You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

May 24, 2009


By: Bernard Chazelle

Patience with the vid: annoying noise disappears after a minute or so.

Like "Round Midnight," "Django" is one of those jazz standards that have gotten everything right: composition, harmonic structure, melody, motives, swing, etc. The tune was composed by John Lewis to honor the memory of his good friend Django Reinhardt. The two became acquainted during Django's disastrous New York tour with Duke Ellington. Why disastrous? Because Ellington hated the guitar and Django hated Carnegie Hall -- he spent all of his time hiding on 52nd St. with John Lewis. As much as I like Milt Jackson, I believe that John Lewis was the heart of the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet; formerly Milt Jackson Quartet). The jazz world is very divided about him. Being an unconditional fan of any human being who can hold his/her own in a bebop ensemble, I may not be a good judge. But there is a certain snobbery in jazz -- it can be cliquish -- and amazing musicians like John Lewis and Oscar Peterson were never fully accepted in the top-tier "community." Don't get me wrong: those guys played with everybody! But both were on the receiving end of the worst insult in jazz: "Can't play the blues." I think the charge is laughably unfair.

"Django" is Lewis's most famous composition. I think it is a gem of American music. People claim to see in it a lot of Gypsy music. I don't. Gypsy music has attitude (see 2nd vid in post). "Django" is funeral music in the best New Orleans tradition. It's really a blues piece phrased within a Bach framework (I don't use the word Baroque music, which I find meaningless). The inspiration is undeniably Bach. It's what Gunther Schuller termed "third stream."

The tune begins with a dirge on the vibes (0:28-1:10) in the expert hands of Milt "Bags" Jackson. His bluesy solo (no one ever accused Bags of not "getting" the blues) takes us to a big slowdown at 1:51, when Connie Kay drops his brushes and rides his cymbal. The vibes go heavy into bop territory while Kay drops his Kenny Clarke "bombs," uses the snare for accents and all that good beboppy stuff. (Note: most of these guys paid their dues with Dizzy Gillespie.) Then John Lewis takes over at 3:05. It's like a classical music recital. (Lewis replaced Monk with Diz and you can also spot his influence in the hesitant, angular playing.) Finally, Percy Heath on bass slows it down again and brings it all back home to the head. The circle is complete. Bach would understand, and love, every nanonote of this beautiful music.

Now if you want Gypsy attitude with your Bach, check this out. It's great fun!

Taro Hakase and Iwao Furusawa in "Bach's Concerto for two violins"

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at May 24, 2009 06:48 PM

Hmm, ….John Lewis and Oscar Peterson can’t play the blues? I’d never heard that though I have heard equally ridiculous things. Oscar Peterson was a favorite of mine for many years. I always considered him to be a phenomenal musician. But I guess you cannot please everyone.

The solos are very reminiscent of Charlie Parker’s “The Bird” another minor blues though of course Parker plays at a tempo that is almost impossible to duplicate, well over the mm300 mark. Milt Jackson does a beautiful job of starting his solo out with some sparse playing building up nicely to a climax. This is something jazz musicians do, part of the thinking process of playing. Soloing is a mixture of intuition and thinking, much more so than many people realize. The ensemble work is excellent which I like to mention because a lot of people think jazz is just about soloing when the reality is the ensemble work, arranging of the tune, etc. are equally important just as in any other type of music.

Nice post Bernard, these always are fun to read, a reminder that there are worthwhile things in life.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 24, 2009 07:59 PM

Wow! Just love the "Taro Hakase & Iwao Furusawa - Swingin' Bach". Fabulous! Many thanks Prof Chazelle.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 24, 2009 08:13 PM

Rob: There was a great CBC special on Peterson a few years ago. Wonderful. (I think he was too Canadian for the "hard to please" crowd. Lewis was too "European" ?) And of course, personally, I love Peterson because he really really liked to play with guitarists!

Every now and then I go to YouTube and search for my favorite Coltrane pieces and never find them. I think YouTube is letting me down. On purpose.

Rupa: Thanks for reminding to me to post the names of these guys. If I'm going to post their great music, that's the least I can do.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 24, 2009 08:31 PM

Bernard/Rob, do you have any views about Charlie Byrd? I was talking to my father, and he reminded me he took guitar lessons from Byrd in Byrd's early lean lesson-giving years. (As you probably know, one of Byrd's biggest influences was Django Reinhardt.)

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 24, 2009 08:35 PM

Are you kidding me Jon??!!! Your dad took lessons from Byrd! Wow, that's so cool. Byrd is one of my guitar heroes.

By the way, he did a cover of Django "to die for" that has a permanent spot on my iPod. I would have posted it if I could find it online. I so much love the sound of the classical guitar. There's a tenderness and fragility to it that's missing from the piano.

In some ways, there were similarities with Lewis. Byrd attended those famous Segovia master classes (like John Williams), and he was fully trained classically. He played with his fingers. And he was a fantastic Bossa Nova master, too.

His only "problem" (such as it was) was that, like Miles, he was not a great technician. I mean, by the stratospheric standards of Reinhardt or Charlie Christian or even his buddies Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, or Joe Pass. But by the same token, Hendrix was not a great technician either. Neither was Segovia for that matter.
But their musicianship more than made up for their technical limitations.

I love Byrd's arrangements. He showed exquisite taste. A true guitar master.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 24, 2009 09:04 PM


That must be it! Peterson played the piano with a Canadian accent especially when he played C sharp. I’ve found a few good Coltrane videos but I imagine that there probably just are not all that many films made of Trane playing. I found a good interview of Trane, I have the link somewhere, I’ll see if I can find it if you haven’t already heard the interview. That’s an interesting comment about Lewis since quite a few American jazz musicians found Europe to be a haven as they were more appreciated in Europe than here in the states, a touch of irony.


I wouldn’t dare add to Bernard’s sketch of Byrd other than I enjoy his music for sure. Hey my father, though he didn’t take lessons from Byrd, played the guitar in swing bands in his youth as well. I got the impression that that was the best time of his life. He never really liked Bebop rather he loved swing though he would listen to Bebop when I played recordings of it.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 24, 2009 10:44 PM

I really like how "Normal Tracking" comes in for the solo about 0:52 in. I can never get enough of that guy, he doesn't get the respect he deserves, that's for sure.

Posted by: SteveB at May 24, 2009 10:50 PM

Prof Chazelle/Mr Schwarz:
I am not sure if this is the same person ( Charlie Byrd) but I found a couple of clips ( you may have already watched and heard them ) and I found the music very lovely and even though I do not understand a thing about the technique of guitar playing, found the finger work and control over the strings amazing!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 24, 2009 11:02 PM

Rob: Love the C# with a Canadian accent! Cracked me up. Sounds like your dad shared Louis Armstrong's taste in jazz. Not exactly a bad company to be with. Philip Larkin, likewise, never connected to bebop. Still a pretty fine poet and a trueblue jazz maven nevertheless.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 25, 2009 12:48 AM

Hello Bernard,

well I guess it was only a matter before you covered one the greatest guitar player who ever lived and in my personal top 5 of all time!! I love Django...I've gone to tribute concerts in NYC dedicated to Django and his good buddy Stephane Grappelli featuring Reinhardt disciples like Johnny Rosenberg. My email name, which I guess cant be seen here on your blog is "djangojazz..." I rate Reinhardt and Chet Atkins as perhaps the two greatest players ever...Stevie Ray Vaughan once said that Django was the most free player he ever heard....and if you listen to him play that is a very good description of his style...its just sounds free and loose and totally improvised...for someone who could not read music his understanding of arpeggios and scales and theory in general was incredible and to do it all with two fretting fingers is just mind blowing....I never get tired of listening to him and my teeth get goose bumps to this day...If ever any musician deserved to be called a genius it was certainly Django.-Tony

Posted by: tony at May 25, 2009 08:41 AM

Prof Chazelle:
By the way, he did a cover of Django "to die for" that has a permanent spot on my iPod.

I plead ABSOLUTE ignorance regarding musicians and a lot of music but could you please mention WHICH piece of music and by WHOM is on your iPOD? If it is a piece of music "to die for", I would like to try and find it and listen to it. Many thanks.

ps Is it "Django" played by Charlie Byrd?

Posted by: Rupa Shah at May 25, 2009 05:27 PM