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GEOG 433: Day 5. The “Gypsy Jazz” of Django Reinhardt. Housekeeping Items. Thank you to Linda and Melissa for taking the rudder in my absence; it is very much appreciated.

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geog 433 day 5

GEOG 433: Day 5

The “Gypsy Jazz” of

Django Reinhardt

housekeeping items
Housekeeping Items
  • Thank you to Linda and Melissa for taking the rudder in my absence; it is very much appreciated.
  • How well did you like “Cadillac Records”? It is loosely based on the real Chess Records. Any specific comments on it or the discussion questions I suggested? It was out of sequence, but at least you got to see all of it in one week.
  • The web site has been updated, including assignment instructions, except for today’s slides (later today).
  • I’ve changed the due date for the outline to January 30th. As for the genre presentations, be prepared to forward your slides so I can share them with the class.
  • Tomorrow, the Faculty of Social Science is hosting a welcome back pizza social in Building 355, Room 211 from noon to 2.
  • The Career Day event for Geography is next Wednesday (29th) from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room 217.
background on the romany people
Background on the Romany People
  • As noted in the reading, the ancestors of today's Romany people were conscripted foot soldiers in an anti-Muslim army raised in India around 1000 A.D. The fighting took place as far west as Persia. After it was over, some went home and some continued further west as mercenaries and performing whatever skills they could pick up to enhance their survival.
  • They showed up in Serbia in the 1300s, and in Spain and France in the 1400s, by way of North Africa.
background on the romany people1
Background on the Romany People
  • There are 4 to 9 million Roma in Europe and Asia Minor today and they speak various related dialects that are linked to Sanskrit.
  • They have – as noted in the reading – adopted a variety of itinerant professions: horse traders, tinkers, basket weavers, jewellers, instrument repair and tuning people, musicians and entertainers, and much more, and they still are largely nomadic, though less so today.
background on the romany people2
Background on the Romany People
  • Romany people have been the proverbial “other” in European society – despised for being outside society, seen (sometimes rightly so) as thieves and pickpockets.
  • They have been enslaved, subjected to genocide (by Hitler) – approximately one quarter of the population died – and are currently being expelled from France back to places like Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Image source:


django reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
  • Music was an important part of Romany life, with Romany players both influencing and being influenced by the music around them (e.g. klezmer, flamenco, etc.)‏.
  • Django started out on the violin and banjo before graduating to guitar. At a young age, he and his brother used to busk in front of cafés in Paris.
  • Meanwhile, inside the dominant music was musette – music derived from the Auvergne region of France and performed largely on bagpipes. By the late 1890s, Italian immigrant accordion players had begun to displace bagpipes as the dominant instrument of musette and they brought other musical forms – bourrées, Italian airs, etc.
django reinhardt1
Django Reinhardt
  • Musette was taken in more adventurous directions by accordionist, Émile Vacher, who had mastered all kinds of European music, producing a new form called valses musette. He was also a prime exponent of a dance music called the java (a corruption of “Ca va?”).
  • Soon Romany musicians (like Garcia and Minha) were producing their own versions of the valse known as the valse manouche. The banjo was an instrument played in this music, and it was into this world that Django was introduced. As the reading describes, it was quite a “scene”!
  • During World War I, American jazz began to make its entrance through U.S. army bands.
django reinhardt2
Django Reinhardt
  • His first recordings at the age of 18 (in 1928) showed only a minimal influence of jazz, though he had first been exposed to, and dazzled by, it in 1926 at a Parisian restaurant called l'Abbaye de Thélème. A short time later, an event occurred which would change his life – he was horribly burned in a caravan fire.
  • Despite being partially crippled as a result, Django re-learned how to play and proved to be a master of the guitar. In addition, despite being illiterate, he was a musical genius who could hear complex musical pieces in his head.
  • Soon he began to sit in with jazz groups, including from Britain and the U.S. and eventually to make recordings with them, as well as with French jazz musicians:
gypsy jazz
‘Gypsy Jazz’
  • What did you think of the Dregni excerpt? Which of the themes in the course outline are highlighted in Django’s life and music? Does anything stand out? For some general background on the Romany people and their music in different regions of the globe, I highly recommend the vivid documentary, LatchoDrom.
  • Some of the themes that occur to me include:

Source: High Fidelity Report

relevant themes
Relevant Themes
  • Migration
  • Diaspora
  • Cultural hearths
  • Cross-fertilization
  • Adaptation/ innovation
  • Urban vs. rural (more with the migrants from Auvergne)
  • Professional vs. amateur music production
  • Instruments and recording technology
  • Racism and other forms of marginalization
  • Music as a means for articulating cultural and ethnic identity
gypsy jazz and django reinhardt
‘Gypsy’ Jazz and Django Reinhardt
  • One of the interesting examples of cross-fertilization is how gypsy music was influenced, in the person of Django, by American (largely Black) jazz. However, American jazz musicians repaid the compliment, seeking to meet with him and writing songs in his honour.

Source: Wikipedia

gypsy jazz and django reinhardt1
‘Gypsy’ Jazz and Django Reinhardt
  • Prior to his encountering jazz, Django and numerous other Romany and non-Romany musicians mastered a huge diversity of musical forms from various traditions and parts of the world. This shows that globalization is not something entirely new.
  • Django’s achievement is all the more remarkable given that he lost the use of three of his five fretting fingers in a caravan fire that left him hospitalized for two years. He had to learn how to play all over again with just two fingers.
  • I would like to show an excerpt of a documentary called “Djangomania” on how his music has been adopted all around the world, albeit with peaks and valleys.