Django's U.S. Tour 1946 Info wanted...



  • pinkgarypinkgary ✭✭✭
    Posts: 282
    JazzDawg wrote:

    Another, interesting bit in that documentary is the quote from Django, something along the lines, '... "You see brother, I prefer being the first in Rome than the second in Kansas City". That quote's been discussed before, but the reference to Kansas City was of particular interest to me. Kansas City was a swingin' place back in those days, and a lot of great players jammed all night long, trying to best each other. While I doubt, Django found himself bested at one such jam, I think he probably was referencing his being 'not so well known' in the States compared to other of the top jazz players here in the U.S., and felt much more comfortable during his stay in Rome where he was very well known.

    "I'm the best guitar player in the world..... Apart from some Gadjo in Kansas".... Can't quite picture it.
  • WColsherWColsher PhiladelphiaNew
    Posts: 53
    I managed to get over to the library last night - it turns out there are at least two more Ellington "day books" in addition to Vail. I've copied the relevant pages and I'll try to get them compiled into a semi-useful form and up here this evening. (JazzDawg - if you like I can send you the photocopies - they're not really solid enough to scan and email.)

    It boils down to:

    Django played only a few tunes (the 4 from Chicago may have been his whole performance) with the Ellington rhythm section on a handful of nights. Reviewers at the time were as dissapointed as we are today that more wasn't accomplished. Although Django's notorious unreliability was blamed for this, Ellington had a LOT on his plate that fall. In addition to gigs nearly every night (reached by train or bus presumably) he was developing the Deep South Suite and also casting and rehearsing Beggar's Holiday.

    My take:

    Ellington's level of productivity is simply stunning - Django crashed head-on into one of the most powerful music making machines the world has ever seen. We can't know of course, but I suspect he was pretty horrified by how hard Ellington worked, the distances travelled on a daily basis and the degree to which "the business of music" intruded into his life in the US. And I also imagine Ellington was more than a little irritated by Django's way of life.

    I'm obviously not any kind of music historian, but as to the "second in Kansas City" quote - I agree it has more to do with being known and getting the choice gigs and endorsements. When I see the amount of work Duke put in, I suspect that Django just didn't have it in himself at that point in his life to WORK at the level those guys did every single day.

    Incidentally, that Chicago concert was where an out of work Chet Atkins asked for Django's autograph. Chet later asked Duke what had become of Django who told him "Django went back to Paris, because somebody at the William Morris Agency had beat him playing billiards, and he got mad and left."
  • steven_eiresteven_eire Wicklow✭✭✭✭ Dupont MD50
    Posts: 172
    i thought most of the reviews he got were quite positive.

    as for ellington only featuring him as a small part of the show, this could be for a number of reasons. as you suggested ellington was busy, then there's django's inability to read music or speak english fluently. there is a story of him and ellington trying to work out a tune and when asked which key he'd like to play the song in he replies "no key" also ellington had asked him to bring the quintet so maybe he originally had other plans for him anyway.
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 658
    Django was pretty well-known among jazz players and fans in the USA even before the war and his records sold in pretty good numbers here in the 30s - remember the scenes in "From Here to Eternity" when they talked about him? Guitars were being sold in huge numbers here before the war and Django's music had universal appeal to guitarists. The USA was already on it's way to becoming "the land of the guitar".

    Even so, in my mind, the US tour wasn't an especially significant episode in Django's career, unless we consider it the first stage in his post-war decline in popularity. As noted earlier he did not have the disciplined work ethic of the Ellington band and was hobbled by union rules when he got back to New York. Audiences and critics loved him and members of the Ellington band were impressed by his abilities, but his lack of "show biz" professionalism had a negative impact. I think the real reason why so little attention has been paid to this year of his career is because it just wasn't significant.

    I always wondered how DR would have fit in only a few years later when bebop really took off. When the first bebop records hit Paris after the war it caused the schism between Panassie and Delauney that was never resolved. Musicians pretty much had to take one position or the other, to embrace or reject bebop. Delauney and Panassie had muscle and could harm or enhance a musicians career. Imagine what Charlie Parker must have sounded like to European musicians after all those years of isolation/occupation/war. As one French critic put it, after all that isolation, anyone who knocks at your door looks like a martian. Could Django have adapted to this new style? I don't know but I think Django and bebop wouldn't have been a good match. Django's music was always fundamentally French and romantic and whatever else bebop was, it certainly wasn't French and it wasn't romantic...
  • WColsherWColsher PhiladelphiaNew
    Posts: 53
    I didn't mean to imply that the reviews weren't positive. Rather, the reviewers seem dissapointed that Django wasn't more fully integrated into the program. I'll be sure to include the relevant portions in my summary this evening.

    Excellent point about, btw, about Ellington's original plan being for the full quintet. Now you've go me wondering if the Ellington Estate or the Morris Agency archives have any material that gives some idea of Duke's original plans.
  • JazzDawgJazzDawg New
    Posts: 264
    Good discussion...
    the US tour wasn't an especially significant episode in Django's career

    Maybe not significant in terms of Django's career when you look at all of his career, but certainly, it was significant at the time to him, wasn't it? I mean, why else would he decide to keep the invite for the band to come to America a personal one, rather than have the whole band come with him? I think it could have been significant, if things had gone a bit differently. It must have been pretty hard to take getting no billing, as in the Cleveland gig, and to be relegated to being an opening or ending act, and not a full on 'Django' feature.

    I think most Europeans musicians would have the same issue coming here to the U.S. for a tour, where the travel alone between venues covers so much distance. Touring just the East U.S. coast would be far easier to manage, but coming from the east to the midwest by train or bus, was pretty hard. Not to mention the discrimination felt by a lot of the musicians of the day, similar to the Black baseball players during that time. I don't suppose Django being a 'manouche' would have given him any more respect from the club owners, promoters, or innkeepers. While the guitar was becoming more popular, it certainly wasn't as big as all that. Even Les Paul had not really hit his stride yet. U.S. fans exposed to jazz would have known Django, but he and his music wasn't as poplular as it was in Europe or England. Around this time Frank and Bing were so much bigger to the 'popular' audience of white middle America. Jazz was still not widely accepted by most folks. I think that was the whole point of Django wanting to come to the U.S. - to 'make it' significant.

    As for reviews being favorable, I can only guess that is true - if you saw him play you couldn't help but be dazzled, and I've only seen reviews from the Cleveland and Carnegie Hall concerts.
    "I'm the best guitar player in the world..... Apart from some Gadjo in Kansas".... Can't quite picture it.

    No, I don't see that either, and that's what I meant. I think the quote was really about him not being satisfied with the whole experience here in the U.S. and that his using Kansas City was about respect for all of the great players that used Kansas City as a proving ground. KC was wide open and there were so many jazz venues at the time, that players found work easily, unlike other cities. Of course, that changed as Mary Lou Williams says in this quote:
    You see, what happened in Kansas City was that [New Yorker] John Hammond came to town. He was knocked out by what was happening musically, because he'd never heard such a thing. And he began to get jobs for the musicians. He took all the good musicians out, and it hasn't been good since. It was very beneficial what he did, but it left no one out there that anybody could copy or to continue what was happening, because everybody that was playing left.

    While KC's heyday was declining by the time of Django's visit, it was still close in the hearts of all those jazz players that Django respected, and there was probably a lot of talk about those days on the 'train' between gigs.

    In the end, this period may not be significant in Django's whole career, but it is historically significant in that one of the greatest guitar players in the world played right here in my home town, not once but twice - in a relatively all too short of a stay. He would never return, either. That's why I'm trying to get all of the info I can. I just want to document it better for others interested. I really appreciate everyone's contribution - so keep it coming!!!
  • JazzDawgJazzDawg New
    Posts: 264
    The film clip of Django playing the white Epiphone with Michel de Villers and Eugene Vees is from May,1946 at the El Rodeo Club in Paris before he went to America.

    Thanks for that info Teddy. As I watched that documentary again, I could see that it was probably just editing, and using clips with most probably one of the tunes recorded during that Chicago concert. I was just hopeful. I thank Scot too for that info about those recordings. Funny, what having such great access to folks via the Internet and YouTube does for us in these days. Just hard to believe that folks would not have thought to film these kind of events, isn't it?

  • WColsherWColsher PhiladelphiaNew
    Posts: 53
    Finally got the material together but the formatting to make it readable probably won't survive - so attached is a PDF with the goods.

    The references are:

    Lambert, Eddie. Duke Ellington a Listener's Guide, Studies in Jazz Series. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1999.
    Stratemann, Klaus. Duke Ellington Day by Day and Film by Film. Copenhagen: JazzMedia ApS, 1992.
    Vail, Ken. Duke's Diary. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002.
  • JazzDawgJazzDawg New
    Posts: 264
    Thanks for those references. Vail includes an interesting snippet from a review' that's not exactly glowing...
    Vail reproduces a review of the concert on the 23rd, in part:
    It also serverd to introduce Django Reinhardt to a New York audience, and,
    though he was well received, it was obvious that he was nervous and that his
    performance on this particular evening could have been equaled or even bettered
    by any one of many dozen top-flight guitarists playing in bands, studios, or on
    52nd Street. Gjango did Rose Room, Tiger Rag, Honeysuckle Rose, and Body and
    Soul, employing all the time worn clichés in the book. Only on Improvisation No.
    1, the blues, did he show any of the imagination and technique for which he is
    noted. Suffice to say, Reinhardt didn’t belong in the hall that night.

    Kind of gives us a glimpse of the less than 'warm' reception Django received here in the U.S. at least on that night. I read that Django arrived in America without his trusty guitar, thinking that U.S. builders of the day would present him with guitar - but it didn't happen. This little review gives more insight in the that quote of Django's. The Carnegie Hall concert would have been the 'big event' on this tour, and getting a less than favourable review would not be something anyone would want to remember or anything that would take a career upward. I wonder who the dozen top-flight guitarists are that would have bested him?
  • WColsherWColsher PhiladelphiaNew
    Posts: 53
    Arrgghh. I really must learn to proofread better.

    Yeah... who are the 12 Olympians? Though I have a hunch the number is more metaphorical than an actual count. Les Paul was in NY at the time, as was Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis was with Jimmy Dorsey in 46 and 47, Charlie Byrd was in town during that period too. George Van Eps and Barney Kessel were on the left coast... there were for sure a dozen guys in the States who could hold their own with Django - just maybe not all in NY :wink:

    To cut Django a little slack - at this point he'd been in the States a bit over three weeks and from the looks of things spent the whole time on a train with the Ellington Orchestra with very little to do, few if any people to simply chat with, and perhaps becoming increasingly annoyed with the lack of recognition, strange food, Americans, American guitars, American underwear, etc., etc. Given what we read about his usual lifestyle, I'd be willing to bet Django was pretty much crispy fried by this point. It's easy to understand how overjoyed he must have been when he met that French boxer.

    Incidentally, the full review is a charming example of old time jazz journalism - my favorite phrase is:
    Lawrence Brown and Johnny Hodges once again creamed the crowd dry.
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