Matthew Whitaker at Monterey Jazz Festival | Credit: Josef Woodard

While Santa Barbara’s Autumn concert calendar has been unusually and thankfully dense in the classical and pop realms, jazz has been late to the party. Next week, however, jazz fans finally have reason to get out of the house – two reasons, in fact, with the arrival of the ever-popular Django Festival Allstars at the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday, November 15,  and crowd-pleasing young keyboardist Matthew Whitaker, playing Campbell Hall on Thursday, November 17.

Both shows, though radically different in focus, fall under the category of populist jazz, appreciable by diehard fans and occasional jazz dabblers alike. Local jazz fans can also take heart in the fact that these shows are tantamount to a kinder, gentler onramp to fuller jazz concert seasons coming next year to both the Lobero and, via UCSB Arts & Lectures, Campbell Hall.

Django Reinhardt, the wild and sweet-spirited virtuoso who lorded over the so-called (and now politically incorrect) label of “gypsy jazz,” lived from 1910 to 1953 and recorded a treasure trove of sides with the Hot Club of France and beyond. After his death, Reinhardt’s mystique and mythology seeded a virtual and cult-like subculture of guitarists playing in his style and aspiring to his elevated musicality on his instrument.

Credit: Josef Woodard

That subculture has carried on and thrived on its own self-generating fuel of inspiration, mostly beneath the surface of the mainstream jazz scene. Occasionally, a guitarist such as BiréliLagrene has risen into a more general view. 

To savor the cream of the crop in that world, one can’t go wrong with the Django Festival Allstars, which has wowed and filled the Lobero a few times in the past. The current line-up features Samson Schmitt — son of acclaimed Django-phile guitarist Dorado Schmitt — along with violinist Pierre Blanchard, accordionist Ludovic Beier, rhythm guitarist Doudou Cuillerier, and bassist Antonio Licusati.

At the Monterey Jazz Festival in late September, I happily caught the young, gifted and charismatic dynamo Matthew Whitaker (who happens to be blind but doesn’t let that condition hinder his high-stepping energy resources). Moving easily from piano to B3 Organ and other keyboards in between, Whitaker deftly led his band through infectiously soulful material and some tricky arrangements, swaying all the way.

Jazz is the umbrella term suitable for the world of Whitaker, who specializes, among other areas, in the sprightly angularity of Thelonious Monk music (check out his duet with Jon Batiste on “Bye-Ya,” from his 2021 album Connections). But R&B, soul, and gospel are never far behind. His set in Monterey included originals, and original takes on such old favorites as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and a climactic blast of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” No doubt, he’ll have a gripping, party-timing effect on the  Campbell Hall crowd.

Jazz to come in 2023: at the Lobero, Arturo Sandoval (February 10), Preservation Hall Jazz Band (March 3), Charles Lloyd’s 85th Birthday (March 10), The Derek Douget Band (April 8), Tierney Sutton Band (May 12); at Campbell Hall, Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour (January 29), and ARTEMIS (April 23); and at the Granada, Wynton Marsalis Quintet (April 4). 

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