By Michel Mercier
Good ol’ Samois… my 15th year as far as I’m concerned and still as excited as ever before taking the road to this magnificent, out of time place along the river Seine. Once you see it, you immediately understand why Django, though a long time gypsy wanderer, decided to settle here.
So here it is, the first gypsy jazz festival ever, created in 1968 and still going on. Firstly taking place every 5 years, it became yearly in 1984. It surely has changed quite a lot since the beginning and especially since the early 2000’s, but Samois remains the world’s most important Django and gypsy jazz event.
Now what is it really like and what could we experience in this year’s edition? Let’s have a look at this from the most common Samois species’ point of view: the camper whose trip could start like on this video by Aki Hauru, from Helsinki’s Django Collective, showing you the way from Avon’s train station to le Petit Barbeau campsite…
Checklist’s ready and you start to pack your things: wet weather gear, mild weather gear, hot weather gear, tent, sleeping bag, food, drinks, picks, strings, cameras, memory cards, food reserve if you travel from France or close Europeans countries… your car is then so packed that there’s not even one available seat in it. Along comes your schedule and wish list: look for your favorite musicians, meet with your foreign friends, taste some great French food.
Here we are: l’île du berceau.
1st DAY A lot of Beer… Big Band, Stochelo, James Carter. Fries and burger. Excitement at its peak: mind’s a blowing, eyes a poppin’, hands a shakin’… just like the first video of this article… doctors call this the “argentinus plectrum orgasmus” syndrome. Guitars everywhere. Fapy at Samoreau. What a day… Sneaking into your tent at night, you realize that despite all the stuff you packed you forgot your pillow which is the only thing really needed right now. Finally you just lay your head on a good’ole folded hoodie.
Anyway… the festival opened with a concert of Romane and his two sons: the groovy Richard and the be-bop oriented Pierre. Pierre Manetti is a really impressive player, especially when playing with Levis Adel, but seeing a musician family like this play together is always such a pleasure… here they are performing “Someday My Prince Will Come“:
Sylvain Luc and Stefano Di Battista Quartet proposed a set based on famous movie soundtracks with a sophisticated but never showing-off approach. That was some high-level musicianship for shure.
Then it was up to the “Amazing Keystone Big band” to close the evening with prestigious guests: Stochelo Rosenberg, James Carter and Mariano Badoï. Though Stochelo’s acoustic sound was a bit far in the mix and the arrangements could have been more daring, the show made a sensation especially with covers of songs such as “Djangology“, “Viper’s Dream“, “Swing 48” or this breath-taking version of “Manoir de mes rêves”. Here is “Rythme Futur“…
The friendly and talented James Carter in one of his countless jam-sessions.
Beer again. James Carter jamming with everybody. Fries and “américain” sandwich. 2 AM in Samoreau: someone tells you that your favorite player is jamming 20 meters away… Passed out drunk, you barely manage to raise your head and let a “I don’t give a s**t” slip out of your mouth. Don’t ever tell your wife about that because this very jam was meant to be the main reason of your trip and your excuse for missing of the kids’ show at the annual school fair or repainting the bathroom…
Anyway… Shortly after the opening of the Island, James Carter starts his never-ending jam-session tour at Antoine Prabel’s tent along with Sara Longo. He made some flattering comments about her on his facebook page, now that’s some good advertisement! Sarah is leading the Sara French quintet, a tasteful and swingin’ band. Meanwhile, concerts began with what many people in the audience, especially musicians, considered to be the most mind-blowing show of this year’s Samois edition. The Marian Badoï Trio (actually a reduced version of “Les Doigts de l’Homme”) displayed an incredible sum of virtuosity and feeling. Wow! Marian Badoï (Accordion), Olivier Kikteff (Acoustic and electric guitar) and Tangy Blum (Bass) were totally on fire. Here they are playing “Les gosses de la rue“:
The evening ended with Bratsch. The band is doing its’ last tour for some of its’ members suffer serious health problems. Sad news for this gathering of passionate and charismatic musicians that brought eastern music to French audience in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. I personally discovered the existence of gypsy jazz with their 1998 “Rien dans les poches” album that featured the incredible Angelo Debarre so that show had a particular meaning for me…
3rd DAYCoffee. Water. More coffee. More water. Too much beer. Way too much beer. Strange vegan food and then a burger. Let’s call it the Hangover day A.K.A. the wasted day. You suddenly remember Adrien Moignard’s masterclass starts at 10 but it’s already 12.30 pm… You won’t recover before 5 PM anyway so just be patient. Please note that this “wasted day” can happen anytime during the festival.
Anyway… the Friday shows didn’t feature genuine Gypsy jazz on the main stage even if Richard Manetti open the evening with his “Groove Story”
Quintet and Jazz Bandit (featuring Knut Brendik Manger Breistein and Stian Vågen Nilsen, two excellent guitarists familiar with the style) closed it as poll-winners of the Luthier Village tremplin 2014. Both bands explored different sides of modern music. Please note than Jazz Bandits are releasing a new album and that Stian Vågen Nilsen is releasing another one on Hot Club Records with Gildas Lepape: a most dynamic duo!
Let’s not forget to mention the Marcus Miller concert: with its friendly atmosphere and the participation of the world-class percussionist Mino Cinelu, this nasty afro-groove show delighted the audience and packed the island. Miller really knows how to communicate with his audience and speaks very good french on top that!
A nice innovation in the last couple of years is the small stage at the end of the island. Organised by Matthieu Chatelain, it features some genuine Gypsy Jazz and can therefore content everyone. You could listen to artists such as Yorgui Loeffler, Steven Reinhardt, Benji Winterstein and so many more, just sitting and having something to eat or drink. Much less crowded than the main stage where the only people enjoying a chair in the front rows always seem to have white hair and tend to stick to it for hours!
Time traveling in front of Django’s house.
4th DAYBeeeeer. More James Carter jamming with Levis Adel. After days of constantly hearing 3 tunes played at the same time in a 30 meters range, and in the impossibility of listening to your favorite soothing Chopin’ Nocturne, you suddenly think about writing a new composition that would be called: “The sound of silence”. Too bad, it already exists. Also for your meal: right now, you just want a salad!!!
Anyway… on the weekend, the students from Didier Lockwood’s C.M.D.L. music school traditionally open the concert session. That’s what they did on Saturday, followed later by Indra Rios-Moore, J.J. Milteau; David Krakauer and the Monophonics but the most interesting show for gypsy jazz lovers was doubtlessly happening just before 5 PM with the amazing Mathias Levy (violin), Rocky Gresset (guitar), Sébastien Giniaux (guitar, cello) and William Brunard (double bass). The show was a tribute to Stéphane Grappelli and of course featured compositions of the French violin genius but also some classical music as you can hear in those two videos:
We all know the incredible talent and craft of Gresset, Giniaux and Brunard (now Bireli Lagrène’s backup bass player) but for those of you who still don’t know Mathias Levy should definitelty go and check him out: Technique, lyricism, energy, feeling… he’s really a sensation and a player of the highest level.
Unlike the first days where the island opens only around 6PM, the week-end allows you to hang around longer on this beautiful place. Why not try all the beautiful handcrafted guitars for sale?
The luthier village on the island featured a lot of makers this year, including Baptiste Boissart, ALD, Philippe Cattiaux, Florian Jégu, Jordan Wencek, Jérôme Marchand, Antoine Prabel, AJL Guitars, Maurice Dupont, Geronimo Mateos, Eimers Guitars, Morgan Briant, Yohann Cholet, Mauro Freschi, Mathias Caron, Vladimir Muzik… Some more luthiers like Vit Cach or ERG Guitars were also displaying their work at Petit Barbeau or Samoreau. I couldn’t try them all but if you did, please share your experience on the Djangobooks forum!
At Samoreau we could also meet Yves Guen promoting his new pick-up line along with a few vintage pieces and new patented magnet pick-up attachment system. Remember: he’s the son and nephew of Stimer Pick-up creators and worked with them for years. The dear Mano Drey was hosting Mr. Guen under the shade of his trailer’s awning. He had a couple of vintage guitars that he was eager to show to visitors: Favino, Selmer and Di Mauro. I learned with those two gentlemen that all those Stimer pick-ups, old or new were made of brass then covered with chrome. There are already a lot of requests regarding brass Yves Guen Pick-ups, and Christian didn’t seem to be against that idea so… we’ll see!
Strangely (though I may missed something), it seems we didn’t had that great Samois tradition of “the brand new revolutionary almighty wonder pick” this year. Times are changing my friends…
Samois 2015 was so hot!
5th DAY More Beer. More James Carteeeer! Meal, what meal?.. You’ve been the meal for mosquitoes and midges the whole week long. You discovered last night that the Samoreau camping snack-bar is almost open 24/24.
Anyway… Sunday is traditionally closing the festival with star artists. Sunday is also the day you’re sure to see some famous artists on the island and many other well-known talents that have been on the festival as well as journalists and gypsy jazz lovers, being musicians or not. That may not be the most crowded day, but the day you’re the most eager to meet people from the Gypsy jazz scene though this situation tends to change through the years. Still, artists like Boulou and Elios Ferré or the Demeter family hardly missed a Samois festival sunday for years. In the afternoon all the barges and boats moored along the island slowly leave the shore and sail away, with a gentle concert of horns. It’s nearly the end.
But before that, here comes the main course… That last day usually ends with a major show: The Rosenberg Trio, Fapy Lafertin, Les Doigts de l’Homme to name a few. The band that actually closed the festival was Electro Deluxe this year but just before them, the semi-god Bireli Lagrène obviously drew all the attention. The Gypsy project offered a generous and friendly show displaying great artistry even if the repertoire was already familiar to many of us: “Place du Tertre“, “Hungaria“, , “Sunny“… Listen to this sublime version of “Just the Way you are”
Seeing Bireli live is always some kind of event and almost all the guitar players on the festival were here to listen to him. Switching between a classic archtop and overdrive sound, Bireli showed he’s still the boss and his quotes of Django over “Minor Swing” were just the right thing to do to end his concert. Here it is, just like if you were sitting in the audience:
AT THE END…You’ve been finally wearing the same pair of pants during the whole festival. You only go out in t-shirts and flip-flaps. Once you realized you just survived hypothermic shock while walking back to your campsite in the cold. Overconfidence has its limits, for nights along the river can be damned cold!You ended missing the only show you wanted to see because of lethal beer, friend meeting and luthiers try outs overdose.You couldn’t avoid falling into a warlike jam-session at least once during the festival: the kind of jam where people are not playing with, but against each other. Then you realize what acoustic playing means…You’ve been dreaming of French food but finally just ate dust and sandwiches…Physiologic needs resulting of beer diet and burning sun turning your tent into an oven combined wonderful forces to have you waking up so early every day. Unless it’s a rainy year but I don’t even want to talk about that!
Anyway… only the true passion of gypsy jazz can make you stand. Samois can really be intense and everyone is exhausted but so satisfied at the same time when leaving the festival. It’s both too long and too short. Where in the world could you come back for a refreshing swim in the majestuous part of the river seine and fall across Fapy Lafertin or Adrien Moignard, Sébastien Giniaux, James Carter, Kussi Weiss, Paulus Schaeffer and many other talented ones? You could hear, in the various location of the official and “off” festival musicians such as singers Cyrille Aimée, Eva Scholten, Sarah French, Kelsey James, guitarists Frangy Delporte, Steven Reinhardt, Jon Delaney, Simba Baumgartner, Boba Demeter, Knut Brendik Manger Breistein, Stian Vågen Nilsen, Adrien Marco, Kourosh Kanani, Romain Vuillemin, Bar Zalel, the Baggerman Bros, the band Tcha Badjo, violinists Mathias Levy, Eva Slongo, Bastien Ribot, Julien Brunard, Guillaume Singer, Coline Rigot, Daniel Weltlinger… among others of course. These are just the people I saw, but there were many more. It’s neither a poll nor an exhaustive list so please take no offense if you’re not quoted.
Now, just to say a few words about it, many people noticed that the amount of manouche people among visitors has dramatically decreased for several years. Years ago at least 20 % of visitors were manouche, now I doubt they reach 5%. The field (on the way between the island and Petit Barbeau) that was usually welcoming dozens, if not hundreds, of trailers is now closed and transformed into some kind of tree farm. That’s not really helping… and maybe there is a political will somewhere as the city council team, including mayor, changed recently. There are always pros and cons in the Samois population regarding the festival.
This year only a few families (mostly famous musicians and their relatives) could park along the petit Barbeau campsite. Sad to say, but with them, it is surely a part of the festival’s soul that goes away.
What we all dream about after Samois is over…
You want to play so much, even more than when you were actually there.
If you’ve been to Samoreau, once back home you will hear some crazy James Carter stuff in your head or at least the hypnotizing rhythm of la pompe… poum tchick poum thick!
Back to reality after all these heavy doses of guitar, music, baguette, wine, cheese…
The following week, since social networks appeared, everyone shares his/her great moments of the festival, especially with photos and videos. I like to collect Samois photos and now have a collection going back to 2002. It’s always a good memory to browse through them. Sometimes it takes you a decade to learn the name of someone you see each year on the Ile du Berceau. Sometimes you’re so annoyed to learn about that great Fapy Lafertin/Paulus Schäffer jam that took place right at the moment you were taking your shower or driving to get some… more beer. Sometimes you’re desperately roaming the web to see if some providential stranger took a shot of you while jamming with star players… “I’m telling you! I jammed with Kussi Weiss and Adrien Moignard!”… “huh, huh“…
Nevermind… the best memories will be kept in your heart. How could anybody capture that magic blend of majestuous scenery, high musicianship, easy living and sleepless nights anyway…
And nevermind the regular rumors about the festival closure… Rendez-vous next year from june 22nd to 26th for the 37th edition.
Please be reminded that, at anytime and in any place, alcohol should be drunk responsively.
Don’t hesitate to roam youtube for there are dozens of videos from Samois 2015