About this Recording
8.120734 - REINHARDT, Django: Americans in Paris (1935-1937) (Reinhardt, Vol. 7)

Django Reinhardt Vol.7
Americans in Paris, Part One
Original Recordings 1935-1937

In the 1930s, Europe was a haven for some of the top black American jazz musicians. It offered three main advantages. 1) It was an escape from the institutional racism of the United States although Germany was to be avoided after Hitler’s rise in power in 1933. 2) While thought of as lower class entertainment by many in the USA, jazz musicians were treated as artists in Europe where jazz was ranked near classical music in importance. 3) Being in Europe gave the best jazz musicians an opportunity to play with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, who was born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium, was unquestionably the premier guitarist in jazz after the death of Eddie Lang in 1933. Despite only being able to use two fingers on one of his hands due to a fire in the late 1920s, he was able to construct powerful solos that overcame the problems of playing a barely audible acoustic guitar. Stephane Grappelli (born 26 January 1908 in Paris) ranked with Joe Venuti, Eddie South and the up-and-coming Stuff Smith as jazz’s top violinist in the 1930s. Although their personalities were different, with Grappelli being sophisticated and reliable while Reinhardt lived a gypsy’s lifestyle and was barely literate, musically they made for a perfect match. Starting in 1933 they worked together regularly as co-leaders of the Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France, a group also including two rhythm guitars and a bass.

Some of the finest collaborations of Reinhardt and Grappelli with American greats from 1935-37 are on this collection. Coleman Hawkins (1904-69) was the unrivalled king of the tenor sax at the time. He had come to fame as a key soloist with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra during 1923-34 where his large tone and harmonically advanced ideas made him the first major tenor soloist. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the fortunes of the Henderson big band, he moved to Europe in 1934, staying for five years and being treated like royalty.

Hawkins met up with Reinhardt and Grappelli on a few occasions. Their earliest recording was on 2 March 1935 when Hawkins was accompanied by an all-star French orchestra (other than expatriate American trumpeter Arthur Briggs) organized by violinist Michel Warlop. Grappelli switched to his first instrument (piano) for the occasion while Reinhardt is very much in evidence on guitar, both as a rhythm player and as a highly original soloist; check out his opening break on Avalon. Star Dust showcases Hawkins with the rhythm section, displaying his tone and his way of both caressing and building upon the melody.

The haunting Smoke Rings has the Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France effectively augmented by four brass instruments. This version of the Casa Loma Orchestra’s theme song is a real standout. American trumpeter Bill Coleman (1904-81) was under appreciated and overshadowed in the U.S. but fared quite well in Europe during the 1930s. He joins Django in a pickup quintet led by pianist Garnet Clark, an American influenced by Fats Waller and Earl Hines. Coleman takes solo honours on a fine version of Rosetta, a song written by Hines the previous year. The next three selections return to the Quintet of the Hot Club Of France with American singer Freddy Taylor being the guest. Taylor swings on I’se A Muggin’ (a hit for violinist Stuff Smith), Georgia On My Mind and Nagasaki, no doubt inspired by the accompanying musicians.

The following version of Crazy Rhythm is one of the most exciting recordings of the era. Benny Carter (1907-2003), who was responsible for the arrangement, was with Johnny Hodges the leading altoist in jazz during the 1930s. Carter first recorded in 1927 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten and worked with Fletcher Henderson, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and his own big bands. After making a strong impression in the U.S. with his alto and trumpet playing, his arrangements and his compositions, he spent 1935-38 in Europe where he worked constantly. On Crazy Rhythm the two great American saxophonists Carter and Hawkins are joined by the two major French players altoist Andre Ekyan and tenor-saxophonist Alix Combelle with the solo order being Ekyan, Combelle, Carter and Hawkins. Django Reinhardt was supposed to go next but, caught up in the excitement, he urges Hawkins to take another chorus while being content to drive the classic performance to its conclusion.

Dicky Wells (1907-85) was most famous for his years with Count Basie (1938-50) but his trip to Europe took place a year earlier when he was a member of Teddy Hill’s Orchestra. An erratic but exciting trombonist who had a humorous speechlike style, Wells is heard in top form on three selections. Bugle Call Rag has him utilizing three trumpeters including two (Bill Dillard and Shad Collins) from Hill’s band but not the third one (a young Dizzy Gillespie), opting instead for Bill Coleman. While each of the trumpeters gets spots on Bugle Call Rag, both Sweet Sue, Just You and Japanese Sandman have Coleman as the only trumpeter. The solos, tradeoffs and interplay between trumpet and trombone, driven by Reinhardt’s guitar, make these jams quite memorable.

In 1937, Eddie South (1904-62) was making his second visit to Europe. His first time overseas, in 1928, resulted in Smith becoming very interested in gypsy melodies as a basis for his improvising. Also skilled at playing swing tunes, standards and blues, South (who had the technique of a classical violinist) fit in naturally with Reinhardt and Grappelli. Eddie’s Blues puts him in the spotlight, playing a duet with Django. With bassist Wilson Myers making the group a trio, South and Reinhardt romp through Sweet Georgia Brown. Lady Be Good is given an unusual treatment for, after Django gets a chorus, he is followed by the three violins of Warlop, Grappelli and South, who solo in that order. Warlop departs and on Dinah and Reinhardt’s Daphne, South and Grappelli interact with each other. The two violinists have similar sounds and styles with South’s tone being a bit darker and his solos sometimes being a little more adventurous.

The final four selections feature trumpeter Bill Coleman. While Coleman worked with many groups in the U.S., he was relatively unknown in his native land. However in Europe he made a strong impression during 1935-40 before being forced by World War II to return to the United States. Unlike Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Dicky Wells and Eddie South, Coleman returned permanently to Europe in 1948, playing swing and dixieland on the Continent in the decades before his death in 1981. He is in excellent form with Reinhardt in a septet on Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, Big Boy Blues (which has both Christian Wagner and Big Boy Goudie on clarinets) and Swing Guitars, and really excels on Bill Coleman Blues, a duet with Django Reinhardt.

Throughout these dates, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli hold their own with their American guests, showing once again that they were the first great European jazz musicians and that jazz is truly an international language.

Scott Yanow – author of 8 jazz books including Swing, Jazz On Film, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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