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The Maestro and the Gypsy: Andre Ekyan and Django Reinhardt, 1932-50

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Reed player, bandleader and impresario, Andre Ekyan and Django Reinhardt.

This column introduces Jazz musician Andre Ekyan (1907-1972) and tells the story of his role mentoring and promoting gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, guiding him into the world of professional music performance. Ekyan played alto saxophone and clarinet and made robust contributions to the development of Jazz in France.

A self-taught musician, arranger and bandleader, Ekyan promoted cabaret venues, jazz clubs, recordings, concerts and jam sessions.  An early proponent of Reinhardt, he frequently acted as his informal promoter, agent and valet.  They were frequently associated during the years 1932-1950.

Photographed by William J. Gottlieb, Django’s fire-damaged left hand is clearly visible.

Django: A Musical Force of Nature

Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) was a creative one-of-a-kind talent and musical force majeure.  He was the first to invent an original jazz style outside of America.  The unschooled Manouche gypsy launched an innovative musical form based on guitars, violin and his own creativity in the late 1930s.

Reinhardt was as fundamental to the emergence of guitar as a Jazz instrument as Louis Armstrong had been for the trumpet.  The gypsy was unequaled for dazzling on-the-fly chord changes, intuitive grasp of harmony and brilliant composing.  Though unable to read or write musical notation, Django was one of the most profound musical minds of modern times.

The Hot Clubs of France were a federation of enthusiasts dedicated to popularizing Jazz.  The Paris chapter sponsored the earliest performances and recordings of Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.  His music became the nucleus around which French Jazz coalesced.  The Hot Club Jazz movement is stronger today than ever under the global banner of Gypsy Jazz.

Coleman Hawkins and friends recorded in Paris, April 1937.

Ekyan: A Creative Prodigy

Andre Ekyan’s father was from Armenia and his mother from Hungary. Raised in France, he was something of a child prodigy, taking up the clarinet at a young age and becoming widely popular. Andre was active in London, New York and Paris, recording with the cream of French, British and American jazz musicians. He worked or toured in the orchestras of Jack Hylton (London, 1930-31), Gregor (Paris, 1932-33), Tommy Dorsey (New York, 1936) and the French Swing outfit of Ray Ventura (1938, 1941).

Ekyan probably did more than almost anyone else to lift French music into the Swing era.  He was one of the most original and accomplished Jazz musicians of Europe and a pioneer in organizing, promoting and advocating for the music.  Early in his career, Andre developed his own style independently from the preeminent saxophone stylist of the era, Coleman Hawkins.

Beginning in 1937 the bandleader, clarinet and alto saxophonist made discs on the Swing label with French and American Jazz musicians.  He recorded vigorously for Swing with Django Reinhardt, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter (trumpet), Alix Combelle (tenor sax), Frank Big Boy Goudie (trumpet and tenor sax), Joe Turner (piano), Jacques Butler (trumpet), Tommy Benford (drums) and others.

Helater told French jazz writer Charles Delaunay about a jam session with Django at the Swing Time club.  “Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Bill Coleman were also there.  We began to play ‘I Won’t Dance,’ a tune that modulates a lot as it is.  We tried having fun playing it in odd keys.  Bill Coleman gave up first, then Coleman Hawkins.  Finally, it was just Benny Carter and Django.  Two masters.”


Andre Ekyan (alto sax) and Django Reinhardt (guitar),1940-41:



A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody





The Impresario and the Guitarist

Woven through most of the guitar player’s professional career was the supportive, low-key presence of Ekyan.  His clarinet or alto sax are heard on many of Django’s discs, 1937-41 and 1949-50. Ekyan.  The devoted impresario encouraged or organized numerous recordings, concerts, jam sessions and gigs for the guitar player.  Below are highlights of their association.

1932 – Ekyan first encounters Django Reinhardt and brings him into the orchestra of French crooner, Jean Sablon.

1934 – Sablon’s quartet, with Django and Ekyan, appear in London and broadcast from Piccadilly on the BBC.

1937 – Django jams at Ekyan’s jazz club, Swing Time.

1939 – Ekyan organizes Reinhardt’s gig at Jimmy’s Bar.

1940 – Andre participates in Reinhardt’s jam-session-on-disc series known as Django’s Music.

1941 – The bands of Django, Ekyan and Gus Viseur perform on a three-tiered concert stage at Moulin Rouge.

1942 – Joint concert at Salle Pleyel.

1949 – Ekyan persuades Django to resume performing. Residency of the Reinhardt-Ekyan quintet at several nightclubs in or near Paris.

1949-50 – The quintet tours South of France, Switzerland and Italy.


One Response to The Maestro and the Gypsy: Andre Ekyan and Django Reinhardt, 1932-50

  1. Further explorations:

    Andre Ekyan on JAZZ RHYTHM

    Ekyan – Keep Swinging Blogspot

    Django on JAZZ RHYTHM

    Frank Goudie in Paris, 1924-39

    Frank Goudie’s Paris Associates

    Towering Reedist Goudie: Clarinetist ‘Home’ After Years Abroad with Top Bands, Richard Hadlock, San Francisco Examiner, July 28, 1963

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