This article is part of a series entitled “A Beginners Guide to Gypsy Jazz”
GYPSY JAZZ AND DJANGO – A SHORT HISTORY
Gypsy Jazz, also known as Gypsy Swing and Monouche amongst other names, dates back to Paris in the 1930’s, and a Belgian Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and a violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Django was an extraordinary and creative guitarist. Intrigued by the sounds of American jazz he and Grappelli would take turns improvising while the other played; along the way creating their own unique sound. Eventually they formed the Quintette du Hot Club De France often with Django’s brother Joseph (playing rhythm) and a double bass.
The music of Django and Grappelli while Jazz, was different to anything the World had heard before. Django cleverly molded the gypsy guitar sounds with jazz. His sound was usually completely acoustic and string based, replacing the drums with a percussive rhythm guitar, and dispensing with the trumpets and piano’s more synonymous with jazz at the time.
Django is certainly the hero of any Gypsy Jazz guitarist. Like many Gypsy’s he grew up playing music around the camp. He couldn’t read or write. He had no formal musical training other than his gypsy family. Along the way he also had his hand badly burnt in a camp fire and lost the use of all but two fingers on his fretting hand. But boy could he play; and play FAST!
Here is a rare video of Django, Grappelli and the Hot Club De France…
Django was an intriguing character. Forever a Gypsy at heart! He was renowned for being late to shows and gambling away his earnings. He would often disappear to hang out with his extended Gypsy family. But there was no denying his talent as a musician and a prolific composer. He played on his own terms.
Django and the Hot Club toured and recorded from 1934 until the outbreak of war in 1939 when sadly he and Grappelli were separated and the Hot Club eventually disbanded.
After the war Django continued to play and compose some wonderful music, and even toured America with Duke Ellington. But the heady days of the Hot Club were in the past. Django passed away quite young (43) in 1953.
Here are links to the history of Gypsy Jazz http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/Gypsy_Jazz.htm