Django Reinhardt ranks even yet as amongst the most creative of European jazz musicians. He was born on 23 January 1910 into a wandering gypsy family on the Belgian frontier. Music, particularly guitar music, was part of everyday life and at twelve Django, self-taught, mastered the banjo-guitar in an amazingly short time. He was hooked.
Within a year or two he was accomplished enough to play at various Parisian nightclub and cafe gigs, his absence of sight-reading abilities proving no obstacle. In these early days Django acted mainly as accompanist to accordionists like Guerino, Alexander and Jean Vaissade and his opportunities to play jazz or standards were strictly limited to informal out-of-hours sessions. An offer from the famous British bandleader Jack Hylton to join his orchestra was forthcoming, but in the event never materialised.
Tragedy struck in November 1928 when Django suffered serious burns to his right leg and left hand in a caravan fire. These injuries caused him to be bedridden for eighteen months during which time the leg healed very well but the third and fourth fingers of the hand (his fret hand) remained virtually paralysed. During his long recuperation Django had to work out a new way of playing his beloved guitar and with a great deal of determined application and persistence he not only became a greater player than before but in so doing formulated an original new style. His appetite for jazz too had been further whetted when a friend played for him some of the recent American recordings by Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang et al.
Back on the scene during 1930, Django teamed up awhile with a young Jean Sablon, playing 'Eddie Lang' to Sablon's 'Bing Crosby'.
The creation of The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France happened almost by accident in the dressing room of the Hotel Claridge in Paris on the Champs-Elysees. Django and Stephane Grappelli were working in the same band there and one evening before a performance Django was plucking at his guitar when Stephane joined in on violin. Before long bassist Louis Vola added his contribution as did Django's brother Joseph on rhythm guitar - et voila! There you (almost) have it. This group, with the addition of a second rhythm guitarist (originally Roger Chaput) were adopted by the Hot Club of France who presented the quintet at a Salle Pleyel concert on the same bill as Coleman Hawkins. From this occasion they became known as The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France and with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt as its nucleus flourished until the outbreak of war.
Just as Eddie Lang had been Django's main influence, so Joe Venuti was Stephane's. By the time of the formation of The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France however, both musicians had developed their own individual voices.
Additionally, Stephane was an accomplished pianist and can be heard in this capacity on several recordings, though none in this collection. Django gave Stephane and the other quintet members a hard time by all accounts with his unreliability and predilection to 'disappearing' for a few days if the mood took him. Despite these difficulties, Stephane's steadying influence kept the group together, earning our eternal gratitude into the bargain.
This collection spans the QHCF's complete recorded output, from the first session in December 1934 to the last (with Grappelli and Reinhardt as common denominators) in August 1939. From the outset they showed themselves to be a highly polished, accomplished, and what is most important, compelling unit. The first label they recorded for was Odeon (two sides), but the company refused to release the record on the grounds that it was too 'modern'! Ultraphone then recorded the first of their commercially released sides in December 1934, unwisely letting the quintet go after a year. For the remainder of their existence they recorded for Polydor, Pathe and Decca.
By 1939 the QHCF was going from strength to strength; both Django and Stephane had become more daring and adventurous and the rhythm section's backing was more subtle. The outbreak of war on 3 September found the unit in London. Stephane remained for the duration; Django risked taking a boat back to France. The great days of The Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France were over.
During the war, in occupied France, Django kept a low profile. He continued to record, including some superb sides in Brussels in the spring of 1942 for the Rythme label (unfortunately pressed on inferior material). In 1946 he travelled to the USA to take part in a series of concerts with Duke Ellington. Playing an amplified guitar for the first time, the concerts were only a moderate success. Back in France his preoccupation with bop and in keeping up to date seems to have dampened his creative spark a little. Additionally, the influence of the late American guitarist Charlie Christian now held sway with the post-war generation. From 1946, firstly in London and later in Paris there were reunions between Django and Stephane but, with a few exceptions, these had lost their pre-war edge.
Django died, aged only 43, in 1953 but his rich legacy of recordings proves time and time again that he was not only a virtuoso but a genius.
HUGH PALMER 1994
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