First Gypsy Jazz Festival kicks off next Friday in Billings

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Anna Paige/Pen and Paige.

The Rimrock Hot Club, a five-piece Gypsy jazz band in Billings, made its public debut in June 2016 in a performance at the Art House Cinema & Pub.

Who knew Gypsy jazz was so popular in Montana?

Even Alex Nauman, the lead guitarist for the Rimrock Hot Club in Billings, didn’t realize until about a year ago how many Gypsy jazz bands were active in the state.

He knows now, and he helped round them all up for what will the first Big Sky Gypsy Jazz Festival in Billings next weekend. The festival will feature five bands from Montana and one from Wyoming, performing next Friday and Saturday at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub and the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, then converging Saturday night at Walkers for an after-hours mass jam.

Nauman said Gypsy jazz is “definitely gaining in popularity in the past decade, all over the planet.” He said the music appeals to “a wide, wide range of people” because it’s fun, accessible and danceable, “kind of down to earth but virtuosic, too.”

Gypsy jazz is also known as jazz Manouche because it was more or less brought into being in Paris in the 1930s by guitarist Django Reinhardt, who belonged the Manouche clan of the Gypsies, or Romani, as they are also known.

Nauman organized the festival with his friend Greg Hayes, guitarist for the Cottonwood Club in Helena. When they started, they were thinking of getting their bands together for a one-day, one-venue show in Billings. Then Nauman found out there was a Gypsy jazz band in Bozeman, Montana Manouche, and those players told him about a similar band in the Flathead Valley, Big Sky Hot Club.

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He also found out that Geoffrey Taylor, who used to play fiddle in a bluegrass band in Billings, was living in Missoula and had formed a Gypsy jazz band, Night Blooming Jasmine. To round out the festival, Nauman invited Route 66, a Gypsy jazz duo out of Lovell, Wyo., that he knew from his own playing Wyoming.

Nauman said the festival received a “strategic investment grant” from the Montana Arts Council and is also sponsored by Hansen Music, Crowly Fleck, Bill Lamdin and Home2 Suites by Hilton. In the future, Nauman said, they hope the festival can grow enough to be able to bring national acts to Billings.

Here’s the full schedule for the festival:

Friday, Nov 3: Festival kick-off party at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., 2123 First Ave. N. — 6 p.m., Night Blooming Jasmine; 7, Montana Manouche.

Saturday, Nov 4NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, 2317 Montana Ave.
5 p.m., Route 66; 6, Cottonwood Club; 7 Rimrock Hot Club; 8, Big Sky Hot Club.

9 p.m to midnight: Walkers, 2700 First Ave. N., after-hours jam session.

Weekend passes are $30 and are available at Discontent (downtown location: 2123 First Ave. N.), or by emailing bigskygypsyjazzfestival@gmail.com.

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