About this Recording
8.120726 - REINHARDT, Django: Nuages (1940) (Reinhardt, Vol. 6)




Original 1940 recordings by Django’s Music and

The Quintet of the Hot Club of France


The Quintet of the Hot Club of France, co-led by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, were in England on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland.  The musicians had recorded just a week earlier and they were playing an engagement in London when word reached them that the war was on.  Grappelli made arrangements to stay in England but Reinhardt spontaneously decided to return to France, a decision that greatly affected the course of his life.  Not only was the original Quintet of the Hot Club of France permanently broken up after six successful years (though there would be later reunions by Grappelli and Reinhardt) but the guitarist would be living under Nazi rule for four years as Germany soon conquered France.


Jean Baptiste ‘Django’ Reinhardt, the top jazz guitarist in the world, was still only 29 when he returned to France.  He was born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium, a member of a gypsy family.  Django, who was largely illiterate, had a natural musical ability and was self-taught on banjo and guitar.  In the 1920s he played gypsy melodies, folk songs and dance numbers in French cafés, making his first recordings (on banjo) in 1928.  However his career almost ended when he was just beginning.  One night while asleep in a caravan, a batch of flowers caught fire and Reinhardt was seriously burned.  Doctors in a hospital were seriously thinking of amputating his left hand but some friends snuck him out one night.  Even after Django recovered, two of the fingers on his left hand (which he used to chord the guitar) were permanently unusable.  He had to completely relearn how to play guitar.


Not only did Reinhardt succeed at figuring out how to play chords with just two fingers and a thumb, but he discovered jazz (through the records of Louis Armstrong) and the thrill of improvising.  By 1930 he was playing guitar in public again.  The following year he met Stephane Grappelli and when their paths crossed again two years later, they so enjoyed the experience of jamming together that they put together the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.  The all-string group, consisting of violin, three acoustic guitars and bass, was a perfect forum for the co-leaders and their recordings of 1934 to 1939 are timeless classics [See note, page 4: Django Reinhardt Vols.1–5 in this Naxos Jazz Legends series].


But with the outbreak of World War II and Django’s decision to return to the European continent, he had to start all over.  On 22 March  1940 Reinhardt returned to the recording studio at the head of a drumless big band, an unprecedented setting for an acoustic guitarist.  The United States’ Alvino Rey, who actually played steel guitar, was the only swing era guitarist to lead a regular orchestra.  Reinhardt’s band, called ‘Django’s Music’, recorded four numbers, starting off with the catchy Daphne, a song that the Quintet had previously recorded on 31January 1938.  Tenor-saxophonist Alix Combelle and trumpeter Philippe Brun have solos while the leader is content to swing the band on rhythm guitar.  Limehouse Blues puts the spotlight on the fine altoist Andre Ekyan before Django flies over the brass, having no difficulty being heard over the four trumpets and three trombones.  The eerie Tears, one of the most memorable of the Reinhardt-Grappelli compositions, features both the guitarist and the ensemble.  Jimmy’s Bar has a typically fluent solo from Django who plays with a septet taken from the larger group.


While the big band was a happy departure, Django Reinhardt needed a regular combo to play jobs in wartime France.  There was no point trying to replace Stephane Grappelli with another violinist since Grappelli was the top European violinist, so Reinhardt instead utilized Hubert Rostaing, a technically skilled and advanced clarinettist who also doubled on tenor.  Rostaing would play with Django on and off through 1948.  And instead of having three guitars as before, Reinhardt cut back to two (using his brother Joseph Reinhardt) and added drummer Pierre Fouad.


At first the group was also known as the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.  Its debut, Rhythm futur, is a piece that lives up to its futuristic name, at least harmonically.  It is clear from the start that Rostaing’s impressive technique and sound (sometimes hinting at Artie Shaw) works well with the guitarist.  The session also includes the minor-toned Blues.


The same group with a change in bassists and several guest appearances by Alix Combelle on clarinet and tenor, recorded thirteen selections on 13 and 17 December 1940. Combelle, who had sounded quite impressive on a famous 1937 four-saxophone date with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Andre Ekyan, was an underrated clarinettist and a tenor with a big tone influenced by Hawkins.  Swing 41 really benefits from the inclusion of the two clarinets who blend together very well.  The clarinets take a mysterious introduction to a remake of Reinhardt’s most famous original, the haunting ballad Nuages.


Probably to avoid being noticed by the Nazis, most of the standards played by the Quintet during the war years were issued under their French titles, with the exception of Sweet Sue and All Of Me.  Exactly Like You (“Pour vous”) has Combelle’s last appearance on the 13 December set, showing off his tenor playing along with Rostaing’s clarinet.  The classical melody Fantaisie sur une danse norvégienne is turned into a delightful exercise in swing by the Quintet with Django showing once again in his chordal solo that he had no competitors among guitarists of the era (other than Charlie Christian).  Vendredi 13 may have been recorded on Friday the 13th but the musical luck was very good that day; Combelle helps out by ringing some bells during this exotic piece.  Another classical melody, Liebesfreud, is full of exuberant joy.  The lesser-known Reinhardt–Grappelli piece Mabel (previously recorded on 14 December 1937) has a very advanced and tricky chord structure that challenges the musicians to create fresh melodic ideas.  Little White Lies (retitled “Petits mensonges”) has an additional theme added by the Quintet (heard during the guitar solo) that makes this version sound fresh and quite different than usual.  On the traditional Dark Eyes (or “Les yeux noirs”) and  Sweet Sue, Just You, Reinhardt really cooks, played heated single-note lines during his spots.


Alix Combelle returns for the three selections recorded on 17 December.  Swing de Paris is a medium-tempo blues given its personality due to some key changes, unusual transitions and the use of the two clarinets.  Oiseaux des îles is a musical train ride while a more conventional All Of Me has fine solos from all of the principals.


This release concludes with two numbers from a slightly different version of the Django Reinhardt Big Band (‘Django’s Music’), one with a full saxophone section and drums.  Reinhardt and Rostaing have spots on Stockholm while Festival Swing is similar to a performance by the Metronome All Stars in that it features many top musicians in a brief period of time.  There is a chorus apiece on the medium-tempo blues from ten of the twelve horns, bassist Tony Rovira and drummer Pierre Fouad (each of whom are announced) plus two choruses by the great Django.


Life may have been increasingly grim for Django Reinhardt under the Nazi rule but one cannot tell that from these infectious and innovative performances, many of which were formerly rare.


Scott Yanow

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

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