Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Le Jazz Hot! Django Reinhardt - Limehouse Blues

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) featured on Limehouse Blues.

The band is the The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Stephane Grappelli plays the violin, Louis Vola plays the double-bass. Reinhardt brother Joseph also performs on this recording.

Django is one of the great legends in jazz guitar of course. A very colorful and popular figure, he continues to draw fans to his music. The Woody Allen film "Sweet and Lowdown" from 1995 with Sean Penn as an American guitarist so enamoured of Rinehardt's magic with the instrument that he falls over in a dead faint when given the chance to meet him.

I was surprised to discover the Belgian-born Rinehardt badly burned two fingers of his right hand in a fire at eighteen and relearned how to play the instrument.
After teaming up with Grappelli in 1937, Reinhardt went back to France from London in 1940 (despite the German occupation) to reunite with his wife. Despite the severe deportations polices of the Nazis toward ethnic Rom ai (Gypsies), he survived the war owing reportedly to the protection of a Luftwaffe officer in Paris who was a great jazz fan.

After the war, Reinhardt and Grappelli went to the United States, where he met and performed with Duke Ellington. His popularity was somewhat undercut by his inability to show up on time for his concerts, often opting instead to go fishing, or walk along the beach. He was a major fan of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and played with Gillespie, but as far as I know never got to record with him. Although he did work with other American jazz artists who came to France in the late 1940's.

Jazz critic Fred Sharp had this to say about Rinehardt in this 1972 article:

"Overcoming the handicap of his disabled hand, Django could play impeccably at an incredible speed, and he included in his playing, musical forms and figures that were totally of his own creation, such as lightning fast glissandos executed usually with one finger on one string without the slighted alteration of dynamics between the notes. No one has ever been able to replicate the quality of that artistic achievement.

"With considerable effort, a guitarist might be able to copy some of Django's playing, but no one can replicate his musical conceptions. Beyond simply improvising, Django was, in the final analysis, a composer. The ideas he played on his guitar reveal more of the composer than the jazz improviser, thus if you transcribe one of his choruses and have it analyzed by an individual trained in musical composition, it appears that his music is indeed "constructed" in the manner of a complex compostion and is not simply the product of improvisation."

He retired from touring altogether in 1951 and died of a brain hemorrhage far too young two years later. His recordings still astound, as I think you'll agree.

(Below) A good summation article on Django from a website dedicated to his memory and his music.


  1. Bravo!
    One of my favourites. Astounding musician who overcame much and lived through an era that would have defeated a lesser person.

  2. An elderly neighbour of mine played me Stephane Grappelli's music and I'll admit to not being that keen.
    I have to say, his style is very distinctive, because if I hear it now I know immediately who it is playing. I won 5 points in a pub quiz recognising his style.

    Thanks Doug, an interesting write up.

  3. I gather Reinhardt was moving away from the style he played with Grappelli in the early fifties, staying up with the times (early 50's) by emulating and improvising with the Be-bop sound. Where he would have gone from 1953 is sadly just speculation.

    I like the older jazz stuff more than most of my friends. Its sure not for everybody because then we'd all be rather dull. :-)

    Thanks for your comments Cassandra. I give both you and Jim 5 points for coming in with the earliest comments!

  4. Hahahaha, those five points are treasured, thank you, Doug!

    I rather like the style of jazz played in the mid 50s, Recordings I've seen from Ronnie Scott's, was pretty good. At first I disliked Dixieland and then on hearing it at the uni clubs, I changed my mind.

    Scott was into modern jazz it seems. I know from the gentleman who played me Grappelli's music, he was a man good at stepping in and jamming with anyone. I do like that thing, where all kinds of musicians come together and make a different sound.

    Thank you .

  5. Great music Doug, but what an appalling story. The Roma that were deported mostly were on a one way ticket to the gas chamber, but Django wasn't amongst them because of the musical tastes of a senior Nazi in occupied Paris.
    This must be the last word in corruption and the pathological exercise of power, Django doesn't deserve such fans, but would not have survived were it not for him. Ethics class please discuss.

    Good video Doug, cheers.

  6. Hi again Doug. I thought I should listen to some more of Reihardt's music, so took a trip over to utube. Wow, I think I have changed my mind, he can certainly play and there was even, Greppelli all relaxed with his violin!

  7. Yes, it heartening to think that the true democratic/meritocratic Spirit of America, often suppressed but never extinguished, came forth in some of those improvised "jam sessions".

    That's one of the great things about jazz in America , Cassandra: how musicians generally respected each other and "jammed" into the wee hours of the night. America's "race problem" often vanished in those after-hours sessions, and the love of the music played some part in ending the apartheid-like conditions that existed all over America inthe 20s thru the 50's (especially the South).

    Race was apparently not a huge problem in France--The Hot Five Jazz Quintet let African-American jazz giants like Sidney Bechet and Coleman Hawkins sit in during public performances in the 1930's.

    Louis Armstrong, maybe the most revolutionary American jazz performer ever, refused to play in New Orleans in the late 1940's because they didn't allow whites and blacks on the same stage! For the authorities to disrespect Armstrong that way, in the city he grew up in and had made so much of in his music, hurt him badly. He spent the rest of his life in New York City because of this.

    All this seems like it had to have happened on another planet compared to today--except now and then the USA gets an ugly reminder of the racial past, like the hapless and venal government neglect in the wake of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina down in Louisiana in 2005.

  8. Glad you enjoyed it, AA. I really think the video editor did a great job assembling the clips.

    Yes I agree the Nazis in Paris interlude is an appalling story--a sort of arbitrary disregard for humanity that only reminds us how demonic these forces were. There no evidence that I've come across that he was sympathetic to the Nazis--as soon as the Allies landed in France and made some progress he and his wife tried to escape but apparently got lost somewhere and came back a couple days later to Paris to await liberation with their friends.

  9. Wow indeed, Cassandra!

    Thanks for that clip--I hadn't seen it before, and its all the more fun because it was a product of its times, presented in the cinemas I'm sure. Very diferent than "Limehouse Blues", much sweeter and moving but just as great. I'm glad I had a little part in getting you into investigating these special artists a little more.

    Thankfully Mr. Grappelli lived a long life and got the plaudits he deserved from audiences young and old on both sides of the Atlantic.

  10. Grappeli was often to be seen on the TV when I was a lad. Sadly then I knew nothing about anything! I've often said that I wished I'd been born in an earlier era. To have caught some of those guys jamming in the wee small hours would have been absolutely magical.

  11. I'm sure he wasn't Doug, quite reasonably he was sympathetic to staying alive. The criticism is not of Django Reinhardt, but of the fact that some air force officer could wield the power of life and death over a musician purely by virtue of his musical predilections. That is what struck me as darkly absurd in this story, but the playing is lovely I think, thanks for sharing it.

  12. Yes, Jim, sadly we only have recreations from movies and our imaginations from recordings for that. :-(

  13. The fault is mine, AA. I didn't think you thought of Django as sympathetic to the nazis at all, and you made no inference of that. I was just adding a bit to the story. I should have been more clear there.

    Glad you enjoyed the music.

  14. Yes, it was interesting looking at a few of the videos. The fun they had playing was very infectious.
    There seems to have a been quite a bond between Grappelli and Reihardt'
    The fact that Grappelli lived so long maybe shows that music is quite a relaxing therapy!:-)

    I'm glad you enjoyed the video.

  15. I think there's definately something to that, Cassandra. The pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Oscar Peterson, Arthur Rubinstein and Eubie Blake; the clarinetists Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, and the redoubtable conductors like Leopold Stokowski and Arthur Fieldler of "The Boston Pops" spring to mind as examples of musicians who enjoyed the benefits of "music therapy".

  16. Alas not, Cassandra. I get musical therapy from the dissemination of splendid instrumental sounds from people like yourself.