In late-August, 2005, powerful Hurricane Katrina compromised an inadequate U.S. Federal levy system leaving 80% of the city of New Orleans under water. Among the over four-thousand displaced musicians was clarinetist Evan Christopher, a California native who first moved to the Crescent City in 1994. With little more than his clarinet and a suitcase full of clothes, Christopher chose Paris, France for his exile at the invitation of the City of Paris. During this artist residency, funded by an American program called French-American Cultural Exchange, he worked diligently to raise awareness about the musical culture of New Orleans through concerts and masterclasses. He also formed his own groups, the JazzTraditions PROJECT and Django à la Créole.
For Django à la Créole, the idea was simple enough: Spice up the Hot Club texture pioneered by Django Reinhardt by emphasizing hallmarks of New Orleans Jazz including blues, rhythms of the monde Créole, and collective improvisation. The project debuted in August 2007 with performances in Great Britain and a small international jazz festival in Haugesund, Norway. As early as February 2007, Christopher began commuting back to the United States to work with touring New Orleans groups but in December, just prior to his move back to New Orleans, he made this recording. The quartet released the CD in New Orleans during the 25th anniversary of the famous French Quarter Festival.
Christopher and his colleagues took their primary inspiration for Django à la Créole in the legendary guitarist’s collaborations with American musicians, which included New Orleans clarinetists on several occasions. In 1934, Django performed and recorded with the New Orleans Créole clarinetist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie who had moved to Paris in the mid-20′s. However, the most significant precedent for the fusion of New Orleans clarinet with the Gypsy Swing style was a loosely organized recording session in 1939 with Duke Ellington sidemen Rex Stewart and clarinetist Barney Bigard. When one hears Bigard’s fluid lines and distinctly New Orleans sound artfully juxtaposed with Django’s angular, virtuosic flights, it hardly seems coincidental that just a few months later, Django used violinist Stéphane Grapelli’s departure as the perfect opportunity to use clarinetist Hubert Rostaing in the role of the Hot Club’s lead instrument. Rostaing’s style was, of course, heavily influenced by Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but on several recordings his warm, woody tone in the low register, rhythmic flexibility, and contrapuntal interaction with Django is more evocative of players such as Bigard or Omer Simeon.