Spirit of Napoleon dogs Django festival

Stephane Grappelli, left, with Django disciple Diz Disley

For the last 37 years, fans of what is now called Gipsy Jazz have gathered in the small French town of Samois-sur-Seine to remember and pay tribute to its founding father, Django Reinhardt.

The annual celebration was upset this year by the weather. Storms and heavy rain flooded the area and forced the organisers to switch the 37th Django Festival from its traditional location on a small island in the middle of the river to a field opposite the palace at nearby Fontainebleau.

Not only did the organisers do a brilliant job rescuing the festival by moving it from one side of the local forest to the other in just two weeks, they also attracted bigger crowds. But what the event gained in terms of audience, it lost in authenticity. To make the point I posted an eight-minute film on Youtube, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHkPNuuTLVg&feature=youtu.be

Fontainebleau was a great favourite of the deposed French monarchy. From Louis the Fat in the 12th century to Napoleon 111 in the 19th, 34 sovereigns spent time there. It was where Napoleon Bonaparte signed a treaty with Spain’s Charles 1V, which allowed his troops to march through Spain to invade Portugal, and where seven years later he was stripped of his powers and exiled to Elba.

Django spent his last days a few miles away painting and fishing at Samois-sur-Seine, and the island which is traditionally the home of the festival is so near the house where he lived and was taken ill in 1953 that his spirit inevitably hovers over the proceedings.

Alas not at Fontainebleau where some of the internationally renowned performers not only had nothing to do with Django or Gipsy Jazz, but they also failed even to acknowledge its legacy. If there was a hovering spirit it was Napoleon rather than Django.

But it wasn’t all bad. There was no shortage of excellent guitarists at Fontainebleau playing the tunes Django composed and made famous in the style he pioneered, fusing his Gipsy roots with the jazz of the 1920s, building on the trumpet riffs of Louis Armstrong while relying heavily on the musicianship of violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Jazz festivals today are notorious for the high average age of the audience, but that wasn’t the case at Fontainebleau. There were masses of gifted young players playing their hearts out on what they call the Village Stage close to where the instrument makers display their wares. They were strumming away in the booths, too, a magnet for some of those in the audience who hoped to be invited to take the guitars off their backs and join in. Django would have loved that.

My first contact with Gipsy Jazz was at the Wood Green Jazz Club held in Bourne Hall at the back of the Fishmongers Arms in the High Road up the hill from the tube station. One of the first Django imitators was Diz Disley whose quintet had a regular weekly slot at Wood Green, I think on Thursdays. Much later, Diz was part of a Django revival when he teamed up with Stéphane Grappelli (pictured) and was later joined by two other great players, John Etheridge and Martin Taylor.

I used to go to Wood Green to see the Diz Disley group with my old school friend Jeff Burbidge and he joined me in June for the trip to Fontainebleau. We’ve been searching for the perfect jazz festival for a few years now and have yet to find it. Neither of us will go again unless and until it returns to the island and the spirit of Django can once more inspire proceedings.



  • Gordon Polatnick is the host of these New York jazz crawls which are said to carefully tailored for everybody, from the fanatical tourist to the skeptical novice: http://www.bigapplejazz.com/
  • Good site for tracking down that missing album. Particularly good for UK visitors as there are no exorbitant shipping charges: http://www.discovery-records.com/
  • One of the better gig lists, but only for South East England. Register to get emailed updates: http://essexjazz.co.uk/
  • Go to this site, or better still to its HQ in Loughton, Essex, to research British jazz. A superb selection of pictures and moving images: nationaljazzarchive.org.uk
  • While dedicated to the Scottish clarinet player Sandy Brown, who enjoyed a legendary partnership with trumpeter Al Fairweather, this site offers much more with some useful links to other jazz sites and a good ‘who’s who’. Sandy died in 1975. Check out: http://www.sandybrownjazz.co.uk/index.html
  • Follow this link to see how Pizza Express is introducing jazz to schoolchildren: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p18u__BbP-Q



A rare picture of Barry Galbraith – some of his arrangements are brilliant

    • http://www.andreasguitaruniverse.com/Andreas Oberg is a Swedish guitarist who offers lessons on-line. His free material is very accessible
    • http://andypolon.com/BG/BGdefault.html Barry Galbraith’s memorial site where you can download his guitar solos on the strict understanding that you don’t sell them. Also available on: http://musiccentre.co.uk
    • http://www.chordmelody.com Steven Herron’s Chord Melody Guitar Music site is a shop window for his wide range of guitar music and instructional DVDs. He includes video clips and puts out a monthly lesson. Free, but you need to register
    • http://claymoore.com/link.html Clay Moore is a Texan guitarist whose website is an excellent resource with more listed links than there are here! He’s also transcribed a number of Charlie Christian solos downloadable as PDFs. Recommended
    • http://www.essentialsofjazz.com/main.php If you want to try and sound like Wes Montgomery, then Adrian Ingram’s course might be for you. You can listen, but there’s no free material
    • http://www.griffhamlin.com/ Griff Hamlin is into blues rather than jazz, but he’s generous with his free lessons and has an engaging manner
    • www.guitarcds.net Not just a site where you can track down obscure albums you’ve never able to find, this also gives lesser-known guitarists a platform for selling their own recordings. Go to: http://www.guitarcds.net/store/links.asp
    • http://jamieholroydguitar.com/ One of the newest sites on-line, free and very good! Includes an ebook, transcriptions of Barney Kessel’s Barney’s Blues and Jim Hall’s coda on Black Orpheus. Recommended
    • http://www.jazzguitar.be Jazz Guitar On-line, a Belgium-based site run in English by Dirk Laukens. It’s free, but you need to register. There’s plenty of good stuff with musical examples. Recommended
    • http://jazzguitarlessons.com A New York-based site. Although you can pay for lessons, there’s a mass of free material
    • http://www.mattwarnockguitar.com Matt Warnock, a Canadian guitarist and the editor of the on-line magazine Guitar International. Plenty of free material, but too heavy on theory for some
    • http://www.miamijazzguitar.com/ Started by guitar teachers Richie Zellon, Enrique Gardano and Luigi Salvatore, I recommend going to the Signature Series part of the site which features phrases from Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass and Tal Farlow. You need to register to get the PDFs
    • http://www.ralphpatt.com/index.html  Ralph Patt’s Jazz Web Page includes basic, or ‘vanilla’ chord changes for over 400 jazz standards, from ‘After You’ve Gone’ to ‘Zing Went the Strings’ together with backing tracks

      Steve Khan

    • http://www.smoothjazzbackingtracks.com/  If you’re looking for backing tracks, start here with Martin Funderburk’s Smooh Jazz Backing Tracks, not just for guitar, but also for sax, bass and vocals
    • www.stevekhan.com Steve Khan has some amazing stuff on his site. Khan’s Korner is the place to go for some excellent transcriptions complete with music, an MP3 file and Steve’s in-depth analysis. Particularly strong on Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. Recommended
    • http://willkriski.com/ Will Kriski offers private lessons on-line, but to get his free lessons all you have to do is provide your name and an email address