Impromptu Gypsy Jazz Jam with the pros
photo: Gayla Goodman

It is no secret that Israelis love music. Besides Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival for Irish, bluegrass and folk music enthusiasts, there are festivals for lovers of jazz, guitar, oud and klezmer. One genre that has taken off in Israel of late is gypsy jazz, which is a style developed by Django Reinhardt. Musicians from the older Woodstock generation as well as young guitarists and violinists all join in regular jams throughout the country playing his style that has guitarists beating out the rhythm while others take turns at solos. There are regular get togethers in Tel Aviv, Mevasseret Zion, Modi’in and Jerusalem as well as jazz weekends twice a year organized by musician David Menscher.

Django Reinhardt Festival

This past week some 20 Israelis were privileged to travel to France for the D’jango Reinhardt Festival in Samois-sur-Seine to enjoy five days packed with gypsy jazz. The venue was an island in the Seine some 45 minutes south of Paris, which could be reached via 2 small footbridges. Some of the world’s best jazz musicians took the stage in the evenings, while the campgrounds and festival venue was dotted with impromptu jams that went on all through the night.

Taking the Stage in Samois

Gilad Hekselman performs with his trio

Gilad Hekselman performs with his trio

The music ranged from the world music sounds of Pat Metheny to gypsies playing their version of Manouche jazz, the unique style made famous by Django.  The lineup included Gonzalo Bergara, the Mathias Guerry Swingtet, the Gipsy Kings and Stochelo and Mozes Rosenberg. Not only were the Israeli musicians right in the thick of things, two of them that are international stars took to the stage on the final evening. First was the Gilad Hekselman Trio. Gilad has been labeled as one of the most promising and energetic young guitarists in New York and played his own compositions that could only be called cosmic. When I spoke to him afterwards, he told me this was his first time at Samois and loved the “Woodstock” vibes. Next up was the Eli Degibri quartet. Eli was amazing as he sang to

Eli Degibri

Eli Degibri at Samois

us with his saxophone, but he also stood back and let the young pianist and drummer take lengthy solos. Both Gadi Lehavi on the piano and Ofri Nehemya on drums were excellent, although neither of them looked old enough to have received their first draft notice. Eli told me that he loved his first visit to the festival and performs in Israel as well.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

By the fourth day of the festival, it was raining steadily. When we arrived at the grounds, I was sure they would have cancelled the outdoor performance or it would be lightly attended, giving us a chance for front row seats, but that was not the case. Jazz enthusiasts cannot be deterred by a little rain. Some were sloshing through the mud while others gave up trying to release their sandals out of the goo and went barefoot. With a sea of umbrellas, the audience was packed.

At the airport on our way back to Israel we met the founder of Hot Club de Norvege, who has played not only on the main stage at the Samois festival, but toured Israel with his group five years ago.

All the Israelis enjoyed great respect from fellow musicians around the globe and connections were made that will result in more good music coming to Israel.