A musical prodigy takes the stage at the second annual Django By The Sea festival in Kittery and Portsmouth on Oct. 6-9.
Henry Acker, a 12-year-old guitarist from Massachusetts, will be strutting his stuff with Mes Amies at the Thursday night kick-off party in New Hampshire. Jason Anick, founder of the festival, discovered him at the jam sessions during the inaugural event and invited him to play along this time ‘round.
“I first met Henry last year,” Anick said. “He’s an incredible musician. His dad said he started tuning in when he was around 9 years old, when his father was listening to Django Reinhardt. He could hear it and play it back on guitar. Now he already has a lot of the basic elements of a great musician – technique, tone, repertoire, improvisation – things that people usually develop in their 20s. We’re excited to have him at the festival. A lot of people will be blown away.”
Although only playing guitar for three and a half years, Acker has achieved this early success by practicing every day with his father and inspiration, Victor Acker. His instructor is Frank Vignola, part of Les Paul’s later quartet. Father and son met the maestro at a concert at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge when Henry was just beginning to play. “Vignola announced that he was about to play “Nuages,” a Django song,” Victor recalled this week. “I gave Henry a high five, which Vignola saw and invited him to come up and join him. The audience went wild; they thought he was a plant.”
Henry Acker has since strummed with Bucky Pizzarelli and Julien Lage, and considers Stochelo Rosenberg, Bireli Lagrene, and Olli Soikkeli other major influences. Soikkeli is from Rhythm Future Quartet, Anick’s band that will feature at the festival along with John Jorgenson, a multiple Grammy-winner.
A seventh-grader at Duxbury Middle School, Henry plays in the jazz band. His classmates are yet to fully appreciate his guitar talents, Victor said. “It’s kind of an odd genre for seventh-graders.”
Henry first played live at an open mic at the Catbird Café in Weymouth, Mass. “He had been playing for a while, had learned some tunes, so we thought we’d see how he’d do live. The whole room erupted.” Since then, Henry has played at Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, and will be picking strings in Seattle and Colorado next year.
Music takes up much of his time, but Henry also loves to spend time at the beach, go fishing, and unwind with “a little bit of gaming,” his dad said. “He leads a pretty normal life.” Henry just learned “Ornithology,” a tune by Charlie Parker. He plans to videotape it and send it to Vignola, who is in Cuba right now.
Gypsy Jazz is a unique blend of Eastern European melodies, Parisian Musette, Spanish Flamenco and American Swing that was created and perfected by guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stephane Grappelli and their fellow Gypsy musicians in the cafés of Paris during the 1930s and 1940s. Today, Gypsy Jazz is one of the most distinctive and widely enjoyed jazz hybrids on the music scene, spawning popular Django Festivals around the globe, including Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and now Kittery.
Anick was pleased with last year’s two-day festival, and is expanding the lineup and locations this time, with a kick-off party Thursday night at the Book & bar in Portsmouth, where Acker will perform. Next come three days of concerts and workshops at the Kittery Dance Hall, as well as Djam sessions at the nearby Buoy Art Gallery (attached to Black Birch restaurant).
“We are hoping for nice weather,” Anick said. “We want people playing outside, and to have gypsy jazz surround the area.”
Django By The Sea | Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 6-9 | Kittery Foreside | Tickets for Friday’s and Saturday’s performances at The Dance Hall are $25 in advance/$30 at the door for a single night. Sunday’s Dance Party is $15 in advance/$20 at the door. You can also purchase a 2-night pass for $40 or a 3-night pass for $55. A limited number of $100 VIP passes are available, which include brunch with the artists on Sunday and a donation to The Dance Hall (a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization). For tickets, visit TheDanceHallKittery.org or DjangoByTheSea.com | Django By The Sea is sponsored in part by Bavarian Autosport, Kennebunk Savings Bank, York Hospital, Davis Family Foundation, People’s United Bank and White Heron Tea & Coffee Community.
- Published in Music