REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » REINHARDT, Django: Swing Guitars (1936-1937) (Reinhardt, Vol. 3)
DJANGO REINHARDT Vol.3
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 whose
left hand has two completely unusable fingers becomes jazz’s greatest guitarist
in the 1930s and the first major European jazz musician. But the tale of Django Reinhardt, as
unlikely 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 the
violin, switching to the banjo in the early 1920s. Reinhardt made his first recordings as a banjoist in 1928
and was beginning to double on guitar when tragedy struck. While asleep in his caravan, some flowers
caught on fire and Django was seriously burned. Although the rest of him recovered, two of his fingers on
his left hand were permanently scarred.
In fact, it looked so bad that doctors considered amputating his hand
altogether; fortunately a few gypsy friends snuck Django out of the hospital
Within two years, Reinhardt was back playing guitar, having
devised a new chording system that allowed him to play chords rapidly with just
his two fingers, occasionally using his thumb. He discovered jazz through the recordings of Louis Armstrong
and developed into both an exciting accompanist and a major soloist.
In 1931 Reinhardt first met Stephane Grappelli, the second
great jazz violinist (after Joe Venuti).
Born 26 January 1908 in Paris, France, Grappelli although growing up
poor, was a complete contrast to Django.
Well schooled, Grappelli played both violin and piano, was a
professional musician from the age of fifteen and studied at the Paris
Conservatorie during 1924-28. He
worked with a variety of dance bands before meeting and jamming with
Reinhardt. After their initial encounter,
Reinhardt and Grappelli went their separate ways until they were both hired to
play in the same orchestra in 1933.
Backstage while Grappelli was tuning up his violin, Reinhardt began
chording and soon they were involved in a jam session that changed their
lives. They decided to co-lead a
band and the result was the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, a unit comprised
of 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 completely
acoustic and proved to be a perfect vehicle for the playing of its
co-leaders. The strumming of the
guitars made the absence of piano and drums into an asset and gave the group a
unique 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 except
on special occasions, partly because the acoustic guitar was inaudible, Django
had no trouble being heard with his string group.
The Quintet of the Hot Club Of France made its first
recordings in December 1934 and there were six sessions in all during
1934-35. Swing Guitars has twenty
of the 22 recordings made by the group during its next four record dates, just
leaving out a couple lesser tracks (“I’se A Muggin’” and “In The Still Of The
Night”). At the time of the 4 May
1936 set, Reinhardt was 26, Grappelli was 28 and their group was full of energy
and constant creativity. On five
numbers from the 4 May and 15 October 1936 sessions the American singer Freddy
Taylor takes vocals but otherwise the music is by the quintet.
From the first notes of Limehouse Blues, it is obvious that
this was a band unlike any other.
Grappelli plays the melody fairly straight before getting hot, and then
Reinhardt creates a solo that sounds impossible even for a guitarist who had
ten functioning fingers. I Can’t
Give You Anything But Love has a vocal from Taylor that finds his voice and
phrasing being strongly influenced by Louis Armstrong who had helped make the
song a standard seven years earlier.
Oriental Shuffle is the first of four originals on this set that were
co-composed by Reinhardt and Grappelli, a charming melody deserving of being
revived as is the lyrical Are You In The Mood. After You’ve Gone and Shine would be in Grappelli’s
repertoire for decades; the former has a rousing violin solo while the latter
features some particularly heated backing by Django.
Although some may think that Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia On
My Mind was written by Ray Charles in the 1960s, it was already a standard by
1936 when the Quintet gave it its own special treatment. Swing Guitars is a playful number
similar to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang in the late 1920s. Sweet Chorus is one of the better
ballads penned by Reinhardt and Grappelli while Nagasaki wraps up the second
session with plenty of fire.
On Exactly Like You, one regrets the three-minute time limit
of 78 records, for just when Django’s solo builds to a high level, it is time
for the closing riff. Charleston,
one of the most popular songs of the 1920s, was rarely performed during the
Depression years, making this rendition a rare treat. You’re Driving Me Crazy has a particularly brilliant
two-chorus guitar solo (listen to how Django finishes his statement), Tears is
a haunting original and the remaining six veteran standards (Duke Ellington’s
ballad Solitude, Hot Lips, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Rose Room, Body And Soul and When
Day Is Done) are all given inventive and swinging treatment by the unique band.
The Quintet of the Hot Club of France worked regularly until
World War II began on 1August 1939.
When war broke out, they were booked in London but Django spontaneously
decided to return home to France.
Grappelli chose to stay in England and the group became history. Somehow during the war years, Reinhardt
was able to survive and even record and perform fairly regularly. Meanwhile, Grappelli had a new group in
England that featured the brilliant young pianist George Shearing. In 1946 and on an occasional basis for
the next three years, the former leaders of the Quintet of the Hot Club of
France had reunions, some of which were recorded. Reinhardt, after some initial difficulty, switched
successfully to the electric guitar and by 1951 was one of the finest jazz
soloists on that instrument. He
had toured the United States in 1946 with Duke Ellington and, although that
venture was unsuccessful, a new tour was being planned by producer Norman Granz
when Reinhardt unexpectedly died on 16 May 1953 from a stroke; he was just
43. Stephane Grappelli, although
always a bit in Django’s shadow, worked steadily for decades and, after
becoming a world traveler in 1969, he became even more famous than he had been
in the 1930s. He remained very
active until his death on 1 December 1997 at the age of 89.
Swing Guitars features Django Reinhardt and Stephane
Grappelli at the peak of their powers, performing timeless music that still
sounds fresh and new.
Scott Yanow, author of eight jazz books including Jazz On
Record 1917-76, Classic Jazz (which covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings
Last Albums Viewed
REINHARDT, Django: Swing Guitars (1936-1937) (Rein...