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Django's World: Hot Club Jazz

Django Reinhardt lost two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.
William P. Gottlieb
Library of Congress via flickr.com
Django Reinhardt lost two fingers in an accident, but developed a unique style around his disability.

Manouche Jazz, commonly known as "Gypsy Jazz," is a blend of traditional Roma music and swing jazz. Originating in Paris in the early 1930s, it was first popularized by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, led by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. A group usually consists of an acoustic lead guitar, one or more rhythm guitars, a bass and often a violin or saxophone. Drums are usually absent, as the guitar and bass are played with a percussive rhythm.

The style remains popular today: Many jazz groups in Europe and the U.S. continue the tradition. If you come across a jazz group with the words "Hot Club" or "Django" in its name, it won't take many guesses to figure out what style of music it plays. Hear five songs from the genre's founders and modern jazz musicians below.

Django's World: Hot Club Jazz

Django Reinhardt

"Minor Swing"

From 'Nuages [Arkadia Jazz]'

This version of "Minor Swing" was recorded in 1937 by Quintette du Hot Club de France, led by guitarist Django Reinhardt. The song opens with a few notes from Stéphane Grappelli's violin and a few notes from Louis Vola's bass, and Reinhardt's signature guitar style takes the band from there. Reinhardt developed his approach from necessity after he lost the use of two fingers in a caravan fire accident. Working around the disability, he became one of the most highly regarded jazz guitarists of all time.

Bireli Lagrene & Gipsy Project

"Place du Tertre"

From 'Move'

Just like his main influence, Django Reinhardt, modern guitarist Biréli Lagrene was born into a Gypsy community, and began playing music at a very young age. By the time he was 13, he had gained widespread recognition as a young musician who played just like Reinhardt, and he toured around Europe extensively. Lagrene moved away from performing the style for a while, venturing into the world of jazz fusion in the late 1980s, but he eventually returned to his acoustic roots. His technique remains in top form on this 2004 recording.

Stéphane Grappelli


From 'Live'

Violinist Stéphane Grappelli was one of the founding fathers of Manouche Jazz. This 1994 live date from Festijazz de Rimouski (in a small city in Eastern Quebec) captures Grappelli in his mid-80s, his bright spirit not at all fading. This group consists only of his violin, Bucky Pizzarelli's acoustic guitar and Jon Burr's acoustic bass.

Hot Club of Detroit

"Django's Monkey"

From 'Night Town'

Hot Club of Detroit isn't intent on adhering strictly to the traditional Manouche Jazz style, but its sound is deeply rooted in that tradition. Along with the acoustic guitars and bass, you'll hear accordion and saxophone. The group gives a New Orleans twist to this Reinhardt-penned tune, "Django's Tiger," which was itself based on the classic Dixieland jazz standard "Tiger Rag."

Regina Carter

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)"

From 'Django Reinhardt NY Festival: Live at Birdland'

This recording was made at the first annual Django Reinhardt N.Y. Festival, which has been held at New York City's famous Birdland jazz club every year for nearly a decade. Many noted jazz musicians join together for a few days to celebrate the past and present of the style that Reinhardt popularized. This fiery take on a Duke Ellington classic features famed jazz violinist Regina Carter, along with Jimmy Rosenberg and Frank Vignola on guitars, Jon Burr on bass and Joe Ascione on brushes.

Copyright 2008 90.5 WESA

Shaunna Morrison Machosky