Jun 4, 2010
May 16th was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Django Reinhardt, the unique jazz guitarist who helped turn Europe onto jazz sounds.
His story is a compelling one. Born to gypsy parents in Belgium, he lived primarily in France, where he and his brother learned guitar. Horribly burned in a fire that destroyed his family's caravan, Reinhardt found himself at eighteen years old unable to use the third and fourth fingers of his right hand. This disability become the major force in his music, as he played his solos with only two fingers, and the injured fingers for chording. The sound was - and still is - unique.
He is probably best known for his collaborations with violinist Stephane Grappelli, with whom he created the Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the swingingest combos of the 1930's. Reinhardt could neither read nor write music, and was barely literate, but made some classic recordings, including "Minor Swing", "Belleville", "Swing '42" and "Nuages" (French for "Clouds").
His best known tune, "Djangology" was recorded in the late 1940's, after he had toured the US for the first time, playing with Duke Ellington's orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Regrettably, he died just three years later at the age of 43 from a sudden brain hemmorage.
Some recent recordings show that Django's imprint is still strong, and that a new generation is creating a new wave of Gypsy Jazz. Podcast 184 celebrates these new releases, including music from:
Mark O'Connor - "Minor Swing" from Jam Session. World-renowned acoustic musicians Mark O’Connor (violin), Chris Thile (mandolin), Frank Vignola (guitar), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Jon Burr (bass) and Byron House (bass) have combined bluegrass and gypsy jazz on their latest album, which features this tune, well known to Django fans.
The Hot Club of Detriot - "Sacre Bleu" from It's About That Time. "Django Reinhardt is the showerhead from which we all come down" says bandleader Evan Perri of his compatriots, who fuse modern improvisation with the gypsy jazz soul. The band is Evan Perri and Paul Brady on guitar (I guess it takes two of them to approximate one Django!), Andrew Kratzat on bass, Carl Carfagna on saxophones, and Julien Labro bringing that Continental sound on accordian.
Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - "Fascinating Rhythm" from Live in New York City. O'Connor is truly the heir apparent to Stephane Grappelli, and this trio album which covers a number of Django/Grappelli classics never ceases to put a smile on your face. The Trio keeps the no drums sound alive, and is O'Connor on violin, Frank Vignola on guitar and Jon Burr on bass.
John Jorgenson Quintet - "Hungaria" from One Stolen Night. The JJQ is the only American act to ever headline the Django Reinhardt Memorial Festival in France. Here they step out even further by adding trimbones and the greek instrument bandoneon to their core sound. John Jorgenson plays guitar, saxophones, bouzouki and sings, Kevin Nolan plays rhythm guitar, Jason Anick is on violin, Simon Planting on bass, and Rick Reed on percussion. The tune was written by Django.
In my own backyard, Django in June, New England's premier occasion to celebrate, study and just plain enjoy the musical tradition launched by the great French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, will be held on the campus of Smith College in beautiful Northampton, Massachusetts. Musicians have the option of going the full-immersion route by attending Django Camp Tuesday through Sunday or of dropping in for a weekend of clinics and jamming. On Friday and Saturday nights the general public is warmly invited to join us at Smith College's lovely Helen Hills Hills Chapel for concerts by world-class Gypsy jazz artists.