All about Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt and "Les Potes"

Django’s greatest musical accompanists, followers, and ultimately, most innovative successors were three Gitan Gypsy brothers named Pierre Joseph “Baro,” Étienne “Sarane,” and Jean “Matelo” Ferret. Django met the frères Ferret while living in a Montmartre hotel during winter 1931.

One day, Django’s second wife, Naguine, stepped out of their room to find a diminutive Gypsy waif with his ear to their door. Stammering his apologies, the boy said he had been passing by when he heard the music and stopped to listen. Naguine invited him in and introduced Django, who was laying sprawled out on his bed, smoking a cigarette, and picking his guitar, improvising melodies.

The boy introduced himself as Matelo and said that he and his brothers were all guitarists too. Yet after listening to Django’s playing, Matelo solemnly pledged to throw his own guitar away. Instead, Django invited Matelo to retrieve his instrument and the two began playing together, Django teaching the boy the theme “Sugar 1937”, "Sugar 1940" the first jazz melody Matelo learned.

The frères Ferret had ventured that autumn from Rouen to Paris to play their guitars in the capital’s bals and cabarets russe. As musicians and eldest siblings—a position of grave respect among Gypsies—Django and Baro became best friends and also great rivals.

All three brothers—along with their cousing, the honorary fourth brother, René “Challain” Ferret—took turns accompanying Django in his various Quintettes as well as leading their own ensembles. Sarane had his Swing Quintette de Paris modelled after Django’s group; Matelo and Challain played jazz as well as traditional Gypsy music. Baro created his own eccentric signature compositions, a melding of musette waltz and bebop that were labelled valses bebop in an attempt to describe their avant garde form. These were not waltzes to which to waltz. The melody lines led by Baro’s virtuosic guitar playing took surprising turns down dark alleyways and into dangerous backstreets. Odd harmonies followed the theme like an ominous shadow, Baro adding stabbing chordal accents and startling obbligatos behind the accordion. The results were impressionistic songs of a strange, unnerving atmosphere—true jazz jewels, unlike anything else ever recorded anywhere.

Yet ironically, Baro Ferret set aside his guitar during World War II in honor of and frustration over the brilliance of Django’s music. He ran a series of bars, each more shady than the last one, that became hangouts for Gypsy gangsters and headquarters for Baro’s own illicit underworld activities. Out of jail for a spell in 1966, Baro was enticed to pick up his guitar again and re-record his valses bebop that Django so admired. Various versions of Baro’s recordings were released on LP and EP, both entitled Swing valses d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. These tunes by Baro remain some of the most idiosyncratic and adventurous jazz masterpieces ever bar none—including the best of Django.
Michael Dregni

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