About this Recording
8.120821 - REINHARDT, Django: With Vocals (1933-1941) (Reinhardt, Vol. 9)

‘With Vocals’ Original Recordings 1933-1941

‘The most creative jazz musician to originate anywhere outside the USA’ – Mercer Ellington

Immortalised in the annals as a key innovator in the European jazz tradition, ‘gypsy jazzman’ par excellence Django Reinhardt was the first non- American to make a decisive impact in the genre. A curious blend of extrovert showman and selfstyled loner, this volatile yet elegant miniaturist, although prodigal of his talents – not averse to ‘disappearing’ for lengthy periods to pursue other interests (among which fly-fishing and billiards at which he was a champion) – left a legacy of finely-honed gems. The son of travelling entertainers (his father a violinist, his mother a dancer) Django was born Jean Baptiste Reinhardt in a caravan in a French-speaking Manouche gypsy settlement at Liberchies, near Luttre, Belgium on 23 January 1910.

From 1918 Django lived with his mother and guitarist brother Joseph in a shantytown caravan, near Choisy on the outskirts of Paris. There, his family formed part of a troupe of players whose incessant wanderings made his youth a nomadic and unstable existence. He was surrounded from his earliest youth by music making, however, and took early to both violin and banjo, although he soon changed to guitar and from the start his playing of this was intuitive also, rather than in any sense formally instilled. Self-taught and selfmotivated, Django learned most from observing the playing of others. His playing, even after the superimposition of the Afro-American jazz idiom, was steeped in the spontaneous, Magyar-derived Francophone tsigane traditions.

After gaining his first professional experience in touring shows with his family, in 1921 he formed a duo with the accordéoniste Guérino and with him made regular appearances at local balsmusettes and in houses of ill repute. Later he migrated up-market, to dance-halls and cafés and, it is reported, won several talent contests. In 1928 (for Ideal) he made his first discs, in an accordion band led by Jean Vaissade, which reached the ears of English bandleaderimpresario Jack Hylton, who made him a firm offer of work. Later that same year, however, physical injury (including the loss of two fingers of his left hand) in a caravan fire fortuitously provided Django with the spur to devise the individual method through which he became famous. An enforced eighteen month convalescence led to a re-appraisal of his technique and by 1930 Reinhardt had resumed his career in Parisian cafés and cabarets, where his style, a blend of traditional native Romany rhythm and imported American jazz, was perfected.

In Paris Django met with visiting American jazzmen (players like Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Eddie South) and in 1933 was heard by the painter Emile Savitry, through whom he met Jean Sablon (1906-1994), at that time a rising star of Continental cabaret and dubbed the ‘French Crosby’. For some months the pair collaborated successfully as a duo, recording (for French Columbia) with Django playing in the style of the recently-deceased American guitarist Ed Lang (1902-1933) – and also in a larger ad hoc ensemble, whose personnel regularly featured his French colleague, clarinettist-saxophonist André Ekyan (alias Echkyan, 1907-1972).

By 1934 Django and violinist Stephane Grappelli were working in a fourteen-piece fronted by Louis Vola at the Hotel Cambridge, the Parisian branch of Claridge’s (although they had first met the previous year, as members of Ekyan’s resident band at the Croix de Sud Club) and from this plush socialite background, the niche of an international musical elite, courtesy of writer-producer Charles Delaunay (1911- 1988), the world famous Quintette sprang to life. In 1937 the co-founder, with Hugues Panassié, of the Swing record label, Delaunay promoted concerts on behalf of the Hot Club de France. Essentially a stylistic harking-back (the critics thought) to the defunct Lang-Venuti American ensembles of the late 1920s, in a little over a year, largely through the medium of recording (by 1939 the group had recorded over 200 sides) the group had become a ‘household’ name among jazz enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic, with Reinhardt hailed as international celebrity.

The Quintette which (by general agreement) made great jazz, easily on a par with anything ethnically American performed a disparate, cross-cultural repertoire which knew no boundaries. Intermixing classical and pop with folk, ad lib, in a ‘world-jazz fusion’ it survived for almost five years, although due to Django’s unpredictability and frequent arrogant outbursts his relationships, particularly with the reserved and more precise Grappelli, were by all accounts far from easygoing. The disbanding of the Quintette just before the outset of World War II, during the group’s British tour, may therefore, at least privately, have come as something of a relief to Grappelli, who remained in England for the duration of hostilities. Prior to the German occupation, Django the gypsy fled Paris, but later in the war he returned larger-than-life to the French capital. Towards the close of the war he resumed his itinerant life-style; taking to the road he succeeded in dodging the Nazis as he worked his way from Switzerland to North Africa. From 1942 much of his time was spent in Belgium.

By 1945 Reinhardt was again resident in Paris where he led a big band and, switching to electric guitar, formed another quintet, in which Grappelli’s place was filled by clarinettist Hubert Rostaing. In 1946 he co-wrote (with André Hodeir) the music for the film Le village de la colère and visited England and Switzerland. Guest soloist with Duke Ellington’s orchestra (November 1946) he toured the USA and later made a clamorous appearance in New York, before returning to France where he made frequent forays with his quintet, whose line-up occasionally included Grappelli. In 1951 he retired to the village of Samois-sur-Seine. He died aged 43 years, from a cerebral haemorrhage, at Fontainebleau, on 16 May 1953.

Quite apart from his association with the Quintette, ample testament to Django’s inspirational technical facility and rhythmic mastery in ensemble are provided by his many pre-war Parisian sessions featuring such luminaries as Barney Bigard, Carter, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells and Duke Ellington band members, notably Rex Stewart. In addition, his accompaniments to a host of leading players in both cabaret and American-style dance repertoire (in ad hoc studio groups led by Ekyan and others) form a list which reads like a Who’s- Who of the inter-War avant-garde French jazz scene. The American contingent includes Coleman Hawkins (during 1937 Django recorded as a member of Hawkins’ All-Star Jammers; earlier, in 1935, they had recorded an immortal duo cut of “Stardust”) and pianist Garland Wilson (1909-1954; a sophisticated technician resident in Paris intermittently from 1932). The list also includes French-Italian drummer and film-composer Jerry Mengo (alias Joseph Gaëton Menegozzi, 1911-1979; a founding Rey Ventura Collégien Mengo was also a noted member of the band, on and off-disc, of clarinettist-saxophonist Alix Combelle, 1912- 1978) and pianist-composer Alain Romans (1905 -1989). Outstanding among many vocalists are Germaine Sablon (1899 -1985, sister of Jean), Le Petit Mirsha (otherwise Mirsha Oreinstein, 1923-1937?; a Manouche gypsy boy singer who died in a Nazi labour-camp), Charles Trénet (1913-2002) and the American Hildegarde (alias Hildegarde Loretta Sell, 1906- 2005; her Pathé recording of Darling, je vous aime beaucoup, featuring Django with Orchestre Patrick (alias of trombonist Guy Paquinet) predated her British version with Carroll Gibbons’ Boy Friends).

Peter Dempsey, 2005

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