Bleu Django to present spirited ‘gypsy jazz’ at Helen Haddad Hall

Photo provided

Some 20 years ago, when a musical group known as Bleu Django formed, it needed a bit of a support system to form as well. Violinist Carolyn Dutton of Nashville remembers.

“We initially weren’t quite fully accepted into the jazz world,” Dutton said. “Actually, we found that we were much more accepted in the folk world.”

Some might even see the quintet as well, folk heroes of sorts for being a rare group in these parts — one playing and keeping alive a style known as gypsy jazz made famous by legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephan Grappelli in Paris, France, nearly a century ago.

“It combines the sweet swinging style of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, the romantic strains of Romany violin, and the fire of Flamenco guitar,” Dutton said.

Listeners can hear it for themselves when the group performs a 90-minute set at the next Jazz at Helen’s series concert at 7:30 p.m. June 28 at Helen Haddad Hall, 315 Franklin St. in downtown Columbus. Besides Dutton, the band consists of Daryl Jones on lead guitar; Bob Foster on rhythm guitar; Michael Davis on rhythm guitar; Ron Kadish on bass; and Emily Dunn on vocals.

The group earned a standing ovation in December from an estimated 1,000 people at the Brown County Music Center in Nashville. Plus, the band has performed a few times at the Ethnic Expo international festival in downtown Columbus.

Also, the ensemble has built a following at jazz venues such as The Chatterbox in Indianapolis.

“But I’m really especially excited about playing in Columbus (now),” Dutton said. “Because I believe that the space there is ideal for us.”

That matters, she said.

“We know that a lot of the jazz groups end up playing a lot of places such as libraries and festivals,” Dutton said. “And that’s great. But to have an actual, dedicated concert hall that is pretty much a perfect size for a jazz concert is just really great.”

Warren Ward, the jazz series producer, has planned to book the group for more than a year now. And no wonder why.

“Most people agree that Django Reinhardt is among the best jazz guitarists ever, if not the best,” Ward said. “It takes some nerve to name your group after someone like him, but I’ve heard Bleu Django several times. And they have always lived up to the name.”

Reinhardt and Grappelli became huge stars in a group with three guitars, a violin and a bass in Paris, France, in the mid- and late-1930s. Reinhardt pioneered introduction of solos based on melodic improvisation at a time when guitarists generally played chorded solos.

“It became a very unique sound,” Dutton said.

The group played tunes from American acts such as Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. But the band also wrote a lot of its own tunes highlighting Grappelli’s romantic violin style and Reinhardt’s progressively percussive, Flamenco guitar sound. Together with two other guitars, that drum-like sound was known as La Pompe.

“Sometimes that sound can be very melodic and wistful,” Dutton said. “And sometimes it can be very flashy and foot-tapping.”

And herein lies Dutton’s teaching prowess in between numbers.

“At every show, it’s almost like I cannot shut up because I want to educate people about this music and this (former) band,” Dutton said with a laugh. “In the past, people have really responded to that.

“And once people hear this music, they fall in love with it.”

The group expects its setlist to include traditional jazz and swing tunes, plus the sound. They will perform tunes such as “Dark Eyes”; “Honeysuckle Rose”; “Lady Be Good”; “I Love Paris”; and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Dutton, a veteran violinist in this style, found fresh inspiration a decade ago when she visited the Django Reinhardt Festival in France. She discovered one reassuring element.

“There are people,” she said, “who have taken this style and this sound figuratively to the moon.”

About the concert

Who: Bleu Django, an area acoustic Hot Club jazz/swing combo playing the tunes and in the style of legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and acclaimed jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

When: 7:30 p.m. June 28.

Where: Helen Haddad Hall, 315 Franklin St. in downtown Columbus.