The smoky swing of 1930s Paris will be charged by the 21st-century powerhouse that is the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra next weekend, when the band is set to be joined by the celebrated guitarist Martin Taylor MBE to celebrate the music of one of the most seminal figures in jazz and popular music, Django Reinhardt.
With his formidable technique, Taylor is regarded as a leading interpreter of Reinhardt’s music, his empathy with it honed by more than a decade of playing with Reinhardt’s Hot Club de France partner, the late Stephane Grappelli, and through his group Martin Taylor’s Spirit of Django.
“We want to recreate the atmosphere of Paris back in the Jazz Age,” the guitarist says of the forthcoming concerts, “but we’re going to give it a few little twists inspired by my group Spirit of Django by adding accordion [Karen Street], as well as paying homage to Stephane by adding violin [Christian Garrick].”
Born into a Romany family in Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, in 1910, and despite losing the use of two of the fingers on his left hand in a caravan fire, Reinhardt developed a remarkable technique that made him one of the best known and most influential guitarists of the 20th century, a harbinger of European jazz who made the name “Django” synonymous with gypsy jazz, both in his celebrated partnership with Grappelli and in his own right.
Taylor sees Reinhardt’s particular contribution to jazz, along with Grappelli, as “[giving] what was essentially American pop music of that time a strong European accent.”
“In later years other forms of jazz were born in different parts of the world,” he continues, “most notably in Brazil in the 1960s. In the UK at that time, jazz musicians tended to play very authentically like American musicians, but Django gave the music a very French accent. Also, as a gypsy musician, he also brought something very deep and soulful to the music, coming to it from another direction, as all the great musical innovators do, bringing his own unique artistry to what was essentially popular dance music.”
When we think of Reinhardt, it tends to be in his Hot Club de France format with Grappelli, but as Taylor points out, he played and recorded with big bands both in France and in the United States, where he worked with Duke Ellington after the war. It was while working with big bands that he “went electric”, Taylor adds: “He loved the electric guitar because he could play with a big band and be heard.”
A few years ago Taylor premiered The Spirit of Django Orchestral Suite, which he co-wrote with trumpeter and bandleader Guy Barker, at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. He says he’d love to perform it in Scotland sometime with the SNJO and full orchestra. In the meantime, the repertoire he’ll be playing with the SNJO will be based on Reinhardt’s big band recordings, mixing his Hot Club music with other jazz standards from the 1930s.
Reinhardt died in 1953, but his legacy is ineradicable, through his influence on generations of guitarists and through tunes such as Nuages, Djangology and Musette for a Magpie, all of which will be among the arrangements SNJO director Tommy Smith has commissioned from such esteemed names as Florian Ross and Geoffrey Keezer as well as by the orchestra’s own Martin Kershaw, while Taylor himself has arranged Marguerite Monnot’s well-known Hymne à l’amour.
This is the first time that Taylor, who divides his time between his home in Perthshire and California, where his online guitar school is based, has played with the Scottish big band, although he has known Smith since the saxophonist was 16, and regards him as “one of the most amazing musicians on the planet.”
Martin Taylor and the SNJO play Eden Court, Inverness, 22 September; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 23 September and City Halls, Glasgow, 24 September, see www.snjo.co.uk and www.martintaylor.com