Jazz is one of the great curiosities of modern culture, a style of music that acquired its own distinctiveness through the fusion of countless others. While its rhythmic drive and harmonic coloring reflect its African American heritage, its complexity and sophistication make it the most “classical” form of popular music. Ironically, this darling of the high-brow set organically sprang from the fringes of society. These were the outcasts who created a new art form out of the fabric of their own viscera.
Never was this more apparent than in the case of Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), who as a Gypsy began life as a member of one of the most despised minorities in Europe. Like many of the early jazz pioneers, his art prospered in a rich musical environment, despite the fact that he was illiterate and far from such cultural centers as Paris. Biographer Michael Dregni had a formidable task in recreating the lost world of Django’s Gypsy youth. He succeeds admirably. Dregni charts this virtuoso’s musical path from the popular musette form of the 1920’s to the avant-garde Bebop of the early 1950’s. Wisely, Dregni focuses upon the fact that the key to Django’s success was his unparalleled skill in improvisation. This capricious artist--who often failed to appear for concert dates--fashioned many jazz classics with an ease that astounded accomplished musicians. And Dregni’s perceptive analysis of the music enhances the reader’s understanding of Django’s development and his influence upon jazz.
Although Django’s popularity had subsided at the time of his death, Dregni’s biography reveals that this itinerant musician left a lasting musical legacy. Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend is a music lover’s delight.