Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend
Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Yet there is no major biography of Reinhardt.
Now, in Django, Michael Dregni offers a definitive portrait of this great guitarist. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost killed in a freak fire that burned half of his body and left his left hand twisted into a claw. But with this maimed left hand flying over the frets and his right hand plucking at dizzying speed, Django became Europe's most famous jazz musician, commanding exorbitant fees--and spending the money as fast as he made it. Dregni not only chronicles this remarkably colorful life--including a fascinating account of gypsy culture--but he also sheds much light on Django's musicianship. He examines his long musical partnership with violinist Stéphane Grappelli--the one suave and smooth, the other sharper and more dissonant--and he traces the evolution of their novel string jazz ensemble, Quintette du Hot Club de France. Indeed, the author spotlights Django's amazing musical diversity, describing his swing-styled Nouveau Quintette, his big band Django's Music, and his later bebop ensemble, as well as his many compositions, including symphonic pieces influenced by Ravel and Debussy and his unfinished organ mass inspired by Bach. And along the way, the author offers vivid snapshots of the jazz scene in Paris--colorful portraits of Josephine Baker, Bricktop, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and countless others--and of Django's vagabond wanderings around France, Europe, and the United States, where he toured with Duke Ellington.
Capturing the extraordinary life and times of one of the great musicians of the twentieth century, Django is a must-read portrait of a true original.
ankles—anywhere there was room for them. The rest of his earnings he gambled away. As bandleader Fud Candrix remembered of Django’s ascension, “He loved shiny things. When he was in Brussels during the war he walked around town wearing a cowboy hat, a red scarf with white polka dots, white leather shoes and a shiny bright blue suit. Obviously everybody stared at him, but he did not do these things to attract attention. He was just like a child wearing a costume—it was a game to him.” Yet he had
was not one to be runner-up, so he conceded the fight and turned his hands to other business. He had backed Django on some 80 sides, but in Django’s presence he was 174 DJANGO forever the accompanist. Baro would pick up his guitar at times over the coming decades to play the odd date, record a few brief yet brilliant sessions, and jam after hours in the series of bars he owned, but he was largely finished as a musician by 1943. With the Occupation came the lure of a lucrative underworld, a
adding stabbing chordal accents and startling obbligatos behind the accordion—precursors of bebop rhythmic accompaniment. The results were impressionistic songs of a strange, unnerving atmosphere, a reflection of Baro’s own character and his frustration over his place in jazz behind Django. They were surrealism put to jazz, unlike anything else ever recorded anywhere. Baro’s valses bebop won Django’s everlasting admiration. And yet Baro remained so daunted by Django’s playing that he set down his
jazz records that he never quite understood, grew bored with, and cast aside. Charles inherited these records—78s including Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp,” Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” and others by Ted Lewis and the omnipresent Whiteman. Inspired by these recordings, Delaunay bartered his poster work to a record company for discs. He carefully listened to the firm’s whole catalogue before choosing. What he found were licensed American recordings by Frank Trumbauer,
month-long run at La Villa d’Este in March and April 1935, which Jazz-Tango-Dancing reported on: “La Villa d’Este continues its matinées and evenings with great success. The Freddy Taylor band is always simply remarkable. This formation gives the greatest satisfaction in every formula—hot, sweet, attractive, vocal, etc.” Alemán, meanwhile, was leading his own nine-piece ensemble at Django’s old haunt, Paris’s La Boîte à Matelots, then renamed Le Chantilly. Louis Armstrong jumped in with Alemán