Backbeat Books, £l6.95
Today, over 50 years since Django Reinhardt's death, there are festivals devoted to the French gypsy jazz guitarist in Europe and in the US. The charm, the romance and the sheer panache of his music finds a resonance with new audiences and inspires young musicians to learn to play guitar in the gypsy jazz style. This book combines an expertly written biography and assessment of Django Reinhardt by Dave Gelly with an in-depth instructional section for guitarists by Rod Fogg. In just 42 pages, and without simply treading in the footprints of Django's original biographer, Charles Delaunay, Gelly skillfully recounts the story of Europe's first world-class jazz artist. He is particularly effective in presenting the contexts in which Django's artistry grew and flourished – the Manouche gypsy culture, the penetration of American popular song into 1920s France, the plentiful work for musicians in the bal-musette circuit of Paris, the interest in jazz among young French intellectuals - and, perversely, the importance of Paris as an entertainment centre during the Nazi occupation. Painting a vivid portrait of one of the most colourful of all jazz artists, he describes Django's determination to master the guitar in spite of the injuries to his left hand sustained in the caravan fire, his roller-coaster relationship with Stephane Grappelli, and some of his many escapades. A bonus is the inclusion of many rarely seen photographs of Reinhardt, including one of a young Edith Piaf examining the guitarist's deformed left hand.
The bulk of the book is devoted to Rod Fogg's accurate transcriptions of six of Django's well-known recorded solos, his masterly commentary on Django's playing style and his explanation of the techniquesthat he used to bring colour and variety to his music. With all examples presented both in notation and tablature, this is an excellent tutorial for all guitarists.
Jazzwise March 2005