Django Reinhardt: The Best Of – 24 Classic Jazz Performances

CD reissue of a 1959 LP set focuses on the guitarist's outstanding 1937 work, but thus doesn't have anything of bebop or the electric guitar


Reinhardt anthologies have become commonplace, but were less so when these tracks were selected in 1959 for a two-LP set and awarded a five-star rating in a Downbeat review. Django’s colourful and eventful life had ended in 1953, just six years before. He was only 43.

Bed-ridden for over a year after a caravan fire in 1928 with terrible injuries (including withered third and fourth fingers on his left hand) the young gypsy guitarist had turned the situation to advantage by devising a new, unorthodox fingering technique. This enabled him to execute single-string runs of exceptional velocity and precision with the first two fingers of his left hand including (according to Alexis Korner) an astonishing cross-fingering technique. It was a phenomenal achievement and transformed his playing.

Attracted by the jazz boom sweeping across Europe, the young Django explored the music scene in Paris, and in 1934 teamed up with swing violinist Stephane Grappelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Inspired by the classic Venuti-Lang recordings, the group enjoyed  great success and international interest, recording over 200 titles up to the outbreak of WW2.

Mostly this collection focuses on 1937, a golden year for Reinhardt, with several peak career recordings, besides those with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman and Eddie South. The opener, Exactly Like You, exemplifies a good Hot Club performance. Grappelli’s swing fiddle floats with schooled lyricism over the comfortably bouncy rhythm, but it is Django’s arresting solo with its entirely fresh ideas which elevates the music into memorable jazz. His intense creative energy consistently electrifies the Hot Club tracks with blistering single-string runs and octave figures in phrasing of striking originality and audacity, whilst firing up the rhythmic backing with explosive dynamics, riffs, scrubs and tremolo rolls. Standout tracks include Running Wild, Body And Soul, Tears and Mystery Pacific.

Honours are shared more equally on the 1939 tracks, with Rex Stewart in five fine tracks. After the catchy Montmartre, Bigard impresses with authentic blues playing in Solid Old Man, and Stewart rallies the group in a full-cry charge through the exuberant ride-out to I Know That You Know.

As an anthology, this album is restrictive in terms of a comprehensive overview of Reinhardt’s recorded legacy, which spans 1934-1953. Three tracks from the mid-40s (including two bonus tracks) are added. However, something post-war from Django – he recorded with Mel Powell and Peanuts Hucko, experimented with bop and electric guitar – would have added contrast and broader interest, perhaps. Moreover, Django was a gifted composer, and the omission of his evergreen Nuages is a little surprising. All that said, there are many tracks to enjoy on this album which are fully representative of his charismatic musical persona in its prime as the founding father of a distinctive jazz genre, gypsy jazz.

Exactly Like You; Solitude; Ain’t Misbehavin’; Running Wild; Body And Soul; Hot Lips; When Day Is Done; Rose Room; Liebestraum No. 3; Miss Annabelle Lee; Tears; Mystery Pacific; (2) Swing Guitars; (3) Big Boy Blues; (4) Montmartre; Solid Old Man; Finesse; I Know That You Know; Low Cotton; (1) Swinging With Django; Paramount Stomp; (5) Japanese Sandman; (1) Minor Swing; (6) Bolero; (7) Douce Ambiance; Manoir De Mes Reves (76.26)
(1) Quintette Du Hot Club De France. Paris, misc. dates, 1937.
(2) Django Reinhardt and his American Swing Band. Paris, 6 November 1945.
(3) Bill Coleman and his Orchestra. Paris, 19 November 1937.
(4) Rex Stewart and his Feetwarmers. Paris, 5 April 1939.
(5) Dicky Wells and his Orchestra. Paris, 7 July 1937.
(6) Hot Club De France,  plus orch. Paris, 14 December 1937.
(7) Django Reinhardt et le Quintette Du Hot Club De France. Paris, 17 February 1943.
Django Reinhardt (g) on all tracks with personnel including Stephane Grappelli (vn); Bill Coleman, Rex Stewart (t); Barney Bigard (cl); Dicky Wells (tb); Joseph Reinhardt (g); Louis Vola (b).
Poll Winners  PWR 27201