Ancient Playmates

By Fred Sharp

This article was originally written in 1976. No changes have been made to the text. I must thank the author for allowing use of his article. Please note, many of the people mentioned within the article are now dead.

Django's Ancient Playmates

Fred Sharp is from Cleveland, Ohio. He now lives in Sarasota, Florida. In which city he now leads a band. He has been in the music business for a number of years, and played guitar with the orchestras led by Jack Teagarden and Red Norvo. On a recent tour of Europe Fred Sharp was presented by Django's son Babik with the instrument his father played on his American concert tour with Duke Ellington in 1946. He and Babik recorded in Paris whilst he was there, the vocals being handled by his wife Iris. The records will be released later this year by Disques Vogue.

Much has been written about Django Reinhardt: his style, his virtuosity, his infirmity and his contribution to the world of jazz. The purpose of this writing is not to reiterate these things, but instead, to tell you of the whereabouts and whatabouts of some of the musicians and friends who were closely associated with him. On a recent trip to Paris and London, I interviewed some of these 'ancient playmates'.

Louis VolaLouis Vola, the bass player with the original Quintette Du Hot Club De France, is living in Paris and plays nightly at the Sheherazade. An affable, Maurice Chevalier type of man, he talks glibly of his 15 year old granddaughter who plays the piano and can relate many tales about Django. He really knew Django the longest, starting at Toulon, where Vola had a band. He heard the two Gypsy brothers Django and Joseph playing on the beach one night and invited them to jam after hours with some of the members of his band. One member of note was Stephane Grappelli. Vola subsequently moved to the Palm Beach Hotel at Cannes and hired Django alone, as an accompanist for his own accordion. Later, when Vola switched to bass, he hired Eugene 'Nanine' Vees, Joseph Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, in addition to Django thus the Quintette Du Hot Club De France was born. Shortly after it was started on its recording career by Charles Delaunay and Pierre Nourry.

Gerard Levecque, clarinettist, is now living in a Paris suburb and writes original music and arranges for many French recording sessions and stage shows he scored the 'Guitars Unlimited' album for Columbia, which is a re- mastering of solo Django with four guitars and a new rhythm section. He is very much in demand and is still employed full time in the music business. Gerard is quite perturbed, that the 'Voice of America' is no longer broadcasting late night jazz overseas. This writer is taking steps to see that this is restored. Gerard speaks both French and English, as does Louis Vola.

Emmanuel Sodieux, who played bass with the quintette in the later years, buzzed over to our meeting on a fine new French motorcycle. He runs his own radio and television sales and repair service now and plays music very little. As with the other musicians, he is still very much a follower of jazz. He is not at all fond of "Rock", as are some of the others, but this is only natural in as much as he is not in the music business and consequently he has not an occasion to play, listen to and absorb the new music.

Sodieux is the most "French. looking Frenchman, with a maximum of Joi De Vivre, a ruddy shinning complexion and a presence that can be felt, as well as heard. He speaks only French, as does clarinettist Hubert Rostaing, who lives in a delightful decorators dream Paris apartment on the Rue Artois. He now only records and mostly concert music at that.

He is currently. actively writing for French films and has two films playing in Paris at present. A confirmed chain smoker, his telephone never seems to stop ringing with new work assignments. When Stephane Grappelli left the quintette, Rostaing replaced him. He made many recordings with them and when he finally left, was replaced by the then eighteen year old Gerard Levecque. Gerard, by the way, was auditioned without his knowing it. He was invited to jam backstage, at a club in which Django was playing. Rostaing had Django listening in the next room.

Joseph Reinhardt, Django's guitar playing brother, has recorded a new album recently, with the same instrumentation as the old quintette and is finally sharing some of his brother's glory. He play's extremely well, with a tone and a style akin to Django's, but more reserved, Maybe cautious is the better word here, because he plays shorter versions of Django's sweeping phrases. There is, however, a very definite gypsy feel to his music.

Pierre Michelot, the final bass player in Django's lifetime has been selected as the leading bassist by the readers of JAZZ HOT since 1952. The jazz academy of Paris awarded him the Django Reinhardt Grand Prix of 1962 Michelot went with Lester Young and Miles Davis on the Birdland tour and also played the Blue Note in New York with Stan Getz and Chet Baker. At present and for the past few years he has been with the Jacques Lousier Trio. Playing throughout the United States.

StephanStephane Grappelli, violin. It seems that Stephane is just starting his second career, for following his first success as a part of the Quintette Du Hot Club De France, he is now becoming even more famous as a freelance jazz violinist, Stephane is of Italian decent, living most of his life in France, but confided to me that he would really like to call London his home. He has three apartments, one in Paris, one in Chartres and one in London. It would be incorrect to say that Stephane merely recorded with a variety of musicians for that would imply that he took a somewhat secondary role. This is by no means true for most of the musicians who have recorded with him, speak of it as one of the finest experiences of their lives. The list is long and includes Gary Burton, Barney Kessel, Kenny Clark, Yehudi Menuhin, Sven Asmussen, Joe Venuti and many others. As a guitarist myself, I treasure the memory as one of my finest hours, when I played with him at the Paris Hilton Hotel. Grappelli recently made a tour of the USA with his own group, including Diz Disley on guitar, Disley was a friend of Django's and plays somewhat in the Django style.

Concerning the gypsies that played with Django, such as Eugene Vees and Pierre Ferret, their whereabouts are relatively unknown-some are in the south. I tried to locate them, but the romantic gypsies are like butterflies; when the flower closes, they fly away. However a word about them is in order here. Most of them claim blood relationship with Django- some probably have. Most are guitarists and play in his style and it is unfortunate not to have more complete information on them.

A word now about Django's son Babik, 32 years old, He plays excellent guitar, with a flawless technique, but not in the Django style. After all, he was but nine years old when his father died. His playing is a mixture of George Benson and Wes Montgomery and needless to say, that's not bad. This account would not be complete. without mention of the instrument that Django. and all members of the quintet, played. It was, in fact, a French Selmer Maccaferri designed by Mario Maccaferri, a concert guitarist who developed an unusual instrument with an internal resonator-a kind of guitar within a guitar. In company with some friends he proffered his designs to Henri Selmer of Paris, who set up a plant to manufacture the instrument. Within a few years the Maccaferri became the most popular professional's guitar in Europe. Production of the instrument was halted in the late thirties and none have been made since last year, when Mario, aged 75, started producing an exact copy of the original, calling it the "CSL Gypsy".

Lastly a man who had the good sense and vision to 'give a damm' about all this, my very good friend Charles Delaunay. Through his affiliation with Vogue records in France, he is responsible for remastering and re-issuing much Django, drawing on upon a lot of material from his own immense private collection.

Delaunay author of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, has written many books on Django. This writer was privileged to make a contribution to "Django mon Frere" - and if anyone knew Django as intimately as a brother that person was certainly Charles. Besides Vouge records, Delaunay also publishes the French magazine "Jazz Hot".

A prolific writer, as well as an accomplished artist, the son of Sonya and Robert Delaunay, whose works hang in the Paris museum of modern art, the Stelijk museum in Amsterdam, the Guggenheim museum in New York and the Philadelphia museum of art. Monsieur Delaunay has been invited by the United States government to visit Washington D.C in September 1976, to participate in the celebration of our bicentennial year. For his part in the discographical perpetuation of Jazz music, much of which is American in origin, he has been selected as an outstanding world authority, to read a paper at these festivities, along with other world notables in the field of Art and Science who have strongly contributed to American and World culture.

So there you have it. Some artists have been left out I'm sure, but what has been written here was long overdue.

While Django Reinhardt is legend, all of the 'ancient playmates' mentioned and unmentioned, have also contributed to the legend of the two fingerd French Gypsy guitarist, who himself contributed enough to change the world of jazz music.

Hubert RostangNot mentioned in the above article is the fabulous clarinet player Hubert Rostang. Luckily Fred managed to supply us with a photo of Hubert.

Lucky for us, Fred Sharpe is alive and kicking.

Fred on the Net

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