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Django, Jazz and the Nazis in Paris

John D. Pelzer shows the connections between jazz, youth and the German Occupation.

Django Reinhardt photographed in 1946 (Library of Congress)

In his classic novel of the Second World War From Here to Eternity, James Jones sought to convey the music of Belgian-born gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whose rhythms and melodies had a profound impact upon Europe's pre-World War music scene:

'But when it came to describing for them who had never heard it the poignant fleeting exquisitely delicate melody of that guitar, memory always faltered. There was no way to describe them that. You had to hear that, the steady, swinging, never wavering beat with the two- or three-chord haunting minor riffs at the ends of phrases, each containing the whole feel and pattern of joyously unhappy tragedy of this earth (and of other earth). And always over it all the one picked single string of the melody following infallibly the beat, weaving in and out around it with the hard-driven swiftly-run arpeggios, always moving, never hesitating, never getting lost and having to pause to get back on, shifting suddenly from the set light-accent of the melancholy jazz beat to the sharp erratic-explosive gypsy rhythm that cried over life while laughing at it, too fast for the ear to follow, too original for the mind to anticipate, too intricate for the memory to remember.'

'I know his music,' states one of Jones's characters. 'Theres [sic] nothing like it in the world.'

Few cities in the world are more associated with jazz than Paris. When American jazz first appeared in France during the First World War, it was little more than an imported novelty. The Second World War, however, completed the transformation of jazz into a truly French institution.

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