Thursday, January 21, 2010

Django Reinhardt 100: The prewar period

Django Reinhardt 100: The prewar period ( English) Django Reinhardt 100: De vooroorlogse jaren ( Nederlands) Django Reinhardt 100: The postwar years (English) Django Reinhardt 100: De naoorloogse jaren (Nederlands)

Djangology - Django Reinhardt Centennial (1910-2010)
DJANGO REINHARDT 100: The Prewar period
Jørgen Larsen

Django Reinhardt is unique, a Gypsy guitar genius, who became an icon of the swing jazz period in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. Django is world famous for his command of the guitar, although he had to overcome the handicap of missing full use of all fingers at his fretting hand. Further, he is also famed for his compositions, some of which have become part of the jazz standard repertoire, like Minor Swing, Nuages and Djangology. Django was a personality larger than life according to the many anecdotes and stories told about him, his biography has always been surrounded by the myth of a legend. Here we will keep to facts about his career.

Jean Baptiste Reinhardt was born in a Gypsy caravan during the night of January 23, 1910, near the Belgian town of Liberchies. His parents were Gypsies of the Manouche clan, and he was given the nickname Django', which means I awake in the Romani language. Django grew up a wanderer following the ancient habits of his people, living in a horse driven caravan with his family always on the move for another encampment. As a child he traveled throughout France, Italy and North Africa, at about his tenth year of age his family took to a more permanent lifestyle in a Gypsy encampment at the edge of Paris.
Around this time it is said that Django learned to play violin and banjo by watching members of his clan performing. He was given a banjo guitar at the age of twelfth, and he started accompanying his father, a violinist, who would perform in a group of fellow Gypsies at festivals, in cafés and professionally at Bal-musette halls in Paris. Still in his teens, Django soon went on his own and played banjo, then guitar, with the popular Italian Gypsy accordionist Vetese Guérino and others in cafés, dancehalls and night clubs of Paris. He went on to play with numerous other musicians and made his first recordings playing the banjo with accordionist Jean Vaissade in 1928. At the age of 18 on November 2, 1928, Django was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his wife. Returning from a gig late at night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way
to bed. Both he and his wife escaped the fire, but Django suffered severe burns over half of his body and was brought to a hospital. His right leg was paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and further intended to amputate his right leg. Django refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time. Recovering from the injuries during several months after the fire, Django taught himself to play guitar again inventing a new technique that allowed him to use only his index and middle fingers on his left, fretting hand when playing solo, the two other fingers were badly hurt and could only be employed as support when playing chord progressions, complete mobility and extension of these fingers remained impossible.

After his period of convalscense Django worked again in cafés in Paris and in a duo with vocalist Jean Sablon accompanying the singer on guitar in a repertoire of French popular songs of the time. In 1933 they recorded several successful sessions, some of them also featuring Stéphane Grappelli. However, Django was attracted to jazz after listening to records by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington
and the sophisticated string duo of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. In 1934 jazz became his musical language when the Quintet of The Hot Club of France was formed at the initiative of Charles Delauney, who had attended some informal backstage jamming by members of a band featuring both Django and Stéphane Grappelli.
Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli
Delauney teamed Django and Stéphane Grappelli in a string quintet setting featuring three guitars, violin and double bass. The quintet would perform occasionally to promote Delauney's Hot Club of France' organization, originally a private Parisian club of devoted jazz enthusiasts promoting the new American swing music through various activities including concerts and later a record label appropriately named Disques Swing.
Quintette du Hot Club de France ( QHCF)
The initial formation of The Quintet of The Hot Club of France (QHCF) consisted of Django on lead guitar, Stéphane Grappelli on violin, Roger Chaput and Django's brother, Joseph Nin Nin Reinhardt on rhythm guitars and finally Louis Vola on double bass. The unusual instrumentation of the ensemble in a jazz context at the time quickly gained a reputation among Parisian jazz fans and the quintet had an instant success when the first recordings by the group were released late 1934. The interplay between Django and Grappelli was a sensation, their sharing of elaborate improvisation on their stringed instruments supported by the rhythm section without a drummer was something new and sat a standard in European jazz that matched the best players from the American jazz scene. The music by the quintet was hot swing performed in a way never heard before, the repertoire was mainly American swing tunes of the time but later also supplemented by compositions by Django and Grappelli such as Minor Swing

The QHCF made dozens of recordings from 1935 to 1939 released on various labels, most of them of a high musical standard at least when considering the efforts of Django and Grappelli. These recordings remain a document of the best of the swing era in Europe during the 1930s and they have had a constant success with new generations of jazz fans ever since as they have been currently available through various reissue compilations. The success of the QHCF also included live performance all over Europe, the quintet went on tour and the performance of the band's hot swing playing inspired musicians all over. Visiting American jazzmusicians in Paris were astonished by the high standard of Django's capacity as a guitarplayer and there were arranged recording sessions featuring Django in an all star line-up with Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, also Rex Stewart and Bill Coleman recorded with Django and even a jam-session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong was arranged. In 1939 was made a short film featuring the QHCF playing the tune J'attendrai, one of few documentary fragments showing Django in action using his special playing technique - enjoy this fragment here.

Jørgen Larsen

The QHCF arrives at the VARA-radio studio in Hilversum ( The Nertherlands) ( 8th of November, 1937.) f.l.t.r. Roger Reinhardt - Louis Vola - Joseph Reinhardt - Charles Delaunay - Stephane Grapelli - unknown person - Eddy Crommelin - Theo Uden Masman ( from the Ramblers) - Django Reinhardt with his wife and Harry Bodenz. (source: Doctor Jazz Magazine no. 98 (1981/82)

Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France made its debut in The Netherlands at the 5th Jazzwereld-Feest in the Kurzaal in Scheveningen ( near The Hague) on the 10th of July 1937.

Four month later, on the 6th of November, 1937, the quintet was one of the main attractions at a Feestavond at the Dierentuin in The Hague organized by the Nederlandse Jazz Liga afdeling Den Haag. Except the concert by the Quintette du Hot Club de France a concours of amateur bands was organized including a performance of the Schmull Group and several jam sessions. The Rhythm Giggers from Wageningen ( directed by André Eschauzier - for years a regular member of the Doctor Jazz Reunion), received the first prize and is to be seen at the start of the small Polygon news fragment and the Swing Papas ( 2nd prize) close the fragment. In the middle the Quintet du Hot Club de France, featuring Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli, Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Reinhardt and Louis Vola. ( Hans Koert)

If you enjoy reading articles like this one from Jørgen Larsen from Denmark about Django Reinhardt, you should inform yourself about the blogs to come. This year we remember the fact that Django Reinhardt was born 100 years ago in Liberchies (Belgium) on the 23rd of January, 1910. If you don't want to miss any further contribution about these celebrations, please register.
( Drawing of the QHCF by Boy ten Hoven (Nov. 1935) ( source: Boy ten Hove's Caricatures: Drawings of Jazz Musicians 1935-1940 van Ate Van Delden (2006)).


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