Breathtaking is not a word to be taken lightly, it’s rarely used properly, and it begs the question …”Does this music REALLY take my breath away?” Well, yes, actually, it does, in the case of the awe-inspiring work of this early European Gypsy guitar jazz-master.
One example that jumps to mind is watching George Harrison and Pete Ham performing Here Comes the Sun from the concert film Bangladesh. Two mere humans on a stage in Madison Square Garden armed with nothing but acoustic guitars, a song that could take your breath away on it’s own, and a performance as suspenseful and engaging as an aerial performer on a tight wire. The performance is oftentimes what takes ones’ breath away most- particular people captured aurally at a particular moment, forever suspended in time by their musical interaction.
Jean “Django” Reinhardt was born was born in Belgium in 1910 to Gypsy parents who eventually settled outside Paris.He picked up on music at a young age, first banjo, then guitar. By the time he was 13, he was performing in Parisian dance halls.
At the age of 18, he was severely injured in a fire in his caravan, which was full of highly flammable celluloid flowers which he and wife sold for extra income. Django was badly burned, leaving his right leg paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers on his left hand partially paralyzed.
He relearned to play guitar with these disabilities, using only two fingers for all his amazing guitar solos, and utilizing the injured fingers for chords. Django was influenced by American jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He had a talent for improvisation and he rarely played a solo the same way twice. He was considered one of the first European jazz musicians.
This is a very fine and very breathtaking collection of Django Reinhardt performing 40 classic songs in his unique style with his highly original outfit called Quintette du Hot Club de France. It was a group he founded with violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1934. The group remained together in various lineups until 1948, and featured a number of different musicians, including Django’s brother, Joseph, and his own son, Lousson.
This collection begins with four breathtaking recordings of the now-classic tracks, I Saw Stars,” “Dinah,” “Tiger Rag,” and “Oh Lady Be Good,” which were initially recorded for a small record company called Ultraphone. In those days, guitar was not commonly used as a lead instrument in jazz, but check out “Tiger Rag,” and you’ll be amazed by those two beautifully-damaged, smoothly gliding fingers. Django’s interplay with Grapelli’s violin is beyond breathtaking.
Grapelli shines brilliantly on “Ultrafox,” (a takeoff on the Ultraphone record company name) and more guitar solos that will positively blow your mind wend their way through the cut- it all works so well together, and there’s nothing quite like this texture in any other popular jazz standards from that era. An all string jazz ensemble was quite unique for the times.
“The Sunshine of Your Smile” is another of the many, many stand-out tracks in this collection- another old standard which was first recorded by John McCormack in 1916 and later preserved for history’s sake by Django enthusiast Frank Sinatra in 1949.
There are various tracks in this collection featuring vocalists, such as Freddy Taylor on “Nagasaki” and “Georgia on My Mind,” but there’s simply no doubt it’s Django’s haunting entirely unique and ground-breaking axe-work that cause these tunes to sparkle like high-carat musical diamonds and leave them running willy-nilly through your head days after you’ve heard them. Today, you can hear distinct traces of Django’s timeless influence in the work of such disparate artists as Joe Satriani, Pat Martino (Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes, John Handy), and Dizzy Gillespie git-man Kenny Burrell.
If you’re looking to build or expand your classic jazz library, this collection is a good place to start to soak up a very wide range of fantastic, genre-defining early jazz guitar work, and the set as a whole is a marvelous reflection of Django’s life’s work. Truly a classic for the Ages!
— Joe Fahey
Track Listing: I Saw Stars/Dinah/Tiger Rag/Oh, Lady Be Good/Ultra Fox/The Sunshine Of Your Smile/Avalon/Djangology/After You’ve Been Gone/Limehouse Blues/Nagasaki/Charleston/You’re Driving Me Crazy/In A Sentimental Mood/Parfum/Honeysuckle Rose/St.Louis Blues/Bill Coleman Blues/Minor Swing/My Serenade/Sweet Georgia Brown/Tea For Two/Night And Day/I’m Coming Virginia/Them There Eyes/Why Shouldn’t I?/Jeepers Creepers/Finesse/I’ll See You In My Dreams/The Man I Love/Nuages/Django Rag/Manoir de Mes Reves/Blues Clair/Lover Man/Brazil/I’ll Never Smile Again/For Sentimental Reasons/Manoir de Mes Reves/Nuages (Solo)