64. Cafe music

Posted on 21/08/2017

64. Cafe music

When I was a child, there was a radio show based in an imaginary ‘Palm Court’ of an hotel. The music was dreadful, but was the sort of weedy stuff that passed for music in hotels in those days. Cafe music is another genre completely: interesting and vibrant. It has to attract the customers, not put them to sleep.

My favourite cafe of this type is in the Flea Market in the north of Paris and, at the time I am speaking of, had what looked like two brothers playing Django like guitar music. On closer inspection they turned out to be father and son, the father looking very young. The sort of stuff they did is now done more grandly by bands like the Rosenbergs:

This was recorded in France only a few months ago. The trio, all of them related Rosenbergs, are Dutch gypsies who were brought up loving Django’s music, and have adopted his style, and even his guitar model! The song is an old Django favourite: Minor Swing.

This is the same trio with Birelli Lagrene, the latterday Django. As can be seen, the Rosenbergs are a solemn Dutch lot, but Lagrene is much more lively and smiling. The Rosenbergs very much let the music do the talking!

This is Lagrene on his own and more studious. He is playing in the Django style but with more adventurous chords. Notice that he has the poise to adjust his glasses while in the middle of extremely complicated chord changes! He is more like Django than the Rosenbergs in that he has great attack, and produces accelerated bursts of chords as Django did.  Only Django and Art Blakey (famous drummer of the Jazz Messengers) had the oomph to put a bomb into the song with a sudden drum or guitar roll to raise the excitement of a track. Nobody else seems to have mastered this trick.

This is a rather longer piece but wonderful for the fact that Lagrene plays throughout in the style of the late bass playing genius Jaco Pastorius. A marvellous performance, albeit in a cencert atmosphere rather than a cafe.

The often unseen and always unnoticed, but vital, element in this cafe music is the rhythm guitar. Django’s brother Joseph never, so far as i know, played a note. He just chugged along as background, like Freddie Green in the Basie band. Absolutely vital but unnoticed.

To end with, a live film of Django before World War II. Its interesting because it shows them playing cards as well s playing. Notice the lack of fingers on Django’s left hand: he was injured in a caravan fire as a youngster and managed to develop incredible skill in the fingers that remained. Three fingered lightning as the headline says!

Apart from the skill, the type of music is ideal for a cafe. It buzzes but does not intrude. One can listen for a bit and then return to the coffee and crossant. Uniquely gifted as Django was, his legacy is the best cafe music one could find! As can be seen from the first clip, only recently recorded, the style is still very  visibly alive.

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