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Reviews: Django Reinhardt . . . 24 hours worth of him. Plus a book.

Holy moly, have we got a lot of music on tap today. A whopping 26 CDs of Django. So what did we think of this ample assemblage, this collosal collection, this elephantine entirety of audio?

Django Reinhardt
Integrale Django Reinhardt L’Edition Du Centenaire Saison 2 (1938-1947) (14 CD set)
[Fremeaux & Associes (2010)]

Integrale Django Reinhardt L’Edition Du Centenaire Saison 3 (1947-1953) (12 CD Set)
[Fremeaux & Associes (2010)]

And for good measure . . .
Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing
Michael Dregni
[Oxford Press (2010)]

On the 100th anniversary of his birth and 57 years after his death, Django Reinhardt’s legacy remains as vital as ever, and his music is actively played both by his literal descendants in the Romanian community and his figurative musical offspring in “hot jazz” ensembles around the globe. Countless recorded anthologies of Reinhardt’s work exist, but Fremeux and Associes have undertaken an effort to round up all of the recordings Reinhardt made during his career in 50 chronologically arranged CDs. This titanic effort offers a complete picture of Reinhardt’s musical evolution and also exhaustively documents studio sessions, radio broadcasts, and guest shots with various orchestras and ensembles. This massive compilation is grouped into double disc boxes each documenting 1-3 years of Reinhardt’s career and including a thick booklet listing personnel and recording information for each track as well as a longish essay (both in French and English) covering that phase of the guitarist’s career. The parts of the set sent for review cover the span from 1938 to Reinhardt’s death in 1953. In addition to classics with the original Hot Club of Paris, these discs show Reinhardt in a wide variety of settings, including solo guitar performances, duets with violinist Stephane Grapelli, orchestral gigs and sessions with other musicians like a 1946 session with the Duke Ellington orchestra and a number of sessions cut by the guitarist with various ensembles as he, miraculously, lived and played through the Nazi occupation of Paris. The bulk of the material on these compilations comes from acetates of radio broadcasts, and the quality of these fragile sources varies widely, although all have been restored to the extent possible. For those wanting an overview of Reinhardt’s career, a number of less comprehensive anthologies exist. However, the true fan who must hear every note Django recorded will certainly want to seek out these magnificent compendia.

Music journalist Michael Dregni wrote what is probably the definitive biography of Reinhardt, Django: the Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend, back in 2004. His second book on Reinhardt and his milieu, Gypsy Jazz, takes a broader brush to examine the gypsy culture from which the guitarist sprung, and follows the legacy of the Hot Club, its musicians and both their genetic and artistic descendants, up to the present day. Part travelogue, part oral history, Dregni’s intrepid travels into dim Paris bistros and traveling Gypsy caravans make for a captivating read, and offer a vivid picture of the vital role that music plays in the moveable lives of the Romani gypsies. One of the most entertaining sections is one where Dregni meets up with Reinhardt’s guitarist grandson, who gives the author a crash course in Django style swing after handing him the guitar played by Reinhardt’s figurative right hand man, Baro Ferret. To fully appreciate this book, one should probably have some familiarity with Reinhardt’s music, but those who are thus prepared will find this an engaging, informative read.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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