If you haven’t heard the name Django Reinhardt in the last 70 years, it’s about time you do. It’s not everyday an artist is able to create and define an entire genre with such mastery that now, over 60 years after his death, jazz guitarists are still trying to sound like him. Gypsy jazz, or in French, jazz manouche, has stayed with us and for the most part still lives in the 1920 – 1940 period in which it thrived.
And now, for your listening pleasure while you read, I present “Limehouse Blues” played by Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, and the Hot Club de France!
When Django was 18 he was caught up in a fire that took away his left pinky and ring finger. They ended up permanently curled and unable to move. Despite this obvious handicap for a guitar player, who normally rely on their dexterous flying fingers to make the right notes in the right places, he spent his recovery time in the hospital with his guitar learning how to compensate. He managed just fine, resulting in a unique style that most four-fingered musicians cannot match.
His style of jazz played many “old standards” (even in the 1930s) with a quintet of only strings. He played lead guitar. There was usually two rhythm guitars, who essentially replaced the job of a drummer, and a stand-up bass. The other defining character of gypsy jazz, and equally talented, was the violinist Stephane Grappelli. The melodies were tossed back and forth between the violin and lead guitar, driven by la pompe (the pump) of the steady rhythm section.
It was called “gypsy jazz” because Django was indeed a gypsy living in France. That is, the Romani people more commonly known as gypsies. While they are usually on the pointy end of many negative stereotypes, they do accept the Gypsy moniker. (which originated from the inaccurate belief their ancestry came from Egypt) The musical influence of the Romani culture is very pervasive throughout Europe, not just in jazz, but the traditional music of Bulgaria and many other Slavic nations.
With the popularity of gypsy jazz, that influence has spread across the world with many, many imitators. You’ll find many inspired musicians performing as the “Hot Club of (insert town)”, and many groups and albums such as “Pearl Django”, “Django Lives” and the christmas album “Django Bells”.
- Source: http://www.dougmartinguitar.com/gypsy_jazz.html
- Music: courtesy of http://www.archive.org/details/DjangoReinhardt-51-60
- More about the Gypsy people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_people