All about Django Reinhardt

Django and His Time & Sphere

Django’s youth takes place in the Manouche's holy sphere, the family circle. He got his first insight into the world of the Gadže through the teenagers who danced on the occasion of the Musette – balls in the 1920ies, where gypsies were in demand. Hungarians, Romanians or Manouche, that did not make a difference. Even if he had contact with immigrated Roma, it is not clear which language they used to communicate. The immigrants probably spoke little French, and also the Manouche’s Romanes was strange to them.

In the time after his accident and the one and a half year break, Paris was a fertile ground. The music styles of the 20ies, like "gypsy music", the musette, and Russian folklore, were beginning to fade. The guitar had replaced the banjo, and jazz had matured, and thus offered him space for improvisation and, consequently, space for his virtuosity. The nature of these changes are reflected in the wishes of the club audience: suddenly they wanted to listen, and did not want to dance anymore. For the birth of jazz, a vast number of groups of immigrants to America, the land of promises, had been godfathers, not only blacks, but also emigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, among them certainly Roma, but also Jews from this region.

Paris, at that time stronghold of all artistic activity, not only music, definitely also played an important role in Django’s international success. Today, we remember the chansons from the heydays, but jazz was second to none. Moreover, that city held the World’s Fair in 1937.

At that time, the jazz industry’s structure changed drastically in the United States. First, jazz in general lost some of its importance, and secondly, it was more or less completely in the hands of a few very dominant musicians who are in a class of their own, like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong.

This époque of Django’s Quintette ended with a clear cut by the outbreak of World War II. Immediately, Django returns home from his England tour; contrary to Grappelli who decides to stay. At first, Django flees from the occupants to the South of France, not occupied, but soon returns to Paris. Later, he tries again to flee, this time to neutral Switzerland, in order to avoid an impending tour in Germany. The Swiss border guards, however, expel him because his application for political asylum was denied, but luckily nothing bad happens to him, allegedly also because he appeased the guards with his play.

For jazz, the occupation can be seen as fertile ground. Jazz has the taste of freedom, of memories of the time before the occupation. Many events have a touch of prohibition about them, everybody ready to break up the session and restore the atmosphere of an “innocent” concert. This style also attracts some members of the occupying forces, and soon rumors of Gestapo members sitting next to British Secret Service men can be heard. Django’s continuing success earns him a high standing with Paris’ Haute Volée.

His musical isolation during the war is felt most strongly by visitors immediately after the war. Even if they managed to ask their way to him, the communication failed both linguistically and musically. By the Americans, however, he is always received warmly, and he has to be very late to get a negative press at all.

A joint venture with Stéphane Grappelli shortly after the war is not allowed publication: the newly recorded Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. "But we had put our hearts into it!" (St. Grappelli).

ROMBASE © by Peter Wagner

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