Stephane Wrembel

Stephane Wrembel released "The Django Experiment IV" in January. Fans at the Southern Cafe and Music Hall can expect to hear music from that collection and others. Photo by Irene Ypenburg. #nosale

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel’s neighbor put off hearing him play for a long time because, well, she was put off. The impression she got from the name commonly assigned to his musical genre left her cold.

When Wrembel performs Sunday evening at the Southern Cafe and Music Hall, fans will hear music that pays tribute to versatile guitar legend Django Reinhardt. They’ll also hear stylistic elements that will remind them of classical influencers like Claude Debussy and Eric Satie and beloved folk music traditions from France, Turkey and other places.

What listeners hear may be labeled “gypsy jazz” on music store bins, but there’s so much more in the mix than gypsy or jazz.

‘I used to use the term ‘gypsy jazz,’ and my neighbor said, ‘I don’t like jazz,’” Wrembel said. “It took her a year to come to a show.”

His neighbor finally settled into a seat — and loved what she heard.

“She’s like, ‘I hate jazz. Don’t use that word,’” he said with a chuckle.

He gets it.

“For some reason, when I think of jazz, I think of sax and bass and drums,” he said. “Django is something different.”

Wrembel will make plenty of room for his own original works — “we’re not a Django cover band,” he said cheerfully — but listeners will hear selections from “The Django Experiment IV,” which he released in January. It’s the latest in a series of warmly received albums paying tribute to Reinhardt’s style, which draws listeners eagerly into the expanding universe of the guitar as solidly as it defies precise description.

If all you’ve heard the Paris native play is his Grammy Award-winning “Bistro Fada” from Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris,” get ready to follow him down the rabbit hole into a genre-bending adventure.

“Django is something different,” Wrembel said. “He’s not jazz. He’s like Debussy on the guitar.”

Wrembel is working on a new album, “Django the Impressionist,” which explores the classical-chops roots of French composers who influenced Reinhardt. Wrembel plans to release the new collection with a world-premiere event Oct. 19 at Lyon Opera.

Were you thinking “classical” as in classical guitar? Not quite. The technique is different, for starters.

“Django is not classical guitar,” Wrembel said. “It’s Debussy. It’s Satie. It’s [Maurice] Ravel. It’s Impressionist.” And with the colors and shadings of musette, the Parisian street music he grew up with, and the flair of flamenco and complementary Spanish and North African rhythms, “it’s a genre unto itself,” he said.

OK, so it’s not classical guitar in the Joaquin Rodrigo vein — and it’s not technically classical music, either. There’s more of a sentiment that listeners who are willing to step aside from labels and categories and keep an open mind will know good stuff when they hear it.

The classical sense comes in part from discipline, technique and structure — meat on strong musical bones.

“Django is to the guitar as [J.S.] Bach is to the piano,” Wrembel said. “That’s why it’s so fundamental for pianists to study Bach. If you study harmony, you need to study Bach. It’s the pure architecture of music.

“When you study Django, you study pure harmony on the guitar. There is something about the way he plays that makes the guitar better. It’s a great mystery. It’s like Debussy; we haven’t figured him out yet, either.”

Wrembel’s list of influences include all of the above. He also admires rock guitarists who’ve amplified the genre, including Frank Zappa, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and Andy Summers. Turkish and Indian music also delight him.

Along the way, Wrembel has figured something out that listeners from every background can learn from and savor. Setting labels aside and following the pure voice of the guitar can be a transporting and enriching experience.

“I know that when we are done, I am in a different place,” Wrembel said. “The rest is just talk. The music is the music.”

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Jane Dunlap Sathe is the features editor for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7249 or

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