September Song – the Django Reinhardt version

Summer’s drawing to a close and preparing for the imminent arrival of new intake of students is taking up a lot of my time this week, so I thought I’d just put up something I’ve posted before, in the form of a piece of music that celebrates the genius of Django Reinhardt, the great Belgian-born gypsy guitarist who overcame the terrible  injuries he suffered as a child (in a fire in his caravan) to become one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.  He had a unique style of playing the guitar he invented himself to get around the fact that the third and fourth digits on his left hand were so badly burned he could effectively only use two fingers. He also had an unparalleled gift for melodic improvisation that won him admirers all around the world and across all styles of music. Add him to your list of famous Belgians right away, for he was most certainly a musical genius.

Here he’s playing the beautifully poignant September Song, by Kurt Weill:

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September



2 Responses to “September Song – the Django Reinhardt version”

  1. Tony Iommi, guitarist with the modern beat combo Black Sabbath, cut off the tips of two of his fingers while working in a factory. This influenced his playing style, including tuning the guitar to a lower than normal pitch, which is now quite common in heavy-metal music. (The main reason for this today is not to make bending strings easier, as for Iommi, but rather to reduce the dissonance due to higher overtones when playing distorted power chords. No heavy metal without Fourier analysis!) In retrospect, Iommi says he should have switched to playing right-handed guitar (which many left-handed guitarists do even without injuries, because right-handed guitars are more common), but then he would probably not be seen as the godfather of heavy metal. (Baroque violinist Reinhard Goebel switched from playing right-handed to playing left-handed late in life when a partial paralysis of his left hand made it impossible to continue playing right-handed. He didn’t have to “learn everything over again”, not even the physical aspects; it didn’t take long before he could play well enough to play publicly and record again. Interestingly, most or all of Goebel’s performances feature string instruments tuned well below modern concert pitch, as this was the case at the time the music was written. Higher concert pitch apparently arose in attempt to play more loudly, as orchestras and audiences became bigger and louder instruments such as the piano came along, but resulted in a (for some) worse tonal quality.)

    After the accident, his factory foreman played Iommi some virtuoso guitar music. At first he thought this rather cruel, but then the foreman explained that the music was by the two-fingered Django Reinhardt. Without this experience, Iommi might have quit guitar completely.

    My favourite Reinhardt story: After having played at a party, Reinhardt was approached by Andrés Segovia, who asked where he could obtain the music that Reinhardt had been playing. Django laughed and said that he had just been improvising.

    How many other musical inventions are due to the consequences of ostensibly bad things? Is it true that the Beatles developed their polyphonic vocal style because the volume of early P.A. systems was not enough with just one person singing?

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