Django in Cleveland – Ohio – 4th Nov ’46
American Debut Performance
Django Reinhardt, the legendary French jazz guitarist of the 1930s and 1940s, came to the United States only once. He played his 1st U.S. Concert in Cleveland, Ohio. It was Monday night, November 4, 1946, at the Music Hall at East 6th and St. Clair. The headline in the Plain Dealer the next morning said, “French Guitar Artist Steals Duke’s Concert.”
1800 people attended the concert which marked the American Debut of Django Reinhardt.
In October of 1946, Django came to the United States for the 1st time. Duke Ellington invited Reinhardt to make a U.S. tour with the Ellington Orchestra. Their first performance was in Cleveland, at the Music Hall at East 6th and St. Clair. It was Monday night, November 4, 1946. Reinhardt and Ellington shared a suite at the Hotel Statler at East 12th and Euclid. There was no advance announcement in Cleveland that the legendary Django Reinhardt would be appearing with the Ellington Orchestra. But, more than 1800 people paid between $1.25 and $3.60 to attend the concert. Ellington and Reinhardt had only a brief rehearsal and the concert-goers had to wait for about 45 minutes for the music to begin. A baggage car carrying the band’s instruments had been delayed.
Glenn Pullen, writing in The Plain Dealer, said, “The faithful followers of the popular composer-bandmaster did not seem to mind the long wait. They were offered extra compensation in the form of Django Reinhardt, the noted French guitarist.” The headline in the Plain Dealer the next morning said, “French guitar artist steals Duke’s concert.” Pullen wrote, “In the hands of this virtuoso the electric guitar (Gibson ES-300) acquires richer, magical qualities. His dexterity was remarkable, in intricate chords that were executed with such technical brilliance that the band musicians kept shouting, ‘Go to it, Maestro!’” During that concert and later performances in Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, New York City’s Carnegie Hall,
“The Cleveland Press” also reviewed the show, “Duke Ellington came to Cleveland yesterday…He introduced in this country for the 1st time the hottest guitar player in the world.”
On the train trip from New York to Cleveland, Django shared a 2-berth compartment with Ellington. The other members of the Ellington band were in a sleeping car. As they were getting ready for bed, Django was astounded to notice that the band members were wearing underpants with floral designs. In his limited English, he said, “You’re crazy!” When he returned to the private compartment, he was about to joke with Ellington about it when he noticed Duke’s underpants were even more gaudy than his musicians.’ Later, Reinhardt asked some French friends to buy him some flowered pants.
In Cleveland, Django and Duke shared a suite at the Hotel Statler. Cleveland Press columnist Milt Widder reported that before they left for the concert, they had dinner in the suite. Django was again amazed when Ellington ate his dessert first. Widder quoted Duke saying, “I always eat my dessert first.”
Reinhardt had only one brief rehearsal with Ellington before their concert in Cleveland. It was little more than a 20-minute “warm up” on the stage of the Music Hall. Duke, at the piano, asked Django, “What key do you want?” “Any key,” said Django. Duke tapped his foot and the two all-time jazz masters just started playing. There was no musical conflict.
“At the start of the tour after Django and Ellington’s very first rehearsal of their very first song, drummer Sonny Greer‘s ear was caught by Django‘s playing. Stunned by the music, his response was succinct: ‘Well, fuck my britches!”
There had been very little advance publicity for the historic concert in Cleveland. There was only a small ad in the local papers that simply announced, “Elroy Willis presents Duke Ellington and his Orchestra at the Music Hall.” There was no mention in the ad that Django Reinhardt would also be appearing. Milt Widder wrote the next day, “How the advent of Django Reinhardt escaped the local promoters is a mystery.” Ticket prices for the concert ranged from $3.60 to $1.25. It is probable that due to short notice all publicity material had already been circularted by the William Morris Agency well in advance.
Duke Ellington was a fan of Django’s. They had met in Paris prior to World War II. In early 1946, “The Duke” invited him to visit the United States and tour with his band as a featured performer. Django accepted his offer and arrived in New York City in the month of October. Django did not bring his Selmer-Maccaferri guitar with him from France because he thought American guitar makers would vie with each other for the honour of presenting a guitar to him.
He was mistaken about this and as a result had no instrument to play on the tour.
Fortunately Django had an old friend in the city on whom he could depend to help him, Joe Sinacore was a New York studio guitarist who served in the army band during WW II. While stationed in Paris he met Django. The Gypsy could not speak English well but spoke Italian in addition to French. As Joe knew Italian as well as English he became Django‘s unofficial interpreter and friend while he was in Paris.
Django contacted Joe and told him he did not have a guitar for the Ellington concerts. Joe took him to the Epiphone factory located on West 14th Street in New York City. It was claimed that Django selected the natural Epiphone Zephyr #3442. but Django eventually used the William Morris Agency obtained Gibson ES-300 Archtop Electric Guitar by Gibson
It is also claimed that he acquired a large Epiphone Electra Amplifier at that time. Close inspection of the Syracuse date photos indicate a Gibson Hybrid Amplifier with 2/3 speaker cabinet – probably a high output experimental Amp to allow him to compliment the Band. According to Joe Sinacore the Epiphone Company gave the guitar to Django which is contrary to Charles Delaunay’s biography of Reinhardt. After acquiring the alleged Epiphone Django travelled with Duke Ellington by train to Cleveland, the first stop on the tour. (November 1946).
This story fails to stand up as Django in the many pictures taken on the Ellington Tour was playing a Gibson ES-300 with a special amp and speaker cabinet. I may be that after the tour the William Morris Agency gave the Gibson equipment back after this promotional outing and he had to secure another to play his residency in Cafe Society Uptown in NYC
At the time it was the largest convention hall in the United States. The main arena was 300 ft. long, 215 ft. wide, 80 ft. high. Amazingly, no columns were used in its construction. The stage was 140 ft. by 60 ft., with a 72- by 42-ft. proscenium arch. The steel-and-asbestos curtain weighed more than 40 tons. A key attraction was a spectacular pipe organ with 10,010 pipes and 150 direct speaking stops. In 1927, the Music Hall was added at the south end of the auditorium.
The seating capacity of the main auditorium, including the main floor and the U-shaped galleries, was more than 11,500. The Music Hall seated 2,800, the ballroom 1,500, the north exhibition hall 1,500, the Little Theatre 700 and other halls from six to 500. The basement Exhibition Hall provided more than 28,500 square feet of exhibition space.
Safety was a major priority. Despite the huge capacity, the entire facility was designed to allow 13,000 people to be evacuated in 4.5 minutes flat. The auditorium had an automatic sprinkler system, which would project a sheet of water across the stage proscenium if a fire occurred.
Time Magazine on Django Music
Django Reinhardt was sure everyone must have heard of him. Hadn’t jazz critics like France’s Hugues Panassié called him Europe’s leading jazz artist and the world’s greatest jazz guitarist? Django was so certain that he was famous in the US. that he left his guitar in France: US. guitar manufacturers would give him guitars and pay him for playing them. Last week, before he could go on stage in Cleveland’s Public Music Hall, he had to go out and borrow a guitar. The Concert Manager, for one, had never heard of Django Reinhardt, so Django’s name didn’t even appear on the program (a Duke Ellington Jazz Concert). When the Duke introduced “the legendary Django” from the stage, there were surprised murmurs and loud applause from the audience—and even greater applause when Django finished with Tiger Rag and Honeysuckle Rose.
Swarthy Django Reinhardt, now 36, is an almost illiterate gypsy who was born in a roulotte (trailer) and only recently has succumbed to houses. As a boy he played gypsy music on the guitar and violin. When he was 19, he heard a record of Louis Armstrong’s Dallas Blues. Said he: “The rest of the orchestra—c’est mauvais, but Louis—il est formidable!” After listening to records by Armstrong, the Duke and Tommy Dorsey, he got together in 1935 with a hot fiddler named Stephane Grappelli, organized the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (3 guitars, a violin and bass). Their records of US. jazz classics (Dinah; Lady, Be Good; My Melancholy Baby) are collectors’ items. Most guitars are strummed, but Django developed a two-finger fret playing style because his left hand was badly burned in a fire and became useless for 4 finger chords. Ellington first heard Django in 1939 in La Roulotte, Django’s cabaret venue in Paris’ Rue Pigalle. Last month the Duke paid Django’s airplane passage to the US for a 6-month visit (Django’s 250-lb. gypsy wife stayed behind).
They rehearsed only 20 minutes before their Cleveland performance. They talked in sign language and monosyllables, since Django understands hardly any English.
“Tiger Rag — number un,” the Duke said, holding up one finger. “First you play around . . . just a few riffs” (the Duke made guitar-strumming motions). “Then we give you a chord — wham, you go into Tiger Rag by yourself and we start giving you the beat” (The Duke demonstrated on the piano.) “Understand?” Django grinned enthusiastically. They jammed for 5 minutes, until one by one the band boys left their cards, gossip and naps to gather around, shout encouragement: “Go to it, Maestro. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Says Duke: “Django is all artist. Jazz isn’t exactly the word for it. Jazz was that raggedy music they used to play about 1920. Nowadays, jazz must be classified according to who’s playing it. I call Reinhardt’s playing Django Music. He’s one of those musicians who is unable to play a note that’s not pretty or not in good taste. Sure he’s a great virtuoso.”
Django Reinhardt, the legendary French jazz guitarist of the 1930s and 1940s, came to the United States only once. He played his first US concert in Cleveland. It was Monday night, November 4, 1946, at the Music Hall at East 6th and St. Clair. The headline in the Plain Dealer the next morning said, “French Guitar Artist Steals Duke’s Concert.”
Duke Ellington, who called Reinhardt “the most creative jazz musician to originate anywhere outside the United States,” invited Reinhardt to come to the US for a tour. Duke paid for his trip. The trip proved to be something of a culture shock. While the two legendary musicians had great respect for each other’s artistry, they had trouble understanding each other’s languages and habits. When Django arrived, his first words, in a combination of French and English, were, “Where’s Dizzy playing tonight?” Django brought no luggage. He didn’t even bring a guitar. According to Reinhardt’s biographer, Charles Delaunay, Django believed American companies would compete with each other for the honour of presenting a guitar to him. He was wrong and had to beg a guitar when he got to the United States.
Reinhardt played improvisations of “Tiger Rag,” “Blues in E Flat,” and a tune which even Ellington admitted on stage he was unable to identify. Milt Widder wrote in The Press, “Duke Ellington came to Cleveland without fanfare and he gave his fans here the greatest treat in the annals of local jazz when he introduced in this country, for the first time, the hottest guitar player in the world.” After the concert in Cleveland, Reinhardt travelled with the Ellington Orchestra to Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and finally New York City where they played two nights (November 23 and 24) at Carnegie Hall.
– when Reinhardt mounted the stage to rehearse with Duke Ellington on November 18, 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio, the Duke asked him what key the tune was in. Django told him that he didn’t understand what the word “key” meant. When they translated it for him, he told Duke to not worry about the key, just play.
He came a long way from Les Saintes-Maries de la Mer, then, as a young gypsy boy. Django later composed a mass to be played at Sainte Sara‘s church there but it was never fully completed.