Freedom to Swing

Freedom to Swing

Django Reinhardt and company. Photo by Dietrich Schulz-Koehn
Django Reinhardt and company. Photo by Dietrich Schulz-Koehn

While doing some research for a new novel, I stumbled on a fascinating story. WWII, Occupied France, and Django Reinhardt, one of the great Jazz guitarists of his era. Many elements make the story fascinating, but perhaps the most unusual aspect of the whole thing is that Reinhardt was a gypsy. The Nazis included the Roma in with other minority groups it sought to destroy, killing hundreds of thousands of them before their reign of terror ended. According to Michael Zwerin, who wrote Swing Under the Nazis, Reinhardt rose to prominence in occupied Paris despite being a gypsy. A German officer from the Luftwaffe, Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, protected him because he liked Django’s music so much. This obviously went against official Nazi policy, which was adamantly and dangerously opposed to that art form. Though the Nazis weren’t above using Jazz, “hot music” and Swing to advance their own propaganda, there is no indication that Django collaborated in any way with the Germans.

Here’s Reinhardt playing “Minor Swing” in 1937.

 

 

Any comments and suggestions for further reading on the subject would be greatly appreciated. 8-)

 

 

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