The Hot Club of San Francisco

Most jazz historians and fans maintain the first truly European jazz musician was guitarist Django Reinhardt. While jazz spread across the Continent early in the 20th century, most players took after American models like Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. Reinhardt was the first to bring his own ethnic identity to jazz. His elegant but hard-swinging Gallic style was très apprecié in the 1930s and '40s, influencing future generations of guitarists, and remains a cult favorite today.

There are several bands worldwide maintaining his legacy, but the Hot Club of San Francisco is unique in that the band doesn't approach it as nostalgia or a pious musicology lecture. For one thing, the Hot Club uses two violins (whereas most groups use one), adding the occasional viola and saxophone. Not only does it include Django-era tunes; it ventures into cool jazz (Gerry Mulligan's "Limelight"), funky bebop (Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream"), and -- gasp -- rock music (the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"). These hepcats clearly love Django's inspiration too much to treat it as an airless museum piece, recognizing that his sound was -- and is -- classy, inspired fun.