REINHARDT, Django: H. C. Q. Strut

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'H.C.Q.Strut' Original Recordings 1938-1939

Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France

By mid-1938, the Quintet of the Hot Club of France was notonly the top jazz band in Europe but one of the most exciting music groups inthe world.  Although only fifteenmonths away from breaking up due to circumstances way beyond their control,guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli were at the heightof their musical partnership.

Jean Baptiste \Django" Reinhardt was born 23 January 1910 inLiverchies, Belgium.  A member of agypsy family that traveled all over Europe, Reinhardt grew up hearing music(mostly traditional gypsy melodies) and early on took up the banjo.  He had a natural musical ability, begandoubling on guitar, and played dance and folk music in establishments inFrance.  But a major tragedy almostfinished his career before it had started.  While he was asleep one night in his caravan, a fire eruptedand Django was seriously burned, resulting in two of the fingers on his lefthand becoming permanently unusable. Doctors in a hospital suggested amputating his hand altogether, butluckily some friends snuck him out one night and he was able to recover byhimself.  Reinhardt spent all histime relearning the guitar, figuring out how to finger chords with just twofingers and a thumb, and developing a completely new style.  Around this time he discovered jazz andthe joy of improvising through the records of Louis Armstrong.

By 1930 Reinhardt was back to playing music, and thefollowing year he met Stephane Grappelli when they were both hired to play inthe same orchestra.  The violinistwas almost exactly two years older (being born 26 January 1908 in Paris) and amajor contrast to Django in that he was well schooled, sophisticated andreliable.  However both musiciansshared a love for performing and for swinging jazz.  Grappelli had been a professional musician since 1923 andhad gained plenty of experience in dance bands before meeting up with the gypsyguitarist.

In 1933 Reinhardt and Grappelli crossed paths for the secondtime and a jam session backstage made them notice their special musicalchemistry.  Soon they wereco-leading the all-string Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France which consisted ofStephane's violin, Django's acoustic guitar, two rhythm guitarists and a bassist.  It quickly became obvious to listenersthat Reinhardt was the world's best jazz guitarist and that Grappelli was on apar with Joe Venuti, the pacesetting jazz violinist.

This compilation has the most rewarding recordings byReinhardt and Grappelli from the last period of the original Quintet of the HotClub Of France.  Though there hadbeen musical magic from the time of the group's first recordings in late 1934,after three and a half years together, the comfort level was so high that byJune 1938 the musicians were constantly challenging each other.  The Reinhardt/Grappelli original SwingFrom Paris starts off the programme with an advanced line that almost soundslike bebop, as does the violinist's opening break.  The next six selections were recorded during the Quintet'slate-summer visit to England.  TheFlat Foot Floogee had become a big novelty hit when guitarist-singer SlimGaillard recorded it with bassist Slam Stewart six months earlier.  Django and Stephane ignore the noveltyelements and simply swing the tune. Lambeth Walk was both a walking dance and a charming melody from the1937 British musical Me And My Gal. The co-leaders effectively take turns being the lead voice throughoutthis delightful performance.

Both Reinhardt and Grappelli had opportunities to lead theirown record dates in the 1930s, usually with groups smaller than theQuintet.  Seven of the guitarist'sselections are on this set including the next four numbers, three of which haveGrappelli accompanying Reinhardt on what was his first instrument, thepiano.  Irving Berlin's I've Got MyLove To Keep Me Warm would have its most famous recording a few years later byLes Brown's orchestra in a rather explosive arrangement.  In contrast, Django's rendition islyrical, at least until the tempo doubles for the last chorus.  Please Be Kind is associated with BennyGoodman, who recorded the love song with Martha Tilton's vocal in early 1938,but that version is quite straight compared to Reinhardt's tour-de-force.  Louise is still owned by the legendaryMaurice Chevalier but it is difficult not to enjoy Django's variations,especially when he plays the melody over minor chords for a half-chorus.  For Improvisation, Reinhardt is heardby himself, mostly playing chords in a spontaneous piece that holds up well.

The full Quintet returns for the first of its five 1939sessions.  The rompingReinhart/Grappelli piece Hungaria bears more than a passing resemblance to "ByeBye Blues" and features the band getting hot.  Jeepers Creepers is slightly more relaxed with Djangostretching himself.  He makes everynote count and sounds so effortless that it leads to one wondering why no otherguitarist of the period (at least until Charlie Christian emerged later in theyear) was on his level.  MyMelancholy Baby, long maligned as the No.1 song requested by drunks, isactually a superior tune as the Quintet shows in swinging fashion.  The romantic Time On My Hands hasGrappelli caressing the melody and Reinhardt uplifting the tune with his freshideas and inspired accompaniment of the violinist.  Django's Twelfth Night is one of his better originals and itcooks from start to finish.  TeaFor Two is a song that would remain in Grappelli's repertoire for the next sixdecades with this interpretation being quite loving.

On 30 June 1939, Django Reinhardt recorded seven selectionsin several different settings, five of which are included here.  The Quintet plays the guitarist'sStockholm which sounds quite modern for the period in its chord voicings.  Grappelli and rhythm guitarist PierreFeret sit out for a medium-tempo I'll See You In My Dreams, which is entirely ashowcase for Reinhardt's creativity with a trio.  On the introspective Echoes Of Spain, Django's unaccompaniedguitar hints at what he could have accomplished had he chosen to play classicalmusic instead of jazz.  The Quintetreturns for a particularly infectious reading of Noel Coward's The YoungerGeneration and Reinhardt plays another quiet but sophisticated guitar solo onhis Naguine. 

By the time the Quintet of the Hot Club of France gatheredin a London recording studio on 25 August 1939, World War II was underway.  The Man I Love is quiteunusual for the Quintet since the bulk of this performance has Grappelliswitching to piano, dueting with Reinhardt before the other members of thegroup join in during the last chorus. Concluding both this reissue and the recorded legacy of the classic bandis H.C.Q.Strut, an original similar to "Jeepers Creepers" that offers listenersone last chance to hear the Grappelli-Reinhardt musical partnership in itsearly period.

Shortly after the record date, Django Reinhardtspontaneously decided to return home to France while Stephane Grappelli optedto remain in England.  They wouldnot see each other or record together again for seven years.  Both would have many major musicaladventures in their future but they will always be most famous for theiraccomplishments with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Scott Yanow

Disc: 1
H. C. Q. Strut
1 Swing from Paris
2 The Flat Foot Floogee
3 Lambeth Walk
4 I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
5 Please Be Kind
6 Louise
7 Improvisation
8 Hungaria
9 Jeepers Creepers
10 My Melancholy Baby
11 Time on My Hands
12 Twelfth Year
13 Tea for Two
14 Stockholm
15 I'll See You in My Dreams
16 Echoes of Spain
17 The Younger Generation
18 Naguine
19 The Man I Love
20 H. C. Q. Strut
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