The birth of Manouche jazz
Django Reinhardt is widely credited with inventing Manouche jazz
in Paris in the 1930s. Born into a French-speaking gypsy family in Belgium in 1910,
Reinhardt learned to play the guitar and banjo at a very young age. In his early
twenties, he was introduced to American jazz through such artists as Louis Armstrong,
Duke Ellington and Eddie Lang. In the very capable
hands of Reinhardt, this seemingly disparate blend of gypsy traditions and American
jazz gave rise to a new style of music dubbed Manouche jazz, also called "gypsy
swing" or "gypsy jazz".
Reinhardt used a unique two-finger technique he'd developed
after a caravan fire badly burned his left hand, rendering his third and fourth
fingers all-but useless. He also played across the neck of his guitar rather than
along its length. For maximum flexibility and speed, Manouche guitarists play with
the wrist curved and apply the "down stroke" technique: using a pick,
they strike the string much like a hammer strikes a piano string.
Django Reinhardt met French violinist Stéphane Grappelli in Paris in
1934. The two would go on to form the legendary Quintet of the Hot Club of France.
A joyous up-tempo form of music, Manouche jazz benefited and drew inspiration from
the swing music that was so popular in occupied France in the early 1940s. Between
1935 and 1944, Reinhardt established himself as one of the world's
great guitarists. The father of Manouche enjoyed a string of hits,
including Minor Swing and Nuages. He passed away in 1953.
Manouche renews its popularity
While Reinhardt allowed Manouche jazz to take flight, his contemporaries
also contributed to the genre's renown. In addition to Grappelli,
Jo Privat and the guitar-playing Ferré brothers,
Mathelot and Barro, performed regularly with the
Hot Club of France in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the mid-1960s, Barro Ferré achieved popular success with
the album Valses d'hier et d'aujourd'hui, as did Mathelot
with his recording of classic Django Reinhardt
waltzes like Montagne Ste Geneviève and Choti.
Several Manouche artists have since risen to the fore. Prodigiously talented gypsy
Lagrène mastered the gypsy swing style à la Reinhardt
and Grappelli at a very young age. His debut album, Routes to Django, was
released in 1980 when Lagrène was just 13.
Other Manouche jazz stalwarts include guitarists Fapy Lafertin
and Tchavolo Schmitt.
The Belgian-born Lafertin shot to success with such albums as Star Eyes (2000)
and Fine and Dandy (2003). Tchavolo, for his part, has been working
since the 1970s, and he released Seven Gypsy Nights in 2007.
Honorary mention goes to the prolific Ferré brothers,
Elios and Boulou. The guitar-playing brother duo has
released scores of albums, including Pour Django (1979), Gypsy Dreams
(1980) and Parisian Passion (2005). Guitarist Babik Reinhardt
followed in his famous father's footsteps with his 1998 album, New Quintet du
Hot Club de France.
In the 1990s, Manouche jazz marked a resurgence on the French scene and internationally
thanks to guitarists Patrick Saussois and Raphaël Faÿs,
and also to Romane and Moreno. This renewed rise
to prominence has been aided by events such as the Festival Django Reinhardt de
Samois-sur-Seine, Le Gypsy Swing Festival d'Angers and the New York Gypsy Festival.
Manouche at the Festival
Manouche jazz has long been a popular draw with crowds at the Festival International
de Jazz de Montréal. After the tribute event to Stéphane Grappelli
in 1991 – with the master himself in attendance – and the appearance
of master guitarists Boulou and Elios Ferré in 1992, the Festival
marked it 15th anniversary in 1994 with performances by Bratsch,
Strunz & Farah and The Rosenberg Trio. A part
of the Grand Événement
La nuit des gitans, the latter two groups played before an estimated
crowd of 90 000.
Closer to home, in 2003 the Alsace-born Manouche guitarist Biréli Lagrène
delivered a rousing tribute to Django Reinhardt, performing alongside
the Gipsy Project and such renowned guests as French guitarists
Angelo Debarre and
Tchavolo Schmitt. Lagrène was back
to dazzle Festival fans in 2006, playing with the great Christian Escoudé.
Not to be outdone: the Québec-based Manouche groups who have appeared at
the FIJM over the years.
Gadji-Gadjo and the
Hot Club de ma rue brought their infectious brand of
gypsy jazz to the Festival's 30th anniversary edition, and in 2008 and 2009
The Lost Fingers
delighted Festival fans with their Manouche-inspired covers of 1980s pop tunes.
In February 2010, as part of the Jazz All Year Round series, the Dorado Schmitt All-Stars were slated
to present three concerts celebrating the musical heritage of Django Reinhardt,
who would have turned 100 this year.