DJANGO 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 guitaristDjango Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, were in England on 1September 1939 when Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland. The musicians had recorded just a weekearlier and they were playing an engagement in London when word reached themthat the war was on. Grappellimade arrangements to stay in England but Reinhardt spontaneously decided toreturn to France, a decision that greatly affected the course of his life. Not only was the original Quintet ofthe Hot Club of France permanently broken up after six successful years (thoughthere would be later reunions by Grappelli and Reinhardt) but the guitaristwould be living under Nazi rule for four years as Germany soon conqueredFrance.
Jean Baptiste 'Django' Reinhardt, the top jazz guitarist inthe world, was still only 29 when he returned to France. He was born 23 January 1910 inLiverchies, Belgium, a member of a gypsy family. Django, who was largely illiterate, had a natural musicalability and was self-taught on banjo and guitar. In the 1920s he played gypsy melodies, folk songs and dancenumbers in French cafes, making his first recordings (on banjo) in 1928. However his career almost ended when hewas just beginning. One nightwhile asleep in a caravan, a batch of flowers caught fire and Reinhardt wasseriously burned. Doctors in ahospital were seriously thinking of amputating his left hand but some friendssnuck him out one night. Evenafter Django recovered, two of the fingers on his left hand (which he used tochord the guitar) were permanently unusable. He had to completely relearn how to play guitar.
Not only did Reinhardt succeed at figuring out how to playchords with just two fingers and a thumb, but he discovered jazz (through therecords of Louis Armstrong) and the thrill of improvising. By 1930 he was playing guitar in publicagain. The following year he met StephaneGrappelli and when their paths crossed again two years later, they so enjoyedthe experience of jamming together that they put together the Quintet of theHot Club of France. The all-stringgroup, consisting of violin, three acoustic guitars and bass, was a perfectforum for the co-leaders and their recordings of 1934 to 1939 are timelessclassics [See note, page 4: Django Reinhardt Vols.1-5 in this Naxos JazzLegends series].
But with the outbreak of World War II and Django's decisionto return to the European continent, he had to start all over. On 22 March 1940 Reinhardt returned to the recording studio at the headof a drumless big band, an unprecedented setting for an acousticguitarist. The United States'Alvino Rey, who actually played steel guitar, was the only swing era guitaristto 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 previouslyrecorded on 31January 1938. Tenor-saxophonist Alix Combelle and trumpeter Philippe Brun have soloswhile the leader is content to swing the band on rhythm guitar. Limehouse Blues puts the spotlight onthe fine altoist Andre Ekyan before Django flies over the brass, having nodifficulty being heard over the four trumpets and three trombones. The eerie Tears, one of the most memorableof the Reinhardt-Grappelli compositions, features both the guitarist and theensemble. Jimmy's Bar has atypically fluent solo from Django who plays with a septet taken from the largergroup.
While the big band was a happy departure, Django Reinhardtneeded a regular combo to play jobs in wartime France. There was no point trying to replaceStephane Grappelli with another violinist since Grappelli was the top Europeanviolinist, so Reinhardt instead utilized Hubert Rostaing, a technically skilledand advanced clarinettist who also doubled on tenor. Rostaing would play with Django on and off through1948. And instead of having threeguitars as before, Reinhardt cut back to two (using his brother JosephReinhardt) and added drummer Pierre Fouad.
At first the group was also known as the Quintet of the HotClub of France. Its debut, Rhythmfutur, is a piece that lives up to its futuristic name, at least harmonically. It is clear from the start thatRostaing's impressive technique and sound (sometimes hinting at Artie Shaw)works well with the guitarist. Thesession also includes the minor-toned Blues.
The same group with a change in bassists and several guestappearances by Alix Combelle on clarinet and tenor, recorded thirteenselections on 13 and 17 December 1940. Combelle, who had sounded quiteimpressive on a famous 1937 four-saxophone date with Coleman Hawkins, BennyCarter and Andre Ekyan, was an underrated clarinettist and a tenor with a bigtone influenced by Hawkins. Swing41 really benefits from the inclusion of the two clarinets who blend togethervery well. The clarinets take amysterious introduction to a remake of Reinhardt's most famous original, thehaunting ballad Nuages.
Probably to avoid being noticed by the Nazis, most of thestandards played by the Quintet during the war years were issued under theirFrench titles, with the exception of Sweet Sue and All Of Me. Exactly Like You (\Pour vous") hasCombelle's last appearance on the 13 December set, showing off his tenorplaying along with Rostaing's clarinet. The classical melody Fantaisie sur une danse norvegienne is turned intoa delightful exercise in swing by the Quintet with Django showing once again inhis chordal solo that he had no competitors among guitarists of the era (otherthan Charlie Christian). Vendredi13 may have been recorded on Friday the 13th but the musical luck was very goodthat day; Combelle helps out by ringing some bells during this exotic piece. Another classical melody, Liebesfreud,is full of exuberant joy. Thelesser-known Reinhardt-Grappelli piece Mabel (previously recorded on 14December 1937) has a very advanced and tricky chord structure that challengesthe musicians to create fresh melodic ideas. Little White Lies (retitled "Petits mensonges") has anadditional theme added by the Quintet (heard during the guitar solo) that makesthis version sound fresh and quite different than usual. On the traditional Dark Eyes (or "Lesyeux noirs") and Sweet Sue, JustYou, Reinhardt really cooks, played heated single-note lines during his spots.
Alix Combelle returns for the three selections recorded on17 December. Swing de Paris is amedium-tempo blues given its personality due to some key changes, unusualtransitions and the use of the two clarinets. Oiseaux des ?â?«les is a musical train ride while a moreconventional All Of Me has fine solos from all of the principals.
This release concludes with two numbers from a slightlydifferent version of the Django Reinhardt Big Band ('Django's Music'), one witha full saxophone section and drums. Reinhardt and Rostaing have spots on Stockholm while Festival Swing issimilar to a performance by the Metronome All Stars in that it features manytop musicians in a brief period of time. There is a chorus apiece on the medium-tempo blues from ten of thetwelve horns, bassist Tony Rovira and drummer Pierre Fouad (each of whom areannounced) plus two choruses by the great Django.
Life may ha