What can you say when, due to another’s unfortunate circumstance, a gift comes your way? Sorry that you are feeling under the weather and thank you very much for thinking of me.
I received a text message from my editor and chief stating that I could attend the show tonight if I was not busy. Do you believe in karma or setting intentions? Perhaps coincidence is more likely; earlier in the day, I enjoyed the album Harp vs. Harp, Gregoire Maret, and Edmar Castañeda, a CD released in 2019. Edmar Castañeda is an outstanding Colombian harp player, and Gregoire Maret is an equally talented Swiss chromatic harmonica player. The harmonica has picked up the slang term, harp, thus the harp vs. harp reference. The message indicated the ticket for tonight, a performance of the Django Festival Allstars with Edmar Castañeda. Yes indeed! Count me in, I replied.
The concert starts with the band members taking to the stage. A violinist, Dorado Schmitt; an acoustic bassist, Gino Roman; a rhythm guitar player, Franko Mehrstein; and two lead guitarists: brothers Samson and Amati Schmitt. A similar configuration would have occurred with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, co-led by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli, in the 1930s in Paris.
It’s Friday evening on November 10, 2023. The music starts with a mid-tempo tune, Miro Django with full orchestral strings care of three guitarists strumming the rhythm. The guitars keep strumming, and the violin of Dorado Schmitt breaks out. He is followed by Samson and then Amati in a call and response. Both Samson and Amati play with blistering fast runs. Dorado Schmitt’s bow hand moves with speed, twists, and turns of the bow as if he is conducting the band.
All three soloists seem to be one-upping each other; Amati appears to bow out of this sibling competition with a cartoony quote, something like the Bugs Bunny theme. This gets a chuckle from the audience. The two brothers look at each other and smile.
With solid playing, stand-up bass player Gino Roman holds down the rhythm section and adds percussive slaps and a steady pulse to the music. Franko Mehrstein, the rhythm guitarist, and Amati Schmitt, the lead guitarist, play in tandem, keeping the rhythm for Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt to lay down exciting interplay.
The father and son duo, Dorado and Samson Schmitt, play together in a typical sounding Django and Stéphane tune with exciting stops and starts. A great interpretation of the masterful Stéphane Grappelli by Dorado on David’s Swing.
In the third song, the band plays El Dorado; Samson tells the audience this is not a tribute to the Cadillac. Some excellent guitar playing and violin by the brothers and Dorado Schmitt.
Samson Schmitt, addressing the audience in broken English laced with French, lets the audience know the names of the songs the band has played and announces the next guest, Edmar Castañeda, who animatedly comes on stage.
Samson Schmitt jokes about the number of strings on Castañeda’s instrument. Edmar starts counting the strings or perhaps checking the tuning. The musicians laugh along with Edmar. This promptly turns into a solo by Edmar Castañeda; as the solo begins, the house lights finally start to dim to your typical Koerner Hall theatre lighting; throughout the opening tunes, the house lights are left on.
Bossa Dorado, a song for my father Samson Schmitt, explains to the audience. Edmar Castañeda, starts this song. Hypnotic and meditative sounding, the harp strings ring out and fill the theatre with a luscious sound. Thirty-two bars or more in Edmar breaks into a jazzy Bossa Nova rhythm. The rest of the band, less the violin, joins in — about sixteen bars later, the violin joins in. Dorado Schmitt tears up the violin. He breaks out smooth and fast with up-and-down runs and scales. Upon completion of this song, Dorado Schmitt and Edmar Castañeda depart the stage.
Samson Schmitt introduces piano player Peter Beets. At some point, Samson mentions his new composition, Lovely Wife, a beautiful ballad. The band would utilize pianist Beets on a few songs, including an Oscar Peterson composition, You Look Good To Me.
Other songs performed during the two-hour straight concert: For Stéphane and For Magnio, a gypsy jazz version of the tango.
Dorado Schmitt picked up his guitar for only one song, this after his return to the stage. He plays a smooth jazz-sounding guitar, very mellow, in the style of the great Charlie Christian. A blues follows with Dorado Schmitt back on violin, excellent violin playing, and accompanied by Peter Beets playing piano and swinging wildly.
Minor Swing is a song made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Edmar Castañeda returns for the finale; his playing is exciting; he throws his body into his playing with complete abandon. Tilting the harp as if to bend some notes to play an even hotter blend of jazz fusion.
The complete band is now on stage for this rousing performance of Minor Swing. All of the lead instruments take a turn. On ending the tune, a final introduction of all the band members who have taken on the name Schmitt, as Samson announces, “And a very special thank you to the fantastic Edmar Schmitt”. A wave, a bow, and a thank you to the audience, and good night. My trip back to the bustling nightclubs of Paris in the 1930s is over, but the wonderful Hot Jazz of the Django Festival Allstars and the outstanding Edmar Castañeda will burn on brightly.
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