Report from Paris: Django exhibition

Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
OK, I've just got back from the Cite de la Musique Django exhibition and I'm totally wiped out, but anyone who's interested and/or crazy enough to read my trivial drivel, I'm happy to tell you ALL about it.

OK, first of all: if you're a serious Django-worshipper like me, you've probably seen and heard about 80 percent of the stuff in the exhibit, but there WERE a few surprises. And I'm keeping my favourite one for the end so don't give up halfway through!

So, here we go, in no particular order

- Admission price is 9 euros, pretty reasonable I guess.

-Don't bother getting the customary museum headphones upon entering. Even though they offer an English narration, it is totally worthless; perhaps it was designed for school children? The narrator didn't even mention Django but offered a bunch of BS about cavemen beating on drums, etc. etc.

- As you'd expect, the exhibit goes through Django's life chronologically, so it starts with some information about the shantytown area outside Paris called "the zone" where Django and Joseph grew up.

- Next is a display about the musette dances where Django began playing professionally, with pictures of some of the leading accordionists of the time, a small six-string banjo in a glass case which Django is supposed to have played occasionally, borrowing it from another gypsy kid when he needed it.

-This section has some headphones and you can listen to young Django playing his banjo in a trio with an accordionist and a slide whistle player... tunes are "Parisette" and "Ma Reguliere"... this is stuff I've already heard elsewhere but if you haven't heard it, it's quite charming and Django sounds great, of course!

- There are a lot of guitars in glass cases to look at throughout the exhibit, mostly Selmers of course but some other ones as well... I was suprised to learn that the Gibson-style F-hole guitar with the block pearl inlays which Django was photographed with in the US, was not a guitar that Django ever actually used in concert. He just borrowed it for the photo session from the Ellington Orchestra's guitar-banjoist Freddy Guy. It has a weird-shaped head, sort of like a Gibson L-model mandolin and the brand name is a "Levin" which I'd never heard of before.

-Apparently in the US, Django played an archtop Epiphone with a single pickup known as a "Zephyr". They had an example of such a guitar on display, but it was not the one that Django actually used.

-Also on display was a Ramirez guitar owned by "Baro" Ferret, one of Django's accompanists, colleagues and competitors. This looked a lot like the one played by Stephane Wrembel's rhythm guitarist Pierre "Kamlo" Barre with the two diamond-shaped soundholes.

- In another glass case were a whole bunch of vintage sheet music of Django compositions, and I was surprised to see that these all came complete with lyrics that French tin pan alley type lyricists had created especially for the sheet music. They had a copy of "Crepuscule", "Nuages", and "Fleur d'Ennui", and much to my surprise, "Swing 39" which had the alternate title "Je t'aime" and "Swing 42" which had the alternate title "Swing Reverie". Who knew?

- Film clips--- this was good news! I'd always thought that "J'attendrai" was the only film extant of Django playing, but the exhibit had a couple of others. These were films of live concerts... the first one was of the HCQ playing a gig at La Haye (France?) in 1937, but unfortunately it had no sound.

-But the second one was a real treasure. Shot at a gig Tabarin (France?) in 1944, it seemed to have been filmed in a nightclub where a lot of people were dancing...also, there's brief shot of Marlene Dietrich smiling in the audience. Django is fronting an unidentified big band of some sort, and you can clearly see Joseph is sitting right behind him playing rhythm. The music has been cleaned up really well without any of the usual scratchiness.

Django is playing a really beat-up Selmer acoustic into a microphone, but you can hear him really well. I watched the clip several times, and as best as I could tell, the soundtrack actually matched what Django was doing with his fingers. It was wonderful to see how he seemed to be barely moving his hands, and yet all this amazing music is just pouring out! I hope somebody posts this clip on the internet so one of our many transcription wizards here at can work their magic on it.

- Anyway, I've saved the best for last, because there was a strange bit of synchronicity. Unfortunately, it'll take a bit of explaining to set up.

My wife and I volunteer to go feed homeless people at a church basement on the fourth Tuesday of every month. Well, this year, it just so happened that our duty date fell on Christmas Day.

In November when we learned this, my wife volunteered me to play some Christmas carols for the occasion on my guitar and banjo.

I play these kind of solo gigs using backing tracks, and as I was getting them ready, she insisted that I learn that song "Charlie Brown Christmas", perhaps you know it? I find it kind of boring and mildly depressing, but she insisted, so okay.

Anyway, it turned out she was right... it was not only real easy to play on the guitar, but it also sounds good and you can actually play some jazz over the changes.

It's in C, and the first chord is Cmaj7. The second chord is some kind of crazy "tormented" chord that I can't actually name. You could either call it some kind of screwed-up Fm6/maj7 or perhaps a Bb9b5?

Anyway, it turned out to sound best when fingered like this on the guitar.

F Bb D Ab C E
1 1 0 1 1 0

The only way I could figure out how to play that inversion was to use two fingers because there's so little room for your fingers down there at the very bottom of the fingerboard.

Okay, that was just the set-up, sorry it took so long! Here's the synchronicity part---

I'll be damned if the exhibit didn't include a picture of Django which I'd never seen before. There he is, sitting by himself, contentedly playing his guitar--- and guess what chord you can clearly see that he's fingering?

If you guessed "The Charlie Brown chord", congratulations! You win the keys to a new car!

Not the car itself, just the keys! But actually, you deserve a prize just for reading all the way down to the bottom of this novel-length posting!

Ain't life funny?


PS Oh yeah, I'll just bore you with one more thing if you've managed to make it all the way this far... it was totally amazing for me to see the general public at large looking at the exhibit and obviously loving it... from young couples with kids in strollers to grandparently-types who perhaps even remembered listening to Django in their youth!

But best of all, there were a LOT of attractive young Francaises to ogle while listening to Django's wonderful music.. and so I ask in all sincerity, does life really get any better than this?

(Well, ok, maybe some of you smooth-talkin' young cats could actually pick these beautiful young girls up and take 'em home, but for us old geezers that ain't never gonna happen!)


PPS On Friday and Saturday nights the museum offers concerts by various musicians... I don't know their name, but the group that performed tonight shoulda been called "Grandma's Old Hoover"... because they really sucked!

Unless you really like drum solos, in which case, wellllllll... chacun a son gout.

Not to worry, they have a different group every Friday and Saturday night, so it's bound to be better next week.

Therfore, I'm going to close this with a short prayer:

"Please, God. As you know, I'm an atheist myself. But doesn't DJANGO deserve some good gypsy jazz to be played at his museum exhibition--- even if I don't?
Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."


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