Negotiating “A Blues Riff”: Listening for Django Reinhardt’s Place in American Jazz

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Django Reinhardt, jazz, improvisation, blues, space, place

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While perhaps the most famous and adept practitioner of American jazz in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, the Manouche gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt was an outsider—both culturally and geographically—to American jazz. For this reason, scholars have had difficulty “placing” him securely in American jazz history. Reinhardt only visited the United States once, in 1946, as a guest of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. A recording made during that tour, “A Blues Riff,” presents the listener with a complex musical negotiation of contrasting musical and cultural values. What we hear in this performance is not just a debate over what notes to play when, but over what philosopher Henri Lefebvre calls “representational spaces,” or the imaginative, symbolic transformations of lived spatial experience. This essay argues that the task of locating Reinhardt in jazz history requires a new theoretical appreciation for the material importance of space and place in the shaping of musical performance.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Jazz Perspectives, v. 3, issue 3, p. 233-264

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