REINHARDT, Django: With Vocals (1933-1941) (Naxos: 8.120821)
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DJANGO 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 inthe European jazz tradition, 'gypsy jazzman' parexcellence Django Reinhardt was the first non-American to make a decisive impact in the genre.
A curious blend of extrovert showman and selfstyledloner, this volatile yet elegant miniaturist,although prodigal of his talents - not averse to'disappearing' for lengthy periods to pursueother interests (among which fly-fishing andbilliards at which he was a champion) - left alegacy of finely-honed gems. The son of travellingentertainers (his father a violinist, his mother adancer) Django was born Jean BaptisteReinhardt in a caravan in a French-speakingManouche gypsy settlement at Liberchies, nearLuttre, Belgium on 23 January 1910.
From 1918 Django lived with his mother andguitarist brother Joseph in a shantytown caravan,near Choisy on the outskirts of Paris. There, hisfamily formed part of a troupe of players whoseincessant wanderings made his youth a nomadicand unstable existence. He was surrounded fromhis earliest youth by music making, however, andtook early to both violin and banjo, although hesoon changed to guitar and from the start hisplaying of this was intuitive also, rather than inany sense formally instilled. Self-taught and selfmotivated,Django learned most from observingthe playing of others. His playing, even after thesuperimposition of the Afro-American jazz idiom,was steeped in the spontaneous, Magyar-derivedFrancophone tsigane traditions.
After gaining his first professional experiencein touring shows with his family, in 1921 heformed a duo with the accordeoniste Guerino andwith him made regular appearances at local balsmusettesand in houses of ill repute. Later hemigrated up-market, to dance-halls and cafesand, it is reported, won several talent contests.
In 1928 (for Ideal) he made his first discs, in anaccordion band led by Jean Vaissade, whichreached the ears of English bandleaderimpresarioJack Hylton, who made him a firmoffer of work. Later that same year, however,physical injury (including the loss of two fingersof his left hand) in a caravan fire fortuitouslyprovided Django with the spur to devise theindividual method through which he becamefamous. An enforced eighteen monthconvalescence led to a re-appraisal of histechnique and by 1930 Reinhardt had resumedhis career in Parisian cafes and cabarets, wherehis style, a blend of traditional native Romanyrhythm and imported American jazz, wasperfected.
In Paris Django met with visiting Americanjazzmen (players like Benny Carter, ColemanHawkins and Eddie South) and in 1933 washeard by the painter Emile Savitry, throughwhom he met Jean Sablon (1906-1994), at thattime a rising star of Continental cabaret anddubbed the 'French Crosby'. For some monthsthe pair collaborated successfully as a duo,recording (for French Columbia) with Djangoplaying in the style of the recently-deceasedAmerican guitarist Ed Lang (1902-1933) - andalso in a larger ad hoc ensemble, whosepersonnel regularly featured his French colleague,clarinettist-saxophonist Andre Ekyan (aliasEchkyan, 1907-1972).
By 1934 Django and violinist StephaneGrappelli were working in a fourteen-piecefronted by Louis Vola at the Hotel Cambridge,the Parisian branch of Claridge's (although theyhad first met the previous year, as members ofEkyan's resident band at the Croix de Sud Club)and from this plush socialite background, theniche of an international musical elite, courtesyof writer-producer Charles Delaunay (1911-1988), the world famous Quintette sprang tolife. In 1937 the co-founder, with HuguesPanassie, of the Swing record label, Delaunaypromoted concerts on behalf of the Hot Club deFrance. Essentially a stylistic harking-back (thecritics thought) to the defunct Lang-VenutiAmerican ensembles of the late 1920s, in a littleover a year, largely through the medium ofrecording (by 1939 the group had recorded over200 sides) the group had become a 'household'name among jazz enthusiasts on both sides ofthe Atlantic, with Reinhardt hailed as internationalcelebrity.
The Quintette which (by general agreement)made great jazz, easily on a par with anythingethnically American performed a disparate,cross-cultural repertoire which knew noboundaries. Intermixing classical and pop withfolk, ad lib, in a 'world-jazz fusion' it survived foralmost five years, although due to Django'sunpredictability and frequent arrogant outburstshis relationships, particularly with the reservedand more precise Grappelli, were by all accountsfar from easygoing. The disbanding of theQuintette just before the outset of World War II,during the group's British tour, may therefore, atleast privately, have come as something of a reliefto Grappelli, who remained in England for theduration of hostilities. Prior to the Germanoccupation, Django the gypsy fled Paris, but laterin the war he returned larger-than-life to theFrench capital. Towards the close of the war heresumed his itinerant life-style; taking to the roadhe succeeded in dodging the Nazis as he workedhis way from Switzerland to North Africa. From1942 much of his time was spent in Belgium.
By 1945 Reinhardt was again resident inParis where he led a big band and, switching toelectric guitar, formed another quintet, in whichGrappelli's place was filled by clarinettist HubertRostaing. In 1946 he co-wrote (with AndreHodeir) the music for the film Le village de lacol?â?¿re and visited England and Switzerland.
Guest soloist with Duke Ellington's orchestra(November 1946) he toured the USA and latermade a clamorous appearance in New York,before returning to France where he madefrequent forays with his quintet, whose line-upoccasionally included Grappelli. In 1951 heretired to the village of Samois-sur-Seine. He diedaged 43 years, from a cerebral haemorrhage, atFontainebleau, on 16 May 1953.
Quite apart from his association with theQuintette, ample testament to Django'sinspirational technical facility and rhythmicmastery in ensemble are provided by his manypre-war Parisian sessions featuring suchluminaries as Barney Bigard, Carter, BillColeman, Dickie Wells and Duke Ellington bandmembers, notably Rex Stewart. In addition, hisaccompaniments to a host of leading players inboth cabaret and American-style dancerepertoire (in ad hoc studio groups led by Ekyanand others) form a list which reads like a Who's-Who of the inter-War avant-garde French jazzscene. The American contingent includesColeman Hawkins (during 1937 Djangorecorded as a member of Hawkins' All-StarJammers; earlier, in 1935, they had recorded animmortal duo cut of \Stardust") and pianistGarland Wilson (1909-1954; a sophisticatedtechnician resident in Paris intermittently from1932). The list also includes French-Italiandrummer and film-composer Jerry Mengo (aliasJoseph Ga?â?½ton Menegozzi, 1911-1979; afounding Rey Ventura Collegien Mengo was alsoa noted member of the band, on and off-disc, ofclarinettist-saxophonist Alix Combelle, 1912-1978) and pianist-composer Alain Romans(1905 -1989). Outstanding among manyvocalists are Germaine Sablon (1899 -1985,sister of Jean), Le Petit Mirsha (otherwise MirshaOreinstein, 1923-1937?; a Manouche gypsy boysinger who died in a Nazi labour-camp), CharlesTrenet (1913-2002) and the AmericanHildegarde (alias Hildegarde Loretta Sell, 1906-2005; her Pathe recording of Darling, je vousaime beaucoup, featuring Django with OrchestrePatrick (alias of trombonist Guy Paquinet)predated her British version with CarrollGibbons' Boy Friends).Peter Dempsey, 2005