When Paul Balmer wrote his book about Stephane Grappelli way back in 2002, he ask me to talk to my parents about their memories of Django and Stephane. He included some of their comments in his book but below is the full transcription of what I sent to him. I think it is interesting to see how Django and the Quintette were actually viewed at the time:-
- The following is the result of several recent specific conversations with my parents and many years of just generally chatting with them about Django. I have written as much as possible in verbatim quotes from them, which means some repetition, and these are in inverted commas. Where I have added a comment of my own for clarification, I've put that in brackets. I have also tried to place as many of these quotes as I could in some sort of logical order. For the most part, their stories were very consistent although occasionally, the comments were not totally compatible. However, I was primarily seeking qualitative, emotional responses rather than a statement of generally well documented historical facts and that inevitably leads to some inconsistencies. I've split it into two sections for simplicity.
CAMBRIDGE THEATRE CONCERT
(The concert was on Sunday, January 30th, 1938 at the Cambridge Theatre, London and organised by the music newspaper "Melody Maker". The Quintet of the Hot Club of France was top of the bill and the other acts were:- (1)The Mills Brothers (2) Eric Siday, Reginald Leopald & Frenchie Sartell (3) Claude Bampton's Blind Orchestra (with a unknown George Shearing on piano). The Quintet's personnel was Stephane, Django, Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput and Louis Vola.... One of the studio publicity photos in the programme actually shows Eugene Vees rather than Joseph with the Quintet crowding round an early "D" hole Maccaferri which has a classical guitar style bridge mounting).
"They were all wearing black dinner jackets and looked very smart. Stephane stood at the left and occasionally wandered across slightly in front of the guitarists when he was playing a solo. The three guitars were in a line with Django in the middle and just a bit forward of the other two. The bassist, who I think was Louis Vola (it was), stood behind the guitarists. They played two sessions, one before the interval and one after. I think each session must have lasted about half an hour but is was so exciting, you lost track of time. Chappie D’Amato introduced them (he was the compere for the whole event) and I'm pretty sure the first tune they played was "Djangology" ( it probably was as it was the signature tune of the Quintet for many years)"......."I can't recall exactly what tunes they played but I do remember "Night & Day", "Daphne", "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Mystery Pacific".....they went absolutely crazy on "Mystery Pacific". I don't know how they got those train effects."......." Most of the time Django was totally impassive. He seemed to play as if there was nobody else other than the Quintet was in the room. It wasn't as if he was unfriendly - he seemed a warm person - but he was just completely absorbed in his music."......"He (Django) seemed totally relaxed and he hardly ever looked up from his guitar. But sometimes when he had played something really special, he would look up at the audience and give a twinkling, half smile as if to say "what did you think of that then?""........" At the end of some of the numbers (tunes), when the audience was shouting for more, he would look up and smile shyly. He was obviously pleased it was all going so well"
"First of all, they played what I suppose they had planned beforehand but then people started shouting requests at them and they started playing whatever people asked for. It was fantastic. They could play whatever people asked. Django would look across to Stephane, perhaps say a couple of words. Then off they would go. They made it look so easy"...."There was a fantastic rapport between Django and Stephane Grappelli. They seem to know exactly what each other was going to do. There was never any hesitation about anything"........"Django's face was impassive and there were no show business gimmicks about what they did. It was just fantastic music. Although I do remember when playing a solo, Django's left hand would sometimes flick down to quickly retune a string as his right hand hammered away on a different open string. I think that was probably a bit of showmanship". (There is a story told by the guitarist Jimmy Gourlay that Django could tune his guitar by hitting all the open strings just once like a chord and then adjust the tuning in one go without re-hitting any of the strings)........"Django's fingers seemed to float over the strings and when he was playing solos, the two good fingers were often parallel with the finger board, not across it. Sometimes, these two fingers almost seemed to cross over one another in a way that is impossible to do. (See the Ultraphone advert on page 78 of Ian Cruickshank's "Django's Gypsies). When he was playing chords, he would somehow clamp his bent, crippled fingers onto the top two strings I think"........(I asked them specifically whether they could hear Django's solos over the accompaniment because acoustics in those days were very basic)...."Yes. You could hear him clearly all the time. Lovely sound. He would hit the strings really hard sometimes. But he did it so easily. Quite often the bassist would shout something like "Oh Yeah" in a deep throaty French accent". (There is actually a "debate" between my parents as to who did the shouting. My mother says Django - my father says the bassist)
"As the concert went on, the audience got more and more excited. There was a group of French people up at the back and they were going absolutely crazy. Screaming and shouting and stamping their feet. Everybody was enjoying it but the French got them even more worked up. We were all standing up and shouting and cheering at the end of each tune. Probably a bit like a Beatles concert." (That would have been pretty unheard of at the time. People may have clapped and cheered loudly but seldom stood up)......."The audience would not let them go. They just kept screaming for more and they played several encores"........"It was a nice informal concert full of people who obviously loved the playing of Django and Stephane. You had a really happy almost cosy feeling being there. They both seemed very friendly people".
"It is a night I will never forget. I suppose now when I look back on, it was a night of real history. I loved it but I wish I had taken more notice of it at the time so that I could remember more about it. For all the things you (that's me) have done, it is something we have done that you will never be able to do. (They are damn right there and I would give up many of the things I have done to have seen Reinhardt play). It was only Django Reinhardt who could have got us up to London in those days. (Remember we are talking 62 years ago and travelling just a few miles was considered very adventurous for most people)".
(This was probably a particularly successful concert because it was organised specifically for jazz enthusiasts. Some of the other places the Quintet played in the UK were between the "A" and "B" movies at a cinema or in the Music Halls (Vaudeville) in between comics telling dirty jokes and women dancers with legs like tree trunks. What sacrilege!!.......They did share top of the bill with Tom Mix at the London Palladium once (the most prestigious entertainment venue in the UK at the time) but Django didn't bother to turn up on the first night!)
DJANGO - 1930's
These quotes are mostly from my father who was the real fan and followed Django quite keenly through to WWII:-
"I used to particularly like Eddie Lang and also Carl Kress & Dick McDonough but as soon as I heard Django, I began to lose interest in them. They were all right but Django seemed to be in a different league. At the time, the things he did on the guitar seemed completely impossible. Some people thought the records were doctored in some way; probably speeded up - and he could only get those effects by tuning his guitar in a funny way."........"I had never heard anything like that music before. It was so totally different. He (Django) and Stephane made Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti sound a bit weak and now when I hear Venuti & Lang, they really do sound old fashioned but the Quintet sounds as good as ever"........"With people like Stochelo Rosenberg about today, you cannot believe what a revelation it was to first hear Django in the 30's. What he did seemed to be just incredible and no one else could do anything like it even with all their fingers".
(I questioned my father closely on what he thought the music was at the time...... Was it jazz? Was it gypsy music? What was it?) "I had no idea at all what it was because it was so different and it didn't matter to me in any case. I just loved it. I suppose it defied categorisation to me. It came from nowhere. I probably thought it was "Swing" which was the "in" music at the time".
"You used to be able to buy Django records at Woolworths for 6d (£0.02) and he was on the radio quite a lot. We used to listen to him when I was in the army during the war. Someone would find an old wireless (probably illegally) and we would hide away somewhere listening to Django. I remember once the Colonel knew I liked Django and he called me into his office so we could listen to him". -
The Quintette's "Limehouse Blues" was played at my mother's funeral and "Time on my Hands" at my father's.