Django A Gogo 20th Anniversary

Cheryl Boga has been Conductor and Director of Performance Music at the University of Scranton for more than 40 years. Predictably, her son, Joe Boga (photo above), was exposed to music at an early age. “My mom started me on violin,” he recalled, “and I didn’t want to do it. I kept begging to quit, and eventually she let me do it but insisted I couldn’t quit music altogether.”

Boga decided to take up the trumpet. “When I got to the fifth grade,” he said, “my band director told me if I went to the band room and practiced, I didn’t have to go to class. So, I was practicing a lot, and my parents got me a compilation CD of Louis Armstrong. I had no interest in jazz, so I let it sit on my desk for months. Then, I started to feel guilty about it, so I opened it and put on the first track, which was ‘Potato Head Blues’. It changed my life. I would go to bed every night listening to ‘Potato Head Blues’, and I got so engulfed in jazz, listening to all these early Louis Armstrong tracks.”

Today, the 32-year-old Boga is the lead trumpeter for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, often plays with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band and James Langton’s New York All-Star Big Band, and leads his own sextet, the Scranton Ramblers. On Friday, May 5, Boga will be performing with guitarist Stephane Wrembel’s Django New Orleans band as part of the 20th anniversary of Wrembel’s Django A Gogo Music Festival and Guitar Camp in Maplewood, NJ. The May 5th concert will be at The Woodland in Maplewood, and the next night, a concert at New York’s Town Hall will feature the Django New Orleans band as the second half of a performance that will lead off with Wrembel’s international ensemble exploring and updating Django Reinhardt’s musical legacy. The Maplewood and New York concerts will also serve as release parties for Wrembel’s new Django New Orleans album on his Water Is Life Records label.

Boga has been playing with Wrembel’s band for about a year. “He had gotten my name from (multi-reedist) Nick Driscoll, who also plays in the band, and his old guitar player, Roy Williams, both of whom are from Scranton.” The album will be a mix of tunes, ranging from Reinhardt’s “Nypheas” to Wrembel’s “Bistro Fada” to Bogo’s favorite, the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Tiger Rag”.

“To me,” he said, “the most quintessential and most popular tune of the ‘20s and ‘30s and beyond is ‘Tiger Rag’. I really like that ‘20s, early ‘30s scrappy Americana music. ‘Tiger Rag’ gives you a lot of freedom to play on. The chord changes aren’t too hard; they’re simple enough that they leave you space, but they’re interesting enough that it’s fun.”

If you’re coming to one of the Django concerts, Boga said, “Be ready to expect anything. One of the things I really love about playing with Stephane (photo below) is he likes to throw caution to the wind and go all in. It’s always exciting for me. He gets me a little out of my comfort zone. It opens my mind a lot.”

The other members of the Django New Orleans band are rhythm guitarist Josh Kaye, violinist Adrien Chevalier, sousaphonist Joe Correia, percussionist David Langlois, Driscoll on clarinet and soprano saxophone, vocalist Sarah King, and drummer Scott Kettner.

When Boga was in the sixth grade, his mother took him to hear Wynton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center. “She got me backstage because he has gotten an honorary degree from the University of Scranton. I brought my trumpet and asked if I could play for him. He spent like two hours with me and said I could start studying with him whenever I was in New York. He gave me his number and gave me an assignment of all these tunes I had to check out. I think I was supposed to listen to them, but I misinterpreted and thought I had to transcribe them. Some of these things – like Louis Armstrong’s ‘West End Blues’ and Roy Eldridge’s ‘After You’ve Gone’ — were just so difficult. There was no way a sixth grade kid was going to be able to play those. The others were ‘Walkin’ by Miles Davis and ‘Ramblin’ by Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry’s solo on it. 

“The ones I could do were the Miles Davis solo and the Ornette Coleman one. I ended up falling in love with Ornette Coleman. I would listen to that album, Change of the Century (Atlantic Records: 1960) over and over again. And the next time I went up to New York, I played Don Cherry’s solo on ‘Ramblin’.

“I was all about early jazz,” he said, “and I listened to Ornette Coleman all the time. It made me realize there’s a lot in common between avant-garde and early traditional jazz. When you think about it, the stuff they were doing in the in ‘20s and ‘30s was all experimental at the time. Not everything was 32 bars. There was just so much going on and people trying new things out. The thing that connects Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman and ties it into Stephane’s thing is that experimental quality. Trying out new things. Keeping things interesting. It never gets formulaic or too predictable.”

Boga got the lead trumpet chair in the Nighthawks about two years ago. “I had been subbing for Jon-Erik Kellso (a member of the trumpet section) for about six years. I’ve learned so much from Vince Giordano. He’s the 1920s guy.”

During the pandemic, Boga played “almost every day with David Ostwald in the parks.” Over the years he’s done some gigs with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. From Gordon, “I learned a lot about how to play a gig and what not to do, when I first got to New York.”

Although he graduated from Juilliard in 2014, Boga acknowledges that he followed “a bit of an unconventional path” to get there. “Jazz for me was this special thing. I listened to it all the time, but there weren’t too many people my age in Pennsylvania who were interested in jazz. There were a lot of opportunities for playing in orchestras. So, I played in a community orchestra every Sunday. Before I got to Juilliard, I actually studied with one of the teachers at Juilliard, Mark Gould, who’s principal trumpet with the Metropolitan Opera. I took some lessons from him, leading up to my auditions. I loved playing in an orchestra, but my heart lied in jazz.” 

For Boga’s own group, the Scranton Ramblers, his concept is “to get young musicians who play the old style correctly, but also to write new music to feature the individual musicians in the band, in that style – that scrappy American energy. I want to encapsulate that energy of scrappy American guys making music and being creative.” The other band members are bass saxophonist Jay Rattman, pianist Dalton Ridenhour, drummer Paul Wells, trombonist Sam Chess, and c melody saxophonist Tommy Gardner. “We did a gig in Scranton, and the plan is to get some promotional material out this summer.”

In addition to Django New Orleans, two other Django A Gogo concerts will take place in Maplewood. On Wednesday, May 3, Wrembel will lead a band with Kaye on guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass, Nick Anderson on drums and some special guests from Wrembel’s international ensemble. On Thursday, May 4, The Django Experiment Band will feature Jason Anick on violin, Wrembel and Kaye on guitars, Anderson on drums, Folman-Cohen on bass, and Driscoll on tenor saxophone and clarinet. All four concerts begin at 8 p.m.-SANFORD JOSEPHSON

For information and tickets for the Maplewood concerts, log onto For the Town Hall concert, log onto or or call (212) 997-6661.



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