Django Switzerland ’43-53

Django in Switzerland 1943/53

The troubled atmosphere of the time was beginning to weigh on Django. Jazz-lovers and musicians, incessantly vilified by the Vichy authorities, found their position becoming increasingly difficult, even dangerous: censorship, harassment, denunciations, arrests; Some, like the violinist Georges Effrosse, vanished never to return.

Georges Effrosse – Violin & Baritone Sax
“In 1930, he joined Grapelli, Christiane CHIBOUST and Andre DAVID in the line of 3 violins made up within the orchestra of Ray VENTURA. He was is an exceptional musician, violinist of great technique and improvisation – jazz which was at the height of its popularity.  Georges EFFROSSE life will be terminated dramatically in the Nazi concentration camp of Dora-Mittelbau in 1944. ” (Jacques HELIAN).  At the end of 1943, the Dora work squads had “the highest death rate” in the entire concentration camp system”

Hugues PANASSIE wrote about it: “EFFROSSE shows an astonishing facility. He was the personification of of interpretation Hot! A purified VENUTI with a splendid technique, but takes care not to misuse it…”
BalTabarinParisGeorges EFFROSSE, directed, at the beginning of December 1941 a swing unit during an official reception with Bal TABARIN. He belonged to the QUINTET of PARIS, founded in 1942 by Sarane TAG, definitely different from that of the Hot Club from France.

The Bal Tabarin was a cabaret in Paris at 36 Rue Victor Masse in the ninth arrondissement at the foot of Montmartre. Located near the Moulin Rouge in Pigalle. Founded in 1904 by composer and conductor Auguste Bosc, it was built on the site of shacks near the cabaret singers The Trestles Tabarin

Django, too well-known to be seriously at risk, had never needed to compromise with the Occupation Authorities in order to keep working, but now he, too, was beginning to feel the pressure. The music he had written for an avant-garde production of Andromaque had earned him the condemnation of the collaborationist press and threats of violence from the dreaded Milice, and pressure of another kind was coming from the Germans who were becoming insistent in their demands that the Quintet should appear in the Reich itself. Django felt it would be prudent to leave Paris; he made two attempts to get into neutral Switzerland but was turned back both times as Suing “neither black nor Jewish”. Then began a period of wandering the length and breadth of France, sometimes with the Quintet, sometimes on the roads with his nomadic “cousins”, and once even returning to Paris to open his own club “La Roulotte” (not far from the place where his son Babik was born”).

Late summer 1943 Django attempted to cross the Border twice in to Switzerland with disastrous results.  The 1st time he was arrested but was released by a sympathetic Commandant who had a collection of Swing records.  On the 2nd occasion he got as far as the Swiss border but was turned back by Customs Officials who had never heard of him or cared for Jazz – he was merely treated as Gypsy.

Quite unaware of the dangers he faced as a Gypsy, during the German occupation, Django agreed to compose incidental music for a “modern” version of Andromaque by Racine, which promised to be dangerously scandalous . Directed by Jeans Marais, and with avant-guard staging and scenery, the play, opened in May 1944 at the Theatre Edouard VII. Those involved in the production were provoked with physical threats by the Militia, and the vengeance of the collaborationist press. André Castelot in the publication, La Gerbe – June 1, 1944 – even attacked the music of Django … advising him to “go green” (camouflage) while travelling around France – whether with his quintet, or when in the company of his memorable nomadic “cousins”. Django went to the Riviera, especially Toulon, where in August 1944, he joined an orchestra of American G.I.s which had just arrived.


Francois Vermeille, André Ekyan, Django, Christian Garros, Jean Bouchety, at Le Touquet during 1949

October 25, 1949 ~ Radio Geneve
Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France
Django Reinhardt (g); André Ekyan (cl & s); Francois Vernette (p); Jean Bouchery (b); Gaston Léonard (dm)
Nuages, Black Night, Improvisation Sur Une Danse Norvegienne, Micro, Dream Of You, Place De Brouckère, Manoir De Mes Rêves, C Jam Blues

Once again a series of recordings, this time for Radio Geneve, remained forgotten for 30 years and contained a version of NUAGES. With Ekyan on clarinet and Django on electric guitar the contrast between this and the previous recording could not be greater. Django seemed very comfortable with the electric instrument at this time and displayed none of the distortion evident on later recordings. The pattern is the same and Django both starts and finishes his solo in harmonics. The feeling of the whole recording is one of subtlety and the impression given is that the musicians could have been playing after hours in a deserted club to wind down after a hard set…….

Michele de Villiers – Tenor & Baritone Sax

During September 1946, Django Reinhardt was on tour in Switzerland; he lost most of his earnings in the Swiss Casinos but had some good news while in Zurich from a British Representative of the  William Morris Agency

After the Swiss tour with Michel de Villers he took up painting to make up for the lack of regular work. Finally Django signed up for a U.S. tour with Duke Ellington. It was at best half a success. Django’s “two-fingered style” certainly drew the crowds and the applause. But his inability to communicate with his audience and submit to the necessary discipline of a touring big–band while strugling with aplification and a casserole of a Guitar (Gibson L-300) was a fatal impediment which even the best-disposed of critics couldn’t overlook. Despite a moderately successful appearance at the “Café Society” in New-York with the Ed Hall band, the miraculous hoped-for a California contract never materialised and in February 1947 he returned from the States disillusioned by a country “where the guitars sound like saucepans”.

The Last Gig


Mid April 1953 Django plays concerts in Geneva and the Grande Casino in Basel, Switzerland (inset).  He complains to Naguine of headaches and numbness of the fingers.  On 7th May Django borrows a caravan and crosses the Swiss Alps fishing on the way to arrive at Samois on 15th May 1953.  May 16, 1953, when, while returning from the Avon, Seine-et-Marne train station, he collapsed outside his house from a brain haemorrhage. It took a full day for a doctor to arrive and Django was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.

DjangoRIO DjangoRioElec

This Electric Guitar has ‘RIO‘ on the Headstock so where did Django find it?

The guitar with RIO on the headstock is from 1953 in Switzerland with Challain Ferret and is clearly not an Epiphone.  He was also playing his Selmer with Stimer pick-up then and that guitar was probably one he borrowed for a gig/jam with Challain. – Roger S Baxter

Challain was a southpaw and therefore if it was his guitar it would have been re-strung to suit but would Challain have played it upside down with a fingerboard in place?.  This is claimed as the last picture taken of Django in 1953.  

The Picture of Django was actually taken in Nice at the International Jazz Festival in 1948 and the Guitar was borrowed from Pierre Cavalli


Switzerland’s Anti-Gypsy Policies

An independent Commission showed that whilst Switzerland admitted 27,000 Jewish refugees during the period of Nazi rule in Germany, it had also excluded a similar number. Between 1942 and 1943 the borders were shut completely to Jewish refugees. Discrimination against Gypsies in Switzerland has a long history. Official policy was to try and prevent entry to all foreign, stateless and even Swiss-born Gypsies. Already in 1850 the federal government had a policy of forcefully settling Gypsies in their place of birth and deporting foreign Gypsies. The different Swiss cantons began to bar Gypsies entry in the last 3rd of the 19th century. Finally in 1906 the Swiss authorities decided to ban Gypsies from entering Switzerland altogether and to exclude those already resident from travelling on public transport.  In several ways, Switzerland’s Gypsy policies acted as a model for the rest of Europe and especially for Germany. Not only was Switzerland the 1st country to bar entry to Gypsies, it was also in the forefront of developing policies aimed at systematically destroying their itinerant way of life and actively sought international co-operation for this task. These policies were nourished by pseudo-scientific racist theories and eugenics, in which Gypsies were described as “hereditary criminals“. The commission reports that the policies of the Swiss authorities towards the Gypsies differed from that of Germany’s Nazi regime only in that the latter was prepared to carry the logic of its racial policies through to mass murder and genocide.

Probably the most famous individual to be refused entry during the war into Switzerland was the jazz-guitarist Django Reinhardt. The report documents that Reinhardt was turned away but does not deal with his subsequent fate.  “Rejected” by Swiss guards who turned him back, stating the country gave refuge to Jews and political prisoners, but not Gypsies.”