The government of France generated a storm late last week when news broke of its expulsion of Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria. President Nicolas Sarkozy defends the policy as part of his administration’s drive for law and order. Critics say that the dismantling of Gypsy camps and the first waves of deportations of Roma people are human rights violations. They charge that the sweep is a cover to distract attention from the ruling party’s recent election defeats and accusations of campaign fund-raising violations. For an article recapping the situation, go here.
Whatever the facts and claims in this latest chapter of the ancient saga of the Roma, the plight of the Gypsies has generated renewed attention to a Gypsy who has been dead for nearly 60 years. Django Reinhardt may be the best-known Gypsy ever to live in France. Certainly, he was the most famous French jazz musician of the 1930s and a guitarist whose legacy includes dozens of 21st century bands modeled on his Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Here is a rare clip of Django and the quintet, evidently from a promotional film.
The Rifftides archive piece below is from May 15, 2006. It includes links to a site that streams many of Django’s recordings and to a Reinhardt CD set.
Django Reinhardt died on this date in 1953. He was forty-three years old. Reinhardt melded jazz and the wild élan of the gypsy music he grew up with in Belgium and France. He began to be noticed in 1930 when he was twenty. By the mid-1930s he, violinist Stephane Grappellii and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France were sensations of Europe. By the end of the decade Reinhardt was also working and recording with Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Dickie Wells, Rex Stewart and other leading American jazzmen.
A few of his compositions–“Nuages,” “Djangology,” “Manoir de Mes Reves”– are in the basic repertoire. He was memorialized by John Lewis with one of the greatest jazz compositions, “Django.” The spirit and style of Reinhardt’s playing influenced innumerable guitarists, and several groups have patterned themselves on the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, but there has never been anyone like Django. If you need a reminder of or an introduction to his artistry, go to redhotjazz.com, scroll down to “Oh, Lady Be Good” and hear the joy Reinhardt and Grappelli generated shortly after they found each other in 1934. The site offers thirty-eight other QHCF tracks as RealPlayer downloads (complete recordings, not mere samples). This four-CD set at a bargain price is a fine survey of Reinhardt with and apart from the QHCF