Note-Worthy Applause: Pearl Django

Since their inception as a musical trio in the early 1990s, Pearl Django’s name started as a spoof (coined by a member’s wife) on the band, Pearl Jam. But the group thought it was clever so the name stuck. With all joking aside, Pearl Django means business when it comes to playing Gypsy Jazz.

According to band member Michael Gray, the original Pearl Django members, Neil Andersson, Dudley Hill, and David ‘Pope’ Firman, are “all Tacoma guys.” Bonded by their love for swing jazz and French Gypsy Jazz guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt, Pearl Django formed and began playing in Reinhardt’s acclaimed tradition. But the band is quick to note that they bring their own unique style to his songs and have built their own original repertoire of music as well.

Over the years, staying true to their gypsy spirit in Washington State, the trio has grown to be a quartet, then a quintet— featuring talented swing jazz musicians and playing stages up and down the West coast. Original members have since been joined by Michael Gray on violin (and percussion on Pao Verde), Rick Leppanen on double bass, and Greg Ruby on guitar. Pearl Django also maintains an ever-evolving guest appearance list for musicians that includes: David Lange on accordian, Ryan Hoffman on guitar, and emeritus members: Ron Peters, Pete Krebs, and Shelley D. Park, to name a few.

Recently, founding member, Neil Andersson, announced his retirement from the band this year. “Neil has done an amazing job with the band, but now, he really wants to pursue his painting. Many people don’t know he is a master painter,” said Michael.

Andersson received his MFA in painting and drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also holds degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Puget Sound. Andersson’s art work has been exhibited in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Indiana, and Illinois. To view Neil’s work, visit:

“We are very excited to introduce new guitarist: Troy Chapman. Troy is going to be taking over for Neil—we are very lucky to have him. But of course we are sad to see Neil go. He will still be a part of Pearl Django. We will miss him personally and musically. He will be our first call substitute!”

Currently recording and tracking on their 10th CD, Michael Gray estimates this next CD will be done by early summer. “I like to think, as we continue to do this, we get better and zero in playing better—everyone is more mature on this album. We will have Troy on 3 or 4 cuts on this new album. And Neil is on there too. We look forward to introducing Troy to our audiences this way. To show what they both can do.”

New and old fans won’t want to miss the Seattle Gypsy Jazz show planned for mid-June when Pearl Django will have their new CD release party at Jazz Alley ( There, fans can give Neil Andersson a heartfelt send off and welcome new member Troy Chapman with the applause Pearl Django deserves.

Tammy Robacker