How I Fell In Love With... Django Reinhardt

The guitarist whose style can never be ignored gets new tab book   08-Oct-12

How I Fell In Love With... Django Reinhardt

It was a Sunday morning, and as was custom on Sundays, I headed to the second-hand record store in town to see if I could pick up something new. At this point I had almost completed my collection of Queen vinyl, and my Iron Maiden collection wasn't far behind.

The guy who owned the record store was terrifying, the kind of bloke who only had a record shop because he loved music and not because he wanted other people to buy the records, he probably saw each vinyl in the shop as being part of his personal collection, begrudging us for taking them off him.

Even at this point in my teenage years, I was already uncool for liking metal and rock music. Basically I loved guitars and any music that prominently featured guitars, I listened to loads of blues, I listened to loads of classic rock and I listened to a heavy dosage of heavy metal.

The obvious gap in my taste was jazz, I didn't even know anybody who liked jazz and I always assumed it was all about big bands playing swing, with cheesy saxophone solos. How terribly wrong I was.

I was flicking through the records in the metal section when I saw something that caught my eye, it was in the stand of jazz records which were housed next to the precious metal shrine.

This guy was pictured on the front of the album staring down at his guitar, he looked French, he looked so French (I'd later find out he was born in Belgium). It was the way he was looking at the guitar though, smirk on his face, I knew he was playing something cool and just the picture was enough for me, I picked up the album and bought it.

Django Reinhardt. I looked at the album on the bus home, and I had that feeling you only get when you impulsively buy a record on the face value of its cover, it doesn't really happen anymore in the era of digital downloads, Youtube and

The feeling is half fear, half excitement, you're scared that you might have just wasted your money (which is in short supply when you're a teenager) and you're excited that you might be about to hear the coolest thing you've ever heard.

Well it was Django Reinhardt, I was about to hear the coolest thing I'd ever heard. I can't remember which album it was now, or even which songs were on that album, since it was lost along with many of my records when I flew the nest to university (that's college I guess, for you wonderful Americans).

What I do remember though is being in a hurry for the album to finish so that I could listen to it again, all I wanted to do was to listen to it, and then try and emulate what Django was doing on the guitar. I spent a few hours listening to those tracks and resisting the urge to pick up my guitar, I wanted the music to permeate my very soul before I even attempted to play like that, the way Django played wasn't just a technique, it was a revolution.

It was the disjointed but perfectly fluid nature of his playing, it didn't seem to make any logical sense to me, and at that moment I realised that logic was way overrated. It was those little slide downs from the higher frets, and then the lightning fast turn arounds at the top of a run, using a scale I couldn't identify, mainly because he wasn't thinking in terms of scales, but of melody.

I was very late to the revolution, he had long been dead and gone, but it didn't mean I couldn't try and incorporate that into my playing. I failed drastically for years and years, I still fail drastically now, mainly because I know that playing like Django is almost pointless, you have to use him as a muse rather than using him as a blueprint. There is only one Django Reinhardt, and even when I hear somebody convincingly pull of his sound, it doesn't move me.

It was only later when by way of being such a huge fan of his I also discovered Les Paul, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. It all clicked into place for me, and I could begin to enjoy Gypsy Jazz within the much larger context of guitar-based jazz, I could begin to channel it into my own playing in a way that felt right.

Now it doesn't feel like a crime to try and learn Django Reinhardt songs from start to finish, and in fact, with the release of a Django tab book, it's a pretty good time to try and learn his songs.

But if you are as moved by his playing as I was (and still am), then the best thing you can do is listen to his playing as much as you can, remember the feeling you get when you listen to his playing, and try and channel that freedom and energy in your own playing.

To find out more about the tab book, click here.

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