I regret to inform the group that Mr John Bajo passed away on August 1 2005. John was a longtime Djangophile, historian and record collector. He was at the Duke Ellington concert in Chicago when Django played and helped John Steiner record that show.
I mention his passing because though he was not known to many people here, many people here benefited from John’s efforts. When I was first starting to collect recordings of Django-inspired music, I heard John’s name from Michael Dregni. I tracked him down, called him, and over time we became friends. John had started collecting records of this music when few people in the USA had ever heard of it. He had hundreds of records and it was through John that I first heard the recordings of Tchan-Tchou, the early EPs of Matelot Ferret, the missing valses of Baro from 1949 and literally countless others. He had everything, including a huge box of cassettes of bootlegs and copies of obscure LPs that he sent me, which to this day I am sorting out and digitizing. Nowadays a lot more of the old recordings are available on CD but as recently as five years ago it was not so. Over the years, John sent me many recordings, and I in turn was able to pass these treasures along to other interested parties, who in turn probably passed them along, too. So if you think you’ve got any of these old cassettes or homemade CDs of gypsy jazz obscurities, I hope you’ll say a word or two of thanks to John.
He was a real character, too. One cold winter day Michael Dregni and I drove down from Minneapolis to visit him in central Wisconsin. I’d never been to the midwest before and didn’t know what to expect. John and his wife greeted us with a pot of homemade chili and Point beer – “When you’re out of Point, you’re out of town”. Over the years he told me many tales - growing up in Chicago and listening to the Hungarian gypsy band that played at his church, hustling his way through the army during the war, seeing an exhibit of Roger Chaput’s paintings at a downtown art gallery and being too embarrassed to go in in his workingman’s clothing, helping Charles Delauney sort out Django’s discography, lecturing me on why you should never have anything to do with certain LPs of Django as they were not licensed properly, hanging out with Fred Sharp, and many other anecdotes. He’d had a Selmer with a contact paper pickguard that was bought from Joseph Reinhardt after the war, and also a ’52 Tele that he bought new and never played.
John was a great and generous guy and I was privileged to know him. RIP, my friend.