Stephane Grappelli

Django a Go Go 2017

This was an evening to remember! As I mentioned last month, I was psyched for this concert and I can say now that I had a fantastic time at Django a Go Go and saw some GREAT live Gypsy Jazz in one of the best venues in the world (Carnegie Hall)! It seems the accompanying bandcamp and smaller concerts out in Maplewood, New Jersey were also well-attended and a roaring success. While talking about it from the stage, organizer Stephane Wrembel described the whole idea as “CRAZY”, but it worked out beautifully. Stephane has been playing/promoting these concerts since 2004 so he is definitely adept at pulling all of the necessary elements together and had all of the right kind of help. Gypsy Jazz is more popular than ever in New York City!


My girlfriend and I arrived at Carnegie Hall, had a nice glass of wine, checked out some of the history in the place at the museum and then made our way to our seats at about 7:30. Together we have seen some great shows at all of the big venues in New York over the years, but neither of us had ever been to Carnegie Hall. What a great place. So much history and a part of a very different time, yet it remains so functional in the modern era. The view from our seats was awesome — completely unobstructed, which is just what I was going for. While I’ve seen people say that the show was sold out, that isn’t completely true. Our area of the balcony was not, which was GREAT! We could really stretch out and enjoy the show and the others who were around us were cool and likewise had plenty of room. I knew the sound would be amazing. It’s Carnegie Hall! While the above pic might make it seem like the 2nd balcony is too far away, it really wasn’t. As I have mentioned on this blog in the past: it was Django Reinhardt’s 1953 version of Night and Day, this video of Stochelo Rosenberg and seeing Stephane Wrembel live that inspired me to learn Gypsy Jazz. I’ve seen Stephane in many incarnations over the years, but have never seen Stochelo. I have also never seen Al Di Meola live and so this was what I was psyched for going into the concert.

Stephane started the show to great cheers from the hometown crowd and after acknowledging the importance of the night and his thanks to the fans, began the show solo with his sublime version of Django’s Improvisation #1. His band joined him on the next tune, the very kinetic original number, Prometheus. As always, Stephane’s playing was brilliant and his band was great. They totally nailed the tunes and then provided great backup for everything else over the course of the evening. Nick Driscoll joined in on saxophone for a great Coltrane-type version of Django’s Troublant Bolero. Totally cool. There was some singing from David Gastine who did a Jean Sablon tune and then related that his dream had always been to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads at Carnegie Hall. Hmm. Not what one would expect at this show, but he nailed it, had people singing along (including us for a chorus [blame the wine]) and got a big ovation for a job well done. Stephane also played Bistro Fada, his very well-known theme for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris movie. Then they were joined by guitarist Larry Keel who played some serious Doc Watson country style guitar. The show reminded me of an old-time variety show or maybe Prairie Home Companion. Stephane explained that this has always been the theme behind this concert; bring many divergent styles and musicians together and make it happen!

Then it was time for Stochelo Rosenberg and he did not disappoint. He was CHARGED! He explained before starting that he hadn’t been to Carnegie Hall since 1993 when he was invited by the great Stephane Grappelli. Twenty-four years later he returned thanks to another Stephane and completely burned through his original, modern Gypsy Jazz classic, For Sephora. To see and hear him play this song live was an incredible experience. Everything I wrote about in this post regarding Stochelo’s incredible technique; his strength, touch, tone, and articulation was on full display. Even the other musicians onstage were just shaking their heads as he blazed through 4 choruses of the tune. It was brilliant! It was awesome! They followed up with a Django-era classic, Coquette that also sounded great! I could see everything Stochelo was doing and he was very animated and having a good time, which is a bit unusual for him. Usually he lets his hands do all the moving. Al Di Meola came out next and related that he too had played the hall 42 years ago with Chick Corea and also hadn’t been back since. He launched into a very dramatic classically-inspired solo piece that went through many movements before coming to a big climactic ending and then the ensemble finished with a blazing version of Indifference. During this tune, Stochelo, Al, and Stephane did all kinds of tag-team soloing and comping that was a prelude of the great things that awaited us in the second set. It was a pretty amazing first set and the show had already run more than an hour and a half. And it only got better!

After a short intermission, Stephane, Stochelo, and Al came out alone and Stephane related before they began how influential the Friday Night in San Francisco recording of Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin from 1981 was to him and to many guitarists he knew. (It was to me too). I was expecting they might do this and as soon as I saw the three of them come out I knew they would! They launched into Mediterranean Sundance and it was EPIC! No, really, it was so good they all hugged at the end of the 12-15 minutes worth of awesome playing. I am not even going to describe how epic it was, but the playing from all three was magnificent! They followed it immediately with a great version of Chick Corea’s Spain joined by Keel and bass player Ari Folman-Cohen. Crazy good. For me everything that had happened between when Stochelo appeared and the end of Spain alone was worth the price of admission. But there was more! A great swinging version of Django-era Georgia on My Mind, with Stochelo playing all of Django’s brilliant lines and chordal fills and It Don’t Mean a Thing with sublime Freddy Taylor-type vocals on both by Ryan Montbleau. Then there was a great guitar hero version of Nuages (with a solo intro by Stochelo to open) that also featured some more great sax from Nick Driscoll. Finally, there was the big rave-up at the end with the Gypsy Jazz anthem, Minor Swing that included the great Paulus Shafer and Stephane’s student, Sara L’Abriola, that succeeded in bringing down the house!

The week after the concert I saw this page of the program (didn’t look at it the night of) and this review from Downbeat and both show a program I totally don’t remember in spots, but I think I’m remembering correctly. I know that Coquette was played because Stephane briefly introduced it as a song Django wrote (which he didn’t) and that had Stochelo shaking his head no (because he didn’t) while if they had played Djangology, that would have been true, since that is a Django Reinhardt composition. Minor Blues was definitely not played and neither was Dark Eyes and if Double Jeu was played it was worked in as a part of Indifference because I know Double Jeu from that awesome Romane/Stochelo Rosenberg DVD that I have raved about on this blog a number of times. Anyhow, I’m sure there had to be some alterations and spontaneity and that is what jazz is all about!

Finally, as I wrote here, I lost my mother almost a year ago to the day of this concert. She was always my Number 1 musical supporter and over the years I was able to take her to many different cultural events in NYC, which she always enjoyed. We never saw anything at Carnegie Hall though, but I like to think she was with me for this great night of music. My girlfriend lost her father about six months ago. He lived to the ripe old age of 94 and while that is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, the fact that he was stationed on Iwo Jima with the Japanese army when he was but a lad of 22 makes it all the more amazing. He was wounded in an air raid and was evacuated from the island before the final American assault. One of the bullets that struck him remained in his leg for his entire life. He passed away just after I bought tickets for Django a Go Go and bequeathed the field glasses from the his army days to his daughter to use for the concert. We were able to get up close and personal to some of the action on stage and that was great! After all of these years, and so many miles, they still work and he would’ve appreciated that they were put to such good use. Swords into plowshares and all of that. I felt very fortunate to have been a part of this evening with so much great music and great playing by all of the musicians. Of course, it was a monumental night on a personal level for me to see Stochelo! I am also glad that Stephane took it all on and set up such a great program of events and hope to see more in the future!


Book Review #2

Two more books from the library! I have some rilly cool things to share: The BB King Treasures and Stochelo Rosenberg (part 1). Both of these coffee-table-esque printed productions are very stylin’ and function as the kind of material I lay out when important and sophisticated people visit. It’s my way of saying, “Hey, I’m New York SASSY and I moved on from Hammer of the Gods a long time ago. But aside from that, both these books are complete and total eye-candy and serve as scrapbooks that detail the lives of two very accomplished musicians. Reading over them puts one smack in the middle of music history and culture and contained within are all kinds of special features that add to the experience. Both were obviously put together with a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE and it shows.

BB King

Riley B. King is a musical institution and The USA is lucky to have him. Over a career spanning 60+ years BB has become a world ambassador and “global musician” of the guitar, influencing some pretty high-powered people along the way and entertaining literally millions of people. The BB King Treasures, which was released to coincide with his 80th birthday, traces his story from very humble beginnings in a Mississippi sharecroppers cabin, through his early love of music and apprenticeship with cousin Bukka White, to his early successes in Memphis radio. It then moves on to the many years of relentless touring and recording. While James Brown might’ve called himself the hardest working man in showbiz, BB just went out and did it, year after year. By the 1960s when British guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page brought the blues back to the United States, BB saw his popularity skyrocket because he WAS the blues and could kill them at The Fillmore playing to a bunch of hippies who were there to see Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience. BB and Albert King (no relation but another very influential player) were both revered by white audiences and players alike and enjoyed tremendous success during the late 60s and early 70s.

Year after year BB kept taking his message of music to the people and eventually became a full-blow icon — I mean he’s had an audience with the Pope fer crying out loud. (Supposedly John Paul II played a little guitar himself and wanted BB to show him how to play The Thrill is Gone — but that might’ve been just a rumor). Aside from great writing, this book contains so many cool reproductions of mementos that trace BB’s career — posters, business cards, booking schedules, stickers…neato! There is also a CD that has BB talking about a whole lot of guitar stuff. He relates how he admired Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and other players that he heard when he was growing up and how he tried to mimic the guitar bends, slides and chord patterns. He also recalls sitting next to cousin Bukka as he did his thing, but ultimately BB could never reproduce any of it like he heard it. (He illustrates what he’s talking about by singing and picking an acoustic guitar) Listening to the CD it’s obvious ALL of that blues is in BB, but he went and did his own thing with it, took it somewhere else. His vibrato is legendary and his great FEEL gives all of his guitar playing a very human voice — a powerful enough influence that Duane Allman learned all of BB’s licks note for note and John Lennon once said, “I wish I could play guitar like BB King”. John even name-drops BB King in his Dig It jam that showed up on Let It Be. Even after all of the success and world-wide acclaim BB is very humble and cognizant of how he is a part of this long thread of guitar and music and this book serves as a real celebration of all he has accomplished. The combination of the writing, BB’s input, the relaxed feel of the audio interviews and all of the cool little add-ons, give this package a very personal feel and because there is so much here, you can revisit repeatedly without exhausting your interest level.

Stochelo Rosenberg

While Stochelo doesn’t have BB King’s 60 years of history or name recognition, he has established himself as the premier emissary of gypsy jazz throughout the world. Coming from a Manouche gypsy background he is steeped in traditions that date back literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. Stochelo’s book is a great family album, put together with help from Harry Klunder and guitar maker extraordinaire Leo Eimers.

Of course the shadow and presence of the awesome Django Reinhardt is always with Stochelo and all of those who play gypsy jazz. Django was the first world-wide hero of the Manouche community and founded a school and style of music that enjoys great popularity today. The success of Stochelo, his incredible guitar abilities and the wonderful music he and the trio have created has been a very important part of WHY there are so many people listening to and playing the music today. But they always acknowledge and give homage to the master and there is a section in the book devoted to Django. In addition to being a great musician, Django dabbled in painting and favored the female form as subject matter. (Who can blame him!) There are some samples in the book and this is the first time I’ve seen nice reproductions of his work. For over 20 years The Rosenberg Trio has been releasing beautiful discs and completely flooring everyone with their live performances. In addition to Stochelo, the trio features Nou’she, his cousin, one of THE preeminent gypsy rhythm guitarists in the world today and his other cousin, Nonnie an awesome bass player. Because they are all related and have been playing together for so long, TIGHT doesn’t even begin to describe how well they work together. Metal shredders, tube screamers, fingerpickers and technique geeks take notice. The Rosenberg Trio are amazing!

This book is hard to find and maybe impossible to buy now…I don’t know. There were a limited number of copies made. I have # 57. [edit message from co-author Harry Klunder: Hello, for Your information, the book is still on stock, however not so many. Let me know if you are interested, there are about 750 ex. left and they will be presented on the market again next year.Harry Klunder] It comes with one of Stochelo’s guitar picks embedded in the inside front cover, tabs of original music he wrote just for the book, a really insightful interview on his playing technique and equipment preferences and HISTORY. It’s a great presentation of Stochelo’s family and Manouche culture. The Rosenberg Trio was shaped and is sustained by their roots and there are lots of great stories and fantastic pics of family, friends and associates. While Django looms large as Stochelo’s main influence, there were others, much closer to home like his legendary uncle Wasso Grunholz and the well-known and terrifically awesome Fapy Lafertin. There is also a section on Leo Eimers, the guy who makes some of the best Selmer style guitars in the world. It’s obvious Stochelo had a lot to do with the creation of this book because all of the highlights of his life — playing with Stephane Grappelli, success with the Rosenberg Trio and carrying on the proud tradition of Django Reinhardt are contained within. He is also a devoted father and husband and, like BB, just comes across as a real humble, down-to-earth guy, GUITAR GOD, though he may be.

What’s really great about all four of the books I’ve profiled so far is that authors and producers really did a swell job. There isn’t any expense spared to get the story right and make even the tiniest details available to the audience (which I gotta figure includes many guitar players). Anyone in the publishing world will tell you that CONTENT IS KING and what makes these books enjoyable is that at the most basic level, they are great stories told by great communicators about great communicators. All of the extras serve to augment what is already an enjoyable experience for the reader. While I am a great fan and daily participant in the digital publishing landscape, there is always room for printed material, especially 5-star efforts that create an experience that is unique and informative. Both of these books certainly do that and a whole lot more!

The World is Waiting for the Sunrise

The fiery Joscho Stephan and Friends, including Evan Price on the violin, Martin Sjöstedt on bass, and Denis Chang on rhythm guitar. Joscho Stephan is still in his early 20s and is definitely already well on his way to being a really great player. He has the confidence, speed, power, sophistication, and relaxed joy of someone much more seasoned. I really like how he gets his whole body behind his playing and is jumping out of his chair. I think that stuff is great and he really gets the audience behind him because of that and the fact that he takes a lot of chances. He’s not afraid of making a mistake or not quite pulling off the very fast stuff he’s trying to do. Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of brash, go-for-it attitude. Joscho, like many of the younger GJ players, doesn’t use the traditional Gypsy picking style, though he is still using a whole lot o’ down-strokes. The more I find out about this music the more I realize everybody has their own peculiarities when it comes to how they pick. Joscho’s technique is definitely working for him!

Denis Chang Fleche D'orDenis Chang has done a whole heck of a lot to bring Gypsy Jazz to the masses and has released a couple of really great discs on his own. I have the his Nature Boy disc and it’s one of my favorites. There are plenty of songs chock full of  chops and musicality, not only from Denis himself, but also from fellow Gypsy virtuoso, Ritary Gaguenetti, and special guest Frank Gambale! There are a couple of very nice and atmospheric vocal songs: Stardust, the title track Nature Boy, and Seul Ce Soir and an all around banging track selection and roster of great musicians making the whole thing really shine. I played this on a road trip early last fall and it was beautiful to listen to it driving down highway with all of autumn’s colors in full display. I have to get around to picking up some more of Denis’s stuff because he knows how to make a disc!.

In the style of Stochelo Rosenberg DVDBesides that he has also been a major educator, which has been a big help to people like me. When I first started trying to play GJ and had no idea what I was doing I was helped out most by Denis’ charts and tabs and the website, where he was and is a frequent commentator. He has also made a quite a few DVDs and has done some instructional stuff with guitar powerhouses Wawau Adler and Stochelo Rosenberg. I have the two Stochelo discs and they are well-produced and just full of information and a whole lot of playing by Denis and Stochelo that you can just watch and enjoy. There is a In the Style of Stochelo disc and another disc devoted entirely to waltzes. They’re both great! I’ve wanted to get the Wawau discs too, but you know the economy (!). I’m sure they are just as good because Wawau is a heavy player too.

Django Reinhardt in Rome box setAnyhoo, So…The World is Waiting for the Sunrise. Django Reinhardt did this song with Stephane Grappelli and a pick-up band in Italy after WW II. It is available on the Django in Rome box set, which I have and enjoy very much. You can listen to it here. I could’ve easily included this on my FAVORITE MOMENTS list in the Django post, but then I could say that about at least a hundred other songs he did. Notice how hard Django picks without ever losing his articulation and speed. He totally dominates on this track and his rhythm comping at the end is indicative of how rhythmically sound he was. There are some real gems in the Django catalog that showcase his rhythm work and this is one of my favorites. His duos with Stephane, Out of Nowhere being a prime example, are really amazing and great for analyzing how to back someone up effectively and give the music a very infectious and sophisticated pulse.

The World is Waiting for the Sunrise is a very old song (1919) and was covered by many people during the swing era, including Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. In 1951 Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded a version with all of Les’s guitar and recording effects, which were new at the time. It was a big hit and sold over a million copies.Everybody knows I’m sure how important Les Paul’s contributions were to not only the further development of music, but also the technology behind making the music. He invented the Les Paul! He was also a total pioneer in the art of recording and using effects to improve and expand the sound of the recordings. As I show in my big sticky on Django Reinhardt, he and Les Paul were friends. Can you imagine hanging out with those two guys for a couple of hours?!!

quote from Les Paul

Les Paul influenced many people, two of whom you might recognize in the next video. Carl Perkins shows how rockabilly cats “faked” the Les Paul echo to get the same effect on the same song. George Harrison is no stranger to this song either as The Beatles recorded a home-made version sometime in late 50s.

So this is an interesting study of a song that is now almost 100 years old — starting with a recent performance and going back to the middle of the last century’s jazz players and rock n’ roll players and how all of the interpretations differed, but are also very similar in many ways. We can also see how technological advances have allowed guitar players to push the boundaries of the art as far as possible. Standards such as The World is Waiting… have a very user-friendly structure to them—you can make them as simple or complex as you wish, whether harmonically, rhythmically, or sonically— or some kind of combination of all three. Making these connections across styles is not only interesting in and of itself, but it also helps make the song more universal and accessible to anyone not familiar with a particular style. Oh…and Willie Nelson likes it too! Gypsy Jazz and Western Swing are real close cousins.

When I started trying to play jazz, which can be a very overwhelming thing to do it helped to hear artists I had heard many times (The Beatles) do a song like “Sunrise” or The Sheik of Araby. Players who are adept at jazz are, of course all over it and playing stuff that hits a novice like “huh what?” The Beatles did “Sheik” and Carl Perkins played “Sunrise” like they played everything else and since that format and approach was more familiar to me, it was a big help to listen to their versions to get the structure and approach in my brain and under my fingers. Once I was playing and listening to more jazz and Gypsy Jazz music, all of those structures became familiar to me and I could hear them as easily and they were as recognizable and the rock motifs, moves, chord patterns and tricks I grew up on. Popular groups from the rock era have also turned many a person, musician and non-musician alike, onto the people who influenced them and that is a great way to find your way back to the source of what made the music and music technology happen and how that continues to influence and color the music that we hear today.

Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt was the first guitar hero and everyone playing guitar today owes him a debt of gratitude for the trail he blazed. There is very little that we do today that he wasn’t doing 70+ years ago, sans amplification, effects and with only two fingers. Well that’s not really true — he did have an early prototype of the FLANGER. HA! I wonder what Django would’ve done with a flanger!! He did begin using an amplified Selmer guitar post-WW 11 and was tearing it up electric style for just a few years before his very untimely death in 1953 at the age of only 43. During a career spanning almost twenty years he recorded literally hundreds of sides that will blow your mind. If you’re the typical USA rock type guitar player, Django is that guy, the one you always hear about and you either wonder why or don’t, (but should). While he was able to use all four fingers and the thumb for chording/comping, he played all of his fiery leads with just two fingers. You can watch him doing it right now.

Personally, I think this whole clip is brilliant — Django’s playing on the intro with all of those lush beautiful chords and snappy single string lines and the duet he does with Stephane Grappelli’s great violin melody improvisation on the second intro chorus. Once the song kicks in, Django’s brother, Joseph and dashing gangster/great musician, Pierre “Baro” Ferret on rhythm guitars effectively illustrate why drummers are not always necessary. I also love the old-time radio voice. It’s a very evocative snapshot of a time long gone and it’s the only clip that shows Django playing a whole song with the sound/film synched. Note Django’s solo; all the bends he employs—something many players, including myself don’t do nearly as well or nearly enough. Then there is the chromatic run starting at 2:52: zzzzzzip! Classic Django and the type of lick everyone wants to play. /p>

You can’t appreciate how cool Django is until you actually try to play his music— even if you use ALL of your digits! Django had awesome licks, incredible dexterity and picking power, and complete rhythmic control of everything he was doing — he was a bona-fide genius for sure and that’s without bringing his composition abilities into the discussion. Django jammed with some of the premier soloists and players of his day and there wasn’t one who didn’t recognize his profound command of the instrument. I think he also had a very sublime and relaxed sense of humor and music to him was as easy as breathing and delightful as a new toy is to a child. It has been said by people who saw him play that it was pretty much impossible for him to make a mistake, even if he was at a jam session playing a song like Rose Room for twenty or thirty minutes. Music more less fell out of him and for that reason I think all of Django’s music is so cool, even if it sounds dated or the recordings don’t sound like they were recorded with Doubly, er, I mean Dolby. Here was a man who was really plugged into the that great cosmic axis and could channel it to his whims whenever and however he desired. It’s important to realize that there was a World War going on for seven years of his career and the whole concept of making records hadn’t exactly come into its own, so while the sound of his records doesn’t always compare with a disc that was released last year or even twenty or thirty years ago, Django’s musical imagination, brilliant sense of timing, and muscular dexterity enabled him to compose, perform and record some of the most inventive and melodious music ever heard.

From a player’s perspective Gypsy Jazz is difficult to learn for a few reasons. First, it originated with one guy really…Django. He invented a whole style of music that continues to flourish today. Amazing! Also, because he was such a complete virtuoso, everyone who tries to “walk the walk” and attempts to capture the spirit of his music or play even the heads to some of the songs needs to be a serious player, and many players, especially from the Gypsy community have succeeded in upping the ante on the virtuosity quotient that is contained in the music. Finally, while it enjoys quite a bit of respect and popularity in Europe, it has never been so in the USA. Some believe that it is more popular here today than it ever was and that is telling, especially considering Django and Stephane formed their first group in the early 1930s. The internet has had a very profound effect on this new popularity because it is much easier to acquire discs from overseas, find music and solos tabbed out and learn the style from players who play in well. However, Django has always been very popular and influential among players. A list of those people who sing praises for Django’s abilities reads like a who’s who of the greatest six-stringers ever, including; Jeff Beck, Jerry Garcia, Dicky Betts, Joe Pass, Les Paul, Julian Bream, Chet Atkins, and many others like Brian Setzer, Dan Hicks, and Willie Nelson, who have brought the swinging vibe of the original Hot Club into their own music.

Before Django Reinhardt no one had been able to sell the guitar as the GUY-MAN-DUDE instrument that we all know it as today. If anything, by now, the whole flash guitar player wailing in front of the band is probably viewed by many as passé (note my use of French—impressive isn’t it?). But in Django’s day no one could imagine that there would be a time when the guitar would rule the orchestra and dudes would be rockin’ out to it and dudettes would be rocking out to it! But Django was more that just a guitar player. So much more. He was also a composer, influenced by classical musicians such as Bach, Stravinsky and Debussy, as well as jazz greats like his idol, the man who inspired him to play jazz, Louis Armstrong. You can hear this wide variety of influences in his music as it is not strictly jazz, but in a class by itself. Listen to songs like Bolero (1937), the incredible Mystery Pacific (1937), Tiger Rag, and the offbeat Stockholm, as well as many others.

Django pioneered the whole concept of the high-energy, brilliant composer musician who uses a guitar as his instrument of choice to lead an orchestra (read: band). He also influenced the whole development of rock and roll more than most people realize. Many of the “British Invasion” rock players; George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Brian May were obviously influenced by Django; I hear his influence and the influence of the Hot Club sound in a lot of British Invasion music from the 60s and 70s.  During the 30s and 40s many people loved the Hot Club in the UK and thought Django was a total superstar, which leads me to believe when young George, Jeff, Jimmy, Brian and the others were learning to play guitar, their dads probably put on their favorite Django records and said “FORGET ELVIS! YOU WANT TO BE A GUITAR HERO? LISTEN TO THIS GUY!” (I’m sure they didn’t all yell in all caps like that, but I just wanted to make it stand out). Even though Django only made in to the USA once, after WWII, there were stories of American servicemen who went looking for him while they were in Europe during the war because they had already heard his music and wanted to see for themselves what he was doing. But because he only came over once, and not with the Hot Club or Stephane Grappelli, there was never any kind of very popular recognition of the style of music they had invented. It has been, and remains, music mostly for players, although, as someone who has been to shows and has played shows of Django’s music, it NEVER goes out of style. At it’s core the music is bouncy, happy, melodious sophisticated and rhythmically shakin’. It has a timeless, infectious quality that is right for many different settings and occasions.

Django came to the USA in 1946 to tour with Duke Ellington. Here is a real interesting page I literally just found on Django’s trip to the USA, specifically his friendship with early swing guitar star Harry Volpe. Harry Volpe was a heavy cat back in the day and there is some really great info and some really great pics at the site. Not only was Harry a great player, but he also ran a music store and taught guitar. His students included Johnny Smith, Sal Salvador and Joe Pass! Whoa! I also think that maybe except for Roy Rogers, he might have been the first American guitar player to have a signature guitar model. But I have to research that and Harry  further.

But back to Britain. One of Django’s famous songs is Tears. Here is Michelle, by the Beatles. I hear a lot of similarities. If you play both in C minor, it’s easy to create a “mash-up” that flows perfectly. And the Beatles sing parts of Michelle in french…hmm. I might be stretching it but, after listening to Django’s music I believe I hear it in music I’ve known for a long time. I’m not saying that everyone necessarily is copying him, but you couldn’t ask for a better influence, especially if you’re a guitar player.

Here are some of my favorite Django moments. There will be many more posts where I will write about what I’ve learned from playing his music, where I see that it shows up in modern music, and how you too can maybe cop some gypsy-flavored stuff for yourself.

After You’ve Gone 1936
[QHCF – Stephane Grappelly (v), Django Reinhardt, Joseph Reinhardt, Pierre Ferret (g), Lucien Simoens (b), Freddy Taylor (vo)] This tune is great—brilliant playing by Stephane Grappelli, smooth vocal by Mr. Freddy Taylor and Django uncorks a solo that is less than 60 seconds of unadulterated genius (listen how the whole thing takes off after the break). Can’t forget to acknowledge the rhythm playing of Joseph Reinhardt and Pierre “Baro” Ferret who were chug masters. There’s no drums or percussion on this and it is awesome in its intensity.

What’s scary is that on the 1949 version of this song the solo is longer and even better. I think Django liked playing After You’ve Gone and it is still played by many as a Gypsy jazz “standard”.

Oiseaux de Iles 1940
I love the sound of this song!!! It’s just so WEIRD, modern, jittery and evocative. Cubist, Jean Genet, Picasso or something. France was under siege and already occupied by the Nazis. The whole vision is Django’s, from the jumping quasi-train/shuffle rhythm to the clarinet “head”. His solo is naturally a blast to listen to and try to play. Except for the quick descending arpeggios it is actually pretty doable compared to others that just make you shake your head and go out for a walk. This is atmosphere. In and of itself there is nothing spectacular about the song; most groups don’t play it, it’s not his best guitar solo and some critics have dismissed it as too jittery or a throwaway. I think it is incredibly inventive for 1940.

Nuit de St. Germain Des Pres 1952
Django does bebop. Some people have trouble with Django in his later days, but I’m not one of those people. I think he did some of his best stuff after WWII and this song shows he was still at the top of his game. Here is a dub clip of the tune from a (most-likely) very forgettable movie. This was just a year before Django passed away. That is Hubert Fol on sax and Django’s son, Babik next to him.

Later career songs like “Nuit“, Troublant Bolero, Anouman, Fleche d’Or, and Impromptu all prove that Django was not only still a great guitar player, but also hadn’t lost any of his edge as a composer.

Manoir de mes reves (Django’s Castle) 1943
A beautiful composition, equal to the famed and well-known Nuages, in my opinion. While Django could certainly burn anyone when it came to high-energy swing tunes, or hang with any renowned soloist of the day in a jam session, he was capable of writing some of the most beautiful, melancholy pieces of music ever set to wax. Recorded for the first time during probably some of the darkest days of WW II, one can hear in it the desire to escape, even if only in dreams, from the harsh realities of war, occupation and maybe, from life itself. Django was the quintessential dreamer and there are many tales of his inability to stay focused to the realities of even being a famous (and hopefully reliable) guitar master. But possibly it is from that unreliable place where all of his beautiful ideas were formed and brought to life. Although Django reached his creative peak during the war years and actually enjoyed financial and artistic success, he couldn’t have been happy with what was happening around him and it’s possible that he was always happier dreaming and wandering in his imagination than he was living out the life of an actual person.

Also, it’s a heckuva solo!! Total Django — the diagonal fretboard approach heavy on diminished arpeggios that you can still hear in players like Romane, Stochelo Rosenberg, Birelli Lagrene, Angelo Debarre, Wawau Adler, Tchavalo Schmitt, Dorado Schmitt, Fapy Lafertin, Stephane Wrembel and many others.

Cou-Cou 1940
This song isn’t a guitar number per se, but a charming song out of left field because it has a vocalist, Josette Dayde singing along. This song was also part of the MAFIA game, which I don’t even have, believe it or not. Django’s playing is simple, but bouncy and the song has a very “up” vibe to it.  Josette Dayde didn’t last long with the group because Django let her go after only a short time, but her voice and the take of this song has a vibe that seems very quaint and innocent 70 years later. Many prefer Beryl Davis with the Hot Club and she was certainly a more accomplished singer and had a longer and more successful career. But the first time I heard this song there was a demure, SEXY quality about Ms. Dayde that one doesn’t hear in music anymore. She was out of showbiz shortly after WW II it seems (she was quite the youngster of 17 when she recorded this song) and outlived Django by more than 40 years, passing in 1995. Here she is on an out of sync video singing Quand Betty fait boop.

Mystery Pacific (1937)
I know I mentioned this already, but this is quite simply flat out amazing! You can hear the power Django was capable of putting into his playing. This was recorded as the Hot Club was really coming into it’s own and there is swagger and confidence in Django’s and Stephane’s playing. They compliment each other nicely and the whole song is a streamline train on full-throttle until the end. Django does his whole routine; fast picked licks, tremelo chords, rhythmic jabs and stabs in the high register, and another of his patented chromatic runs into his solo. This is a song I’d like to see one of the modern masters do, even on YouTube, but I don’t know that anyone has. I can’t find it. But it’s a fitting close to this first of many posts on the original guitar hero.