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8.120698 - REINHARDT, Django: Swingin' with Django (1937) (Reinhardt, Vol. 4)
DJANGO REINHARDT Vol.4
‘Swingin’ With Django’ Original Recordings 1937
Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France
On 26 April 1937, when this reissue begins, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli were 27 and 29 years old. When they began recording together as the Quintet of the Hot Club of France three years earlier, they had created a sensation and made music history. Reinhardt was universally considered the greatest guitarist in jazz while Grappelli ranked with Joe Venuti at the top among jazz violinists, with increasing competition from Stuff Smith and Eddie South. They were also considered the first major European jazz musicians and the creator of a new instrumental sound with their all-string quintet.
It was remarkable that Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt could play guitar at all. Born and raised in a gypsy caravan that traveled around Europe (particularly Belgium and France), Reinhardt had developed into a fine banjoist by the early 1920s, doubling on guitar and making his first recordings in 1928. However when he was asleep one night, a fire in his caravan seriously burned him, particularly two of the fingers on his left hand which became unusable. After recovering, he spent every hour relearning the guitar so he could finger chords with two of his other fingers and occasionally his thumb. He used his handicap as an opportunity to develop a new way of playing the guitar. After his predecessor Eddie Lang died in 1933, Reinhardt had no real competitors among jazz guitarists.
Stephane Grappelli’s life was more conven-tional for he was well schooled, sophisticated and picked up experience playing with dance bands in France before first meeting Reinhardt in 1931. In 1933 when they were both hired for the same orchestra, a backstage jam session convinced them that they should form their own combo. Since the acoustic guitar was generally inaudible in larger bands (the electric guitar would not catch on until 1939), they settled on a drumless, pianoless and hornless quintet comprised of Grappelli’s violin, Reinhardt’s guitar, two rhythm guitars and bass which was soon named the Quintette of the Hot Club of France.
The group made its first recordings in December 1934 and were a hit from the start, first in Paris, then throughout the rest of Europe and finally (via its records) the United States. By 1937, the band was at the peak of its powers, full of youthful and joyful enthusiasm. On this collection, which contains many of their best recordings of 1937, Reinhardt and Grappelli are not only heard with the Quintet but leading smaller groups and welcoming guest violinists Eddie South and Michel Warlop.
The previous Naxos Django release Swing Guitars concluded with the ten selections that made up the Quintet of the Hot Club of France’s first two record dates of 1937. Swingin’ With Django begins with the very next session; six numbers from 26 April 1937 and one from the following day. Miss Annabelle Lee is an obscurity from the 1920s that was well worth reviving; listen to how heated the guitars become behind Grappelli’s closing solo. Chicago and Runnin’ Wild both became famous in the 1920s and have been standards ever since; these versions are among their most definitive. Franz Listz’s classical melody Liebestraum No.3 is not heard too often in a jazz setting but Tommy Dorsey’s band also recorded it in 1937. It has similarities to Basin Street Blues. On Mystery Pacific, Reinhardt does a magnificent imitation of a train. Duke Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood gives the Quintette an opportunity to show their expertise with a superior ballad. A rollicking version of The Sheik Of Araby wraps up the first part of this disc.
On the same day that The Sheik Of Araby was recorded, Django had his first opportunity to be the leader of his own record date. He performed two originals, Improvisation and Parfum, as guitar solos, recalling Eddie Lang’s earlier efforts in this area but displaying his own distinctive sound. I’ve Found A New Baby was released under Grappelli’s name (he first led his own sessions back in 1935) and is an unusual but very self-sufficient violin-guitar duet with Django. Reinhardt’s second date as a leader, which resulted in St. Louis Blues and the minor-toned Bouncin’ Around, put the emphasis back on his guitar while he is backed by rhythm guitar and bass. Clearly Django could swing in any format and was always capable of coming up with inventive ideas, for no other jazz guitarist in 1937 (and few since) played with the fluency of Reinhardt.
The full Quintette returns for Minor Swing (one of the most enduring of the Reinhardt-Grappelli original songs) and Viper’s Dream. On Minor Swing one can hear Django yelling out encouragement to the violinist. On Swingin’ With Django and Paramount Stomp, Michel Warlop joins the Quintette on second violin. Warlop, who takes the second violin solo on both tracks, had a slightly sweeter sound than Grappelli and was considered one of the top French jazz violinists of the era although he was always in Stephane’s shadow. My Serenade is a haunting melody from the Reinhardt and Grappelli that is well worth rediscovering.
American violinist Eddie South visited France in November 1937. Four years older than Grappelli, South first recorded in the 1920s and had a wide-ranging style that was open to the influences of classical music, gypsy music and swinging jazz. During his European tour, he recorded with Reinhardt and Grappelli in a few different settings including as a two-violin one-guitar trio. Most intriguing is their Swing Interpretation Of The First Movement Of The Concerto In D Minor By J.S.Bach and an Improvisation on the same piece. The former performance begins with a quote from “Mahogany Hall Stomp” before the violinists jam on the Bach melody. The “Improvisation” is looser and hotter now that respect had been paid to Bach. Fiddle’s Blues finishes off the program with bassist Paul Cordonnier added to the group, South taking the first violin solo and Grappelli leading off the tradeoffs after Django’s spot.
1937 might have been one of the prime years of the swing era but few swung as hard and in as unique a fashion as Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
Scott Yanow, author of 8 jazz books including Jazz On Record 1917-76, Bebop, Swing and Trumpet Kings
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