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What Did Django Mean?

Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
edited July 2007 in History Posts: 1,223
In 1950, Django said:- "You see brother, I prefer being the first in Rome than the second in Kansas City".
What did he mean?


  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    I think it is pretty clear - he'd rather be the big fish in the small bowl than the small(er) fish in the big bowl...which is why he ended up fishing.
  • jmcgannjmcgann Boston MA USANew
    Posts: 134
    Maybe he was tipping his hat to the Lester Young/Claude Williams/Count Basie/Charlie Parker Kansas City lineage, and had the perspective to know that many years after he was gone, he'd be honored in the same way those other guys are (or should be, except the world is too busy with Paris Hilton). :evil: :roll: :P

    In any event, it's evident (!) that there is a "school of Django" just as there is a "school of Lester Young".

    I've never heard Django play a note without commitment.
  • aa New York City✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 800
    he was probably talking about his name being first on the marquee in rome while duke's was probably first (or the only one) in kansas city.
    Learn how to play Gypsy guitar:
  • Posts: 597
    Didn't that come after his trip to America--and it didn't quite turn out as he expected? If so, I think he meant that he'd rather stay in Europe and be top dog rather than be in America and not matter much.
  • brandoneonbrandoneon Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France✭✭✭
    Posts: 171
    At any rate there's no mention of Paris in this quote; maybe a little bit of "no man is a prophet in his own country" here?
  • chip3174chip3174 New
    Posts: 135
    I know this doesn't have direct relation to the thread set out by Teddy, but what exactly happened on the tour with Duke Ellington? Is there perhaps a thread in the History Section that talks about this?

  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,223
    Elliot's explanation is the obvious generic one but I have often wondered whether the specific words/terms that Django used were significant.

    He apparently said "No 2". Did he mean number two to a particular person or was it just a way of saying he would not be the top dog? If it was to a particular person. Who was it? Charlie Christian? But he was long since dead and how aware was Django of contemporary US guitarists as he tended to be more interested in other types of be-bop instrumentalists.

    I'm not even sure he was considered No 1 in Europe in 1950 so perhaps it was something quite different altogether and nothing to do with the US per se. About that time, Stephane Grappelli was offered a tour of America and he went along to Django to ask him if he would go with him but Django it seems told Steph to "**** Off" and that was the last time they ever spoke. Perhaps he meant he would rather be No 1 in Rome with Ekyan than a supporting performer on a Stephane Grappelli tour. He would have rather starved than do the latter.

    I am pretty much lost by the reference to Kansas City unless it was just a generic description of the United States. If so. Why Kansas City and not New York or Chicago for example? Perhaps it was part of the Grappelli tour.

    I'll come back to you on the US tour Chip as my internet connections keeps cutting out at the moment.
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 594
    Boris Vian's harsh judgement at the 1948 Nice jazz festival: "Grapelly and Reinhardt, without conviction, churned it out for the 36th time...”

    Django was marginalized after the war. For the most part, French critics and younger musicians were ready and eager to embrace the new sounds of bebop. Everyone wanted new things - they did not want the music of the occupation and the war. The same thing happened to musette - put aside in favor of the new sounds from N America. Django was skilled enough to play bebop but it took him some time to get on board. Plus, in France there were still influential critics and fans who remained convinced that it was only American black musicians who could really play jazz - just as here in the states today we give scant notice to the homegrown "gypsy jazz" guitarists in favor of the overseas players.

    The US tour - the concerts sold out and Django was a hit everywhere they played, with critics and fans alike. But he went home disillusioned for a variety of reasons. This is covered in detail in Michael Dregni's book.

    I do agree with Roger, it's difficult (impossible?) to determine exactly what Django meant by this statement.

  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,748
    The thought that keeps coming to me is that he could have been referring to his changing style , and that while the new direction he was moving toward was already established in the States, it would have been new by comparison to a lot of ears in Rome, where not a lot of people were playing that way. As for Kansas City? I'd guess a Lester Young reference, but it's just a guess. What was the context of the quote?

  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,223
    chip3174 wrote:
    ......what exactly happened on the tour with Duke Ellington?

    As Scot said, Django received extremely positive, sometimes even rave reviews about his playing throughout most of the Ellington tour despite there being no attempt to integrate him into any of the band arrangements. He tended to be just tagged onto the end of the concerts (perhaps due to his unreliability) and only performed with the rhythm section. It started to go wrong at the key venues towards the end of the tour when his failure to arrive on time and, typically, almost missing the crucial concert altogether elicited some damning comment from certain critics. Leonard Feather, who was always lukewarm about Django, was particularly negative.

    However, I think the real problem came with his subsequent engagement at Cafe Society in New York because it was the wrong venue for him and he was playing with totally inappropriate musicians. He quickly became bored with the gig and began to behave in a typically childlike, recalcitrant Reinhardt manner alienating many people; customers and critics alike. He became home-sick. His visa ran out and the dream was dead.

    I believe the "failure" of the American tour was almost all down to Django himself. He arranged it independently of Charles Delaunay who had been his unofficial manager until that time, behaved capriciously as he always had and reacted aversely to what he considered was the failure of the USA to respond to his totally unrealistic aspirations. The tour was certainly a failure in the sense that it was the beginning of his fall from popularity but musically it opened up a whole new panorama for him far away from gypsy jazz

    The reason for his post-USA fall from grace was partly for the reasons Scot outlined but also because after 1947, the break with Delaunay meant Django was never managed effectively, if at all, again. Instead of playing and recording with visiting American musicians like Dizzy Gillespie who could have inspired and challenged him, he only ever worked again with what were mostly very average French jazz musicians, particularly in the bebop idiom. Having said that, I think Vian was quite wrong about the post-war string quintet. I believe that Reinhardt/Grappelli combination made some if its very best recordings in the 40s. However, he may well have been right about the Nice festival specifically in that Django was initially unhappy about only being invited as an afterthought and then the perceived indifference of the audience further alienated him and this clearly affected his playing.

    In summary, the US tour was a failure in that it met very few of Django's personal aspirations and gave him an emotional set-back from which he never fully recovered but it was a musical inspiration to him as he was able to watch and listen to the top bebop musicians in person. As a result, he went on to further develop his musical ideas and produce some great music.
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