|About this Recording
8.120740 - REINHARDT, Django: Americans in Paris (1938-1945) (Reinhardt, Vol. 8)
Django Reinhardt Vol.8
Americans in Paris, Part Two
Original Recordings 1938-1945
Django Reinhardt was the top European jazz musician prior to the 1950s in addition to being one of the two most significant jazz guitarists of the 1930s and ’40s (along with Charlie Christian). Surprisingly, he only visited the United States once. Reinhardt was booked for an American tour in 1946 with Duke Ellington’s orchestra but the visit was a major disappointment. Django arrived in the U.S. expecting to be treated as a hero. Instead, he was neglected by a public more interested in the rise of bebop, the collapse of the swing era big bands and the increasing prominence of pop singers. In addition, Ellington failed to write any new works that featured Django, just having the guitarist jam a few standards with the big band’s rhythm section. Reinhardt became homesick for France, he missed or appeared late at several key concerts and, when he returned home, his United States adventure was just thought of as a brief misfire.
In contrast, when major American jazz musicians visited Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s, they went out of their way to find and play with Reinhardt. This resulted in many classic recordings that feature Django holding his own with the Americans.
Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt was born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium. Originally a banjoist in the 1920s who played dance music, Reinhardt discovered jazz through the recordings of Louis Armstrong. He was already doubling on guitar when a disastrous fire in his gypsy caravan permanently scarred one of his hands. Despite only being able to use two fingers on the hand he used to finger chords, Reinhardt made a comeback and developed a powerful solo style. When he began regularly teaming up with violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1933 as co-leaders of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (an all-string group consisting of violin, three acoustic guitars and bass), a new sound was born.
In addition to his work with the Quintet, Reinhardt appeared with a variety of all-star groups that often featured American greats. ‘Americans In Paris Part 1’ has Django interacting with tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trumpeter Bill Coleman, trombonist Dickie Wells and violinist Eddie South. ‘Americans In Paris Part 2’ begins in 1938 with Benny Carter.
Carter (1907-2003) had a remarkable career full of consistent achievements and impressive longevity. He made his recording debut in 1927 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten, was already a notable altoist and arranger by the following year, and worked with Fletcher Henderson, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and his own big bands. A top altoist and trumpeter in addition to being an occasional clarinettist, Carter was in great demand in Europe during his three years overseas (1935-38), both as a soloist and as an arranger/composer. After returning to the U.S., he worked steadily for the next sixty years until his retirement at the age of ninety.
The first three selections on this collection feature Carter leading a septet/octet of Europeans including Reinhardt. From the start of I’m Coming Virginia, one knows that it is a Benny Carter arrangement; his writing for reeds was always distinctive. Tenor-saxophonist Alix Combelle shows off the influence of Coleman Hawkins before Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter take an inventive chorus apiece. Farewell Blues has spots for altoist Fletcher Allen, a jubilant Combelle and Carter with Reinhardt mostly in the background other than taking a few short breaks. Blue Light Blues features a different sound altogether and, rather than having a frontline of three saxophones, Carter switches to trumpet and Bertie King joins the band on clarinet. All four horns and Django are heard from on this spontaneous-sounding performance.
Larry Adler (1914-2001) was always in his own musical category. The first major harmonica soloist, Adler worked hard to make the harmonica accepted as a legitimate instrument. Throughout his long and productive career, he was heard playing everything from classical music to Gershwin. Until the rise of Toots Thielemans in the 1950s, Adler had no competition on his instrument.
Although he did not consider himself a jazz musician, Adler could play credible jazz whenever it interested him as he showed on his one session with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Adler’s expressive harmonica is often in the forefront, taking the place of Stephane Grappelli’s violin with Grappelli switching to piano. While Adler is usually in the lead, Reinhardt gets his solo space and blends in well with the harmonica virtuoso on Body And Soul, Lover Come Back To Me, My Melancholy Baby and I Got Rhythm.
While Reinhardt’s 1946 tour with Duke Ellington did not produce the musical magic that was expected, he did have an opportunity in 1939 to record with three of Duke’s sidemen. Rex Stewart (1907-67), the leader and organizer of the quartet, was famous for the bent notes he was able to achieve on cornet through his halfvalve technique. He was a major asset to Ellington’s orchestra during 1934-45. Barney Bigard, Ellington’s clarinettist during 1927-42, worked early on as a tenor-saxophonist with King Oliver (1925-27) and during 1947-55 and 1960- 61 toured the world as a member of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. Billy Taylor (no relation to the famous pianist) played bass with Ellington in the years (1935-39) before the emergence of Jimmy Blanton.
Rex Stewart’s Montmartre has such a happy melody that it is surprising that it has not been revived through the years. The cornet-clarinetguitar- bass quartet has a particularly appealing sound, with Reinhardt providing a driving rhythm. Low Cotton has Bigard, Reinhardt and Stewart taking turns sharing the lead. Finesse and Solid Old Man are unique in that for the only time in his career, Bigard is heard on records playing drums, keeping time behind the other musicians when he is not playing clarinet. He sticks to his main ax on the date’s lone standard, I Know That You Know, which is only fitting since this piece has long been known as a clarinet feature, whether it be for Jimmie Noone or Sidney Bechet. Stewart also has an impressive solo, driving the performance to its conclusion, and he shows off his half valve mastery on the blues Solid Old Man.
With the outbreak of World War II, American musicians were not heard in continental Europe again until its liberation. The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band was among the first orchestras to visit France although its leader did not survive December 1944. A month later, an all-star group from the Miller Orchestra recorded with Django as ‘The Jazz Club Mystery Band’. Although swing would soon go out of favor, each of the Americans on the session would have productive careers in the postwar world. Bernie Privin mostly worked as a lead trumpeter so it is a rare treat to hear him taking solos in a combo setting. Peanuts Hucko (heard here exclusively on tenor) would be a popular Benny Goodman-influenced clarinettist featured in swing and dixieland settings. Mel Powell, famous for his earlier piano playing and arrangements for Benny Goodman, left jazz altogether to become a classical composer. Bassist Joe Schulman appeared on a countless number of sessions as a sideman while Ray McKinley led his own big band later in the decade. The musicians show plenty of spirit on the four swing standards and Reinhardt must have been happy to perform with players of this calibre.
‘Americans In Paris Part 2’ concludes with another unusual session. A sixteen-piece American military swing band directed by Jack Platt had the opportunity to play four Reinhardt originals with the composer. Although none of the Americans in the orchestra ever became famous, their musicianship is excellent and they show plenty of enthusiasm. This date also gives one an opportunity to hear an acoustic guitarist backed by a shouting big band.
Every Django Reinhardt recording is well worth hearing, and the twenty on ‘American In Paris Part 2’ contain many special and unique moments from the brilliant guitarist and his American friends.
Scott Yanow – author of eight jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76
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