Classic recordings by The Quintet of the Hot Club of France
On 26 April 1937, when this reissue begins, guitarist Django
Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli were 27 and 29 years old. When they began recording together as
the Quintet of the Hot Club of France three years earlier, they had created a
sensation and made music history.
Reinhardt was universally considered the greatest guitarist in jazz
while Grappelli ranked with Joe Venuti at the top among jazz violinists, with
increasing competition from Stuff Smith and Eddie South. They were also considered the first
major European jazz musicians and the creator of a new instrumental sound with
their all-string quintet.
It was remarkable that Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt
could play guitar at all. Born and
raised in a gypsy caravan that traveled around Europe (particularly Belgium and
France), Reinhardt had developed into a fine banjoist by the early 1920s,
doubling on guitar and making his first recordings in 1928. However when he was asleep one night, a
fire in his caravan seriously burned him, particularly two of the fingers on
his left hand which became unusable.
After recovering, he spent every hour relearning the guitar so he could
finger chords with two of his other fingers and occasionally his thumb. He used his handicap as an opportunity
to develop a new way of playing the guitar. After his predecessor Eddie Lang died in 1933, Reinhardt had
no real competitors among jazz guitarists.
Stephane Grappelli's life was more conven-tional for he was
well schooled, sophisticated and picked up experience playing with dance bands
in France before first meeting Reinhardt in 1931. In 1933 when they were both hired for the same orchestra, a
backstage jam session convinced them that they should form their own combo. Since the acoustic guitar was generally
inaudible in larger bands (the electric guitar would not catch on until 1939),
they settled on a drumless, pianoless and hornless quintet comprised of
Grappelli's violin, Reinhardt's guitar, two rhythm guitars and bass which was
soon named the Quintette of the Hot Club of France.
The group made its first recordings in December 1934 and
were a hit from the start, first in Paris, then throughout the rest of Europe
and finally (via its records) the United States. By 1937, the band was at the peak of its powers, full of
youthful and joyful enthusiasm. On
this collection, which contains many of their best recordings of 1937,
Reinhardt and Grappelli are not only heard with the Quintet but leading smaller
groups and welcoming guest violinists Eddie South and Michel Warlop.
The previous Naxos Django release Swing Guitars concluded
with the ten selections that made up the Quintet of the Hot Club of France's
first two record dates of 1937.
Swingin' With Django begins with the very next session; six numbers from
26 April 1937 and one from the following day. Miss Annabelle Lee is an obscurity from the 1920s that was
well worth reviving; listen to how heated the guitars become behind Grappelli's
closing solo. Chicago and Runnin'
Wild both became famous in the 1920s and have been standards ever since; these
versions are among their most definitive.
Franz Listz's classical melody Liebestraum No.3 is not heard too often
in a jazz setting but Tommy Dorsey's band also recorded it in 1937. It has similarities to Basin Street
Blues. On Mystery Pacific,
Reinhardt does a magnificent imitation of a train. Duke Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood gives the Quintette
an opportunity to show their expertise with a superior ballad. A rollicking version of The Sheik Of
Araby wraps up the first part of this disc.
On the same day that The Sheik Of Araby was recorded, Django
had his first opportunity to be the leader of his own record date. He performed two originals,
Improvisation and Parfum, as guitar solos, recalling Eddie Lang's earlier
efforts in this area but displaying his own distinctive sound. I've Found A New Baby was released
under Grappelli's name (he first led his own sessions back in 1935) and is an
unusual but very self-sufficient violin-guitar duet with Django. Reinhardt's second date as a leader,
which resulted in St. Louis Blues and the minor-toned Bouncin' Around, put the
emphasis back on his guitar while he is backed by rhythm guitar and bass. Clearly Django could swing in any
format and was always capable of coming up with inventive ideas, for no other
jazz guitarist in 1937 (and few since) played with the fluency of Reinhardt.
The full Quintette returns for Minor Swing (one of the most
enduring of the Reinhardt-Grappelli original songs) and Viper's Dream. On Minor Swing one can hear Django
yelling out encouragement to the violinist. On Swingin' With Django and Paramount Stomp, Michel Warlop
joins the Quintette on second violin.
Warlop, who takes the second violin solo on both tracks, had a slightly
sweeter sound than Grappelli and was considered one of the top French jazz
violinists of the era although he was always in Stephane's shadow. My Serenade is a haunting melody from
the Reinhardt and Grappelli that is well worth rediscovering.
American violinist Eddie South visited France in November
1937. Four years older than
Grappelli, South first recorded in the 1920s and had a wide-ranging style that
was open to the influences of classical music, gypsy music and swinging
jazz. During his European tour, he
recorded with Reinhardt and Grappelli in a few different settings including as
a two-violin one-guitar trio. Most
intriguing is their Swing Interpretation Of The First Movement Of The Concerto
In D Minor By J.S.Bach and an Improvisation on the same piece. The former performance begins with a
quote from "Mahogany Hall Stomp" before the violinists jam on the Bach
melody. The "Improvisation" is
looser and hotter now that respect had been paid to Bach. Fiddle's Blues finishes off the program
with bassist Paul Cordonnier added to the group, South taking the first violin
solo and Grappelli leading off the tradeoffs after Django's spot.
1937 might have been one of the prime years of the swing era
but few swung as hard and in as unique a fashion as Django Reinhardt and
Scott Yanow, author of 8 jazz books including Jazz On Record
1917-76, Bebop, Swing and Trumpet Kings