Django in the USA
– & Canada (Ontario)
29th Oct – 21st Dec 1946
Django’s trip heralded with little research in Chicago – March 1945 – suggesting he was born in New York and also confirming that he was experimenting with Amplification
Caption from Down Beat:
The serious countenance of Django Reinhardt, cover subject by Bill Gottlieb for this issue, is in deference to the great French guitarist’s current concert tour with Duke Ellington. Django, who has built a tremendous American reputation through his waxings with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, was brought from Europe last month by the William Morris Agency, and one of his first concerts in this country was the Beat’s Chicago Civic Opera House Concert earlier this month. He will appear with Ellington Nov. 23-24 at Carnegie Hall.
He was very proud of an American journal that had him on the front page with bigger letters than President Roosevelt. He said, “Americans you see, they know what I’m worth, I am more popular than their President”.
Canada – It begs the question why Django and the QHCF were not sought after for a tour of French Canada after proving so popular in England. Montreal or Quebec would have surely welcomed them.
“Vive le Quebec Libre.” as De Gaulle might say – he who shut down all dance halls in post war Paris.
When De Gaulle arrived in London in June 1940, he was befriended by Colonel and Mme. Georges Vanier, probably the first Canadians he had ever met. George Vanier, later a Governor-General of Canada, was appointed by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to be the official Canadian representative with the French National Committee in London. In 1944, Vanier accompanied De Gaulle to Ottawa, where the Free French leader addressed a large and enthusiastic crowd outside of Parliament, and in 1945, the French leader visited Canada again to obtain Canada’s assistance for the reconstruction of France. Vanier and De Gaulle were so close that during a subsequent crisis in the formation of France’s post war government, De Gaulle told the Canadian ambassador that if the assembly vote went against him, he would want to go to Canada for a “rest.” Vanier got the Canadian Government to quickly reply that it would facilitate any arrangements.
The USA Itinerary
Dukes Concert Dates
While Django was in America – he travelled in the Band’s Exclusive Train Carriage but did he play all the venues with his 60 day Visa? Did he also have a Visa for the Canadian Dates – he certainly played Toronto,
29 New York, NY Aquarium Restaurant C Django’s arrival in NYC
30 New York, NY Aquarium Restaurant C Django-Aquarium NYC
31 Atlantic City, NJ
Date Location Venue Type
1 Harrisburg, PA D
3 Buffalo, NY Memorial Auditorium C – Opened on October 14, 1940 and was renovated in 1970 and 1990. It was closed and demolished.1996
4 Cleveland, OH Music Hall C ( Django’s first appearance with Duke)
5 Kitchener, Ontario, Memorial Auditorium Gardens
6 Toronto, Canada Mutual Arena
7 Toledo, OH Auditorium
8 Cincinnati, OH Taft Auditorium?
9 Indianapolis, IN Murat Theatre
10 Chicago, IL Civic Opera House
12 Rochester, MN Auditorium
13 Minneapolis, MN Auditorium
14 Des Moines, IA KRNT Radio Theatre Auditorium
15 Lincoln, NB Pla Mor Ballroom
NOVEMBER 1946 On tour in the midwest / Carnegie Hall, New York City – FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER 1946 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra play a one-nighter at the Turnpike Casino in Lincoln, Nebraska.
16 Omaha, Nebraska Dreamland Ballroom
17 Kansas City, MO Municipal Auditorium (Or was the Pla Mor Ballroom)
18 Kansas City, MO Municipal Auditorium (Or was the Pla Mor Ballroom)
19 Cedar Rapids, Iowa Veterans Memorial Auditorium
20 Cedar Rapids, Iowa Veterans Memorial Auditorium
23 New York, NY Carnegie Hall
24 New York, NY Carnegie Hall
26 Baltimore, MD The Coliseum
27 Lynchburg, VA
28 Petersburg, VA
29 Philadelphia, PA The Academy Of Music
30 Syracuse, NYC Lincoln Auditorium Syracuse Central High School
01 Boston Mass
02 Cranston, R. I. Rhodes-On-The-Pawtuxet
06 Detroit, MI Masonic Temple Auditorium
07 Detroit, MI Masonic Temple Auditorium
This last date should have been Django’s last concert with Duke Ellington. After the tour Django worked at “Cafe Society” with Edmond Hall’s Band before returning to France on the 21st December 46 allegedly taking the mystery Epiphone with him. Was it the Billiard Game, his 60 day visa, the lack of gig offers, or Christmas in France that induced Django to leave. New York can be very cold at that time of Year. (The above dates don’t support this claim.) Dregni claims Django returned by Liner on 6th February 1947
After the war, in 1946, Django made the long-awaited trip to America. By legend, the trip was a disaster: he arrived without his Selmer, never found a guitar he liked, was booed by audiences, and was criticized by an American jazz press that had already moved on to the rockier shores of bebop. It has even been said that he showed up shamefully late for a Carnegie Hall concert with the Duke. He returned to Paris, desolate, and never quite recovered.
Django knew he couldn’t play in the States without a special authorisation from the Union and without a contract (his one was with the William Morris Agency for the Duke Ellington tour and for the Café Society Uptown) , he confirmed that in an interview saying he met Benny Goodman at the 400 Club in NYC but added they couldn’t play together because he was not allowed to do it.
In his letter of those days to clarinettist Gérard Lévecque he confirmed that those rules on foreign musicians were very strict
Dates ‘included’ Cleveland, Ohio, Civic Opera House Chicago Music Hall (Nov 10th 1946), St Louis, Detroit Temple, Kansas City, Pittsburgh?, Aquarium NYC, and closed at Carnegie Hall NYC with two nights (November 23rd and 24th). After the tour Django worked at “Cafe Society” before returning to France less the Gibson ES-300 guitar.
Django’s tour in the States was absolutely not a “debacle” but a true success and also an excellent occasion for Django to meet a lot of musicians, hear music every night (see John Lewis interviews on Django for example) and to check almost all the important guitarists of the States in a couple of months Johnny Smith, Harry Volpe, Les Paul etc. Django decided in those days to change his way of playing jazz and immediately as he returned to France he begun to play and record a lot and to explore new horizons.
Delaunay had some responsibilities on the “debacle” statement as he simply ignored Django had only a 60 days visa and he wrote that Django “Tired of waiting (for an gig) and disappointed, one fine day Django decided to pack his bags and return to France” [See Delaunay’s book on Django page 141 “Reunion and America at last”]. Django simply had to leave the States as his visa expired…
Was he really disappointed? I don’t think so, I think he understood that Ellington was excellent but was not the avant-garde of jazz was changing fast (even commercially) in the States and he decided to play bebop (his own bebop – Ref to Les Paul interview)
The musicians held Django in high esteem, and they knew what an incredibly gifted player he was, but outside of musicians, hard-core jazz fans, and some music critics, it is obvious from reading the reviews by some, and the captions of some photos in newspapers of the times, most covering his visit were simply cribbing what someone else had said about him. All of which presented Django as a sort of carnival sideshow to the main event, a novelty attraction rather than the great artist he was. His unorthodox behaviour by American standards did little to help him. The facts are that Django became ‘lost’ in translation, not only from unfamiliar audiences, venues, and no real support outside of being escorted and looked after, but because he had no way to really understand what was happening day to day. He didn’t comprehend why when he went to a bar with an Ellington Sideman, he could be served but the guy who was with him couldn’t. The discrimination of Blacks was not really familiar to him, If they served a gypsy, then what was the problem serving his companion.
Dregni establishes that the trip was, by most standards, a success. Django toured with Ellington. (Ellington’s sponsorship may seem puzzling, until one recalls that, as Whitney Balliett has explained, Ellington’s genius had always been for identifying instinctive, mostly New Orleans musicians, whose plaintive vocal style he integrated into his own self-made sophistications.) Though Ellington wasn’t able to incorporate Django into his band – probably because he couldn’t read music – he used him regularly, and most of the reviews were good. (“French guitar artist steals Duke’s Concert” read a headline in Cleveland.) It’s true that he was late for Carnegie Hall, because he was drinking with the French middleweight Marcel Cerdan, but he played – and since when has a jazz musician’s reputation suffered from lateness? (“Tardy: The Complete Boxed Set of the Late Starters.”) He liked travelling with Ellington’s band; he liked the loud flowered boxer shorts the musicians wore to sleep in on the train. The new bebop, to the degree that Django absorbed it, was, in its breakneck speeds and riffy, nervous agitation, a welcome music to him.
The trouble wasn’t that Django didn’t have his own guitar; it was that the new guitars he had to use to play American concert halls were a problem for him. The guitar-volume problem had been solved, directly, by the electric guitar, which Benny Goodman’s guitarist Charlie Christian had instantly turned into a singing, hornlike, bending instrument. Django, more or less compelled to play one, got his hands on an early Gibson ES-300 electric and played it throughout his American stay. This may explain both the general enthusiasm for his playing — Django once borrowed a clown’s metal toy guitar and played it; he couldn’t play badly – and a certain hollowness to that enthusiasm. Django on electric guitar is still virtuosic (listen to “Blues Riff,” one of the few surviving records of his stay with Ellington), but oddly generic and un-Django-ish. He can’t punctuate his solos; he stops to make the last note of a phrase ring out and it just glides back into the amplified stream of echoing, fluid notes. He can play his instrument, but he can’t make his points. One sees, or hears, why listeners would have been impressed by him without being much moved. An unemotional Django is no Django at all.
Reading the Time Magazine review from Nov. 1946 about Django’s playing, just sounds like the author really wasn’t really knowledgeable about Django or jazz in particular. Now, I think that’s the concept that represents the American perspective of the times. Only a small percentage of folks listened to real jazz, and the rest were just listening to the ‘American Idols’ of the day who sometimes dabbled in it. The concert manager, for one, had never heard of Django Reinhardt, so Django’s name didn’t even appear on the program (it was a Duke Ellington orchestral jazz concert).
But 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 Grapelli, organized the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (three guitars, a violin and bass). The incredible all string band. Their records of U.S. jazz classics (Dinah; Lady, Be Good; My Melancholy Baby) are collectors’ items. Most guitars are strummed, but Django developed a ‘one-finger’ picking style because his left hand was badly burned in a fire and became useless for chords. (So much for Time Magazine’s accuracy)
Ellington first heard Django in 1939 in La Roulotte, Django’s cabaret in Paris’ Rue Pigalle. Last month the Duke paid Django’s airplane passage to the U.S. for a six-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 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, master. 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.”