Django Lives! At Sarah’s Wine Bar in Connecticut

The initial impression was modest: three tiny amps sitting on a bare stage at Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut. But the trio that eventually arrived with their instruments—Frank Vignola and Olli Soikkeli on hollow-body jazz guitars, and Jason Anick on violin—didn’t need big Marshall stacks—theirs is a subtle craft.

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From left, Vignola, Soikkeli, Anick, Pete Anderson. And that’s the bell of Will Anderson’s saxophone. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I have to say that the food and wine served upstairs at Sarah’s combined with the artistry of those three to create one of the nicest evenings of music my wife and I have ever had. This was gypsy jazz, featuring tunes by and the influence of the great Django Reinhardt. It’s a robust genre that has never gone out of fashion, and it’s enjoying an especial renaissance now—with Hot Clubs sprouting up even in unlikely places. Does Detroit have one? You bet.

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Will Anderson solos–to everyone’s great pleasure. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’m a huge fan of both Vignola (whose two Frank and Joe Show records I particularly treasure) and Berklee professor Anick (certainly one of the best jazz violinists today), but the Finland-born Soikkeli I knew only from the Rhythm Future Quartet. He looks no more than 20, but he’s been playing for a decade and is a monster on his instrument, offering blistering solos (and duets with Vignola), and lovely ballad playing. The two guitarists have done some work as a duo and their interplay was exciting, and virtually telepathic.

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Jason Anick blurs the camera, while Vignola and Soikkeli try to keep up. (Jim Motavalli photo)

This group hasn’t worked together all that much, but because they share a common language—chasing Django—they communicated beautifully. Vignola made a joke that Soikkeli “doesn’t speak a word of English” (he’s actually fluent and lives in New York), but it wouldn’t really matter if he couldn’t talk to his bandmates—they speak through their instruments. Here they are on a popular Django tune, “Swing 42.”

I asked Anick about his influences, and he led off with Stephane Grappelli (of course), but then he cited saxophone players. That makes sense, because he’s got a sound that’s at once delicate and—when needed—as muscular as a Blue Note blowing session.

As Django did, the repertoire mixed standards—“Sunny Side of the Street,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” Moonglow,” “It Had to be You,” “Sweet Georgia Brown”—with the gypsy’s originals, including his classics “Nuages” (with a young guest from the audience) and “Swing 42.”

Special mention should be made of the Anderson twins, Pete and Will, who came out of the audience to deeply impress on clarinet and tenor saxophone. Playing in pre-bop fashion that was old before they were born, these two are going places. If you don’t here Benny Goodman and Ken Peplowski when Pete plays, you’re not listening, and Will brings Coleman Hawkins to mind. Here they are with the group essaying a swinging version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

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