DJANGO REINHARDT Vol.3
'Swing Guitars' Original Recordings 1936-1937
Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France
Somehow the story does not make much sense. An illiterate gypsy from Belgium whoseleft hand has two completely unusable fingers becomes jazz's greatest guitaristin the 1930s and the first major European jazz musician. But the tale of Django Reinhardt, asunlikely as it is, is one of jazz's great legends.
Born 23 January 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium, Jean Baptiste\Django" Reinhardt grew up in a gypsy caravan. He started playing music early on, beginning with theviolin, switching to the banjo in the early 1920s. Reinhardt made his first recordings as a banjoist in 1928and was beginning to double on guitar when tragedy struck. While asleep in his caravan, some flowerscaught on fire and Django was seriously burned. Although the rest of him recovered, two of his fingers onhis left hand were permanently scarred. In fact, it looked so bad that doctors considered amputating his handaltogether; fortunately a few gypsy friends snuck Django out of the hospitalone night.
Within two years, Reinhardt was back playing guitar, havingdevised a new chording system that allowed him to play chords rapidly with justhis two fingers, occasionally using his thumb. He discovered jazz through the recordings of Louis Armstrongand developed into both an exciting accompanist and a major soloist.
In 1931 Reinhardt first met Stephane Grappelli, the secondgreat jazz violinist (after Joe Venuti). Born 26 January 1908 in Paris, France, Grappelli although growing uppoor, was a complete contrast to Django. Well schooled, Grappelli played both violin and piano, was aprofessional musician from the age of fifteen and studied at the ParisConservatorie during 1924-28. Heworked with a variety of dance bands before meeting and jamming withReinhardt. After their initial encounter,Reinhardt and Grappelli went their separate ways until they were both hired toplay in the same orchestra in 1933. Backstage while Grappelli was tuning up his violin, Reinhardt beganchording and soon they were involved in a jam session that changed theirlives. They decided to co-lead aband and the result was the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, a unit comprisedof Django's guitar, Grappelli's violin, two rhythm guitars and a bass.
During 1933-39, this was one of the most exciting bands in jazz. The all-string group was completelyacoustic and proved to be a perfect vehicle for the playing of itsco-leaders. The strumming of theguitars made the absence of piano and drums into an asset and gave the group aunique sound, one unheard of in the United States. And while most American guitarists (even Eddie Lang,Reinhardt's predecessor) were largely consigned to playing rhythm guitar excepton special occasions, partly because the acoustic guitar was inaudible, Djangohad no trouble being heard with his string group.
The Quintet of the Hot Club Of France made its firstrecordings in December 1934 and there were six sessions in all during1934-35. Swing Guitars has twentyof the 22 recordings made by the group during its next four record dates, justleaving out a couple lesser tracks ("I'se A Muggin'" and "In The Still Of TheNight"). At the time of the 4 May1936 set, Reinhardt was 26, Grappelli was 28 and their group was full of energyand constant creativity. On fivenumbers from the 4 May and 15 October 1936 sessions the American singer FreddyTaylor takes vocals but otherwise the music is by the quintet.
From the first notes of Limehouse Blues, it is obvious thatthis was a band unlike any other. Grappelli plays the melody fairly straight before getting hot, and thenReinhardt creates a solo that sounds impossible even for a guitarist who hadten functioning fingers. I Can'tGive You Anything But Love has a vocal from Taylor that finds his voice andphrasing being strongly influenced by Louis Armstrong who had helped make thesong a standard seven years earlier. Oriental Shuffle is the first of four originals on this set that wereco-composed by Reinhardt and Grappelli, a charming melody deserving of beingrevived as is the lyrical Are You In The Mood. After You've Gone and Shine would be in Grappelli'srepertoire for decades; the former has a rousing violin solo while the latterfeatures some particularly heated backing by Django.
Although some may think that Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia OnMy Mind was written by Ray Charles in the 1960s, it was already a standard by1936 when the Quintet gave it its own special treatment. Swing Guitars is a playful numbersimilar to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang in the late 1920s. Sweet Chorus is one of the betterballads penned by Reinhardt and Grappelli while Nagasaki wraps up the secondsession with plenty of fire.
On Exactly Like You, one regrets the three-minute time limitof 78 records, for just when Django's solo builds to a high level, it is timefor the closing riff. Charleston,one of the most popular songs of the 1920s, was rarely performed during theDepression years, making this rendition a rare treat. You're Driving Me Crazy has a particularly brillianttwo-chorus guitar solo (listen to how Django finishes his statement), Tears isa haunting original and the remaining six veteran standards (Duke Ellington'sballad Solitude, Hot Lips, Ain't Misbehavin', Rose Room, Body And Soul and WhenDay Is Done) are all given inventive and swinging treatment by the unique band.
The Quintet of the Hot Club of France worked regularly untilWorld War II began on 1August 1939. When war broke out, they were booked in London but Django spontaneouslydecided to return home to France. Grappelli chose to stay in England and the group became history. Somehow during the war years, Reinhardtwas able to survive and even record and perform fairly regularly. Meanwhile, Grappelli had a new group inEngland that featured the brilliant young pianist George Shearing. In 1946 and on an occasional basis forthe next three years, the former leaders of the Quintet of the Hot Club ofFrance had reunions, some of which were recorded. Reinhardt, after some initial difficulty, switchedsuccessfully to the electric guitar and by 1951 was one of the finest jazzsoloists on that instrument. Hehad toured the United States in 1946 with Duke Ellington and, although thatventure was unsuccessful, a new tour was being planned by producer Norman Granzwhen Reinhardt unexpectedly died on 16 May 1953 from a stroke; he was just43. Stephane Grappelli, althoughalways a bit in Django's shadow, worked steadily for decades and, afterbecoming a world traveler in 1969, he became even more famous than he had beenin the 1930s. He remained veryactive until his death on 1 December 1997 at the age of 89.
Swing Guitars features Django Reinhardt and StephaneGrappelli at the peak of their powers, performing timeless music that stillsounds fresh and new.
Scott Yanow, author of eight jazz books including Jazz OnRecord 1917-76, Classic Jazz (which covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings