music that come.”

The 20th Annual Django Reinhardt Festival runs Jan. 26-28 at Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Ave. in Fort Worth.

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