Django à Gogo at Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz:

Stephane Wrembel Honors Django Reinhardt


By Diane Sippl


Stephane Wrembel, Guitarist and Composer

For a whole weekend on January 27, 28, and 29 at the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz, the jazz manouche of Django Reinhardt bubbles over.  Fans can certainly drink their effervescence in the form of pre-show champagne with French baguettes in the TRK courtyard, or they can lap up the vivacious energy and lively good spirit directly from the stage at the Django à Gogo concerts—any one of them, on Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 8 pm, or Sunday at 5 pm.  Attendees are sure to be swept away by the warmly lyrical strumming of the Stephane Wrembel Band.  As lead guitar, Wrembel is joined by Josh Kaye on rhythm guitar, Nick Anderson on drums, and Ari Folman-Cohen on bass.  Featured guest artists throughout the festival include the young and rising guitarist Sam Farthing, the Trio Dinicu with Tommy Davy on guitar and Luanne Homzy on violin, featuring George Miu on cymbalum, and finally, guitar virtuoso Alfonso Ponticelli.

Jazz is certainly not new to the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz (TRK) where many a savvy music lover returns year after year (and even season after season) to enjoy the quasi-intimate setting for live performances of the music of jazz legends offered by the world’s best (generally French) performers.  But Stephane Wrembel is an exception this time on at least two counts.  First, having emigrated from France to the U.S., he lives in New Jersey; and second, while he is renowned as an expert for interpreting the music of the incomparable jazz musician and composer, Django Reinhardt, Wrembel is also admired and beloved for compositions of his own.

Born in Paris and raised in Fountainebleau (the home of Django Reinhardt), Wrembel spent ten years of his youth developing his guitar playing among the Roma at their campsites in the French countryside.  He then attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated summa cum laude, released his debut album, and moved to New York in 2003. It was the first year he produced the Django à Gogo Festival, recruiting some of the world’s most talented musicians of the Sinti guitar style to perform in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and The Town Hall in New York City as well as in Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Many will know his own compositions through popular films, especially those of Woody Allen.  Wrembel wrote “Big Brother” for Vicki Cristina Barcelona and “Bistro Fada,” the main theme for Midnight in Paris.  Since both of these films were Academy Award winners, he was a special guest and performed live for the 2012 Academy Awards to celebrate Midnight in Paris. That film also won a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack, of which Stephane was the largest contributor.  He then went on to create the score for Woody Allen's film, Rifkin’s Festival.  

Stephane Wrembel, Founder of the Django à Gogo Festival

In October, 2019 Wrembel released his album Django l'impressionniste (Django, the Impressionist) offering note-for-note versions of 17 of Reinhardt’s mostly unknown compositions, preludes for solo guitar.  Then, during the pandemic “confinement” (as he refers to it with his French vocabulary and accent) he released a book of these transcriptions in April of 2021. By fusing counterpoint, neoclassical harmonies, and the classical guitar, he found a new way of improvising.  Ironically, while jazz is implicitly defined by improvisation, these pieces are highly composed. In performance, Wrembel’s fingers flutter over the strings like the wings of angels, delivering poetic precision and accuracy, whether in lushly romantic solos of familiar Django songs or rapid-fire interpretations with his ensembles, often finales that end a concert with pure exclamatory joy.  

While Middle Eastern music, swing, and American blues also find their way into Wrembel’s compositions (he was a die-hard Pink Floyd fan as a teenager), Django Reinhardt has inspired and shaped Wrembel’s own virtuoso performance style, known for phenomenal finger work and beautiful tone.  From fast and furious solos that sound and look fluidly effortless, to dreamy ballads, to melodic, swinging waltzes, songs to be performed also include traditional jazz manouche “standards” such as “Swing Gitan” and “Dark Eyes,” music that Wremble says takes him back to his late teens when all day would be spent at Roma camps in the forest or on an island playing together endlessly. Wrembel is earthy and personable in presenting his music, offering nostalgic anecdotes of meeting his guest artists when they were teenagers and making music with them ever since. He also shares bits of philosophy and psychology in relation to his style and his sense of Django Reinhardt’s legacy.  Frequently dropping names such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Jung, all of whom have spoken about dreams, he segues to David Lynch. “The world is directed by David Lynch—did you know that?  Life is a dream.  Rationality is just a tool to get through it, but it’s not living.  Life is dreaming.”

How fun, then, to hear guest artist Alfonso Ponticelli play the Django song, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” The versatile Ponticelli, an old friend of Wrembel's, demonstrates his many talents in performing, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” first as a solo guitar, then playing with his doubler, and then singing along.  Fascinating is his striking version of “‘Round Midnight” as he imagines it would sound if Thelonious had visited Andalucía, maybe Cádiz, and composed it there.  To hear Ponticelli’s flamenco guitar is an unforgettable experience.

Tommy Davy

Luanne Homzy

Alfonso Ponticelli

But so is the performance of Trio Dinicu, with Los Angeles locals Tommy Davy on guitar and Luanne Homzy on violin, and featuring Romanian George Miu, considered the best living cymbalum player in the world. A rare treat, the singular music of his vibrations fills the theater. Even a duet by Davy and Homzy is a thrill as they play “The Lark,” a breathtaking virtuoso performance with plenty of pizzicato bringing Eastern European flair to the festival.

The youngest of the guest artists at Stephane Wrembel’s Django à Gogo Festival this year is rising star Sam Farthing, barely 20 years of age but a guitarist of rare dexterity and sophistication.  Wrembel brags about him, but the proof is in the playing—intricate, dynamic, and memorably beautiful.  The band as a whole, with Stephane Wrembel on guitar, Josh Kaye on guitar, Nick Anderson on drums, and Ari Folman-Cohen on bass, is solid, solos and all, and when joined by Trio Dinicu, Sam Farthing, and Alfonso Ponticelli, the fully pulsing TRK stage brings a night to remember.  “This is our 20th anniversary of the Django à Gogo Festival,” Wrembel tells the audience, “and it’s a joy.”  That joy is palpably contagious.

A full schedule of two evening concerts and a Sunday matinee—including guest artists, morning Master Classes, open-jam sessions, and even a guitar raffle—are all part of a full weekend of activities. The guest artists, both performing and teaching, add extra dimension to the already rich and varied repertoire this year.  It’s the first time this festival is being offered in Los Angeles, but according to TRK Director  Pierre Leloup, it won’t be the last.  “Mark your calendars,” he advises with warm enthusiasm, they’ll be back with us again next year, making the Django à Gogo Festival an annual tradition for the Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz!”

The Leader of the Band, Stephane Wrembel

CONCERTS (guest lineup)

Friday, January 27th, 8:00pm: Concert #1
The Stephane Wrembel Band 
Stephane Wrembel on guitar, Josh Kaye on guitar, Nick Anderson on drums, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass
Gates at 7pm for cash bar and baguette sandwiches, guitar booth, guitar raffle.

Saturday, January 28th, 8:00pm: Concert #2
Trio Dinicu with Tommy Davy and Luanne Homzy featuring George Miu on cymbalum.
The Stephane Wrembel Band with special guest virtuoso Sam Farthing.
Gates at 7pm for cash bar and baguette sandwiches, guitar booth, guitar raffle.

Sunday, January 29th, 5:00pm: Concert #3
The Stephane Wrembel Band 
Stephane Wrembel on guitar, Josh Kaye on guitar, Nick Anderson on drums, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass
Special guest: Alfonso Ponticelli 
Gates at 4pm for cash bar and baguette sandwiches, guitar booth, guitar raffle.

MASTER CLASSES (guest instructors)

Saturday, January 28th, 10:00am – 12:00pm: Master Class #1
Master Class: Stephane Wrembel invites Sam Farthing

Saturday, January 28th, 2:00pm – 4:00pm: Master Class #2
Master Class: Stephane Wrembel

Sunday, January 29th, 10:00am-12:00pm: Master Class #3
Master Class: Stephane Wrembel invites Alfonso Ponticelli


Saturday, January 28th, 5:00pm-7:00pm: Jam session (free)
Sunday, January 29th, 3:00pm-4:30pm: Jam session (free)

No registration required. Please bring your own instruments. Jam sessions take place in lounge or outside (weather dependent). 


Django à Gogo Festival  January 27-29, 2023, Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064, Box Office M-F 8 am - 5 pm, 7 pm - 9 pm on show days, Call      Tel. +1 (310) 286 0553, E-mail:

Make a free website with Yola