Song composed by Fats Waller; performed by Le Quintette du Hot Club de France
I swear that I did not know this existed. You could have said the name of the group to me and I would have stared at you as though you were speaking in some sort of foreign language. I couldn’t pick the musicians out of a line-up if my life depended on it, despite the world-class status of at least two members of the group. Really, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli are part of that tiny cohort somewhere above world-class on their instruments- you know, those few who may actually be the best who ever lived. But I had no idea who they were.
So, what did I think when I first heard some of their tunes on one one of those radio stations that big cities used to provide way down low on the FM dial of the radio? I thought- wow- this sounds just like Paris in the middle of this century (which would have been the 20th century at the time). How in the world had I absorbed that sense of time and place so thoroughly in just a decade or two? This question is no different than wondering how I knew at a young age that Martha My Dear looked backward as much as it was a recent song.
Moreover, I wanted to be in that smoky bar situated on a side-street in Paris, surrounded by men in tight suits and women in tight dresses, nodding along as Reinhardt executes another dynamic fill. During breaks, the musicians would mingle with the crowd and French would be everywhere. That’s the point at which my mind wanders and I wonder just how much I’ve mashed together a hundred years of history into one anachronistic mess.
This miracle of art that transports us to places that we have never been is absolutely amazing. Nowadays, we associate it as much with film as any other form, but surely that is at least part of the appeal of landscape paintings and epic poems. You spent the night listening to Homer because he made you feel like you were experiencing all those islands where Odysseus landed during his horrifying journey home.
We like to say that musicians (and other artists) are ambassadors when they travel to foreign countries and perform, but we somehow bury the lead when we do that. The art is what transports people and it isn’t the musicians who travel nearly as far as the audience. After all, the whole point of the artistic ambassador is to allow an opportunity to those who could never develop an image of a distant land.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 35 more to go.
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