Paris's Saint-Ouen neighborhood renamed a square in Reinhardt's honor
  • Paris's Saint-Ouen neighborhood renamed a square in Reinhardt's honor
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New to Paris is Place Django Reinhardt. Well, the site isn't new, but the designation is. The site is where the gypsy guitariste et compositeur lived in his caravan, in the Saint-Ouen neighborhood of Paris's 18th arrondissement, north of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur and the périphérique, the ring road, beyond.

Jean "Django" Reinhardt is credited with inventing the style of music called jazz manouche, gypsy jazz. In 1934, he and fiddler Stéphane Grappelli established the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which has imitators springing up all over the world today – in Django's home country of Belgium, in Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, and the Netherlands, in New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Russia, South Africa, and all over the U.S. (including San Diego).

The first of these tribute ensembles was born in 1960 in a bistrot called La Chope des Puces, The Tankard of Fleas, at 122 rue des Rosiers, a couple blocks from the new Place Django. The bistrot is so named in recognition of Paris's largest marché aux puces, or fleamarket, which surrounds it.

The lead guitarist then was Mondine Garcia. Mondine eventually relinquished lead guitar to his son, Ninine, and backed him up on rhythm guitar 'til his, Mondine's, death at the age of 73 last year. Imagine playing in the same corner of the same bar for a half century!

Django composed a few tunes that have become jazz standards – for example, "Daphne," "Djangology," "Minor Swing" and "Swing '42." Also "Nuages," or "Clouds," which some historians cite as the most oft-recorded jazz piece. But he is more known for his playing than his composing. Part of the reason is the unique "manouche" sound, and part is the public's amazement at his fingering.

About the latter, historians refer to "before the fire" and "after the fire." At the age of 18, five years after commencing his career, Django knocked a candle over in his caravan, and the curtains caught fire. In attempting to douse the flames, he scorched and partially paralyzed the muscles of the third and fourth fingers of his left hand. He had to devise a new, unorthodox fingering technique to compensate for his loss of dexterity. He did this so successfully that it's impossible to detect any handicap in his recordings.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the inauguration of Place Django and witness the dévoilement, the unveiling, of the honorific plaque by a grandson of the great guitariste et compositeur.

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