For hot jazz, leave the cold tap running

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday I was talking about the plethora of gypsy jazz events coming up in the next few weeks, and how alive and well is the tradition of making music in the style of Django Reinhardt is, the great gypsy guitarist.

Yesterday I was talking about the plethora of gypsy jazz events coming up in the next few weeks, and how alive and well is the tradition of making music in the style of Django Reinhardt is, the great gypsy guitarist.

(It is commonplace to refer to Django Reinhardt as "the great gypsy guitarist", but it wasn't until I read his life by Charles Delaunay that I realised just how much of a gypsy he was - the restlessness, the sudden absences, the indifference to money, the huge network of relations...

Delaunay relates that some time in the 1930s Django invited one of his cousins to stay with him in a hotel in the south of France. The cousin had never been in a hotel before. He had never slept in a house before, only a caravan. And he could not get to sleep in the hotel bedroom - not, that is, until he left the cold tap running in the basin. What he was missing was the sound of running water, like the stream he normally parked beside.)

The violinist Stephane Grappelli, Django's playing partner, was a quite a different creature, much more the dandy, the man about town. No gypsy in his soul, I think. But both with enough pride not to let the other have top billing. Who could possibly have come second in the band name? So they settled on the clumsy but endearingly odd "Quintette du Hot Club de France", which became famous for their brand of unique, strings-only, French/gypsy jazz.

As Django was the genius of the group, I always found it ironic that, after his early death in 1953, it should be Stephane Grappelli who went on to find fame and fortune. There must be millions of people who have bought records by Grappelli without any idea who Reinhardt was. Grappelli blossomed, but despite worldwide fame, he was never the great man Reinhardt had been. And yet now that Grappelli has passed on, you can see that it is Reinhardt, after all, who has left the greater legacy. Grappelli was just Grappelli, a wonderful talent, who left no school, no tradition, no festival. But in the hinterland behind Django there is still the whole world of gypsy jazz, symbolised by the festival which takes place every year at Samois-sur-Seine, Django's last abode.

There are amazing young guitarists emerging all the time to carry on the tradition, and there are people far more expert than I am who can tell you whether they come from Alsace or elsewhere, just from their style.

But they appear everywhere. There used to be a group in Bath called Le Jazz who played Hot Club style jazz. Damned good they were, too, especially solo guitarist Peter Finch and rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie (now a mainstay of the gypsy jazz scene in the UK).

Once, because their bass player was absent on business, I was asked to play with them for an evening, and a scary, wonderful experience it was too, to be inside this sound for a moment, not just looking in from the outside. I can remember playing tunes I had heard on record but never tried to reproduce on the bass. I can remember Dave dictating chords at me a split second before the next tune ("Basically it's E minor and B seven, and sort of G in the middle eight") and also asking at one point: "Do you know 'Si Tu M'aimais'?" I didn't. He looked at me pityingly. "Well, Django recorded it in the late 1940s, so you should do..."

Behind that question there is a whole tradition of a music that is alive and kicking. It isn't a train-spotting world. I don't think it's a heritage world either. Gypsy jazz is one of those curious kinds of music which don't change much as the years pass, but don't wither either. Music like flamenco, and the tango, and Scottish and Irish music and Breton and Galician music. All of them should have become fossilised or died of inanition years ago. And they haven't.

Don't ask why. Just be glad they're there.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us