When Django Reinhardt teamed up with Stéphane Grappelli and the other members of his Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934, Gypsy café music melded with American jazz to create an irresistible art form that flourishes still at Django festivals in France, at Django clubs, and on Django internet radio stations in America and Japan.
Three years ago, Sylvia Rushbrooke, a British Djangophile, marked the 50th anniversary of Reinhardt's premature death by opening a wine bar - known to the cognoscenti as "Le Q" - dedicated to keeping Django's musical legacy alive. "Museum stuff," sniff its jazz-world detractors from behind their palisade.
To test the truth of this, I drop in on one of the QuecumBar's jam sessions. With potted palms, turn-of-the-century mirrors, and walls covered with photos of Gypsy swing's greats, the place does look a bit preserved in aspic, but when the bassist George Trebar and guitarist Stuart Blagden set off on an exploratory riff, the joint starts to jump.
Blagden, who began life as a classical guitarist, tells me that ever since he fell in love with Django's sound, he has been trying to combine it with bebop. As he warms to his task, it's clear he's doing just that. His finger-picking gets hotter and faster, his rhythm guitarist generates huge momentum, and the old jazz standards and Django numbers pour out in ever more harmonically inventive guises.
On comes the young Robin Katz, an art dealer by day, supported by the rhythm guitarist Dennis Chang, who has just flown in from Montreal: if this is typical of London, he says, he likes it a lot. This pair have played together just once, and though they don't achieve the symbiosis of Blagden and co, they pump along nicely. For this is a musical mafia - they all speaking the same musical language, with Django's "Minor Swing" as a signature tune.
Then it's the turn of Robin Moore, supported by the burly Ducato Petrowski - "Our token Gypsy," says Rushbrooke, fondly. Petr-owski's nickname, "Pompe", is appropriate, as he puts massive impetus behind Moore's subtle excursions. Meanwhile, an intense Scot is offered a guitar: he hasn't touched one for months, he tells me, and he's not sure what will come out. What comes out is very fine indeed: this is Lee Clark, who spent his youth training in France with Gypsies.
So, museum culture be damned. Gypsy swing is alive and well. Date for the diary: 23 January, when Le Q marks Django's birthday.Reuse content