If Gypsy jazz as a whole is what those in the biz would call a “niche market,” then Django in June’s target market is a niche of a niche. A micro niche. A nichette. What we try to do here is offer North Americans relatively easy access to expert instruction in what I lamely call “the European approach” to playing Gypsy jazz.
Strictly speaking that means very little because there are so many different European approaches to playing Gypsy jazz. Mini micro niches. Still, any American jazz guitarist who goes to Europe and tries jamming on jazz manouche with people whose musical roots run deep in the genre is going to quickly notice many differences. Those difference are what I’m referencing when I use the terms “Gypsy jazz” or “jazz manouche.” It’s an inevitably inexact way of summing up the unique contributions that Django Reinhardt and his musical heirs brought to what had previously been a purely American musical tradition. Those elements are sometimes frustratingly foreign to us Americans.
Not so, though, for Debi Botos, whose Romungro Gypsy heritage (a variety of Hungarian Roma) may help explain why she is developing so quickly into an excellent Gypsy jazz guitarist. She lives in Toronto now, and has most of her life. But her family’s roots are in Rakamaz, Hungary, a village located where the rivers Tisza and Bodrog converge. Her mother would sing nóta and csardas around the house and Debi soaked it up. Here she is, casually playing one such nóta:
Her father and one brother are jazz drummers, another plays guitar. It would be hard to imagine better preparation than that for your first encounter with Django’s music. Or your first trip to Django in June…which for Debi was only in 2018! With a little help from Denis Chang she found herself jamming in Angelo Debarre’s suite, with the grand master looking on. How would your nerves hold up for such a command performance? She did great.
Debi is gigging regularly in Toronto these days in a variety of ensemble settings, honing her chops and compositional skills and taking every opportunity to meet and jam with the heavy hitters of this tradition when they come to town. One such occasion arose not long ago when Dorado and Samson Schmitt came to Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Watching this video I share in the obvious delight of everyone present when Debi starts jamming with Samson on “Dark Eyes.” This will be her first time teaching at Django in June. Here’s betting she’s going to delight you, too.