Jazz Appreciation Month - Django's Jazz

Continuing with Jazz Appreciation Month, I wanted to talk about one man's influence and how his music, and that of his quintet, was the first form of jazz I could happily listen to over and over as a teenager.

AN UNUSUAL INTRODUCTION


Eleven-year-old me had come home from school to find that my brother had purchased a new video game for the computer; Mafia, a third-person action-adventure game by Czech developer, Illusion Softworks, set in the 1930s where you play Tommy Angelo, a taxi-driver who soon falls in with the local mafia and rises through the ranks. It was the first video game I had come across with a truly cinematic-like story; full of ambition, friendship, action, love, and betrayal.


I had never been interested in the Grand Theft Auto games, even after the release of the third game, which was incredibly popular at the time but, because of the time-period and realism of Mafia, I really enjoyed driving around the fictional city of Lost Heaven and the surrounding countryside, undercovering the dark secrets of organised crime during and immediately after the prohibition period. The best part of the whole game, however, was the music.


About half of the soundtrack, all the exploration songs, were Django Reinhardt classics, played with his quintet. The rest of the tracks featured songs by the likes of Louis Prima, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, and The Mills Brothers, all great fun to listen to. Because I spent most of my time driving around the map, however, the songs that played the most were the Django songs and I absolutely loved them. These included Belleville, Minor Swing, Vendredi 13, Echoes Of France, Cavalerie, Manoir de mes Rêves, Lentement Mademoiselle, and others.


LYRICAL MELODIES


I think the main reason why I loved these songs was because they were so lyrical, matching the environments of the game so well. I fell in love with the way Hubert Rostaing played his clarinet, his tone so lyrical with plenty of emotional inflections. I found myself humming the tunes while at school, and when I wasn't thinking about what I was playing when practising my clarinet, I would find myself playing Rostaing's melodies.


To this day, I believe it is his style of vibrato that I learned and have used ever since on the clarinet; much like it is Stan Getz vibrato and note-bending I learned on the saxophone (particularly in the Woody Herman's Orchestra version of Early Autumn, featuring Stan Getz, from 1948).


I remember the christmas of 2002, when I received Django Reinhardt's collection album, 'Swing De Paris', four discs of fantastic music, after Dad noticed how taken I was with Mafia's soundtrack. I listened to it endlessly for the next few months and, after having the privilege of performing a few Django songs in gigs over the years, it still features as one of my favourite albums nineteen years later.


Thank you Django Reinhardt for your incredible music; thank you Hubert Rostaing for your influential clarinet playing; and thank you Illusion Softworks for introducing me to such fantastic music in a great video game.


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