Guitarist STEPHANE WREMBEL Releases New Album DJANGO L’IMPRESSIONNISTE on October 18;
Unearthing the French Impressionist Side of the “Gypsy Jazz” Legend, DJANGO REINHARDT
Album Presents 17 of Reinhardt’s Little-Known Solo Guitar Works, Influenced by Ravel and Debussy;
Masterwork Project by French-born, U.S.-based Wrembel is First Modern Collection of “Classical Django”
WORLD DEBUT: October 19 - LYON OPERA HOUSE, Lyons, France
October 25 - SAMOISIENNE, Samois-sur-Seine, France
NORTH AMERICAN DEBUT: November 21 - FIAF Florence Gould Hall, New York, NY
It is possible to be famous and underrated.
Guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) cuts a dashing, romantic figure with a great story that at times obscures his extraordinary achievements and influence. Here is a Roma Gypsy, born in a caravan, who learned playing the violin, the banjo, and the guitar as a child. He then lost the use of two fingers on his left hand in a fire, and yet went on to become an extraordinary player who redefined the sound and role of the guitar.
Musicians know. As a composer and improviser, Reinhardt’s brilliance for melodic invention, his harmonic ingenuity and rhythmic drive, has awed and inspired fellow guitarists across genres and styles, from Andrés Segovia, Chet Atkins, BB King, and Les Paul, to Willie Nelson, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix.
And yet, as French-born guitarist and composer Stephane Wrembel’s Django L’Impressionniste reveals, there is more to Reinhardt than swing and the allure of what came to be called Gypsy Jazz. Putting the spotlight on 17 little-known solo pieces Reinhardt recorded between 1937 and 1950, Wrembel reveals a different side of Django. The album, which features liner notes by David Fricke, will be released on October 18 on CD, vinyl and digital. Wrembel will debut the CD in Lyon, France on October 19 at Lyon Opera House and in New York on November 21 at FIAF Florence Gould Hall. For Wrembel, the first interpreter who has performed all the solo pieces by Reinhardt and collected them here in one definitive masterwork, this is a portrait of the classical Reinhardt, the admirer of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, the Gypsy impressionist.
“Everyone knows that he recorded a few solo pieces, but they are scattered all over the place and the sound quality of many of them is really bad,” explains Wrembel. “But it's an incredible repertoire. ‘Tea For Two’ is a swinging jazz Django, with a classical harmonies feel; ‘Improvisation 1’ and ‘Improvisation 2’ are more like complete impressionist preludes. But ‘Improvisation No. 5’ has more of a baroque twist to it, and ends up like Spanish guitar. It´s hard to classify. I hear it as classical music on the guitar. But it is not your standard classical guitar music. It's closer to pure creation and to the spirit of the guitar than any other guitar music I've ever heard. I've never played anything like this.”
He dislikes the facile “Gypsy jazz” label for Reinhardt’s music.
“I know what jazz is. Django is Django. I don't know how to categorize him,” he says “Django was born in 1910 and when he grew up, the music scene in Paris was Debussy and Ravel, the Impressionists, and he's part of that. But he's also a guitarist, so he has that Spanish classical guitar in him as well. And also jazz and swing arrives from America, he loves Louis Armstrong and he gets that, plus he's a gypsy so he's been initiated into traditional gypsy music. When you see the level of control and sophistication of the harmony on these pieces, you realize jazz is just an amusement for him.”
That said, “most people who are interested in Django, especially musicians, are interested in his jazz recordings, his swing stuff,” acknowledges Wrembel. “This is a very difficult repertoire. These pieces are very hard to learn, and very hard to play.”
Still, in 2017 Wrembel decided to open his Django a Gogo concert at Carnegie Hall with “Improvisation 1” and in the process of transcribing it, learning it and performing it, he got hooked — and ended up working on the pieces comprising Django L’Impressionniste for the next three years.
“At first I thought: 'OK, I might as well learn ‘Improvisation No. 2’ and then it was 'Wait! What an incredible repertoire. What if I try to learn it all? ' And I became obsessed with it and it became a full-blown investigation. I ended up collecting all of them. It’s an hour and seven minutes of music.”
The music in Django L’Impressionniste includes a solo version of his masterpiece “Nuages” and a Ravel-influenced reading of “Belleville,” the last two solo pieces he recorded, in 1950, as well as a version of the standard “Tea for Two,” but otherwise, there is nothing standard about the forms of these songs, Reinhardt’s harmonic choices or the shape of his melodic lines.
Reinhardt recorded the original solo pieces in various settings and for different purposes. Some suggest warm-ups in recording studios, but then, one was recorded live at the Civic Opera House, Chicago, on November 10, 1946; the two improvised guitar choruses of 1937 and “Improvisation 6” were recorded for radio broadcasts; but the two extended works, "Belleville" and "Nuages," were to be part of a film soundtrack. Stylistically, the one thing in common is that none of these pieces or these performances sound anything like the pulsating music of Django’s famed Quintet of the Hot Club du France.
Each of these miniatures (most of them are around three and half minutes long) is its own universe. None of them follow conventional song forms and, as in the best improvisations, it is often hard to tell what, if anything, is a spur-of-the-moment invention and what is composed. In fact, Wrembel notes that even though some of the pieces carry utilitarian titles such as “Improvisation 4,” that doesn’t necessarily mean these were just impromptu performances.
“’Improvisation 2’ has been recorded three times,” notes Wrembel. “I have the three different versions and only the ending really is different. So it might have started as someone saying 'Django, do you want to improvise something on the guitar at the end of a session?' and so he plays — but that doesn't mean he just sat there and made something up on the spot. He is playing something that he probably has been preparing for years. It's obvious when you start learning it.”
Born in Paris and raised in Fontainebleau, the home of Impressionism and Django Reinhardt, Wrembel first studied classical piano, beginning at the age of four. But in his mid-teens, he discovered an affinity for the guitar. A Pink Floyd fan, he “spent hours learning David Gilmour’s style,” he said. “So I had a classical background, a passion for rock music, and then I found out about Django. I fell in love with the very strong impressionist feel in his music.”
Fittingly, Wrembel’s breakthrough came with “Bistro Fada,” a Django-influenced swinging waltz that was the theme song from the GRAMMY-winning soundtrack to Woody Allen’s 2011 Oscar-winning film, Midnight In Paris. Since, Wrembel has released five discs dedicated to the guitarist (The Django Reinhardt Experiment Vol. I-IV; and Live at Rochester) and recently produced the debut CD by Simba Baumgartner, Django’s great-grandson, all on his own Water is Life imprint. His Django a Gogo festival, anchored in his home base of Maplewood, NJ, has become one of the world’s most important and influential events, both celebrating and expanding Django’s music. The festival, launched in 2004, started as a guitar music camp but has now grown to a week of events capped by an all-star guitar celebration at New York’s iconic Town Hall.
“Django Reinhardt is an absolutely fascinating mystery,” reflects Wrembel. He is one of those Great Masters. To me, Django is to the guitar what Bach is to the keyboard. If you play the piano – I don’t care who you are or what style you play -- you study Bach. If you play saxophone, you’ve got to study Charlie Parker. That is Django’s place on the guitar.”
Stephane Wrembel: Django L’Impressionniste
Release Date Oct 18, 2019
Water Is Life # WIL XIV (CD, Vinyl and Digital Release)