I was recently talking with a musician friend of mine who has been around for many a season. The subject of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt came up, and my friend Bob told me the following story:
Bob was listening to records one day with an Australian musician and bandleader called John Ansell. John led the Cootamundra Jazz Band in regional New South Wales during the 1950s and 60s. Bob put on a record of Django Reinhardt and John remarked thoughtfully 'I almost heard Django live once'.
Of course, Bob was gobsmacked by this - not the fact that he had been around at the time, because Bob himself had seen Sidney Bechet and Charlie Parker live. Instead he couldn't believe John had passed up the opportunity. He replied, 'What do you mean, you almost heard him - why DIDN'T you?'
'The guys I was with didn't want to go in,' John said.
'Why didn't they? It's Django we're talking about here!'
'Oh, the place was full of Germans,' John said. Bob thought this through, then asked, 'What year was this, John?'
'It was nineteen forty-two.'
John explained how he had been held in Paris as a prisoner of war while with the Australian Defence Force in World War II. He was sprung out of his prison by the French Resistance one night, and while on their way through the streets they passed a nightclub. John looked through the window and saw Django Reinhardt playing on the stage. His rescuers were less than keen to go in because of the German officers inside, and despite his protestations he was escorted out of Paris to the hills.
It may be that this story is partly or wholly apocryphal, but to me the reality of it isn't the point. Instead I treasure how it places my jazz idols within a historical context. Even if this particular story were untrue, it IS true that Django and my other heroes existed in a living, breathing world filled with chance encounters and danger.