About this Recording
8.120686 - REINHARDT, Django: Swing Guitars (1936-1937) (Reinhardt, Vol. 3)



‘Swing Guitars’  Original Recordings 1936-1937

Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France


Somehow the story does not make much sense.  An illiterate gypsy from Belgium whose left hand has two completely unusable fingers becomes jazz’s greatest guitarist in the 1930s and the first major European jazz musician.  But the tale of Django Reinhardt, as unlikely as it is, is one of jazz’s great legends.


Born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium, Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt grew up in a gypsy caravan.  He started playing music early on, beginning with the violin, switching to the banjo in the early 1920s.  Reinhardt made his first recordings as a banjoist in 1928 and was beginning to double on guitar when tragedy struck.  While asleep in his caravan, some flowers caught on fire and Django was seriously burned.  Although the rest of him recovered, two of his fingers on his left hand were permanently scarred.  In fact, it looked so bad that doctors considered amputating his hand altogether; fortunately a few gypsy friends snuck Django out of the hospital one night.


Within two years, Reinhardt was back playing guitar, having devised a new chording system that allowed him to play chords rapidly with just his two fingers, occasionally using his thumb.  He discovered jazz through the recordings of Louis Armstrong and developed into both an exciting accompanist and a major soloist.


In 1931 Reinhardt first met Stephane Grappelli, the second great jazz violinist (after Joe Venuti).  Born 26 January 1908 in Paris, France, Grappelli although growing up poor, was a complete contrast to Django.  Well schooled, Grappelli played both violin and piano, was a professional musician from the age of fifteen and studied at the Paris Conservatorie during 1924-28.  He worked with a variety of dance bands before meeting and jamming with Reinhardt.  After their initial encounter, Reinhardt and Grappelli went their separate ways until they were both hired to play in the same orchestra in 1933.  Backstage while Grappelli was tuning up his violin, Reinhardt began chording and soon they were involved in a jam session that changed their lives.  They decided to co-lead a band and the result was the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, a unit comprised of Django’s guitar, Grappelli’s violin, two rhythm guitars and a bass.


During 1933-39, this was one of the most exciting bands in jazz.  The all-string group was completely acoustic and proved to be a perfect vehicle for the playing of its co-leaders.  The strumming of the guitars made the absence of piano and drums into an asset and gave the group a unique sound, one unheard of in the United States.  And while most American guitarists (even Eddie Lang, Reinhardt’s predecessor) were largely consigned to playing rhythm guitar except on special occasions, partly because the acoustic guitar was inaudible, Django had no trouble being heard with his string group.


The Quintet of the Hot Club Of France made its first recordings in December 1934 and there were six sessions in all during 1934-35.  Swing Guitars has twenty of the 22 recordings made by the group during its next four record dates, just leaving out a couple lesser tracks (“I’se A Muggin’” and “In The Still Of The Night”).  At the time of the 4 May 1936 set, Reinhardt was 26, Grappelli was 28 and their group was full of energy and constant creativity.  On five numbers from the 4 May and 15 October 1936 sessions the American singer Freddy Taylor takes vocals but otherwise the music is by the quintet.


From the first notes of Limehouse Blues, it is obvious that this was a band unlike any other.  Grappelli plays the melody fairly straight before getting hot, and then Reinhardt creates a solo that sounds impossible even for a guitarist who had ten functioning fingers.  I Can’t Give You Anything But Love has a vocal from Taylor that finds his voice and phrasing being strongly influenced by Louis Armstrong who had helped make the song a standard seven years earlier.  Oriental Shuffle is the first of four originals on this set that were co-composed by Reinhardt and Grappelli, a charming melody deserving of being revived as is the lyrical Are You In The Mood.  After You’ve Gone and Shine would be in Grappelli’s repertoire for decades; the former has a rousing violin solo while the latter features some particularly heated backing by Django.


Although some may think that Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia On My Mind was written by Ray Charles in the 1960s, it was already a standard by 1936 when the Quintet gave it its own special treatment.  Swing Guitars is a playful number similar to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang in the late 1920s.  Sweet Chorus is one of the better ballads penned by Reinhardt and Grappelli while Nagasaki wraps up the second session with plenty of fire.


On Exactly Like You, one regrets the three-minute time limit of 78 records, for just when Django’s solo builds to a high level, it is time for the closing riff.  Charleston, one of the most popular songs of the 1920s, was rarely performed during the Depression years, making this rendition a rare treat.  You’re Driving Me Crazy has a particularly brilliant two-chorus guitar solo (listen to how Django finishes his statement), Tears is a haunting original and the remaining six veteran standards (Duke Ellington’s ballad Solitude, Hot Lips, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Rose Room, Body And Soul and When Day Is Done) are all given inventive and swinging treatment by the unique band.


The Quintet of the Hot Club of France worked regularly until World War II began on 1August 1939.  When war broke out, they were booked in London but Django spontaneously decided to return home to France.  Grappelli chose to stay in England and the group became history.  Somehow during the war years, Reinhardt was able to survive and even record and perform fairly regularly.  Meanwhile, Grappelli had a new group in England that featured the brilliant young pianist George Shearing.  In 1946 and on an occasional basis for the next three years, the former leaders of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France had reunions, some of which were recorded.  Reinhardt, after some initial difficulty, switched successfully to the electric guitar and by 1951 was one of the finest jazz soloists on that instrument.  He had toured the United States in 1946 with Duke Ellington and, although that venture was unsuccessful, a new tour was being planned by producer Norman Granz when Reinhardt unexpectedly died on 16 May 1953 from a stroke; he was just 43.  Stephane Grappelli, although always a bit in Django’s shadow, worked steadily for decades and, after becoming a world traveler in 1969, he became even more famous than he had been in the 1930s.  He remained very active until his death on 1 December 1997 at the age of 89.


Swing Guitars features Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli at the peak of their powers, performing timeless music that still sounds fresh and new.


Scott Yanow, author of eight jazz books including Jazz On Record 1917-76, Classic Jazz (which covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings

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