All about Django Reinhardt More about Django Reinhardt rechts.gif - 111 Bytes

Django Reinhardt a biography by Alain Antonietto
(extract without authorization from the 10 CD EMI France Djangology I bought a few years ago)

cover10.jpg - 124145 BytesThe idea of compressing the towering genius of Django Reinhardt within the dimensions of this little box - so many masterpieces so neatly ordered within so small a space - takes an effort of imagination. Yet here, dramatically reduced to something that can be held in the palm of the hand is the whole of a legendary career, garnered from more than two hundred and fifty 78rpm recordings those same clumsy and fragile discs (Pathé, Gramophone, HMV...) of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France which for years Djangophile collectors, unsung heroes of the grey dawn, have hunted tirelessly in the flea markets of Montreuil and Saint-Ouen. And it was precisely here in the “zone” (1) that, some seventy years ago, a gypsy encampment rang with the music of a diminutive banjo virtuoso who was to grow into a great guitarist.

The poet Serge evokes the scene as it was then :

“Down there in the Gypsy camp a banjo was jiggling with a popular melody.., one had the impression of distant dance music, dizzying waltzes one the sweetness of an accordion. Camp fires were everywhere, each with its cooking pot. Everywhere chickens were stewing and banjos going wild...”

This was the setting in which Django grew up in a world that today has become the stuff of legend, the world of the bohemian and the vagabond on the doorstep of a great city : caravans and horses on the waste ground, wooden fences, weedy ditches for brawling children and bony dogs to roam in, Gypsy women with their kiss-curls and long flowing dresses, black moustached men in striped waistcoats and broadbrimmed hats, men with dancing bears and performing goats, chair-menders, horse-copers, ragpickers, scrap metal merchants, basketmakers, tinkers and musical instrument makers - a whole world lost for ever under the bulldozers, leaving behind only a wisp of smoke from a campfire, the notes of a guitar drifting on the wind...

The accordionist Fredo Gardoni has left us his memories of this vanished epoch. “Django started out as a banjoist with me at the “Rose Blanche”, a musette (2) in the Porte de Clignancourt by the old customs barrier, right next to the gypsy camping places. It was a real guinguette where you could eat mussels and fried potatoes, drink white wine, and dance. I first saw Django sitting on the steps of a caravan. It was right next to mine. He was making miniature gypsy carts in wood, like toys, with tiny horses. They were beautifully done little caravans with all the details. Django was nine years old and he was already playing the banjo-guitar (3) like a prodigy”. So much so, that he had already, it seems, won a prize for virtuosity at a dancehall in Rue do Lappe.

Accounts of the fabulous musical gifts of the young Manouche (4) began to circulate in the Gypsy camps. How, for example, he had won a bet by playing from memory, and in the right order, seventeen melodies which he had heard just once played on an accordion and this with a banjo too big for him and a whalebone collar-stiffener as a plectrum. One can see that the seeds of the Django legend were already being sown, with their heavy emphasis on his picturesque nomad background and his personal magnetism, and that these, plus the “ethnic additive” of which the critic Michel-Claude Jalard has spoken, have combined to give a mythic quality to his life and work. “Legend is flesh on the bones of fiction”, said Jean Cocteau. What does it matter, then, if there remains a gap between the reality (or otherwise) of these anecdotes of Django’s youth and that other reality the symbol he became for so many jazz lovers and for every guitarist?

We are dealing here with a music whose full appreciation demands that one surrender to the gentle naturalism, to the dreamy melancholy tinged with the miraculous, of the Gypsy spirit, to the spontaneous freshness which Django carried with him even into the recording studio. The tone and the very titles of his compositions carry the same message Manoir de Mes Rêves, Mélodie au crépuscule, Fleur d’ennui, Nympheas, Féérie, Oubli, and of course Nuages. Here are dreams painted in sound, musical impressionism, the nostalgia of a man contemplative - even taciturn - by nature a man who in the middle of a lively company could be found sitting alone on a sofa, trying out chords on the guitar, wrapped up in a world of his own. Django was a gentle dreamer lost in the unforgiving world of the Gadjés (5).

They, in turn, never ceased to be intrigued by his strangeness. As early as 1933, after one of his first concerts, a critic noted “Reinhardt is a young man of great charm whose way of life seems to reflect the same imaginative lightness that informs his playing - witness the fact that he chooses to live in a caravan in order to see the world without moving from home... His music is like no one else’s.” This reaction summarizes the strange fascination which Django - and his guitar - were to exercise over the most diverse audiences. One of the first to feel this fascination was Jean Cocteau who “discovered” Django at the “Coq Hardi” in Toulon in 1931 and wrote of “this guitar which laughs and weeps, guitar with a human voice… » He gave a lead which was followed by the whole Parisian intelligentsia of his day, by the nightlife’s of the luxurious Parisian cabarets, by rich dilettantes, and by writers in search of local color. Doubtless these were seekers after new sensation rather than true music-lovers yet Django’s gypsy fervour could rattle even their carefully-cultivated boredom. Such a one was the Vicomtesse de Noailles, exclaiming one evening with a fluttering of her eye “This Gypsy is worth a Goya!” Also captivated the little group of pioneer jazz enthusiasts, forerunners of the famous Hot Club, who before long were to the transformation of Django from a kind of fairground attraction whose fascination lay in his unbelievable digital dexterity (performed - wonder of wonders with only two fingers) into a solid, fully fledged musician and exceptional improviser working in a string quintet.

Here we should perhaps say something about the grave threat to Django’s career which happened in the year 1928. He had made an early and promising start, as we have seen, in the bals musette alongside such famous accordioniste as Guérino, Alexander, Gardoni, Vaissade, and Marceau. Then a fire in his caravan left him horribly burnt and his I hand partially paralysed. There followed a long period of terrible suffering. For a year and a half Django was bedridden and became increasingly frantic not about the serious condition of his leg but about the hand which refused to heal, threatening to put an untimely end to his musical ambitions. Every time his mother, who never left his bedside, asked him “What are thinking about, Django?“ He would reply, “My hand" Seeing this, his young brother brought him, some time later, a brand new guitar in an oilcloth case and with this the injured man began an astonishing programme of self-reeducation which left the staff of the St-Louis Hospital gasping. By long, painful and lonely exercise the young guitarist succeeded, against all expectation, in overcoming his terrible handicap inventing an instrumental technique that was entirely his own. As his friend and mentor Charles Delaunay observed : “Django was gifted with such dexterity that partial disablement became a challenge which it was a point of pride to overcome.”

By the beginning of the Thirties Django was back at work and the tempo of his career was actually increasing. His return to the musical scene coincided with his joyous discovery of the world of Jazz and his meeting with an already-swinging violinist who was working in Parisian cabarets and as a cinema pianist for silent films Stéphane Grapelli. This musical alliance gave birth to a new sound. The records of the Italian-American guitar/violin duo Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti must have confirmed Django’s predilection for a combination of strings which had tots in the central European gypsy tradition. But, as Daniel Nevers puts it, “If Venuti and Lang were the inventors of this kind of "chamber jazz", it was Stéphane and Django who infused it with genius.” It was, then, a instrumental environment in which Django already felt at home. Had done, in fact, since his childhood, when his father Jean-Eugene Weiss had accompanied the performances of his strolling troupe on violin, guitar, cymbalom and even piano - the latter an instrument ill-suited to the wandering life but which somehow found a place in the caravan on its journeys. This was a juggling and acrobatics show - part of a vanished world of travelling entertainers who found an eager welcome in the isolated (and TV-less) communities of those days. Its dancer and chief performer was Laurence “Négros” Reinhardt. And she it was who, on January 23rd 1910, during a stop-over in a little town in Belgian Brabant, gave birth to Django.

Jazz and Django were meant far each other. But their coming together depended on one of those chance encounters which are so much a part of wandering life. In 1931, to escape the jealous watchfulness of his clinging mother, Django and his brother, Joseph (known as “Nin-Nin”) made for the Côte d’Azur, playing here and there, sleeping on the beaches under the stars. They ended up in Toulon at the “Café des Lions”.
There the painter and photographer Emile Savitry, impressed by the talent of the two strolling guitarists, invited them to stay in his house. It was here that they heard the first jazz records to appear in France. It was a crucial experience, a double revelation for the young Manouche discovering at the same time the world of authentic jazz and the world of the Gadjés, normally so unwelcoming to the nomad race.

Of course Django had already heard the “syncopated orchestras” of the Roaring Twenties. We know that in or around 1926 he had gone to hear Billy Arnold’s “Novelty Jazz Band” at the “Abbaye de Thélème” in Pigalle, standing outside with his nose pressed against the window. And certainly he would have heard the magisterial trombone playing of Leon Vauchant, a legendary figure from the prehistory of French Jazz. (Ravel, after hearing him in 1924 at the “Boeuf our le Toit” asked to know “the secret of these spontaneous improvisations, these notes around the melody”. The trombonist replied that his approach to jazz “was like that of the Hungarian Gypsies or the Jews of central Europe, who employed specific modes”). And of course Django himself, as a youthful soloist on the banjo - king of instruments at the period - would have mastered the popular repertoire which included such “American” pieces as The Sheik and Dinah. Indeed, his very first recording was of a fox-trot, Ma Regulière, with the accordionist Jean Vaissade. Jack Hylton, a famous British proponent of this kind of dance music lightly flavoured with jazz (once described as “having the same appeal that the Gypsies had for Liszt or Brahms”( had actually sounded Django out just before the near-fatal fire. (Years later Boris Vian was to wax ironical at the expense of this jerky and once-fashionable music: “This Jack Hylton record was so worn that all you could hear was crrr... crrr... which was better than listening to Hylton.”) This music, which, to be honest, often descended into caricature, and which Cocteau admiringly described as a “house-trained catastrophe”, had little to do with authentic jazz. At a time when exoticism and “Art Nègre” were all the rage, a blast on the trombone, a couple of cymbal clashes and three notes on a banjo were all that it took for music to qualify as Jazz. A contemporary deplored “The din of the fox-trot which made conversation impossible”. Between this sort of thing and the music of an Armstrong or an Ellington there was all the difference in the world. A fact, which Django, long before the sophisticated music critics, instantly and unhesitatingly understood.

Even before this it seems that Django was already dissatisfied with playing melodies “straight” - i.e. note for note. Perhaps this had always been so with him. He was the inheritor of a tradition in which improvisation on violin or cymbalom played an integral part: in the czurdas and verbunkos of Hungary, for example, or the doïnas and horas of Roumania. Franz Liszt had been an ardent admirer of the spirit of this music. He wrote: “The gypsy performer takes the melody of a dance or a song and, without ever quite losing sight of the theme, freely abandons himself to improvisation, enriching and embellishing it with a profusion of musical touches, appoggiaturas, chromatic passages and arpeggios. ”This description effectively prefigures the characteristics of Django’s own art of musical paraphrase. For the style that little by little he forged for himself, though unique, did not come from nothing, but has its roots in several disparate musical traditions. At the age of fourteen in the Porte de Saint-Ouen, he had taken on board the instrumental approach and plectrum technique of the “old master” - Gypsies for the most part - of the banduria (Spanish mandolin), the banjo-lute and the guitar: Poulette Castro and his “Plectrum Quartet”, and the legendary Gusti Malha, composer of the famous Valse des Niglos whose musical spirit was to infuse the few wonderful waltzes which Django himself has left us. Django’s waltzes, like Chez Jacquet or Montagne Ste Geneviève, share with Malha’s a richness of harmonic texture ordinarily quite foreign to pieces in this popular idiom. Charles Delaunay wrote of them: “Shining through these little masterpieces is all the grace, richness and originality which Django brought to work in the musette orchestra and to which he give expression in later years after his conversion to jazz.”

The young Manouche was also a fine performer on the violin, and this gave him one more point access to the folk tradition he inherited. As witness his brilliant rendering of Hungarian gypsy pieces particularly the Czardas de Monti. It was this piece which had knocked sideways the Russian orchestra at the “Coq Hardi” in Toulon where Savitry had found work for Django and his brother.

Itchy feet were equally part of his inheritance during this period in the south they led him from one to another of the numerous gypsy camps along the Coast, where doubtless he would have had the chance to try his hand at the flamenco style something outside his background experience. Among these Boumians (6) from the Paillon district in Nice or the part of Toulon known as La Rode, according to the painter Baboulène “were gypsy musicians who would play far into night. And Django, whose local reputation was confined to a few young music fans, was already clearly their master.” Besides, Django, despite his youth, was an experienced “pro” who could handle all the different repertoires: Neapolitan love songs, “Spanish” numbers, current dance hits, musette (of course), and even recital pieces and Viennese waltzes. These gave him a foot in the door anywhere on the Coast, from sailors’ bars and Toulon brothels to better-class venues such as restaurants and casinos. Thus it was that he caught the eye of the accordionist (later bass player) Louis Vola who found him a place in his “Palm Beach” orchestra in Cannes.

Once back in Paris (probably in 1932) Django turned a new page in his life. Though he still played occasionally in dance bands such as that of Louis Vola, or in Russian night-clubs like the “Shéhérazade” - he had to live, after all - czardas, tango and musette waltz were no longer his main preoccupations other rhythms claimed his attention - jazz above all. But his wide-ranging musical curiosity took him to the Cuban and West Indian clubs then in fashion, such as “Melody’s Bar”, “Le Bal Nègre” in the Rue Blomet, where the famous guitarist Don Baretto was appearing, or to “Le Chantilly” ruled by the “dobro” (metal guitar – “it was a National steel guitar, not a dobro - François”) of the Argentinean Oscar Aleman, who later formed with Django a partnership based on mutual esteem. And it was also at this time that the legendary pianist Stephen Mougin, hearing Django play in a musicians’ café, gave him a place for a time in his band at ‘Lee Acacias”. Mougin was a pioneer jazz pianist, an exponent of the most authentic black American music then available for listening. All these interests were in a sense experimental; as Patrick Williams has aptly said:

“it was in jazz that Django at last met the music which, of all the music he had tried, enabled him to be most himself, which settled the shape of his world and his place in it, and which was the source of the delight which shines through all his improvisations.”

Django’s dazzling talents and personal magnetism made him, almost overnight, the cynosure of a world radically different from that which he had known - a world of artists, painters, musicians, writers and poets, among whom he soon became a familiar figure. He became friendly with the composers Henri Sauguet, Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc, and with the poets Leon-Paul Fargue, Pierre Reverdy, Robert Goffin and, of course Jean Cocteau - all of whom adulated him throughout his career. Robert Desnos, Michel Leiris, Alejo Carpentier, Brassaï, Anaïs Nin, Blaise Cendrars and Aragon were among the celebrities who, in the Thirties, applauded his talents. In these avant-garde intellectual circles he moved with surprising ease. He made up for his lack of formal - indeed, of any but oral - education by his lively intelligence and innate distinction. His social behaviour has been the subject of mach discussion, some of it rather prejudiced. We have to bear in mind the enormous adjustment Django had to make as a result of his adoption by the world of the Gadjés. Though he never broke entirely with the nomad life, yet he was putting behind him for ever the state of marginalisation which is a normal condition of that life. Sometimes his behaviour seemed bafflingly casual or whimsical - for which many blamed him. But it does no harm to remember that he had succeeded in a feat of cultural adaptation which his critics, if suddenly translated to a caravan in the mud of a gypsy encampment in the “zone”, would have been hard put to match. (Though the elegant Jean Sablon more than once ventured into just this risky country to recall a forgetful Django to his contractual duties).

In fact it was Jean Sablon, on the look-out for new sounds and himself a “crooner” before the word was invented, who was finally responsible for launching among the Smart Set “this swarthy, dark-eyed young man who knew so well how to make a guitar talk”. He engaged Django as his accompanist in several smart Parisian clubs such as the “Elysée Palace” and the “Rococo”, as well as the “Monseigneur” in London. For Django this was a double baptism - his first truly professional contracts, and his first experience of air travel - all involving adventures and misadventures for our gypsy hero. During an engagement in Nice, where he appeared on the same programme as Josephine Baker, Django’s St Louis Blues got the bird from an audience impatient to admire Miss Baker’s curvaceous banana-clad figure.

Sablon had found Django working in the newly opened “Boîte à Matelots” in Paris. “The musicians, wearing striped sailors’ jerseys, were installed in a mock-up of a fully-rigged ship. Among them was a guitarist who really stood out : Django Reinhardt. I went back often to listen to him and became friends. "Sometimes I would go by late to pick him up and we would go together to the “Croix du Sud” in Montparnasse to hear the best saxophone player in Paris, André Ekyan.” And it was in this very club, favourite hangout of the jazzmen of the day, that the historic meeting took place between Django and Stephane Grapelli.

Grapelli had just returned from an Argentine tour (mainly as pianist) with “Gregor and his Gregorians” - a big “syncopating” dance band the day. Here in Montparnasse he was playing violin and even saxophone. But there can be no doubt that it was his violin playing that occasioned the visits of this brooding listener whose fixed stare began to make musicians nervous. Only after several visits did Django get up the courage to make an approach. At this stage he was hesitant and timid, expressing himself awkwardly to the self-confident Grapelli. It was to be some time before they got close enough to recognise in each other a common passion for music, in particular for Jazz. This wonderful shared enthusiasm was to hold them together throughout a long sometimes stormy professional relationship. Looking back today, Grapelli remembers:

“Jazz lovers were rare in Paris at that time. And I had some doubt playing such modern music on a so eminently classical instrument as the violin. It was Django’s faith and Django’s genius that blew away my fears;"

His doubts were understandable. To be a jazzman in those days - and on the violin to boot - was no light matter. His first concert appearance with the Gregorians in 1930 was marked by demonstrations disapproval from the audience including a woman blowing a referee’s whistle. “Grapelly’s solo went virtually unnoticed in the uproar”, notes Hugue Pannassié, one of his earliest admirers.

As we have seen, Grapelli was impressed, almost from the first by Django - by his personality, by the acuity of his judgment, and by his playing. He now remembered, looking back, that this was not the first he had seen of him. He seemed to recall that Django and his brother were quite well-known as street musicians in the Rochechouart district, and since Grapelli had done his share of busking in his day, they had actually met one day in some narrow courtyard or other. And later he had again heard the two Manouches playing on the terrace of the “Can-can” café in Pigalle - a meeting-place for Parisian dance-band musicians. He seemed to remember Django, his hand still bandaged, and still, apparently, playing the six-string banjo.

Nothing could be odder than the convergence of these two “Django and Stéphane” - radically different in temperament and in background, each following the random paths of an uncertain artistic vocation, and yet finally coming together at the right place and the right time to give birth to a style, a body of work and a musical school. Was it destiny? Or was it chance?

At first their partnership was only sporadic, occasional engagements or big-band studio sessions. These last weren’t the mammoth “symphonic jazz orchestras’ which flourished at the period, but “hotter” groups under Michel Warlop or Guy Paquinet - nurseries of talent from which were to merge the cream of French jazzmen (Pierre Allier, Alex Renard, Noël Chiboust, Combelle, Ekyan, and more.) Grapelli was still having to content himself with the modest role allowed to the pianist at that time, but Django was already showing that special talent as an accompanist which soon brought him into demand among both musicians and, curiously at first, singers. It was Jean Sablon who first set out to make the French language swing. He was followed by Jean Tranchant, Jacotte Perrier, Micheline Day, Charles Trenet, and later by others less innovative or less well-known such as Aimé Simon-Girard, Germaine Sablon, “Little” Mirsha, Leon Monosson, etc; The list of those anxious to secure Django’s services goes on and on, despite the fact that he was as innocent of any idea of punctuality as he was clever at obtaining forgiveness. The pianist Michel Emer recalls a recording session which took place on March 14th, 1933 with the singer Eliane de Creus (Il N'y En A Pas Deux Comme Moi), one of the first to employ Django’s peculiar talents.

“We were starting the recording without him when the studio door half opened to admit our guitarist, hiding behind a newspaper. The red light came on and the band began to play. ‘Django produced his guitar from inside the newspaper and launched into a masterly accompaniment without knowing a note of the piece we were doing - and, what’s more, playing to perfection the breaks we had left open for him.”

This little anecdote perfectly illustrates both the quality of Django’s musicianship, the gap that always existed between his almost sacred respect for music as such and the extreme lack of seriousness towards Gadjdé social norms.

But if you are indispensable, you are always pardonable. And indispensable is what Django rapidly became in Parisian Jazz circles in the years 1933-34. The word was out - a new star was born. And everyone wanted a piece of him. One man who knew very well what was going on was Emile Savitry, Django’s faithful friend and patron, who was indefatigable in his efforts to secure recognition for his protégé and had the happy thought of introducing Django to one of the young organisers of the newly-founded Hot Club of France, Pierre Nourry. Django’s obvious talent was enough to persuade Nourry to include Django in the Hot Club’s first concert in February 1934. His instinct was right.

“Django Reinhardt was the revelation of the concert, wrote the magazine Jazz-Tango. He is a curious musician, whose style is like no other we know. We now have a great improviser in Paris.”

However, the guitarist’s greatest fan was undeniably Charles Delaunay, whose recently-formed friendship with Django never flagged and who had been thinking for some time of launching a band under the aegis of the Hot Club. But it took a lucky chance to bring the project to fruition.

The enabling condition for the birth of the future Quintet was the orchestra which was put together by the go ahead Louis Van to play for the bloodless thésdansants at Claridge’s Hotel in the Champs Elysées The group included the pick of the Parisian jazzmen, but clearly there could be no question of wild jazz performances in this palace of discreet luxury. Milk-and-water “table music” was the order of the day. For the musicians, the intermissions were a welcome relief which soon took an interest of their own. “We were alternating”, Grapelli remembers, ‘with Manual Pizzaro’s Argentinean Orchestra. Django and I used to take our breaks stretched out on dusty sofas in a big disused room behind the stage. Of course, Django kept his guitar with him and sometimes he’d idly play a few notes to himself behind a screen. One day while I was tuning my violin we spontaneously started playing Dinah, just like that, to amuse ourselves…and once we’d started, we never stopped. Over the days the others began to join in - Django’s brother Joseph, Roger Chaput, and Louis Vola on bass. "We were both fascinated by the sound we were making, and of course we played other pieces. From then on, we couldn’t wait for the intermissions.” After hours they would repair to a late-night musician’s hangout, the “Alsace” brasserie in Montmartre, to carry on the good work. None of the participants suspected the fame that lay in store for an all-strings group that came together in such a haphazard fashion.

The breakthrough might never have happened if organisers of the Hot Club had not found out what was going on and exerted themselves to promote the idea of “Jazz without drums or trumpet”. Even then, things didn’t go smoothly. In September 1934 rehearsals were organised at the “Florence” with a view to a recording audition with the Odéon Company. But the firm decided against releasing the two sides that were produced by “Delaunay’s Jazz Quintet”, finding them decidedly “too modern”, despite Django’s precaution of adding a vocal refrain “to make it more commercial”. It was a bad setback for the musicians but failed to discourage the enterprising Pierre Nourry who was more determined than ever to promote, come hell or high water, this “new hot Jazz sound’. And this was how the group was described on the poster for the famous concert at the Ecole Normale de Musique on December 2nd, 1934 - the event which definitively marked the launch of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France and from which can be dated their rise to fame. The audiences of the day, alarmed by the noisier forms of Jazz, fell victim at once to the charms of this new music. There were still doubters, such as critics John Hammond or Hugues Panassié, who found the sound too “gypsified”, or the critic who called Django “a clown with a mandolin” - but soon everyone was joining in the general fervour.

Even so, for some puriste, the ornamental virtuosity of the guitar and the smooth charm of the violin militated against the idea of true musical authenticity solidly rooted in the Jazz tradition. This was a misunderstanding based on the supposition that the only real interest of the style lay in its brilliance of execution - a sort of musical hedonism. And this idea has been perpetuated by some of Reinhardt’s most faithful latter-day followers, themselves guitarists, who see in Django only a model of instrumental virtuosity. This stereotype does little credit to their idol.

Of relevance to this point is Grapelli’s special contribution to the Quintet’s development. One of his greatest merits was that, by his innate sense of proportion and the high quality of his musical inspiration, he was able from the first to resist any tendency to “folklorisation” in the Quintet. And though his violin playing has a certain seductive quality, this was never allowed to compromise the jazz-based orthodoxy of the group. It must never be forgotten that the success of this famous string combination was due above all to the perfect fusion within the group of musical temperaments which were widely different, even antagonistic. Its greatness lies in its ability to reconcile contrasting talents in a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. If either of the soloists had, from whatever consideration, deviated stylistically from the mean, the delicate balance would have been wrecked. It is not inconceivable that it was Django’s savage expressionism and fierce intransigence which prevented Grapelli’s playing from deteriorating into what some might have seen as a facile and bloodless charm; while Grapelli represented for Django an anchor which held him firmly moored to the jazz spirit, as well as to the alien world of the Gadjés. Nothing would have been easier, after all, than for Django to squander his talent in “gypsified” performances that were neither folklore nor jazz. Yet the great Manouche, throughout his career, was rigorously exacting in his approach to music - which continues to surprise those who see in Django only a musical box of tricks. And it was this musical seriousness which held him faithful to the jazz spirit - Manouche jazz, certainly, but impeccable in its taste. If teamed with another Gypsy sharing identical social, cultural and musical values, he might well have yielded to the temptations of showy virtuosity, there would have been no brake on his unstable social behaviour, and the result would have been his eventual disappearance into the anonymous world of the nomads, just one more Gypsy musician.

None the less, it was at first difficult for Django and Stéphane to make a living playing “their” music alone. “In my time”, Grapelli recalls, “I’ve tried to reach all sorts of audiences. And even with Django we’ve had to play tunes which had nothing to do with Jazz.” Fortunately there remains little trace in their joint discography - or in the Djangology whose essence is contained in these discs of the concessions they had to make to the tastes of night-club owners and their monied customers, who were all too ready to see Stéphane simply a brilliant salon recitalist and in Django an astonishing virtuoso, “A Liszt of the guitar” as he was called by one journalist of the period.

The general public, however - which moves, as we know, in a mysterious way - got it right. As did the musicians’ community, including American jazzmen passing through, or settled in Paris who as one man went overboard for Django’s exuberant inspiration. In 1935 alone the clubs where Django was working attracted visits from soloists of the order of Louis Armstrong (at the Brick Top” in Montmartre), Coleman Hawkins and Arthur Briggs (at the “Stage B” in Montparnasse), Benny Carter (at “Chez Florence”), Bill Coleman, Big Boy Goodie, Fletcher Allen, and many others. What jam sessions! What memorable choruses lost for ever!

These evanescent glories can no longer be recaptured. However, what has survived, (almost miraculously, given the methods of the recording industry of the day), is a mass of discs. Fortunately, once his genius as a creative improviser was recognised, Django’s work has always been a dominant concern of French Jazz discographers. And interest in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France though it existed only sporadically as a group very soon spread to foreign shores.

At first it was only the tiny firm of Ultraphone which would risk publishing the recordings made by the young quintet in the winter of 1934 and spring of 1935. They were successful enough to encourage bigger companies. From now until the outbreak of the war there was a continuous succession of 78 rpm discs on the Decca, Gramophone, Swing and HMV labels. Though issued in large editions, these discs have since become gradually unfindable. After Django’s death there were numbers of Manouches scouring the flea-market of Clingnancourt in search of them. Among them was Sara, Django’s older sister. Unable to read, she would go from stall to stall asking for her brother’s records on “the label with the white dog”.

Now, with their reissue on Compact Disc in a complete chronological series, we have an unrivalled opportunity to see how from the first the Quintet hit off the tonal precision and formal perfection which remained its trademark. Whether they are playing American standards, original compositions, or popular melodies given a Jazz twist, we find the same fertile use of the group’s instrumental possibilities, the same vitality in the solos, the same originality in the arrangements, the same brilliant fusion of diverse sensibilities and contrasting talents, the same unfailing swing - the “new, European-inspired swing” of which Frank Ténot speaks “owing little to black music beyond its basic principle.”

And swing, of course, was the key. Not that there was a lot of it about in France in those days. We have only to consult dear old Larousse to understand what the general view of the matter was at that time: “Swing: paroxysmal style of Negro jazz music.” In reality, of course, the soul of swing is relaxation, and this quality the Quintet had. In spades; Its basis was the regular but supple pulse of the two rhythm guitars - first, in 1936, Joseph Reinhardt and Baro Ferré; later Marcel Bianchi, Roger Chaput, and the leader’s cousin Eugene “Ninine” Vées. Combined with the solid, no frills bass-playing of Louis Vola, this firm foundation (which became known as the “Manouche pump”) became an indispensable feature of the genre. Some have called it crude or laboured, but its real function was as a catalyst, a perfect background to Django’s richly chromatic solos and Stéphane’s inspired flights. The rhythm section provided the power; it was up to the two leaders to apply the match and stand by for blast-off!

The recordings presented here exude a powerful sense of excitement, of the pure pleasure of making music together, of mutual discovery, allied with a freshness and drive which is the essence of the musician’s art. As to how many of these historic recordings can be considered perfect successes, it is up to the listener to decide. But it is tempting to say that they all exhibit the strengths and virtues of the Quintet - inventiveness, imagination, lyricism, iconoclasm - which could equally well daringly transform the slightest of popular American hits, or do ample justice to the works of the established Jazz greats such as Stuff Smith, Ellington, or Fats Waller.

In the beginning Django never imagined that his name alone would suffice to sell records. And it was only little by little, as the Quintet enlarged its audience, that his personal compositions began to swell the repertoire. Some, like the vertiginous Mystery Pacific, were high-octane instrumental showcases; others, like Tears were more restrained, lyrical, sensual and nostalgic. (“He sits us down at a gypsy camp fire,” wrote Jean Cocteau in 1937, “and takes us away from our spiritual families (by which I mean out habits) by the magic of a race which seems emerged from a primeval era;” And he continues by acknowledging the depth of the music’s jazz roots: “The Django-Reinhardt -Grapelli ‘band’ creates a ‘hot’ atmosphere like that we owe to the blacks of America.”) The gypsy background certainly left its imprint on many of Django’s melodies. Meanwhile he remained open to jazz in all its forms without confining himself to any rigid formula. In the same way the Quintet remained a “variable-geometry” group as regards instrumentation, style, and numbers. While Django himself had no difficulty in fitting in with recently arrived groups playing authentically “black” music and contributing his own special touch.

The International Exposition of 1937 attracted to Paris numerous big-name jazzmen for whom Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié spared no effort to organise recording sessions with their protégé - not that they needed asking. This was Django’s chance, at last, to measure himself and his music against the top guns of black American music. Of course, as we have seen, he had already rubbed shoulders with many of them in the course of impromptu jam-sessions, such as the memorable blow when Django and Coleman Hawkins improvised on Sweet Sue for an hour and a half. He had even found a place in the Quintet for the singer and tap-dance Freddy Taylor who was appearing at the “Villa d’Este with his “Swing Men from Harlem.” And he frequently accompanied black singers working in Montmartre who swore by him. Two of his most famous compositions are dedicated to such singers: Mabel (for Mabel Mercer) and Brick-Top (for whom the way Django wore yellow shoes with his dinner-jacket was “the hottest thing” she had ever encountered). However, specially organised recording dates - virtual summit meetings - were something else again. They put him on a footing of equality with the best in the business and placed a seal of approval on his status a Jazzman among Jazzmen. Conceivably Django foresaw, perhaps subconsciously, the objections of jazz purists, offended by the luxuriant “gypsified embellishments of his playing. And the absence of brass voices in the Quintet was to remain an obstacle to full acceptance. Some people still saw what he was doing as “genre” music - admirable certainly, but outside the Jazz idiom. The British critic Max Jones. for example, found the Quintet’s work too “pretty”, too charming, and lacking the depth of the black Jazz groups, lacking above all that sacrosanct ingredient - a feeling for the blues. (Not that the blues has ever been easy to define. As late as 1956, Larousse flatly stated that it was “a variety of fox-trot”.) Even the over-enthusiasm of some critics was enough to put some other critics off. It didn’t really help Django’s case to have, for example, André Ekyan describe him as “a pure phoenix emerging from the mists of time into the middle of the twentieth century”; or someone else, who described his music as arriving by some magnificent accident from another planet” or that “in this age of technique and artifice music has returned, in Django, to its original purity” (Ch. Delaunay). There were also those whose attitude to Django was one of simple envy. Years later Stéphane Grapelli, not mincing his words, said, “Django was a genius, always ahead of his time. Guitarists were terrified of him, and there were some who were not sorry to see him gone;”

However, the American stars of the day neither knew nor cared about any of this backbiting. For them Django’s enormous talent was a plain fact, not a theme for airy speculation. Their attitude was: “Let’s get to it!” and their first question on arriving in Paris, before they had even dumped their suitcases, was “Where’s Django playing? ”Under such auspices took place the famous “All-Star” session which brought together the saxophone giants Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter in a friendly joust with two champions of French Jazz, Alix Combelle and André Ekyan. The four sides which resulted from this session inaugurated a long series on the Swing label, the first the world to devote itself entirely to Jazz. Django played at least a supporting role in the success of these sessions, to which in his guitar contributed its voice, causing Alix Combelle to say of him that Django was more than just an admirable soloist - “he had a special gift of lucidity which gave him an insight into the musical thinking of other performers, and this made him the best of all possible accompanists.” His musical intuition was extraordinary. To the point where, according to Grapelli, some evenings, without any kind of pre-arrangement, Django would lay down the first chord of a melody at the precise moment when Grapelli’s bow was about to bear down on the first note of the same tune. Sometimes reality is stranger than legend.

And “legendary” is the word to describe the status which Django - or any record in which he had a hand - was rapidly acquiring. The reason was not just the undoubted excellence of his solo performances but an extra quality - a “presence” which somehow generated masterpieces and which gave him a special status among other leading musicians. They all wanted to work with him, The elegant trumpeter Bill Coleman, the fiery trombonist Dicky Wells, the extraordinary harmonica player Larry Adler, artists of the stature of Rex Stewart of Barney Bigard - all produced in France some of their best work with the help of the “amazing Gypsy”. Another such case was the violinist Eddie South - also drawn to Paris by the Exposition. He was a black musician with a solid classical training (with even a “gypsy” element thanks to a spell in the Budapest Conservatory under Jenö Hubay). He was more than happy to work with Django, replacing Grappelli in the Quintet for an engagement at the “Big Apple” in Pigalle. Charles Delaunay, always on the ball, seized the opportunity for a recording session, ringing the changes on the personnel with great effect.
Frank Ténot has said of this historic period that

“at no other moment in its history has European Jazz exhibited so much freshness and originality. The multiple possibilities of string instruments were beautifully realised when the violins of Grapelly, South and Warlop united their forces. This “chamber-jazz” was a specially exciting episode in the pre-war period, and the interpretation by these jazzmen of a piece by Bach was a particularly significant experiment.”

And indeed, when matched against the incandescent fervour of Michel Warlop (himself a refugee from a conservatory and much admired by Fritz Kreisler) and the casual incisiveness of Grapelli’s style, there is a surprising hint of classicism - though allied to deep feeling - in the violin of Eddie South. This “feeling” all soloists seemed to acquire as if by magic in the presence of Django’s guitar.

Another notable event of this period was Django’s first venture into orchestral composition - an ambitious Bolero played by the Quintet augmented with brass and string section. Django, who knew nothing of notation, dictated all the orchestral parts on the guitar. The mere fact of this undertaking bears witness to the respect accorded to Django’s musical ideas and to the force of his personality. And future efforts in this field were to be marked by growing assurance and consciousness of his worth.

Some of the performances that have come down to us from these flourishing years are landmarks: for example, such wonderfully inventive guitar solos as St Louis Blues (with stimulating support from Loulou Gasté, an unusual collaborator) and I’ll see you in my dreams (with solid backing this time from the guitar of Baro Ferré) - a masterpiece of construction with Manouche guitarists today perform religiously note for note. And the same is true for Minor Swing, certainly the Quintet’s greatest success - an extraordinary hit of the day which sold by thousands and became the group’s theme song.

Up to the outbreak of war Django and the Quintet divided their time between recording sessions (which became steadily more frequent), club work, and the wildly popular jam sessions which took place at the “Nuit Bleues” and the “Swing Time”. In between times there were memorable concerts at the Salle Pleyel, Salle Gaveau the Alhambra and the ABC. And as a final mark of their arrival, there were big foreign tours (to Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, England and Scandinavia) where artistic triumph was mixed with wild escapades. On tour it was Grapelli who had to cope with Django’s irresponsibility, his defections, his unpredictable shifts of mood. He had learnt (the hard way) to recognize the signs. “Django would hear a bird and say, ‘Oho, its spring!’ Spring was my worst enemy. When the leaves appeared on the trees, Django vanished.” On occasion, to cover up for Django’s unscheduled disappearances, Joseph Reinhardt or Sarane Ferret would have to sit in for him at the last moment - a signal honour, but not necessarily one they relished.

In 1939, however, it wasn’t the call of the wild which caused Django to take to the woods. His career was at its height: the fame of the Quintet was solidly established. Django himself had attained the pinnacle of his personal ambition when he appeared at the “Hot Feet” with his idol Duke Ellington. Then, in the middle of one of their highly successful British tours, came the brutal news of General Mobilisation. At the first whisper of the disaster, Django panicked.., and vanished, leaving behind him the band, his luggage, and even his guitar. Grapelli, who remained in London, wasn’t to see him again till after the Liberation.

Amazingly, after this unpromising start, Django now emerged as a popular star in a France cut off by the Occupation from its contacts with American jazz. He formed a new “swing” quintet on the Benny Goodman model with the clarinettist Hubert Rostaing which quickly became a hit with the young fans. Paris, one it had recovered from the disasters and confusion of the defeat, was looking for pleasure, for distraction. Suddenly Jazz records were selling in their thousands. The public wanted “Swing”. That (or sometimes “Swing musette”) was the magic word which became a kind of rallying cry for the young. Until now Jazz had been the preserve of a relatively select circle of dedicated enthusiasts. Now it became a general passion, and the Quintet and the Hot Club of France was its focus. According to Charles Delaunay: “When Django and his new Quintet made their first public appearance on the stage of the “Normandie” cinema they were staggered by the reception they got“ This was not simply a conquered population seeking to forget its troubles in dreams; it was also an act of defiance against an Enemy for whom Jazz was a hated symbol or racial decadence. And the Gypsy guitarist, in turn, was a symbol of that defiance.

We should note that he could easily have re-formed the Quintet with a violin lead and in this shape it would have been far more acceptable to the jackbooted music-lovers from across the Rhine. There were plenty of violinists about - Georges Effrosse, André Karen, Sylvio Schmidt, and (after his release from captivity) Michel Warlop. Instead he chose to setups typically “American” group, with even a drummer, at precisely the moment when all that came from across the Atlantic was under deep suspicion. And though it is not true - despite what has often been stated - that the playing of Jazz during those dark years was actually prohibited - yet it wasn’t exactly the safest way to make a living or to keep in with the Kommandantur. There were, though, closet Jazz fans among the German officers. One of these was Dietrich Schulz-Koehn (the “Doktor Jazz” of German officers) one of Django’s most fervent admirers, and who more than once got him out of a tight corner. In any case, the ban on American jazz records only served to boost the value of the discs which the French jazzmen were putting out by hundreds under the enemy’s nose with camouflaged titles to conceal their American antecedents.

In the absence of foreign stars, the French jazzmen suddenly found themselves in the limelight on the stages of music-halls, dance-halls and big cinemas. Alix Combelle, André Ekyan, Gus Viseur and Aimé Barelli became popular stars overnight, while Django enjoyed the kind of treatment normally reserved for cinema idols. By an instinctive stroke of genius, and without his intending any such result, the personnel changes in the Quintet had produced a formula which exactly suited the popular demand for “danceable” music.

All this meant big money. And Django responded by giving his innate fecklessness full rein: he gambled away huge sums, he behaved like a prima donna, and he took off on the spur of the moment... And yet, the records presented here show clearly (and it is not the least of their merits) that even under these circumstances, which might have wrecked a lesser talent, Django retained his musical integrity intact.

His most famous composition, Nuages, dates from this period. Its harmonic structure is anything but commercial. And yet Django, performing it to an ecstatic audience in the Salle PleyeI in January 1941, had to play three encores.

Other melodies he composed at this time, equipped with lyrics, were soon being sung everywhere - Swing 41, Dinette, Crépuscule, Swing 42, Douce Ambiance. These hits went to swell the growing popularity among the dancing public of his “swinging” guitar-and-clarinet combination. By contrast with the pre-war Quintet, the group was now playing a purer, less lavishly ornamental style, more disciplined in tempo, concentrating on the basics, and with the addition of riff effects which were almost certainly inspired by Charlie Christians work (which Django was familiar with) in the Benny Goodman Sextet. This music, combining simplicity and sophistication, melancholy and excitement, perfectly reflected the spirit of its times.

In short, the “Nouveau Quintette du Hot Club de France”, as it billed itself, was a triumph. The night-clubs and music-halls of Paris fought to get them. They made rave appearances at the “Olympia”, the “Moulin Rouge”, at Jane Stick’s, “Le Ciro’s”, “Le Doyen”... But soon Paris became too small to hold them and there were tours of the provinces and Belgium - Picaresque epics full of amazing adventures and misadventures which gave the promoters grey hairs but drove the fans wild.

In an age which craved escape from grim everyday realities, Django the colourful star, the brilliant musician, could hardly fail to fascinate. His name in lights shone in huge letters outside the theatres, his posters covered the walls (which, in the catchphrase of the day, most certainly had ears). And his strange personality attracted artists as diverse as the Prévert brothers, the animation-artist Paul Grimault, Marcel Carné, Henri Crolla, and Mouloudji (the “October Group” of the Popular Front). And he was courted by stage and screen stars like Marlene Dietrich, Danielle Darrieux, Fréhel, and Edith Piaf. Another was Paul Meurisse who speaks in his memoirs of an occasion when he appeared on the same bill as Django at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels:

“... from the wings I watched him, fascinated. But it was above all when I had the chance to hear him off-stage, playing for himself, for me, for pleasure, taking off with his musicians into incredible improvisations, that I had the feeling of parting company with the real world. This meeting, and the current of sympathy which passed between us, was an important moment in my career and my life.”

Through the ups and downs of the tours of 1942 and 1943, first André Lluis and then Gerard Lévêque replaced Rostaing in the clarinet chair but the group maintained the same sound and its success was undiminished. Hearing them again today, thanks to the discs in this collection, we might expect that a group so popular in its day would now be showing its age, preserving only a faded memory of past excitements. But such is not the case. On the contrary, this music seems to have discovered the secret of eternal youth. Django’s musical vitality was a shaft of light in the gloom of those sad years and set an example which others were not slow to follow. These included big bands such as the famous “Jazz de Paris” which survives now only as a name; and there where others equally famous in their day and equally ephemeral - the orchestras of Noël Chiboust, Jerry Mengo and Raymond Legrand, not to mention the “Festival Swing 41” and “Festival Swing 42" in which Django was the main attraction.

Django himself, increasingly absorbed by questions of orchestration was dabbling with the big band formula. He put together a group called “Django’s Music” whose repertoire consisted entirely of arrangements he had dictated himself on the guitar. Django’s aspirations as a symphonic composer were never fully realised. His Mass was never finished. However, some of his arrangements from this period (for example, Stockholm, Nymphéas, Féérie) retain a curious impressionistic atmosphere which crosses the border between Jazz and non-jazz, prefiguring his later Rhythmes Futurs. Others are more fully in tune with the idiom of the Swing Era, such as the haunting Artillerie Lourde whose rifts are close to those of Tuxedo Junction and whose title is a lugubrious evocation of that month of November 1944.

The troubled atmosphere of the time was beginning to weigh on Django. Jazz-lovers and musicians, incessantly vilified by the Vichy authorities, found their position becoming increasingly difficult, even dangerous: censorship, harassment, denunciations and arrests. Some, like the violinist Georges Effrosse, vanished never to return.

Django, too well-known to be seriously at risk, had never needed to compromise with the Occupation Authorities in order to keep working. But now he, too, was beginning to feel the pressure. The music he had written for an avant-garde production of Andromaque had earned him the condemnation of the collaborationist press and threats of violence from the dreaded Milice. And pressure of another kind was coming from the Germans who were becoming insistent in their demands that the Quintet should appear in the Reich itself. Django felt it would be prudent to leave Paris; he made two attempts to get into neutral Switzerland but was turned back both times as Suing “neither black nor Jewish” Then began a period of wandering the length and breadth of France, sometimes with the Quintet, sometimes on the roads with his nomadic “cousins”, and once even returning to Paris to open his own club “La Roulotte” (not far from the place where his son Babik was born).

He ended up on the Côte d’Azur. And it was at Toulon, a town which had a decided importance in his life, that in August 1944 he found himself adopted by a G.l. orchestra belonging to the newly-landed American forces. He was a sensation. From there, under the patronage of the Allies, he went from strength to strength: star appearance in a forces show at the Olympia (where he shared the billing with Fred Astaire), recording sessions with Glenn Miller sidemen (recently disbanded following their leader’s death, and, as a final accolade, featured soloist with the Air Transport Command big band in a recital at the Salle Pleyel in December 1945. The discs he had recorded with this orchestra a short time previously are included in the present collection, and it is clear that this was a setting in which his genius was given its fullest scope. In Djangology, for example, we witness the sheer power of a guitarist, completely unamplified, dominating the brass section of a big band in full cry. This was the high point of Django's popularity. Never again was he to delight such vast audiences.

In 1946 things began to slow down. The outburst of joy caused by the Liberation had died away, the GIs had gone home, the Swing Era was dying. Django’s club closed, leaving him homeless. Then, following a request from the BBC in London to re-form the old Quintet, always hugely popular in Britain, came his moving reunion with Stéphane Grapelli. A recording session in London was the result and one of its fruits was the famous version of the Marseillaise, which was for many years banned from the airwaves despite being cautiously re-titled Echoes of France. The occasion was pure magic for Django and Stéphane. It was as though they had never been separated; they simply took up their musical dialogue where it had left off. From the first notes the old miraculous sympathy was back. All that had changed was that the work of both men had acquired a new depth and a controlled vehemence that come only with full maturity.

The English rhythm section which was used on the London date has come in for some criticism over the years, though in fact it added a new element of lightness and modernity. And this may have influenced the decision a few months later to adopt the piano-bass-drums line-up and bring in Rostaing on alto. This “Americanisation” of the new Quintet may have been influenced by the possibility of an American tour which was now on the cards but which Django kept putting off. After a Swiss tour with Michel de Villers he took up painting to make up for the lack of regular work. Finally Django signed up for a U.S. tour with Duke Ellington. It was at best half a success. Django’s “two-fingered style” certainly drew the crowds and the applause. But his inability to submit to the necessary discipline of a touring big--band was a fatal impediment which even the best-disposed of critics couldn’t overlook. Despite a successful appearance at the “Café Society” in New York, the miraculous hoped-for California contract never materialised and in February 1947 he returned from the States disillusioned by a country “where the guitars sound like saucepans”.

Back in Paris he was reunited with his own beloved Selmer-Maccaferri, for which there was plenty of work: first with a big band at the “Bœuf-sur-le-toit”, then on March 26th 1947 with the reconstituted all-strings Quintet (taking advantage of Grapelli’s happening to be in Paris) for another recording session for the Swing company, which took place in a converted artist’s studio. The rhythm session included the dynamic Matelot Ferré. The results of this session are marked by the cohesive quality of the overall sound. Delighted to be together again, the two soloists are visibly more concerned with stylistic unity that with playing competitively against one another. Another session followed on November 14th 1947 for the rejuvenated Quintet. Some of the recordings from this period show that Django and Stéphane were susceptible to recent developments in Jazz. The thematic approach is new, the phrasing is legato but tightly controlled, and the improvisations are not mere paraphrases but solidly anchored in the harmonic structure.

However, a triumphant concert appearance at the Salle Pleyel was followed by a period of transition, even disillusion. Django found only scattered engagements. He devoted himself more and more to his painting and seemed to get more pleasure from his recent exhibition than from his playing. Job offers were met with: “Don’t talk to me about music I’m painting at the moment.” He did drop his brushes for a successful appearance in Belgium of the “wartime” Quintet with Rostaing, and even a mad tour of US military bases in Germany involving a number of picaresque adventures. But his heart was no longer in it.

Times were changing, audiences were changing and Jazz was changing. Though he had been one of the few to appreciate the newly-arrived be-bop at the time of the Liberation, it brought his own music into question. By this time Django was dabbling with amplification, following, in the first instance, the example of his brother Nin-Nin. His first experiment alas at the “Ambiance” club in 1946. Then in the US, where he had little choice in the matter since he hadn’t thought to take with him the famous cut-away acoustic guitar which was so much a part of his style.

The years 1947 and 1948, which critics have I tended to overlook, were a time of mixed fortunes for Django. His music was beginning to lose its told on audiences caught up in the fervour of the New Orleans Revival. Though oddly, if we are to believe the newspaper France-Dimanche, Django found a place among the idols of the new generation of “Bobby--soxers” - alongside Harry James, Jean Marais and Orson Welles. He probably owed this position to his regular appearances on Anne-Marie Duverney’s radio series “Surprise-Partie” leading a guitar-clarinet quintet (with Maurice Meunier, H. Rostaing or G. Lévêque) or with the old guitar-violin line-up. On the other hand, the fabulous success in February 1948 of Dizzy Gillespie’s big-band Be-bop concert at the Salle Pleyel, bristling with brass and percussion, seemed to sound the death knell of jazz for strings “without drums or trumpets”. And yet, not only did the Quintet of the Hot Club of France manage a several weeks’ engagement at the ABC Music-Hall, but Dizzy Gillespie, the Father of Bop in person, arrived in Django’s dressing room to pay his respects and insisted on their playing together.

Despite these proofs or real esteem, Django’s art was being marginalised, his style judged old hat. There seemed to be no place for them in a French Jazz scene which was dominated by stupid polemics between the adherents of New Orleans and those of Be-bop. Django and Stéphane appeared by last minute invitation at the Nice Jazz Festival in 1948. They were applauded, but their performance was eclipsed by the triumphant reception given to Claude Later and his band. Boris Vian, who once would have known better, delivered a brutal judgement: Grapelly and Reinhardt, without conviction, churned it out for the 36th time...”

But enough now of Dixieland and sectarian squabbles. Our two virtuosos had other fish to fry. Ten days later, they were together again in the Swing studios for the last recording featured in this collection. The critics of the day had reservations about these discs: “The old flame and creative urgency seem to have left them…” etc. But with the perspective of time we may doubt whether they were right. Probably they were simply seeking to justify their defection from the cause they had one espoused. These discs show no evidence of the falling off which the critics claimed to detect. On the contrary, they are precious evidence of a great talent at the height of its powers, mature, yet still capable of development and change, less dazzling, but more controlled. And they are redolent of Django’s pleasure in the renewal of the old musical partnership. As for Grapelli, he has turned his back on all mannerism and here declares, definitively, his allegiance to the cause of authentic Jazz. His enormously fluid style in set off by Django’s more clipped phrasing which mixes typically Djangoesque passages with phrases which owe something to bop not perhaps in Lady Be Good or Brick Top, but clearly audible in Just For Fun or Festival 48. And Mike (sometimes called Micro) is an example of a classic C Ami-Dmi-G7 theme so beloved of Django {compare Daphne, Swing Guitars, R 26, etc.) revitalised with injections of the new idiom.

Clearly this new, updated Quintet had lost none of the freshness, drive and lightness of touch of the original line up. But still one feels that Django was striving towards change. As if he already knew that he was going to have to break with the old formula and continue his search alone. And in his last years we find him no longer concerned with adapting his musical conceptions to the vagaries of current taste but looking for a radically different and completely personal mode of expression. Shortly before his premature death on May 16th 1953 we know that he had reached an understanding with a new generation of musicians such as Hubert Fol, Maurice Vander, Pierre Michelot and Martial Solal, men with whom he found himself perfectly in tune. He remained an innovator to the end, but never lost the special lyrical tone and quality of a preferred instrument. It was as if his accommodations with modernism served only to emphasise his proud difference.

So his music, now more than ever, represents a source of joy and wonder which is perpetually renewed. Here in this box is the quintessence of a nomad spirit engaged in a never-ending quest. And so many years after his death we can still enjoy - and still learn from - the work of a peerless improviser whose work remains inexhaustibly alive. Not for nothing do we hear it said among today’s Monouche guitarists: “Django is playing better every day.”
ALAIN ANTONIETTO

English Translation : Madeleine Juteau and Roger Jones

(1) Partly built-up area just outside the ring of old Fortifications which marked the city limits of Paris - a favourite camping ground for Gypsies.
(2) I.e. le "bal musette" But the word "musette" also refers to a charecteristic type of popular dance music which originated in this specific environment.
(3) Six string banjo with guitar tuning.
(4) the "Manouches", to which Django belonged, are the Gypsies of Northern France and Belgium.
(5) "Gadjés" = non-gypsies.
(6) "Boumians" - Bohemians - Local word for Gypsies.

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