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Listen to all of our great Arts Desk features on jazz artists making music in the present and the past. Enjoy!

What is Gypsy Jazz?

Django Reinhardt (1910–1953)";

Gypsy Jazz founders Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli were both born this month in the first decade of the 20th century. Rooted in African-American communities of the South, jazz became popular in Europe in the 1920s and '30s and influenced the development of other styles. WRTI's Susan Lewis has more on "Gypsy jazz."

Listen to guitarist Barry Wahrhaftig talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the distinctive features of Gypsy jazz back in the 1930s and today, and how he and The Hot Club of Philadelphia carry on the tradition.

Barry Wahrhaftig, founder of the Hot Club of Philadelphia, plays for WRTI's Susan Lewis at the WRTI studios.

Radio Script: 

MUSIC: Tears, by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, performed by the Hot Club of Philadelphia.

Susan Lewis: Guitarist Django Reinhardt grew up French Romani, a tradition surrounded by gypsy music, which he and violinist Stephane Grappelli infused with aspects of American jazz at the Hot Club of  France in the 1930s. The result? Gypsy jazz – played by violin, bass, and, as the primary rhythmic element – guitar. Guitarist Barry Wahrhaftig.

Barry Wahrhaftig: So the pomp is this percussive thing.

MUSIC:  "Besame Mucho" by Consuelo Velazquez, performed by The Hot Club of Philadelphia

SL:  Wahrhaftig, who founded the Hot Club of Philadelphia in 2000, says the style also reflects    Reinhardt’s distinctive guitar technique.

BW:  I think he really tried to emulate Louis Armstrong. When I hear Django [PLAYS] – these real percussive things he does up high, it's very punchy, like a trumpet.  So, I think that he developed his own style influenced very much by these American players.

SL:  Today, clubs and festivals around the world present Gypsy jazz.  The Hot Club of Philadelphia’s repertoire includes folk melodies from different cultures, American jazz standards, and contemporary works.   


Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.