For more than a century, the blues has served as an elemental framework for jazz improvisation, and today, Django Reinhardt is revered among the greatest improvising artists who ever lived. Plays the Blues is a double-disc set released in 2010 by the Spanish reissue label Essential Jazz Classics. It is highly recommended as an effective way to absorb and comprehend the master guitarist's overall artistic contribution. 51 examples are drawn from the best years of Django's musical odyssey and feature most of the noteworthy musicians with whom he recorded from the mid-'30s until shortly before his demise, including some of the best jazz players in mainland Europe and several visiting or expatriate American instrumentalists. Opening with W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" performed by Stéphane Grappelli's Hot Four on the last day of September 1935, the chronology includes a live appearance with Duke Ellington's Orchestra in 1946 and extends into March 1953 with "Blues for Ike," a cool salute to newly inaugurated U.S. president and former D-Day General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Because of the freedom of expression inherent in the blues and the rapid evolution of jazz at mid-century, there's more creative variety here than the title may suggest, and relative to the parameters of Reinhardt's accomplishments, a parallel could even be drawn with the 1962 Atlantic album Coltrane Plays the Blues. Even within a discography containing reissue compilations of every description, Reinhardt's Plays the Blues marks a new high point in the study of this internationally celebrated artist and the mingled traditions to which he devoted his life.