"Django" is a 1954 jazz standard written by John Lewis as a tribute to the Belgian-born jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. It was a signature composition of the Modern Jazz Quartet, of which Lewis was the pianist and musical director.
|Instrumental by the Modern Jazz Quartet|
|from the album |
|Recorded||December 23, 1954|
Background and structure
John Lewis on Django Reinhardt
Lewis wrote "Django" in 1954 as a tribute to his friend, the Belgian-born jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who had died the previous year. It begins with a 20-bar theme that was described by Ted Gioia in his book The Jazz Standards as dirge-like and mournful. The entry for "django" in the original edition of the Real Book only contained the chord changes for this theme. It is followed by solo sections in modified Thirty-two-bar AABA form, where the first two A sections contain six bars instead of eight, the eight-bar B section contains a pedal point on the tonic, and the final twelve-bar A section contains a boogie bass motif. The solo sections are separated by interludes in double-time derived from the introductory theme. The composition ends with a full repeat of the introductory section.
It was first recorded on December 23, 1954 by the Modern Jazz Quartet, of which Lewis was the pianist and musical director. It appeared on the group's 1955 10-inch album The Modern Jazz Quartet, Vol. 2 (PRLP 170) and their 1956 12-inch LP Django (PRLP 7057), as well as being released as a 45 RPM single with part 1 on side A and part 2 on side B. It was one of the Modern Jazz Quartet's signature compositions, with the group's bassist Percy Heath recalling that "If we didn't play 'Django' in a concert, we risked getting stoned. I mean in the thrown-at sense." Miles Davis described "Django" as one of the best compositions ever, and in their book Clawing at the Limits of Cool, Salim Washington and Farah Griffin said "It is almost like a poem in its economy and poignancy. With remarkable restraint and almost no concessions to the extroverted tendencies of jazz, the slow and dirgelike 'Django' sustains an intensity and pathos made all the more beautiful through restraint." It was listed on the NPR 100, the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century compiled by NPR editors, and was ranked #357 on the Songs of the Century, a list of the top 365 songs of the 20th century compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Apart from the 1954 recording, the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded "Django" on three other studio albums, 1960's Pyramid, 1965's Jazz Dialogue (with the All-Star Jazz Band), and 1987's Three Windows (with the New York Chamber Symphony). They also released it on the live albums European Concert, The Complete Last Concert, Reunion at Budokan 1981, Together Again: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival '82, MJQ & Friends: A 40th Anniversary Celebration, and Dedicated to Connie. Lewis recorded the piece on solo piano on his albums Evolution (1999) and Evolution II (2000), and performed it with the Jazztet on The Jazztet and John Lewis (1961), the violinist Svend Asmussen on European Encounter (1962), and with the vocalist Helen Merrill on Django (1976). Lewis and Gunther Schuller arranged the album The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music (1955), on which "Django" appears, and Schuller's 1961 album Jazz Abstractions contains three variations on "Django". Other notable versions include those by:
- The Vince Guaraldi Trio on Vince Guaraldi Trio (1956)
- The Ray Bryant Trio on Ray Bryant Trio (1957) and Con Alma (1961)
- Gil Evans on Great Jazz Standards (1959)
- Michel Legrand with Miles Davis on Legrand Jazz (1959)
- Dorothy Ashby on Dorothy Ashby (1962) and Django/Misty (1984)
- Charlie Byrd on The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd (1963)
- Joe Pass on For Django (1964) and What Is There to Say (1990)
- Grant Green on Idle Moments (1965)
- Oscar Peterson in a trio on Eloquence (1965) and solo on Tracks (1970)
- Blood, Sweat & Tears on No Sweat (1973; introduction only)
- Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on Buckingham Nicks (1973; introduction only)
- Tete Montoliu solo on Songs for Love (1974) and in a trio on The Man from Barcelona (1991)
- Bill Evans and Eddie Gómez on Montreux III (1975)
- Wynton Marsalis on Hot House Flowers (1984)
- Joe Sample on Invitation (1993)
- John McLaughlin with Jeff Beck on The Promise (1995)
- Gary Burton with Mulgrew Miller on For Hamp, Red, Bags, and Cal (2001)
- Giddins, Gary (2000). Visions of Jazz: The First Century. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 399–. ISBN 978-0-19-513241-0.
- Gioia, Ted (2012). The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. Oxford University Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-19-993739-4.
- "The Modern Jazz Quartet Discography". Jazz Discography Project. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- "Modern Jazz Quartet Vol. 2". AllMusic. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
- Burlingame, Sandra. "Django". JazzStandards.com. Retrieved September 6, 2018.
- Zwerin, Mike (November 19, 2003). "MJQ and a fountain of youth". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
- Washington, Salim; Griffin, Farah Jasmine (2013). Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever. St. Martin's Press. pp. 104–. ISBN 978-1-4668-5529-8.
- "Django". NPR. October 2, 2000. Retrieved September 6, 2018.
- "Songs of the Century". CNN. March 7, 2001. Retrieved September 6, 2018.