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Reconsidering Django Reinhardt as an impressionist composer

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel sits on a couch holding an old guitar in front of a microphone
J. Elon Goodman
Stephane Wrembel's latest project takes on Django Reinhardt's solo pieces

Django Reinhardt frequently appears on lists of best or favorite musicians, especially for guitarists.

At the top of Django’s own list of favorites? French composer Maurice Ravel, and his composition “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.”

Though as guitarist and composer Stephane Wrembel says, Reinhardt considered his style to be closer to that of another French composer: Claude Debussy.

Cover of the sheet music for the book Django the Impressionist

You can find those connections especially in the 17 solo pieces by Django Reinhardt, which he recorded from 1937 to 1950. Wrembel points to the ways that Reinhardt and Debussy approach harmony and the sense of space - the way their music can evoke a sense of “floating.”

He has spent the past few years studying these recordings, both learning to play the pieces and transcribing them for others.

For other guitarists who study his transcriptions, Wrembel encourages listening to the recordings to hear the subtleties, while finding their own interpretation. “I'm not trying to copy him," he says, "I take those structures and I try to play it, putting my own dreams, my own imagination it it; my own poetry. And I think that everyone can put his own poetry and his own imagination in it.”

Listen (with the link at the top of the story) to hear Stephane Wrembel share more insights on the musical and philosophical ideas behind Django the Impressionist, with guitar in hand.

Stephane Wrembel plays “Django L'impressioniste” Saturday at 7pm at Lovin' Cup. He’ll be back there Sunday at noon for a second show with special guests Joshua Assad, Bobby Henrie, and Brian Williams. You can find the recording and the book of transcriptions through his website.

Thanks to Robert Braden for recording this interview and the in-studio performances of this music that you can hear on Different Radio and WXXI Classical today.

Mona Seghatoleslami is the host and producer on WXXI Classical 91.5 FM weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. She also hosts the lunchtime concert series Live From Hochstein Wednesdays at 12:10 p.m., interviews musicians, produces special programs, and works on any project she can find that helps connect people and music in our community through WXXI.