41. Django Reinhardt (Quintet of the Hot Club of France)

Django Reinhardt was a gypsy, born in Belgium to a nomadic band of families who settled in encampments outside Paris, France, selling cane furniture. Django, meaning “I awake” in his native Romani language, was one of several accomplished musicians in his family, first learning violin and then banjo. In a story familiar to all jazz enthusiasts, Django was severely injured in a caravan fire at age eighteen, resulting in the partial paralysis of his left hand ring and pinky fingers. After the accident, he switched to guitar, and through great sacrifice and diligence, taught himself a new method of chording and soloing. Within a few short years, he became the first great non-American jazz musician. Along with his longtime musical partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli, Django achieved popularity in the thirties and forties with his band The Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

Quintette de Hot Club de France

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), guitar
Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997), violin
Louis Vola (1908-1990), string bass
Joseph Reinhardt, rhythm guitar
Roger Chaput, rhythm guitar

How To Be One Of The Cool Kids

I started collecting Hot Club of France records in college. Shortly after high school, I became enthralled by the David Grisman Quintet, in essence a swing jazz band with bluegrass instrumentation. I don’t remember the exact mechanism which prompted me to find out about Django; I acquired the Hot Club of France records before Grisman spent a year or so touring with Grappelli. I vividly remember purchasing these records at a local record store in Davis. Many of these records were imports, three or four bucks apiece. While fellow students were listening to Fleetwood Mac, the Talking Heads, or the latest disco song, there I was, digging on Django. Perhaps I held the distinction of being the only NCAA college basketball player in 1979 with multiple Hot Club of France albums to my name.

Hot Club of France Records Acquired in College

“One of the Christian-name-only mythical figures of jazz, Django embodies much of the nonsense that surrounds the physically and emotionally damaged who nevertheless manage to parlay their disabilities and irresponsibilities into great music. Django’s technical compass, apparently unhampered by loss of movement to two fingers of his left hand was colossal, ranging from dazzling high-speed runs to ballad playing of aching intensity.”

— Richard Cook & Brian Morton, “The Penguin Guide to Jazz”

“The melancholy strain of the ancient gypsy tradition lent a magic to Reinhardt’s music; down through his last years, he found his greatness in slow pieces. He composed fragments of symphonies, masses, theater music to texts of Jean cocteau, and dreamlike tone paintings such as “Nuages”, admired by composers of all musical styles…Django Reinhardt was the first musician to invent a truly European jazz language on his instrument. As he played his great solos in the thirties, Roma musicians forced European jazz to reinvent itself — forced it to become a more self-conscious music that reflected its own environment and roots.”

Joachim-Ernst Berendt & Gunther Huesmann, “The Jazz Book”

Berendt and Huesmann’s “The Jazz Book” on Amazon.com
The Penguin Guide To Jazz on Amazon.com

While conventional wisdom favors Reinhardt’s ballads, it was the hot swing numbers that first moved me. Both Reinhardt and Grappelli possess the rare ability to effortlessly improvise to a fast tempo. Reinhardt’s solo on the Quintet’s 1936 performance of “Limehouse Blues” is exemplary. It displays his various soloing techniques; the speedy single and double note runs, the wicked and powerful strums, the concept of climax and resolution, all executed in the most natural fashion possible. Arguably, Django establishes the template for the modern rock guitar solo. In particular, his influence can be clearly heard in Grateful Dead’s guitarist Jerry Garcia’s early work on songs like “Bertha” and “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad”.

On the 1935 version of “Avalon”, Reinhardt, pleased with his solo, settles back into the rhythm section driving the beat a touch louder — the effect is striking and emotional. In 1937’s “Crazy Rhythm”, Django urges Coleman Hawkins to “Go on!”, forgoing his solo to allow the great saxophonist to complete the song. Reinhardt’s rhythm guitar is happy and bright; like an old cartoon, it smiles broadly with joy.

If Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker are the mathematicians of jazz, then Django is one of the music’s great linguists.

“As the Nazis occupied Europe, people were humming Django’s hit song “Nuages”. Posters with his image on them were on the walls of Paris. He had top billing in lavish nightclub revues, ate in the best Italian restaurants, checked into the Ritz Hotel. You did not have to be a jazz fan to love Django. He was freedom and joy personified. Even the Germans loved him. They kept inviting him to tour Germany, something he dearly wanted to avoid. Gypsies were being sent to concentration camps. He kept raising his price.

Although German soldiers attended his concerts, Django was never accused of collaboration. He was viewed as running a good hustle. A Gypsy jazz musician was a double outlaw. Josef Goebbels knew instinctively that jazz was subversive. He spoke out against it and banned it. It has been said “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And so the music picked up a lot of fans who otherwise would not be interested. They were attracted by its outlaw side.

Finally, the pressure became too great and Django tried to escape across the border to Switzerland. He was caught, arrested, and delivered to the local German commanding officer. “My dear Django,” the officer said. ‘Please do not try to do this again or I will have to arrest you.’ Another fan.”

— Bill Kirchner, “The Oxford Companion To Jazz”

The Oxford Companion To Jazz on Amazon.com

“Clothes were also very important to him, but again not in the way that was expected. One time, he would appear dressed like a dandy, then he would defend his bright red shoes by declaring that red and black went together well.

His immediate surrounding had to get accustomed to his pride, and it took quite an effort to make good the “insult” when the Quintette was announced in the United States as “Stéphane Grappelli and the Hot Four”. Django’s colleagues also had to accept that he would travel first class and they third on returning from a trip to Italy, and that he did not even greet them on the train. They had had to lend him the money for the fare beforehand, because he had gambled away his fee.

When performing with the ersatz Quintet put together with Hubert Rostaing during the war, he was yet more dominant. It was always he who told them what to play, he beat time, and as soon as he started tapping his foot, the Quintet immediately had to obey, without the slightest hesitation.”

— Peter Wagner, “Rombase”

Papa Becker’s Fabulous Site Dedicated To Django

iTunes Cross-Reference Guide

Django Reinhardt recorded extensively. Some famous songs were recorded several times. This list shows where to look for the selected songs on iTunes:

The Definitive Django Reinhardt Collection – 100 Most Important Recordings
Manoir De Mes Reves
Blue Drag
Avalon (1935)
Nuages (most famous version with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet)
Oh, Lady Be Good
Tiger Rag
Stompin’ At Decca
Liebestraum #3
Swing ’39

Improvisation #2
Honeysuckle Rose
Love’s Melody
Nuages (string quintet)
The Man I Love

Verve Jazz Masters, Volume 38

Paris and London 1937-1948 C
Blues Clair
Swing ’42

The Best of Django Reinhardt
Limehouse Blues
Minor Swing

All Star Sessions (with Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins)
Honeysuckle Rose
Crazy Rhythm

Gipsy Swing

Beyond The Sea (La Mer)

Jazz In Paris, Vol. 91
Blues For Ike

Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France Songs:

Limehouse Blues, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭✭
Liebestraum #3, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭✭
Avalon, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭✭

Nuages, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭
Nuages, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭
Honeysuckle Rose, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭
Djangology, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭✭

Stompin’ At Decca, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Dinah, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Oh, Lady Be Good, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Clouds, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Swing ’39, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Swing ’42, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Blue Drag, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Minor Swing, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Love’s Melody, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
The Man I Love, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭
Daphne, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France ✭✭

Tiger Rag, Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France

Django Reinhardt Songs:

Crazy Rhythm, Django Reinhardt ✭✭✭
Beyond The Sea (La Mer), Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli ✭✭✭
Manoir De Mes Reves, Django Reinhardt ✭✭✭

Belleville, Django Reinhardt ✭✭
Improvisation No. 2, Django Reinhardt ✭✭
Improvisation, Django Reinhardt ✭✭
Blues Clair, Django Reinhardt ✭✭
Honeysuckle Rose, Django Reinhardt, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins All-Star Band ✭✭
Avalon, Django Reinhardt, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins All-Star Band ✭✭
Brazil, Django Reinhardt ✭✭

Nocturne, Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli
Blues For Ike, Django Reinhardt
Sweet Sue, Just You, Django Reinhardt & Dick Wells & His Orchestra
Out Of Nowhere, Django Reinhardt, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins All-Star Band

Related Songs:

Limehouse Blues, Fletcher Henderson ✭✭✭
Limehouse Blues/Mystery Pacific, Dick Hyman Group Featuring Howard Alden ✭✭

Avalon, Benny Goodman ✭✭
Avalon, Sidney Bechet ✭✭

Honeysuckle Rose, Fats Waller ✭✭✭✭
Honeysuckle Rose (Instrumental), Fats Waller ✭✭
Honeysuckle Rose, Count Basie

Oh, Lady Be Good, Jones-Smith Incorporated ✭✭✭✭✭

Dinah, Cab Calloway ✭✭✭
Dinah, Thelonious Monk ✭✭✭
Dinah, Fats Waller

Minor Swing, David Grisman Quintet ✭✭✭✭

The Man I Love, Edmond Hall ✭✭
The Man I Love, Ella Fitzgerald ✭✭
The Man I Love, Wardell Gray Quartet ✭✭
The Man I Love, Coleman Hawkins

Tiger Rag, The Mills Brothers ✭✭
Tiger Rag, Tommy Dorsey

Crazy Rhythm, Whispering Jack Smith ✭✭

Beyond The Sea, Bobby Darin ✭✭✭

Swing ’39, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ✭✭

Misty (Live), Stephane Grappelli & David Grisman ✭✭
Sweet Georgia Brown (Live), Stephane Grappelli & David Grisman ✭✭

3 thoughts on “41. Django Reinhardt (Quintet of the Hot Club of France)

  1. Jim Browne July 12, 2011 / 7:50 PM

    The picture labeled as a poster is also the cover of my Hot Club album. It’s all five 78’s, including “Clouds.” A guy bought it while stationed in France, but I have no idea when it was released.
    Little help?

    • theperfectipodcollection July 13, 2011 / 6:36 PM


      I have no idea where your Hot Club “box set” of 78 records came from, but that is a cool thing to own. In general, I am less interested in collectors items, and have much more interest in the recordings, and finding the best sounding copy for the collection.

      Thanks for reading the blog entry.


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