About this Recording
8.120707 - REINHARDT, Django: H. C. Q. Strut (1938-1939) (Reinhardt, Vol. 5)



‘H.C.Q.Strut’  Original Recordings 1938-1939

Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France


By mid-1938, the Quintet of the Hot Club of France was not only the top jazz band in Europe but one of the most exciting music groups in the world.  Although only fifteen months away from breaking up due to circumstances way beyond their control, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli were at the height of their musical partnership.


Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt was born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium.  A member of a gypsy family that traveled all over Europe, Reinhardt grew up hearing music (mostly traditional gypsy melodies) and early on took up the banjo.  He had a natural musical ability, began doubling on guitar, and played dance and folk music in establishments in France.  But a major tragedy almost finished his career before it had started.  While he was asleep one night in his caravan, a fire erupted and Django was seriously burned, resulting in two of the fingers on his left hand becoming permanently unusable.  Doctors in a hospital suggested amputating his hand altogether, but luckily some friends snuck him out one night and he was able to recover by himself.  Reinhardt spent all his time relearning the guitar, figuring out how to finger chords with just two fingers and a thumb, and developing a completely new style.  Around this time he discovered jazz and the joy of improvising through the records of Louis Armstrong.


By 1930 Reinhardt was back to playing music, and the following year he met Stephane Grappelli when they were both hired to play in the same orchestra.  The violinist was almost exactly two years older (being born 26 January 1908 in Paris) and a major contrast to Django in that he was well schooled, sophisticated and reliable.  However both musicians shared a love for performing and for swinging jazz.  Grappelli had been a professional musician since 1923 and had gained plenty of experience in dance bands before meeting up with the gypsy guitarist.


In 1933 Reinhardt and Grappelli crossed paths for the second time and a jam session backstage made them notice their special musical chemistry.  Soon they were co-leading the all-string Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France which consisted of Stephane’s violin, Django’s acoustic guitar, two rhythm guitarists and a bassist.  It quickly became obvious to listeners that Reinhardt was the world’s best jazz guitarist and that Grappelli was on a par with Joe Venuti, the pacesetting jazz violinist.


This compilation has the most rewarding recordings by Reinhardt and Grappelli from the last period of the original Quintet of the Hot Club Of France.  Though there had been musical magic from the time of the group’s first recordings in late 1934, after three and a half years together, the comfort level was so high that by June 1938 the musicians were constantly challenging each other.  The Reinhardt/Grappelli original Swing From Paris starts off the programme with an advanced line that almost sounds like bebop, as does the violinist’s opening break.  The next six selections were recorded during the Quintet’s late-summer visit to England.  The Flat Foot Floogee had become a big novelty hit when guitarist-singer Slim Gaillard recorded it with bassist Slam Stewart six months earlier.  Django and Stephane ignore the novelty elements and simply swing the tune.  Lambeth Walk was both a walking dance and a charming melody from the 1937 British musical Me And My Gal.  The co-leaders effectively take turns being the lead voice throughout this delightful performance.


Both Reinhardt and Grappelli had opportunities to lead their own record dates in the 1930s, usually with groups smaller than the Quintet.  Seven of the guitarist’s selections are on this set including the next four numbers, three of which have Grappelli accompanying Reinhardt on what was his first instrument, the piano.  Irving Berlin’s I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm would have its most famous recording a few years later by Les Brown’s orchestra in a rather explosive arrangement.  In contrast, Django’s rendition is lyrical, at least until the tempo doubles for the last chorus.  Please Be Kind is associated with Benny Goodman, who recorded the love song with Martha Tilton’s vocal in early 1938, but that version is quite straight compared to Reinhardt’s tour-de-force.  Louise is still owned by the legendary Maurice Chevalier but it is difficult not to enjoy Django’s variations, especially when he plays the melody over minor chords for a half-chorus.  For Improvisation, Reinhardt is heard by himself, mostly playing chords in a spontaneous piece that holds up well.


The full Quintet returns for the first of its five 1939 sessions.  The romping Reinhart/Grappelli piece Hungaria bears more than a passing resemblance to “Bye Bye Blues” and features the band getting hot.  Jeepers Creepers is slightly more relaxed with Django stretching himself.  He makes every note count and sounds so effortless that it leads to one wondering why no other guitarist of the period (at least until Charlie Christian emerged later in the year) was on his level.  My Melancholy Baby, long maligned as the No.1 song requested by drunks, is actually a superior tune as the Quintet shows in swinging fashion.  The romantic Time On My Hands has Grappelli caressing the melody and Reinhardt uplifting the tune with his fresh ideas and inspired accompaniment of the violinist.  Django’s Twelfth Night is one of his better originals and it cooks from start to finish.  Tea For Two is a song that would remain in Grappelli’s repertoire for the next six decades with this interpretation being quite loving.


On 30 June 1939, Django Reinhardt recorded seven selections in several different settings, five of which are included here.  The Quintet plays the guitarist’s Stockholm which sounds quite modern for the period in its chord voicings.  Grappelli and rhythm guitarist Pierre Feret sit out for a medium-tempo I’ll See You In My Dreams, which is entirely a showcase for Reinhardt’s creativity with a trio.  On the introspective Echoes Of Spain, Django’s unaccompanied guitar hints at what he could have accomplished had he chosen to play classical music instead of jazz.  The Quintet returns for a particularly infectious reading of Noel Coward’s The Younger Generation and Reinhardt plays another quiet but sophisticated guitar solo on his Naguine. 


By the time the Quintet of the Hot Club of France gathered in a London recording studio on 25 August 1939, World War II was under way.  The Man I Love is quite unusual for the Quintet since the bulk of this performance has Grappelli switching to piano, dueting with Reinhardt before the other members of the group join in during the last chorus.  Concluding both this reissue and the recorded legacy of the classic band is H.C.Q.Strut, an original similar to “Jeepers Creepers” that offers listeners one last chance to hear the Grappelli–Reinhardt musical partnership in its early period.


Shortly after the record date, Django Reinhardt spontaneously decided to return home to France while Stephane Grappelli opted to remain in England.  They would not see each other or record together again for seven years.  Both would have many major musical adventures in their future but they will always be most famous for their accomplishments with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.


Scott Yanow

– author of eight jazz books including Swing, Jazz On Record 1917-76, Classic Jazz and Trumpet Kings

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