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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, the KNKX and Jazz24 music teams illustrate the different styles that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to present, journey with us from Dixieland to modern jazz styles, big-band to hip-hop.

With gypsy jazz, Django Reinhardt brought guitars to the forefront

Portrait of Django Reinhardt, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. 1946
William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium jazz club in New York City, 1946

A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, the KNKX and Jazz24 music teams are walking through the history, the decades and the innovators of jazz. Despite a severe injury, Romani jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt defined the "Jazz Manouche" or "gypsy jazz" sound.

Listen to the story above or read the script below:

1920s Europe was alive with joy and prosperity. The Great War had ended, and a cross-pollination of cultures and ideas was palpable. Paris was the artistic oasis for painters, poets and musicians all interacting in cafés and night spots and music was everywhere.

Many artists performing in the region were gypsies, infusing the regional popular music with influences from Russia, Italy, Spain, and the Middle East.

Jean Baptiste Reinhardt, known as “Django,” was born in Belgium into a Manouche-Romani family. He spent most of his childhood in gypsy camps on the outskirts of Paris where he learned to play violin and later the banjo-guitar. By the time he was 13, he was able to make a small living performing.

At 18, his caravan caught fire and he suffered severe burns that left his fourth and fifth fingers paralyzed. While recuperating, his brother bought him a new guitar and Django set about re-learning how to play.

On hearing American jazz, Reinhardt’s musical approach changed as he absorbed the music of Louis Armstrong. This led to him to a new friend, French classically-trained violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, who had similar interests in early jazz artists, including another guitar-violin pairing of Eddie Lange and Joe Venuti.

In 1934, Grappelli and Reinhardt formed Quintette du Hot Club de France.

The original lineup was Django on lead guitar, Stéphane on violin, two rhythm guitars and double bass. The group’s first recordings included the songs ‘Dinah’, ‘Tiger Rag’ and ‘Oh Lady be Good’. The records were a hit and the quintet went on to find success on both sides of the ocean.

"Jazz Manouche" groups, as they were also known, along with the names "gypsy jazz" or "gypsy swing", kept a similar configuration consisting of lead guitar, violin, two rhythm guitars and bass. The rhythm guitars supply the percussive rhythm in conjunction with a strongly syncopated bass line. The two rhythm guitars were necessary in the early 1930’s as there was no amplification available, and dance halls were large and noisy.

The Second World War broke out in 1939 while the quintet was touring in England. Django returned to Paris while Stéphane remained. Django played and recorded throughout the war during the occupation.

After the war ended, Reinhardt toured America with the Duke Ellington orchestra and performed to packed houses, including Carnegie Hall before returning to Paris. In 1953, Reinhardt died suddenly at the age of 43.

Stéphane Grappelli and David Grisman - Sweet Georgia Brown (San Francisco 1982) [official HQ video]

While a few musicians continued to perform his music in order to keep the style alive, a strong resurgence in Django’s music came about in the late 60s and 70s with the help of Stéphane Grappelli and members of the Reinhardt family.

Mandolin player David Grisman calls his mixture of bluegrass and gypsy-jazz “Dawg Music,” as highlighted on his album Hot Dawg recorded in 1978. Grisman’s recordings featured guest appearances by Stéphane Grappelli.

In 1980, another 13-year-old guitar prodigy, Biréli Lagrène, recorded his first gypsy jazz album. Becoming famous, he soon left for America and embracing fusion music. He returned to his original style in 2001 with the virtuosic album Gipsy Project.

Pearl Django And Gail Pettis 'He Spoke To Me' | Live Studio Session

Currently, the genre is expanding with players and influences from around the world, with the music of Frank Vignola, Gonzalo Bergara and Stéphane Wrembel; and in groups including The Rosenberg Trio, Rhythm Future Quartet and Seattle-based Pearl Django.

As well as the Django Reinhardt Festival in France. Now over 50 years old, the 4-day event celebrates not just the traditional sounds of the genre, but the styles that have been heavily influenced by the music's rich history – continuing to infuse the music through cross-pollination of cultures and ideas.

KNKX Celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month

Throughout the month of April, we will be illustrating different styles of jazz through time that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to 2022, we will journey from Dixieland to Modern Jazz styles, Big Band to Hip Hop.

Listen to installments each weekday at 9am and 7pm on 88.5 FM and See all stories from the KNKX History of Jazz project.