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Manouche jazz

Manouche jazz

Manouche jazz (also known as gypsy jazz) flourished in France in the first half of the 20th century, sprung from the marriage between American jazz and gypsy culture. Its leading lights were guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. With Reinhardt’s passing in 1953, his disciples continued to advance the genre, passing the torch to new generations of gypsy musicians whose collective approach was steeped in a respect for tradition.

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.

Stéphane Grappelli 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, French accordionist 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.

Biréli Lagrène Several Manouche artists have since risen to the fore. Prodigiously talented gypsy guitarist Biréli 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

The Lost Fingers 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.

Celebrating Django at 100 ! With The Dorado Schmitt Allstars 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.

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