Django: A Life on the Move
Ride Red Ride, Chicago, 1946

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Django Reinhardt 13

Django had long dreamed of playing in the United States, where he believed true recognition and a fortune awaited him. Whilst touring in Switzerland he was approached by an agent for the William Morris Agency, with an offer of touring with Duke Ellington. Reinhardt leapt at the chance.

Django first appeared as guest soloist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra to great success in Cleveland, and then toured extensively across the States and up into Canada. At the Chicago Civic Opera House, Django’s long anticipated contribution began with a dramatic four bar break ‘like an explosion’, which had the 3,000 strong audience on their feet cheering.

But there were disappointments too. He had arrived in America without his guitar, believing that American guitar companies would fall over themselves to provide him with one. When this did not happen he bought an electric guitar and amplifier, which sometimes caused distortions and feedback as he was not familiar with the technology.

Furthermore, he was not fully integrated into the Orchestra as he had expected, but due to a lack of rehearsal time the Duke alone accompanied him with his rhythm section. Ellington in fact had invited the whole Quintet, but Reinhardt never conveyed this to Grappelli.

Django began to sense that his music was behind the times by American standards. Amazing new developments had happened in New York during the war, led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. All these factors left Django with a feeling that he had failed in America. (MD p.208)

Due to a Musician’s Union recording ban, the only extant record of Django’s time with Ellington is a bootleg made at the Chicago concert. Ride Red Ride is a fast paced solo piece by Django, with a few concluding chords provided by Ellington’s brass section.