Final piece!

At first it was only the tiny firm of Ultraphone which would risk publishing the recordings made by the young quintet in the winter of 1934 and spring of 1935. They were successful enough to encourage bigger companies. From now until the outbreak of the war there was a continuous successions of 78 rpm discs on the Decca, Gramophone, Swing and HMV labels. Though issued in large editions, these discs have since become gradually unfindable. After Django’s death there were numbers of Manouches scouring the flea-market of Clingnancourt in search of them. Among them was Sara, Django’s older sister. Unable to read, she would go from stall to stall asking for her brother’s records on “the label with the white dog”.

Now, with their reissue on Compact Disc in a complete chronological series, we have an unrivalled opportunity to see how from the first the Quintet hit off the tonal precision and formal perfection which remained its trademark. Whether they are playing American standards, original compositions, or popular melodies given a Jazz twist, we find the same fertile use of the group’s instrumental possibilities, the same vitality in the solos, the same originality in the arrangements, the same brilliant fusion of diverse sensibilities and contrasting talents, the same unfailing swing – the “new, European-inspired swing” of which Frank Ténot speaks “owing little to black music beyond its basic principle.”

And swing, of course, was the key. Not that there was a lot of it about in France in those days. We have only to consult dear old Larousse to understand what was the general view of the matter at that time: “Swing: paroxysmal style of Negro jazz music.” In reality, of course, the soul of swing is relaxation, and this quality the Quintet had. In spades; Its basis was the regular but supple pulse of the two rhythm guitars —first, in 1936, Joseph Reinhardt and Baro Ferré; later Marcel Bianchi, Roger Chaput, and the leader’s cousin Eugene “Ninine” Vées. Combined with the solid, no frills bass-playing of Louis Vola, this firm foundation (which became known as the “Manouche pump”( became an indispensable feature of the genre. Some have called it crude or laboured, but its real function was as a catalyst, a perfect background to Django’s richly chromatic solos and Stéphane’s inspired flights. The rhythm section provided the power; it was up to the two leaders to apply the match – and stand by for blast-off !

The recordings presented here exude a powerful sense of excitement, of the pure pleasure of making music together, of mutual discovery, allied with a freshness and drive which are the essence of the musician’s art. As to how many of these historic recordings can be considered perfect successes, it is up to the listener to decide. But it is tempting to say that they all exhibit the strengths and virtues of the Quintet – inventiveness, imagination, lyricism, iconoclasm – which could equally well daringly transform the slightest of popular American hits, or do ample justice to the works of the established Jazz greats such as Stuff Smith, Ellington, or Fats Waller.

In the beginning Django never imagined that his name alone would suffice to sell records. And it was only little by little, as the Quintet enlarged its audience, that his personal compositions began to swell the repertoire. Some, like the vertiginous Mystery Pacific, were high-octane instrumental showcases; others, like Tears were more restrained, lyrical, sensual and nostalgic. (“He sits us down at a gypsy camp fire,” wrote Jean Cocteau in 1937, “and takes us away from our spiritual families (by which I mean out habits) by the magic of a race which seems emerged from a primeval era;” And he continues by acknowledging the depth of the music’s jazz roots: “The Django-Reinhardt -Grapelli ‘band’ creates a ‘hot’ atmosphere like that we owe to the blacks of America.”) The gypsy background certainly left its imprint on many of Django’s melodies. Meanwhile he remained open to jazz in all its forms without confining himself to any rigid formula. In the same way the Quintet remained a “variable-geometry” group as regards instrumentation, style, and numbers. While Django himself had no difficulty in fitting in with recently arrived groups playing authentically “black” music and contributing his own special touch.

The International Exposition of 1937 attracted to Paris numerous big-name jazzmen for whom Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié spared no effort to organise recording sessions with their protégé — not that they needed asking. This was Django’s chance, at last, to measure himself and his music against the top guns of black American music. Of course, as we have seen, he had already rubbed shoulders with many of them in the course of impromptu jam-sessions, such as the memorable blow when Django and Coleman Hawkins improvised on Sweet Sue for an hour and a half. He had even found a place in the Quintet for the singer and tap-dance Freddy Taylor who was appearing at the “Villa d’Este with his “Swing Men from Harlem.” And he frequently accompanied black singers working in Montmartre who swore by him. Two of his most famous compositions are dedicated to such singers: Mabel (for Mabel Mercer (and Brick-Top (for whom the way Django wore yellow shoes with his dinner-jacket was “the hottest thing” she had ever encountered). However, specially organised recording dates — virtual summit meetings — were something else again. They put him on a footing of equality with the best in the business and placed a seal of approval on his status a Jazzman among Jazzmen. Conceivably Django foresaw, perhaps subconsciously, the objections of jazz purists, offended by the luxuriant “gypsified embellishments of his playing. And the absence of brass voices in the Quintet was to remain an obstacle to full acceptance. Some people still saw what he was doing as “genre” music – admirable certainly, but outside the Jazz idiom. The British critic Max Jones. for example, found the Quintet’s work too “pretty”, too charming, and lacking the depth of the black Jazz groups, lacking above all that sacrosanct ingredient – a feeling for the blues. (Not that the blues has ever been easy to define; As late as 1956 Larousse flatly stated that it was “a variety of fox-trot”.) Even the over-enthusiasm of some critics was enough to put some other critics off. It didn’t really help Django’s case to have, for example, André Ekyan describe him as “a pure phoenix emerging from the mists of time into the middle of the twentieth century”; or someone else ,who described his music as arriving by some magnificent accident from another planet” or that “in this age of technique and artifice music has returned, in Django, to its original purity” (Ch. Delaunay). There were also those whose attitude to Django was one of simple envy. Years later Stéphane Grapelli, not mincing his words, said, “Django was a genius, always ahead of his time. Guitarists were terrified of him, and there were some who were not sorry to see him gone;”

However, the American stars of the day neither knew nor cared about any of this backbiting. For them Django’s enormous talent was a plain fact, not a theme for airy speculation. Their attitude was: “Let’s get to it!” and their first question on arriving in Paris, before they had even dumped their suitcases, was “Where’s Django playing ?” Under such auspices took place the famous “All-Star” session which brought together the saxophone giants Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter in a friendly joust with two champions of French Jazz, Alix Combelle and André Ekyan. The four sides which resulted from this session inaugurated a long series on the Swing label, the first the world to devote itself entirely to Jazz. Django played at least a supporting role in the success of these sessions, to which in his guitar contributed its voice, causing Alix Combelle to say of him that Django was more than just an admirable soloist – “he had a special gift of lucidity which gave him an insight into me musical thinking of other performers, and this made him the best of all possible accompanists.” His musical intuition was extraordinary. To the point where, according to Grapelli, some evenings, without any kind of pre-arrangement, Django would lay down the first chord of a melody at the precise moment when Grapelli’s bow was about to bear down on the first note of the same tune. Sometimes reality is stranger than legend.

And “legendary” is the word to describe the status which Django – or any record in which he had a hand – was rapidly acquiring. The reason was not just the undoubted excellence of his solo performances but an extra quality – a “presence” which somehow generated masterpieces and which gave him a special status among other leading musicians. They all wanted to work with him, The elegant trumpeter Bill Coleman, the fiery trombonist Dicky Wells, the extraordinary harmonica player Larry Adler, artists of the stature of Rex Stewart of Barney Bigard – all produced in France some of their best work with the help of the “amazing Gypsy”. Another such case was the violinist Eddie South – also drawn to Paris by the Exposition. He was a black musician with a solid classical training (with even a “gypsy” element thanks to a spell in the Budapest Conservatory under Jenö Hubay). He was more than happy to work with Django, replacing Grappelli in the Quintet for an engagement at the “Big Apple” in Pigalle. Charles Delaunay, always on the ball, seized the opportunity for a recording session, ringing the changes on the personnel with great effect.

Frank Ténot has said of this historic period that

“at no other moment in its history has European Jazz exhibited so much freshness and originality. The multiple possibilities of string instruments were beautifully realised when the violins of Grapelly, South and Warlop united their forces. This “chamber-jazz” was a specially exciting episode in the pre-war period, and the interpretation by these jazzmen of a piece by Bach was a particularly significant experiment.”
And indeed, when matched against the incandescent fervour of Michel Warlop (himself a refugee from a conservatory and much admired by Fritz Kreisler( and the casual incisiveness of Grapelli’s style, there is a surprising hint of classicism – though allied to deep feeling – in the violin of Eddie South. This “feeling” all soloists seemed to acquire as if by magic in the presence of Django’s guitar.
Another notable event of this period was Django’s first venture into orchestral composition — an ambitious Bolero played by the Quintet augmented with brass and string section. Django, who knew nothing of notation, dictated all the orchestral parts on the guitar. The mere fact of this undertaking bears witness to the respect accorded to Django’s musical ideas and to the force of his personality. And future efforts in this field were to be marked by growing assurance and consciousness of his own worth.

Some of the performances that have come down to us from these flourishing years are landmarks: for example, such wonderfully inventive guitar solos as St Louis Blues (with stimulating support from Loulou Gasté, an unusual collaborator) and I’ll see you in my dreams (with solid backing this time from the guitar of Baro Ferré) – a masterpiece of construction with Manouche guitarists today perform religiously note for note. And the same is true for Minor Swing, certainly the Quintet’s greatest success – an extraordinary hit of the day which sold by thousands and became the group’s theme song.

Up to the outbreak of war Django and the Quintet divided their time between recording sessions (which became steadily more frequent), club work, and the wildly popular jam sessions which took place at the “Nuit Bleues” and the “Swing Time”. In between times there were memorable concerts at the Salle Pleyel, Salle Gaveau the Alhambra and the ABC. And as a final mark of their arrival, there were big foreign tours (to Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, England and Scandinavia) where artistic triumph was mixed with wild escapades. On tour it was Grapelli who had to cope with Django’s irresponsibility, his defections, his unpredictable shifts of mood. He had learnt (the hard way) to recognize the signs. “Django would hear a bird and say, ‘Oho, it’s spring !’ Spring was my worst enemy. When the leaves appeared on the trees, Django vanished.” On occasion, to cover up for Django’s unscheduled disappearances, Joseph Reinhardt or Sarane Ferret would have to sit in for him at the last moment – a signal honour, but not necessarily one they relished.

In 1939, however, it wasn’t the call of the wild which caused Django to take to the woods. His career was at its height: the fame of the Quintet was solidly established. Django himself had attained the pinnacle of his personal ambition when he appeared at the “Hot Feet” with his idol Duke Ellington. Then, in the middle of one of their highly successful British tours, came the brutal news of General Mobilisation. At the first whisper of the disaster, Django panicked.., and vanished, leaving behind him the band, his luggage, and even his guitar. Grapelli, who remained in London, wasn’t to see him again till after the Liberation.

Amazingly, after this unpromising start, Django now emerged as a popular star in a France cut off by the Occupation from its contacts with American jazz. He formed a new “swing” quintet on the Benny Goodman model with the clarinettist Hubert Rostaing which quickly became a hit with the young fans. Paris, one it had recovered from the disasters and confusion of the defeat, was looking for pleasure, for distraction. Suddenly Jazz records were selling in their thousands. The public wanted “Swing”. That (or sometimes “Swing musette”) was the magic word which became a kind of rallying cry for the young. Until now Jazz had been the preserve of a relatively select circle of dedicated enthusiasts. Now it became a general passion, and the Quintet and the Hot Club of France was its focus. According to Charles Delaunay: “When Django and his new Quintet made their first public appearance on the stage of the “Normandie” cinema they were staggered by the reception they got. “This was not simply a conquered population seeking to forget its troubles in dreams; it was also an act of defiance against an Enemy for whom Jazz was a hated symbol or racial decadence. And the Gypsy guitarist, in turn, was a symbol of that defiance.

We should note that he could easily have re-formed the Quintet with a violin lead and in this shape it would have been far more acceptable to the jackbooted music-lovers from across the Rhine. There were plenty of violonists about – Georges Effrosse, André Karen, Sylvio Schmidt, and (after his release from captivity) Michel Warlop. Instead he chose to setups typically “American” group, with even a drummer, at precisely the moment when all that came from across the Atlantic was under deep suspicion. And though it is not true – despite what has often been stated – that the playing of Jazz during those dark years was actually prohibited – yet it wasn’t exactly the safest way to make a living or to keep in with the Kommandantur. There were, though, closet Jazz fans among the German officers. One of these was Dietrich Schulz-Koehn (the “Doktor Jazz” of German officers (one of Django’s most fervent admirers, and who more ran once got him out of a tight corner. In any case, the ban on American jazz records only served to boost the value of the discs which the French jazzmen were putting out by hundreds under the enemy’s nose with camouflaged titles to conceal their American antecedents.

In the absence of foreign stars, the French jazzmen suddenly found themselves in the limelight on the stages of music-halls, dance-halls and big cinemas. Alix Combelle, André Ekyan, Gus Viseur and Aimé Barelli became popular stars overnight, while Django enjoyed the kind of treatment normally reserved for cinema idols. By an instinctive stroke of genius, and without his intending any such result, the personnel changes in the Quintet had produced a formula which exactly suited the popular demand for “danceable” music.

All this meant big money. And Django responded by giving his innate fecklessness full rein: he gambled away huge sums, he behaved like a prima donna, he took off on the spur of the moment… And yet, the records presented here show clearly (and it is not the least of their merits) that even under these circumstances, which might have wrecked a lesser talent, Django retained his musical integrity intact.

His most famous composition, Nuages, dates from this period. Its harmonic structure is anything but commercial. And yet Django, performing it to an ecstatic audience in the Salle PleyeI in January 1941, had to play three encores.

Other melodies he composed at this time, equipped with lyrics, were soon being sung everywhere – Swing 41, Dinette, Crépuscule, Swing 42, Douce Ambiance. These hits went to swell the growing popularity among the dancing public of his “swinging” guitar-and-clarinet combination. By contrast with the pre-war Quintet, the group was now playing a purer, less lavishly ornamental style, more disciplined in tempo, concentrating on the basics, and with the addition of riff effects which were almost certainly inspired by Charlie Christians work (which Django was familiar with) in the Benny Goodman Sextet. This music, combining simplicity and sophistication, melancholy and excitement, perfectly reflected the spirit of its times.

In short, the “Nouveau Quintette du Hot Club de France”, as it billed itself, was a triumph. The night-clubs and music-halls of Paris fought to get them. They made rave appearances at the “Olympia”, the “Moulin Rouge”, at Jane Stick’s, “Le Ciro’s”, “Le Doyen”… But soon Paris became too small to hold them and there were tours of the provinces and Belgium – Picaresque epics full of amazing adventures and misadventures which gave the promoters grey hairs but drove the fans wild.

In an age which craved escape from grim everyday realities, Django the colourful star, the brilliant musician, could hardly fail to fascinate. His name in lights shone in huge letters outside the theatres, his posters covered the walls (which, in the catchphrase of the day, most certainly had ears). And his strange personality attracted artists as diverse as the Prévert brothers, the animation-artist Paul Grimault, Marcel Carné, Henri Crolla, and Mouloudji (the “October Group” of the Popular Front). And he was courted by stage and screen stars like Marlene Dietrich, Danielle Darrieux, Fréhel, and Edith Piaf. Another was Paul Meurisse who speaks in his memoirs of an occasion when he appeared on the same bill as Django at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels:

“… from the wings I watched him, fascinated. But it was above all when I had the chance to hear him off-stage, playing for himself, for me, for pleasure, taking off with his musicians into incredible improvisations, that I had the feeling of parting company with the real world. This meeting, and the current of sympathy which passed between us, was an important moment in my career and my life.”

Through the ups and downs of the tours of 1942 and 1943, first André Lluis and then Gerard Lévêque replaced Rostaing in the clarinet chair but the group maintained the same sound and its success was undiminished. Hearing them again today, thanks to the discs in this collection, we might expect that a group so popular in its day would now be showing its age, preserving only a faded memory of past excitements. But such is not the case. On the contrary, this music seems to have discovered the secret of eternal youth. Django’s musical vitality was a shaft of light in the gloom of those sad years and set an example which others were not slow to follow. These included big bands such as the famous “Jazz de Paris” which survives now only as a name; and there where others equally famous in their day and equally ephemeral – the orchestras of Noël Chiboust, Jerry Mengo and Raymond Legrand, not to mention the “Festival Swing 41” and “Festival Swing 42W in which Django was the main attraction.

Django himself, increasingly absorbed by questions of orchestration was dabbling with the big band formula. He put together a group called “Django’s Music” whose repertoire consisted entirely of arrangements ho had dictated himself on the guitar. Django’s aspirations as a symphonic composer were never fully realised. His Mass was never finished. However, some of his arrangements from this period (for example, Stockholm, Nymphéas, Féérie) retain a curious impressionistic atmosphere which crosses the border between Jazz and non-jazz, prefiguring his later Rhythmes Futurs. Others are more fully in tune with the idiom of the Swing Era, such as the haunting Artillerie Lourde whose rifts are close to those of Tuxedo Junction and whose title is a lugubrious evocation of that month of November 1944.

The troubled atmosphere of the time was beginning to weigh on Django. Jazz-lovers and musicians, incessantly vilified by the Vichy authorities, found their position becoming increasingly difficult, even dangerous: censorship, harassment, denunciations, arrests; Some, like the violinist Georges Effrosse, vanished never to return.

Django, too well-known to be seriously at risk, had never needed to compromise with the Occupation Authorities in order to keep working. But now he, too, was beginning to feel the pressure. The music he had written for an avant-garde production of Andromaque had earned him the condemnation of the collaborationist press and threats of violence from the dreaded Milice And pressure of ano-ther kind was coming from the Germans who were becoming insistent in their demands that the Quintet should appear in the Reich itself. Djan-go felt it would be prudent to leave Paris; he made two attempts to get into neutral Switzerland but was turned back both times as Suing “neither black nor Jewish” Then began a period of wandering the length and breadth of France, sometimes with the Quintet, sometimes on the roads with his nomadic “cousins”, and once even returning to Paris to open his own club “La Roulotte” (not far from the place where his son Babik was born”).

He ended up on the Côte d’Azur, And it was at Toulon, a town which had a decided importance in his life that in August 1944 he found himself adopted by a G.l. orchestra belonging to the newly-landed American forces. He was a sensation. From there, under the patronage of the Allies, he went from strength to strength: star appearance in a forces show at the Olympia (where he shared the billing with Fred Astaire), recording sessions with Glenn Miller sidemen (recently disbanded following their leader’s death, and, as a final accolade, featured soloist with the Air Transport Command big band in a recital at the Salle Pleyel in December 1945. The discs he had recorded with this orchestra a short time previously are inclu-ded in the present collection, and it is clear that this was a setting in which his genius was given its fullest scope. In Djangology, for example, we wit-ness the sheer power of a guitarist, completely unamplified, dominating the brass section of a big band in full cry. This was the high point of Djangos popularity. Never again was he to delight such vast audiences.

In 1946 things began to slow down. The outburst of joy caused by the Liberation had died away, the GIs had gone home, the Swing Era was dying. Django’s club closed, leaving him homeless. Then, following a request from the BBC in London to re-form the old Quintet (always hugely popular in Britain, came his moving reunion with Stéphane Grapelli. A recording session in London was the result end one of its fruits was the famous version of the Marseillaise, which was for many years banned from the airwaves despite being cautiously retitled Echoes of France. The occasion was pure magic for Django and Stéphane. It was as though they had never been separated; they simply took up their musical dialogue where it had left off. From the first notes the old miraculous sympathy was back. All that had changed was that the work of both men had acquired a new depth and a controlled vehemence that come only with full maturity.

The English rhythm section which was used on the London date has come in for some criticism over the years, though in fact it added a new element of lightness and modernity. And this may have influenced the decision a few month later to adopt the piano-bass-drums line-up and bring in Rostaing on alto. This “Americanisation” of the new Quintet may have been influenced by the possibility of an American tour which was now on the cards but which Django kept putting off. After a Swiss tour with Michel de Villers he took up painting to make up for the lack of regular work. Finally Django signed up for a U.S. tour with Duke Ellington. It was at best half a success. Django’s “two-fingered style” certainly drew the crowds and the applause. But his inability to submit to the necessary discipline of a touring big–band was a fatal impediment which even the best-disposed of critics couldn’t overlook. Despite a successful appearance at the “Café Society” in New-York, the miraculous hoped-for California contract never materialised and in February 1947 he returned from the States disillusioned by a country “where the guitars sound like saucepans”.

Back in Paris he was reunited with his own beloved Selmer-Maccaferri, for which there was plenty of work: first with a big band at the “Bœuf-sur-le-toit”, then on March 26th 1947 with the reconstitued all-strings Quintet (taking advantage of Grapelli’s happening to be in Paris) for another recording session for the Swing company, which took place in a converted artist’s studio. The rhythm session included the dynamic Matelot Ferré. The results of this session are marked by the cohesive quality of the overall sound. Delighted to be together again, the two soloists are visibly more concerned with stylistic unity that with playing competitively against one another. Another session followed on November 14th 1947 for the rejuvenated Quintet. Some of the recordings from this period show that Django and Stéphane were susceptible to recent developments in Jazz. The thematic approach is new, the phrasing is legato but tightly controlled, and the improvisations are not mere paraphrases but solidly anchored in the harmonic structure.

However, a triumphant concert appearance at the Salle Pleyel was followed by a period of transition, even disillusion. Django found only scattered engagements. He devoted himself more and more to his painting and seemed to get more pleasure from his recent exhibition than from his playing. Job offers were met with: “Don’t talk to me about music I’m painting at the moment.” He did drop his brushes for a successful appearance in Belgium of the “wartime” Quintet with Rostaing, and even a mad tour of US military bases in Germany involving a number of picaresque adventures. But his heart was no longer in
it. Times were changing, audiences were changing, Jazz was changing. Though he had been one of the few to appreciate the newly-arrived be-bop at the time of the Liberation, it brought his own music into question. By this time Django was dabbling with amplification, following, in the first instance, the example of his brother Nin-Nin. His first experiment alas at the “Ambiance” club in 1946. Then in the US, where he had little choice in the matter since he hadn’t thought to take with him the famous cut-away acoustic guitar which was so much a part of his style.

The years 1947 and 1948, which critics have I tended to overlook, were a time of mixed fortunes for Django. His music was beginning to lose its told on audiences caught up in the fervour of the New Orleans Revival. Though oddly, if we are to believe the newspaper France-Dimanche, Django found a place among the idols of the new generation of “Bobby–soxers” – alongside Harry James, Jean Marais and Orson Welles. He probably owed this position to his regular appearances on Anne-Marie Duverney’s radio series “Surprise-Partie” leading a guitar-clarinet quintet (with Maurice Meunier, H. Rostaing or G. Lévêque) or with the old guitar-violin line-up. On the other hand, the fabulous success in February 1948 of Dizzy Gillespie’s big-band Be-bop concert at the Salle Pleyel, bristling with brass and percussion, seemed to sound the death knell of jazz for strings “without drums or trumpets”. And yet, not only did the Quintet of the Hot Club of France manage a several weeks’ engagement at the ABC Music-Hall, but Dizzy Gillespie, the Father of Bop in person, arrived in Django’s dressing-room to pay his respects and insisted on their playing together.

Despite these proofs or real esteem, Django’s art was being marginalised, his style judged old hat. There seemed to be no place for them in a French Jazz scene which was dominated by stupid polemics between the adherents of New Orleans and those of Be-bop. Django and Stéphane appeared by last-minute invitation at the Nice Jazz Festival in 1948. They were applauded, but their performance was eclipsed by the triumphant reception given to Claude Later and his band. Boris Vian, who once would have known better, delivered a brutal judgement: Grapelly and Reinhardt, without conviction, churned it out for the 36th time…”

But enough of Dixieland and sectarian squabbles. Our two virtuosos had other fish to fry. Ten days later they were together again in the Swing studios for the last recording featured in this collection. The critics of the day had reservations about these discs : “The old flame and creative urgency seem to have left them…” etc. But with the perspective of time we may doubt whether they were right. Probably they were simply seeking to justify their defection from the cause they had one espoused. These discs show no evidence of the falling-off which the critics claimed to detect. On the contrary, they are precious evidence of a great talent at the height of its powers, mature, yet still capable of development and change, less dazzling, but more controlled. And they are redolent of Django’s pleasure in the renewal. of the old musical partnership. As for Grapelli, he has turned his back on all mannerism and here declares, definitively, his allegiance to the cause of authentic Jazz His enormously fluid style in set off by Django’s more clipped phrasing which mixes typically Django-esque passages with phrases which owe something to bop not perhaps in Lady Be Good or Brick-Top, but clearly audible in Just For Fun or Festival 48. And Mike (sometimes called Micro) is an example of a classic C Ami-Dmi-G7 theme so beloved of Django {compare Daphne, Swing Guitars, R 26, etc.) revitalised with injections of the new idiom.

Clearly this new, updated Quintet had lost none of the freshness, drive and lightness of touch of the
original line up. But still one feels that Dango was striving towards change. As if he already knew that he was going to have to break with the old formula and continue his search alone. And in his last years we find him no longer concerned with adapting his musical conceptions to the vagaries of current taste but looking for a radically different and completely personal mode of expression. Shortly before his premature death on May 16th 1953 we know that he had reached an understanding with a new generation of musicians such as Hubert Fol, Maurice Vander, Pierre Michelot and Martial Solal, men with whom he found himself perfectly in tune He remained an innovator to the end, but never lost the special lyrical tone and quality of h a preferred instrument. It was as if his accommodations with modernism served only to emphasise his proud difference.

So his music, now more than ever, represents a source of joy and wonder which is perpetually renewed. Here in this box is the quintessence of a nomad spirit engaged in a never-ending quest. And forty years after his death we can still enjoy – and still earn from – the work of a peerless improviser whose work remains inexhaustibly alive Not for nothing do we hear it said among today’s Monouche guitarists :“Django is playing better every day.”

English Translation : Madeleine Juteau and Roger Jones
(1) Partly built-up area just outside the ring of old Fortifications which marked the city limits of Paris – afavourite camping ground for Gypsies.
(2) I.e. le “bal musette” But the word “musette” also refers to a charecteristic type of popular dance music which originated in this specific environment.
(3) Six string banjo with guitar tuning.
(4) the “Manouches”, to which Django belonged, are the Gypsies of Northern France and Belgium.
(5) “Gadjés” = non-gypsies.
(6) “Boumians” – Bohemians – Local word for Gypsies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *