Who was/is Django Reinhardt ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
There are three categories of artists. Those who are called good musicians in their lifetime, but whose true genius can only be recognized after their death. Then there are the musicians who are celebrated and appreciated during their lifetime, but who after their death fall more and more into oblivion, because one recognizes that they no longer have much to say to their descendants. And finally there are the musicians who seem bigger the more years have passed since their death. One of the latter is Django Reinhardt. I remember the years 1934 and 1935, when I received the first records of the Hot Club quintet. At that time Stephane Grappelly was still regarded as the more ingenious musician compared to Reinhardt. Ten years later, the comparison was reversed. And again ten years later it was the Americans who made it clear to the Europeans that there was only one musician in the history of jazz who could be a role model for the Americans as a European, Django Rein-hardt. So far it has not changed. No European jazz musician has yet appeared who, for his part, has influenced the Americans or could even have set up a kind of school over there because of his albums.
This "Milestones" record shows in a way in a nutshell the man and musician Django Reinhardt, that indescribable mixture of gypsy vagantism and closeness to nature, of French joy of life and senses and of Americanism, which constitute the man and musician Django Reinhardt. Even the first bars of "Minor Swing" are in their nostalgic minor key, from which Django soon erupts full of temperament. The evergreen "Georgia" is sung by Freddy Taylor, a colorful American entertainer with whom Django performed at the exclusive "Villa d'Este" on the Champs-Elysees in 1935. This recording brought my first personal encounter with the great GItarnsten. The other titles on the first page of the record show Django in various aspects. There is the solo on the unamplified guitar "Echoes of Spain". No jazz, well understood, but pure music as it may have occurred to him at the thought of the Gypsies on the pilgrimage to Saintes Maries-de-la-mer. The duo "Out of Nowhere" with the violinist Grappel-ly shows him not only as a sensitive companion in a chamber music setting but also with incredible sensitivity in the treatment of the harmonies.
The recording of "Lady Be Good" with the summit meeting of three violinists at the time may come as a surprise to all those who believe that the violin was only made popular through modern pop-jazz music. The opening and closing choruses are arranged by Diango, he himself plays the first impro-visation, followed by Michel Warlop (1911-1947), then Stephane Grap-pelly and finally, with double fingerings, Eddi South, the colorful violinist from the USA, who played at the "Ritz"-Hotel in 1937, the year of the World Exhibition in Paris. Equally surprising for many Bach's Double Concerto in D minor for two violins, interpreted by South and Grappelly, who are only accompanied by Django Reinhardt. Back then, in the shellac era, the A-side brought the theme virtually true to the notes, but in the swing manner, and the B-side improvised. In the April 1938 issue of the magazine "Jazz Hot", Hugues Panassie wrote: "It would be wrong to claim that Bach should win through jazz interpretation, but the more or less direct relationship between Bach's music and jazz should be pointed out".
In the years before the war, Pans was to European jazz what Harlem was to American jazz, especially in 1937, and everyone who came to the Seine wanted to play with Django. "Crazy Rhythm* shows two of the most important of them: Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. The title is a milestone for the progress in European jazz, as it shows two European and two American saxophonists competing: first Andre Ekyan (alto) and Alix Combelle (tenor), followed by Benny Carter (alto) and Coleman Hawkins (tenor, with two choruses). Grappelly plays the piano here for once. In a week in April 1937, the quintet went to the studio three times to record 17 tracks, which in their unity must be described as one of the most grandiose achievements in jazz history, comparable to the milestones of Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven of 1927/28 or the Ellington sessions of 1940 with Jimmy Blanton. Three of the titles were placed on the B-side: The evergreen "Rose Room" (on whose harmonies Ellington later built "In A Mello-tone"), the typical Django composition "Tears" and the train imitation "Mystery Pacific".
One has to be amazed how much onomatopoeia is possible with stringed instruments alone! "Nuages, Django's most popular composition, was a must. It originated when Grappelly and Reinhardt were separated by the war; Hubert Rostaing's clarinet replaced the violin. Manoir de mes reves", recorded after the war by Django and a big band of American soldiers, is no less well-known, though not quite so well known. A pre-war recording from the time of the climax of the unique French quintet closes the series. I don't know of any jazz musician who has a famous "density" in his lines, but Djangos art was glorified by two poets. One is James Jones in his novel "Verdammt in alle Ewigkeit" (see quotation from the double album Django Reinhardt of "Serie 2000"). The other is no less than Jean Cocteau. When he first heard and met Django, he inspired one of his characters in "Les enfants terribles", and after his death he wrote: "His rhythm was as much his own as a tiger's stripes, they were in his skin".