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szabo2Unlike Django Rheinhardt, Gabor Szabo was not actually a gypsy, however his Hungarian origins lent a strong Eastern flavour to his music. Szabo was born in Budapest in 1936. He began playing guitar at age 14, inspired by by the jazz music he heard on the “Voice Of America” radio broadcasts. In 1956 he escaped from Communist Europe and travelled to America where he studied music at the Berklee College of Music. For several years he performed with the Chico Hamilton Quintet before starting a successful solo career. His music is noted for combining jazz, pop-rock and Hungarian folk. His albums range from straight jazz tunes to covering classical pieces and popular songs of the time such as The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” which he successfully makes his own. The song below is his version of The Fire Dance, from the Opera “El Amor Brujo” by the Spanish composer Manuel De Falla.

Gabor Szabo – Fire Dance

Django ReinhardtIn the World of Jazz Guitar one name towers above all others, Django Rheinhardt. Born Jean Rheinhardt in Belgium, in 1910, he spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments near Paris. His nickname “Django” is a Romani word meaning “I awake”. Early on he learnt the violin and then moved to banjo and lastly, the guitar. Despite being badly burned in a house fire at the age of eighteen, which included damage to his third and forth fingers on his left hand, he managed to become one of the first true greats of jazz guitar. He played all his solos with only two fingers and only used his damaged fingers for chord work. At 24 he met violinist Stephanie Grapelli and formed the group “Quintette du Hot Club de France” which featured three guitars, a violin and bass. The rest, as they say, is history.

Many of Django’s most popular compositions have become jazz standards including Minor Swing, Djangology and Nuages. During his career Django performed with other greats including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong. Tragically, in 1953 at the age of only 43 he collapsed and died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. Despite this, his legacy lives on and his influence can be heard in many contemporary artists work.

What I love most about Django’s music is its overwhelming optimism and playfulness. Whenever I am feeling down I just put some Django on the stereo and it’s sure to make me smile. Just listen to the song below and you’ll know what I mean…

Quintette du Hot Club de France – When Day Is Done

Sun RaWalking to the post office yesterday morning, drenched in sunlight and with a brisk cool wind at my heels I came across a fruit tree  already in full bloom. A reminder that Spring is just around the corner. An aptly timed coincidence then that one of the CD’s I bought last weekend was the wonderful Sleeping Beauty by Sun Ra which features the bittersweet Springtime Again. This album, originally released in 1979, was recently reissued by UK label Art Yard. Not as overtly “out there” as some of his recordings it features a nice mix of melodic jazz, improvisation and group-singing. Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in 1914. He changed his name to Sun Ra, named after the Egyptian God Ra, God of the Sun. A true individual, he believed he was from the planet Saturn and had a complex cosmological philosophy which he preached via his music, focussing on self-awareness and peace. At one time his band The Sun Ra Arkestra all lived together in the same house and he would hold gruelling practice sessions most days of the week. His band were expected to be, like him, completely dedicated to the music. Up until his death in 1993 he released a huge number of records, many of which, such as Sleeping Beauty, were originally only pressed in small quantities and sold at gigs. I’m glad labels such as Art Yard have unearthed some of these lost gems…

Sun Ra – Springtime Again