Trio times three: Trio of friends to honor jazz giant Django Reinhardt in Stanford Jazz Festival concert

(Originally published in Palo Alto Weekly)

You could say that it was Django Reinhardt, the master jazz guitarist whose 100th birthday would have been this year, who brought guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Jorge Roeder and violinist Victor Lin together.

Lage, Roeder and Lin first played as a trio at the Stanford Jazz Festival last year, in a concert that featured faculty and several musicians playing music from the year 1959. The three came out into the middle of the stage, gathered around one microphone, and played a Django-style medley of three John Coltrane tunes.

In a matter of minutes they had stolen the show, and the crowd went wild.

Now, the trio is set to put on a tribute concert entitled “100 Years of Django” at this year’s Stanford Jazz Festival, in a fitting tribute to their original performance and the master musician whose music continues to inspire jazz artists and aficionados today.

The annual Stanford Jazz Festival and Workshop, now in its 39th year, kicked off on June 25 and will continue with camps, a residency program, workshops and two dozen concerts through Aug. 7. “100 Years of Django” will be held on July 28 at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

Born in 1910, Django Reinhardt was raised among gypsy settlements and began playing the guitar, violin and banjo as a child, according to a Stanford Jazz press release. At 18, he was badly burned in a fire that left him unable to use two fingers on his left hand, though he developed his own technique that still allowed him to play with breakneck speed and agility. “The urbane, lilting tones of his guitar and his ornamented, melodic improvisations defined the genre known as ‘gypsy jazz,'” the release reads.

Though they are united by their love of jazz, Lage, Roeder, and Lin have each had vastly different careers.

Lage has been front and center in the jazz scene since he was 8 years old. Labeled a guitar prodigy, he played with Carlos Santana and other guitar masters and was the subject of the 1996 documentary “Jules at Eight.” Now 22, he recently released his first solo album, “Sounding Point,” and performs all over the world in addition to teaching each year at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

Lage said he is happy to shed his “child prodigy” image, though he never took the label too seriously.

“You can take it as pressure, or as you grow up you can kind of let go of that and realize that it doesn’t have as much to do with your self-image or self-worth as it might have as a younger person,” Lage said. “I think it’s a relief to be getting a little older and go, ‘Wow, that word doesn’t really apply to me as much.'”

Lage met violinist Victor Lin at the Stanford Jazz Workshop when he was 15 years old. Despite the nearly 15-year age difference between them, the two became good friends, though with Lin’s focus on jazz education in New York City and Lage’s Boston-based performance career the two don’t get to play together often.

“Over the years he’s become one of my best friends. He was actually one of the groomsmen in my wedding about a month ago,” Lin said of Lage. “But over the last couple of years, we’ve been playing a lot of violin and guitar stuff. Every time we get a chance to play together it’s a riot. It’s just so much fun. And then musically, it’s like, get out — it’s on such a high level. It’s fantastic.”

Lage also met bassist and Peru native Jorge Roeder at Stanford Jazz. Roeder is now a member of Lage’s band, the Julian Lage Group. He met Lin at Calhoun School, where Lin is a music teacher, in New York City. Roeder said he is looking forward to playing with Lage and Lin once again.

“To share the common rhythm with string instruments is something that I find very appealing. There’s a great sense of communication,” Roeder said. “Julian and Victor are incredibly proficient in their instruments and they also are very eager to communicate, to have fun and share the experience. For me it’s just a pleasure every time I play with them.”

All three agree that Django continues to be one of the most influential voices in the history of jazz music. Lin and Lage said that their concert will not attempt to replicate Django’s sound, but rather capture the spirit and recognizable style of his music.

“Django is inextricably linked to that guitar style that he played and the violin style of Stephane Grappelli (with whom he founded the Quintette of the Hot Club of France),” Lin said. “The way I see it, as long as the spirit of that is present, that hypnotic, addictive rhythmic quality and that romantic and dramatic aspect, you can go wherever.”

“I could never (try to) play the way he played; that’d be a lost cause!” Lage said. “I don’t see it as much as a tribute — it’s more of a celebration of that kind of exciting, innovative quality he had throughout his career.”

Roeder said that anyone will be able to appreciate the trio’s take on Django’s music.

“I am from Peru, where jazz is not something that you hear very often,” he said. “But the sense of communication that exists between (Julian, Victor and me) can eradiate to the audience the same way it captured me. I think it can be enjoyed on many different levels.”

For Lage, Roeder and Lin, the concert is simply another chance to play great music in great company. As Lin recounted, the three musicians have fun playing together no matter where they are — even on the streets of Palo Alto.

“Last year when we had some down time, just for fun, we would drive to the middle of Palo Alto. We’d just stand on the street corner and play as a trio,” Lin said. “If you can have fun playing on the corner of University Avenue, for two kids sitting on the sidewalk and a bunch of cars driving by, you’re definitely going to have a good time when you’re actually in a place designed for music.”

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