The Hot Club of San Francisco takes listeners back to jazz clubs in 1930s Paris, playing both the music of Django Reinhardt, as well as original compositions. Credit: HCSF

This January, Freight & Salvage is bringing back the popular Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration, a weekend of shows, workshops and film celebrating the musical legacy of the French Roma guitarist. While all the performers have a connection to Reinhardt’s music, the lineup highlights the variety of music within the style, as well as the breadth and history of the originating culture. 

“If you’re a jazz fan, a lover of Django Reinhardt, a lover of swing music, this is a must see event,” said Freight Artistic Director Peter Williams. “The music is full of life, joyous and it’s fun.”

“It’s also a performance with incredibly gifted musicians. Stephane Wrembel is a master of Django’s music. The Rhythm Future Quartet features two great guitarists, Jason Anick and Henry Acker. Mimi Fox is an incredible jazz guitarist, and she’ll be putting her own slant on Django’s music.”

Django Reinhardt. Credit: William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)

Reinhardt, born Jan. 23, 1910, was a Manouche (French Roma) child-prodigy who became a master musician at a very early age, possibly the first guitar virtuoso in jazz. Coming from an extremely musical family, he was surrounded, influenced and taught by gifted and highly respected musicians. 

Mostly known for his guitar virtuosity, Reinhardt is also regarded as the originator of the musical genre Jazz Manouche, where the guitar is front and center (in contrast to most other kinds of jazz of his time, where brass instruments usually played the melodies and solos). Reinhardt created the Hot Club de France Quintet, with a format still used in the genre with all acoustic stringed instruments. 

The Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration is a collaboration between Williams at the Freight, and local bandleader/guitarist Paul Mehling. The three-day event highlights the dynamic culture and community that thrives around Django’s music. 

The Freight is committed to working with local community leaders within the music cultures presented on stage, and for Williams, working with Mehling was an obvious choice. 

“I’ve been a fan of Paul for many years,” William said. “The Hot Club of San Francisco is a great group dedicated to keeping the Django flame burning brightly in the Bay Area!” 

Paul Mehling, who is also serving as the festival’s artistic director, has been leading the Hot Club of San Francisco for decades and has seen the genre evolve and new audiences arise. 

“I have seen audiences change from not knowing who Django was,” Mehling said, “to seeing 80 to 90% of average audiences now knowing who and what it’s all about.”

He called Django’s music, “hugely melodic, uncompromising, and extremely personal,” and said the genre has grown into so much more. For this birthday celebration Williams has coordinated offerings representing the range of the genre today, saying  “It’s jazz, but it’s more. It’s swing. It’s traditional. I’ve tried to put a few curveballs into the lineup over the years, but sticking to the tried and true format of Django’s music fits the best. Something for everyone!”

Stephane Wrembel, at front, plays Saturday night and offers a workshop at the Freight’s Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration. Playing with Wrembel are Josh Kaye on guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and Nick Anderson on drums. Credit: Stephane Wrembel

Since part of the Freight’s mission is to pair performances with educational opportunities, the celebration also offers two days of workshops with festival performers. These include “The Art of Django Reinhardt’s Guitar Style” with guitar virtuoso and Saturday headliner Stephane Wrembel and a band workshop, “Creating a Great Ensemble Sound and More” with Sunday headliners the Hot Club of Cowtown.

Saturday, Jan. 21, features a screening of Les fils du vent, a documentary about artists carrying on the legacy of Django Reinhardt. Director Bruno Le Jean spent eight years filming guitarists Angelo Debarre, Moreno, Ninine Garcia and Tchavolo Schmitt. Portraying this musical legacy handed down orally from one generation to the next, the film highlights the immeasurable Romani contribution to western culture, especially to jazz.

Since last year’s Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration was canceled due to COVID, there’s even more buzz surrounding the 2023 event. Paul Mehling raved, “The lineup, as usual, is fantastic. I’m especially looking forward to Sunday, Jan. 22 which will be extremely fun for listeners — we have two different bands with the same instrumentation that could not be more different from one another even though they’re both peripherally related to Django’s music. One is sort of ‘pre’ jazz manouche, and one is clearly cashing in on the Hot Club cache without relying on anything related to Roma culture, since they’re more Americana than not. Something for both extremes of taste and style!”

The Hot Club of Cowtown brings some Americana to the Freight’s Django Reinhardt Birthday Celebration. Credit: Hot Club of Cowtown.

For tickets, video clips of each performing group,  and more information, visit