Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend

Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend

Michael Dregni

Language: English

Pages: 326

ISBN: 019516752X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Yet there is no major biography of Reinhardt.
Now, in Django, Michael Dregni offers a definitive portrait of this great guitarist. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost killed in a freak fire that burned half of his body and left his left hand twisted into a claw. But with this maimed left hand flying over the frets and his right hand plucking at dizzying speed, Django became Europe's most famous jazz musician, commanding exorbitant fees--and spending the money as fast as he made it. Dregni not only chronicles this remarkably colorful life--including a fascinating account of gypsy culture--but he also sheds much light on Django's musicianship. He examines his long musical partnership with violinist Stéphane Grappelli--the one suave and smooth, the other sharper and more dissonant--and he traces the evolution of their novel string jazz ensemble, Quintette du Hot Club de France. Indeed, the author spotlights Django's amazing musical diversity, describing his swing-styled Nouveau Quintette, his big band Django's Music, and his later bebop ensemble, as well as his many compositions, including symphonic pieces influenced by Ravel and Debussy and his unfinished organ mass inspired by Bach. And along the way, the author offers vivid snapshots of the jazz scene in Paris--colorful portraits of Josephine Baker, Bricktop, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and countless others--and of Django's vagabond wanderings around France, Europe, and the United States, where he toured with Duke Ellington.
Capturing the extraordinary life and times of one of the great musicians of the twentieth century, Django is a must-read portrait of a true original.


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still wearing his biaude blouse, felt hat, and red scarf, symbols of Auvergnat tradition applauded by his crowds, even though they had traded their old farm wear for work clothes suited to the factories. Bouscatel also still cultivated a grand moustache in the best Auvergnat style. Like many pipers, he wore on his ankles bracelets of bells with which he kept time and provided his own simple accompaniment. Often, he played solo. Other times, he led a trio of a violin and hurdy-gurdy. With a shout

Bibliothèque Nationale translating Latin and Greek writers. Yet Ernesto lacked patronage to support his scholarship; he taught Italian, sold translations, and sometimes wrote articles for local journals. Then came World War I. Ernesto, still an Italian citizen, was drafted into the Italian army in 1914. To care for Stéfano, he turned to the avant-garde American expatriate ballerina and choreographer Isadora Duncan, about whom he had written an article. Ernesto begged Duncan for a scholarship for

Panassié became the closest thing to an expert on jazz France could boast. He was befriended by white Chicago clarinetist Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, then playing at Paris’s L’Ermitage Muscovite, and Mezzrow became Panassié’s jazz mentor—as well as éminence grise. By the time he was just 18, Panassié was writing a column for the French magazine Jazz-Tango-Dancing, spreading the good word on the new music. Panassié’s musings drew a cabal of jazz fans like disciples to an upstart creed. In 1930, a

brothers were darkness and light. Django sought refinement and elegance. Nin-Nin was down to earth, never quite comfortable in evening dress. Django rarely smiled, Nin-Nin loved to laugh. Masking his shyness, Django could be cold, even haughty, whereas Nin-Nin was warm and friendly. Django couldn’t be bothered to wear a watch or troubled by time while Nin-Nin was dependable to death. Django was handsome, charismatic; Nin-Nin was the accompanist, always following the leader. In photographs,

purity, the second a degenerate affront to decency. Hitler inherited a legacy of German anti-Gypsy laws stretching back centuries, and even before he set out to rid his Third Reich of Jews, he began rounding up, sterilizing, and deporting Django’s people; in the end, some 600,000 Gypsies throughout Europe would perish. And in the jungle rhythms and blue notes of jazz, the Nazis, led by Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, heard music threatening German cultural greatness, an international

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