AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 31 YEARS
This weeks artist takes us all the way back to 1930s France, and a man who has astounded the musical world with his skill and innovation in the face of tremendous difficulties. Django Reinhardt was born into gypsy life in 1910, on the outskirts of Paris. Though part of the open air, rambling lifestyle, Django had the soul of a nobleman and a presence that commanded respect. He had an incredible proclivity for music, and at age 12 he received his first guitar. Mimicking musicians hed watched, Django became astonishingly adept at the instrument and by the age of 13 he had started his musical career in outlying Paris cafés and bars.
However, at the age of 18, the caravan he lived in caught fire, trapping him and his first wife. The fire left Django badly scarred on both the right and left side of his body. The bottom two fingers of his left hand were permanently ruined, and his right leg looked as if it needed to be amputated. However, through extreme strength of will, Django persevered, and in spite of his tribulations, he managed to relearn the guitar, creating a new playing style using only the first two fingers of his left hand for both chord play and improvisation.
Django was deeply influenced by jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Combining their fast paced jazz styles with his own knowledge of French music and gypsy heritage, Django created an entirely new style of jazz music, whos influence can still be felt in todays world. Django was a master of improvisation, rarely playing the same solo twice, and his skill as composer was not far behind. Many of his songs are melodically beautiful and sophisticated.
The first song Id like to introduce was presented in the movie Chocolat. If youve ever seen the movie, then you might remember the scene where Johnny Depp and his river gypsies throw a big party, which eventually ends in a conflagration (maybe as a tribute to Djangos experience many years before). In the scene, Depp starts the party off by grabbing an old guitar and launching into one of Djangos classic songs: Minor Swing. This song might be one of my favorite jazz-guitar songs of all time.
The second song is slower in nature and is Djangos recording of an old Charles Tenet classic, La Mer. It is better known among English audiences as Beyond the Sea, performed by Bobby Darin. Regardless, Djangos rendition is beautiful and moving in its own right, and deserves its own spotlight.