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During World War II jazz music was banned by the occupying Germans and therefore was forced to go underground. Even so, it seemed to flourish more than ever. Belgian orchestras continued to make new recordings and new bands kept popping up. Few records reached Europe, and of course no American bands were touring Belgium. This situation forced the public to settle for homegrown musicians and these much sought-after bands were often very successful. Jazz musicians were clever enough to 'adjust' the names of the songs they recorded to work around the official ban on American music. Thus, for example, Honeysuckle Rose was renamed "Rose de Miel" and Stardust was recorded as "Poussière d'étoile". There were also new jazz organizations such as the "Swing Club de Belgique" and the club "Sweet and Hot". The major big bands like Robert De Kers and his Cabaret Kings performed regularly in the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts and in the hall of the Antwerp Zoo.
After the liberation in 1945 the jazz scene in the United States had changed, and "bop" (or bebop) had become the latest thing. Characterized by its virtuosity, harmonic complexity and tempo changes, bebop brought about a stylistic revolution. The big names were now Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and Europeans learned about this new style of jazz when American records became available. In Belgium swing music was at its peak. The Belgian 'Lady of Swing' was Lucy Barcey. She was accompanied by the band of De Kers, among others.
After the war, jazz became popular throughout Europe. In 1946 Don Redman’s orchestra toured in Europe, followed in 1947 by Sidney Bechet (visiting Antwerp and Brussels) and Louis Armstrong. Likewise, the bands of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and others would regularly visit Belgium. Jazz in the form of dance music, mostly swing, was now played in bars, clubs and various venues by the Belgian bands of Boyd Bachmann, The Jump College, Henry Segers and his Belgian stars, Ernst van 't Hof, Jeff De Boeck and others. These orchestras could count on a large crowd of spectators wherever they came, because the soldiers of the liberation armies appreciated the music of the often highly professional Belgian bands. A number of jazz musicians also turned to the new bop style. In the period after 1950 there was a renewed interest in Europe for the old styles, especially for New Orleans music. At the New Orleans Dixieland festival in Paris in 1954 the Dixie Stompers from Mons were on the bill.
Many American musicians went to Belgium (and to Europe in general) in the early 1950s to live and perform there. Conversely, Belgian jazz musicians also enjoyed success in the States, among them guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans, vibraphonist Fats Sadi, trumpet player Sandy Herman and saxophonist Jack Sels. Other Belgians toured in Europe with American bands, among them singer Yettie Lee who went to Paris with Roy Eldridge.
Bop, modern jazz, also found fertile ground in Belgium. Guitarist Bill Alexander teamed up with bassist John Warland and recorded Charlie Parker's Ornithology in 1946, one of the first bebop recordings in Europe. One of the major bands playing in that style was The Bob Shots from Liège, with Toots Thielemans as a guitarist. Some of the best jazz musicians in Belgium at one time played in this band: the talented flautist and saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, saxophonist Jacques Pelzer and guitarist René Thomas. Bobby Jaspar was later influenced by musicians like Stan Getz and 'converted' to the cool jazz school. In his short career (he died at the age of 37) he played with such greats as Chet Baker, Kenny Burrell, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Donald Byrd.
In 1934 the Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt formed the quintet Hot Club de France with the French violinist Stéphane Grappelli, his brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar and Louis Volla on bass. At the outbreak of the war, during a tour in England, Django left Grappelli behind and returned to Paris, where in 1940 he recorded his famous song Nuages with jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Hubert Rostaing. After the war, in 1946, Django Reinhardt went to the States where he performed and recorded with jazz greats like Duke Ellington. Together with Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, he is now - even outside jazz - considered one of the most influential guitarists ever. Django's style, jazz manouche or gypsy jazz, keeps attracting new jazz musicians all over the world, and the number of bands playing in this style is still growing. In Belgium, Fapy Lafertin probably is he best known representative of modern jazz manouche. The Django d'Or awards, originally organized in Paris as a tribute to Django Reinhardt, now ranks samong the most prestigious jazz prizes awarded to deserving musicians. Since the 1990s more countries outside France organize their own Django d'Or awards. In Belgium the Gent Jazz Festival and Dinant Jazz Nights in turn organize Django d'Or awards, alternatively honoring Dutch and French speaking musicians and bands.
Gus Deloof - Whispering - Brussels, January 1940
Jean Omer & his Swing Orchestra - Club Privé (1941)