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Weekend Extra: The MJQ And “Django”

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One of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s signature pieces was “Django,” John Lewis’s homage to DjangoReinhardt (1910-1953). Reinhardt’s guitar playing reflected his upbringing in Gypsy communities in France and in Belgium, where he was born, and he became one of the most influential guitarists of his generation. Lewis captured much of the essence of Reinhardt’s music in a tune that became a modern jazz standard recorded not only by the MJQ but also by dozens of musicians including Ray Brown, Herbie Mann, Miles Davis with Michel LeGrand and, in a vocal version, Helen Merrill. ”Django” has been a particular favorite of pianists, among them Bill Evans, Alan Broadbent, Cedar Walton and Ellis Marsalis. All of them recorded it.

The MJQ first included the piece in their 1953 Prestige album Django, and versions of it appeared on several of their subsequent recordings. Bassist Percy Heath once said, “If we didn’t play “Django” in a concert, we risked getting stoned. I mean in the thrown-at sense.” The late critic Mike Zwerin wrote, “‘Django’s’ combination of structure and Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson’s straight-ahead vibraphone improvisations over a quiet, baroque groove redefined jazz music.”

Here are the MJQ—Heath, Jackson, Lewis and drummer Connie Kay— playing a notably joyful version of “Django” in a 1982 London concert.

Have a good weekend.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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