Featuring: Django Reinhardt

Not known to everyone, this guitarist has changed my life in a way that is impossible for me to put into words. His compositions, play and melodies are beyond explanation, and even comprehension I might add. In my view, he is technically the best guitarist I have ever heard (with the use of only 3 fingers). His music influenced my life and writing and changed my view on music. It was also my introduction to the world of jazz, which made me discover other great musicians which I will feature in other posts.

Django Reinhardt (23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953) was a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer. He was the first jazz talent to emerge from Europe and remains the most significant.
With violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Reinhardt formed the Paris-based Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. The group was among the first to play jazz that featured the guitar as a lead instrument. Reinhardt recorded in France with many visiting American musicians, including Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, and briefly toured the United States with Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1946. He died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 43.

Reinhardt’s most popular compositions have become standards within gypsy jazz, including “Minor Swing”, “Daphne”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42”, and “Nuages”. Jazz guitarist Frank Vignola claims that nearly every major popular-music guitarist in the world has been influenced by Reinhardt. Over the last few decades, annual Django festivals have been held throughout Europe and the U.S., and a biography has been written about his life. In February 2017, the Berlin International Film Festival held the world premiere of the French film Django.

When Django was 18 he nearly died. On the night of 2 November 1928, Reinhardt was going to bed in the wagon that he and his wife shared in the caravan. He knocked over a candle, which ignited the extremely flammable celluloid that set his wagon on fire. Reinhardt survived but suffered extensive burns over half his body. His ring finger and pinky of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again. Reinhardt applied himself intensely to relearning his craft, however, making use of a new guitar bought for him by his brother Joseph.
While he never regained the use of those two fingers, Reinhardt regained his musical mastery by focusing on his left index and middle fingers, using the two injured fingers only for chord work. During the years after the fire, Reinhardt was rehabilitating and experimenting on the guitar that his brother had given him. While developing his interest in jazz, Reinhardt met Stéphane Grappelli, a young violinist with similar musical interests. He and Grappelli frequently jammed together and formed the band Hot Club de France in 1934. Reinhardt also played and recorded with many American jazz musicians, such as Adelaide Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, etc. He participated in a jam session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong. Later in his career, Reinhardt played with Dizzy Gillespie in France.

During WW II Django was fortunate enough to be able to survive and play as Roma and Sinti, or better known as gypsies, were deported by Nazis and jazz music was prohibited. Yet some German officers were impressed by Django’s virtuosity leaving him to travel and play in France.

Many guitar players and other musicians have expressed admiration for Reinhardt or have cited him as a major influence. Jeff Beck described Reinhardt as “by far the most astonishing guitar player ever” and “quite superhuman”.
Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, both of whom lost fingers in accidents, were inspired by Reinhardt’s example of becoming an accomplished guitar player despite his injuries. Garcia was quoted in June 1985 in Frets Magazine: His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note has a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django.

Django had a son Babik who was also an accomplished and talented guitar player. Bireli Lagrene, Angelo Debarre are amongst many interpreters that play the Gypsy jazz music style still today.

Check him out (or not):

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, poetpas

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