Monday Notes

Nuages by Django Reinhardt, the first great European jazz musician

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[Monday Notes n.27] Django Reinhardt is one of the first great jazz musicians of European origin. Born in Belgium, French by adoption but of Sinti origin, Django Reinhardt mixed his own Gypsy musical culture with French melody and jazz. We analyse one of his compositions entitled Nuages.

Nuages has the classic 32 bar length and is built on an interesting ascending-descending motif. In fact, the melody begins with a semitone B-C and after a leap in the ascending fifth C-G descends on the chromatic scale to rest on E-flat.

Django Reinhardt, Nuages, main theme motif
Django Reinhardt, Nuages, main theme motif

This graceful melody has a strong European character; it could well be part of a Chopin waltz. The whole piece is derived from this motif, which is elaborated and varied. In fact, all the phrases in Nuages begin with an ascending interval and end with a chromatic descent.

Nuages, score
The main melody of Nuages is ascending-descending

After the clarinet’s exposition of the theme we can appreciate Django Reinhardt’s solo (1’32”). The beginning of the improvisation has a rarefied character, with suggestive overtone notes.

In the central part of the solo (1’56”) Django Reinhardt performs almost rhapsodic passages, made up of ascending chromatic scales and very incisive descending volatas. In these passages we find the characteristic ascending-descending movement and the use of the chromatic scale, which were present in the theme.

Although he was completely illiterate, to the extent that it was St├ęphane Grappelli who taught him how to write his own name, Django had an innate sense of form and shows in this piece a use of materials worthy of a great composer.

The forefather of Manouche music, Django was one of the first great jazz musicians to grow up in Europe, and he has influenced a whole generation of American guitarists, including Charlie Christian. That is why Django Reinhardt can be considered one of the fathers of the modern guitar.

Until Next Monday!

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