One of the most interesting shows I’ve seen in the past year was a celebration of Django Reinhardt’s music at the Michigan Theatre. The Hot Club of San Francisco and The Hot Club of Detroit both performed- two gypsy jazz bands from very different towns, both with drawing heavily on the influence of Reinhardt’s music.
Django was the first and arguably still the most famous jazz musician to come from Europe. Raised in gypsy camps outside of Paris in the 1910’s, he started on the guitjo (a six-string banjo with the neck of a guitar) and eventually moved onto the guitar for his formative recordings in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Despite loosing his 3rd and 4th fingers on his left hand in a bad accident at the age of 18, he played all of his solos with his remaining two fingers, using the remaining stubs of his 3rd and 4th fingers for cord work.
When I listen to his music I find myself going back to two questions.
1: With jazz being such a quintessentially American music, born out the culture and spirit of black (and eventually white) Americans, what about Django’s culture can you hear in his music that’s different because of where he’s from? Does his European sensibility flavor the mood of his music? I don’t know if you can make many comparisons between gypsy-Parisian life and that of the forefathers of American Jazz, but I’d be curious to find out.
2: Is this the sound of music born of poverty? I find it to be energetic and light at the same time. To me it evokes the classic definition of the word ‘gay’- lighthearted and carefree; characterized by cheerfulness and pleasure. I feel at ease when I listen to it. And yet, Django didn’t arrive at as a hobby- it was a way to make ends meet. He was fortunate to find a way of expressing himself, making other people happy and get paid for it at the same time.
Growing up in Ann Arbor I owe thanks to the one and only Arwulf Arwulf, radio dj of ‘The Sunday Best’ on WEMU, for introducing me to this style of music. I never knew any of the performers, but always enjoyed listening. Happening upon the Hot Clubs of Detroit and San Francisco the other night was a happy accident.