As part of my previously mentioned reinvestment of monies raised through Linkshare into more versions of “St. James Infirmary,” I’d like to put in a word today for Django Reinhardt’s take.
Often I spend a great deal of time and many words on lyrical variations of the song, but there are a number of very fine instrumental takes that simply luxuriate in the melody. And Reinhardt’s ranks among the best of these.
It appears on a collection called “Django In Rome 1949/1950,” and that’s about all I can tell you about the time and place context. I’m a sort of minor-league Reinhardt fan: I have a selection of his music, and I enjoy it, but I’ve noticed he’s one of those musicians whose advocates tend toward an extremism that, by and large, I don’t feel. That is, I like his sound, but I don’t obsess about it.
So I figured his version would be interesting. But it came in well above that expectation. It’s a haunting performance, but what’s more interesting is that there’s a quality to it that I can only call toughness. It’s very short, and the arrangement is very spare — just his guitar, then a piano, then a clarinet. (I’m pretty sure it’s a clarinet — tell me if I’m wrong, I’ve been known to make a fool of myself on these matters). While the clarinet carries the tune, it really is Reinhart’s guitar that beguiles. And that builds the surprisingly effective tension that starts to emerge at about a minute-and-half in. The final thirty seconds is true release — and almost shocking when it abruptly ends.