Django Reinhardt

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953) was a Belgian Gypsy jazz guitarist.
One of the first prominent European jazz musicians, Reinhardt remains one of the most renowned jazz guitarists due to his innovative and distinctive playing. With violinist Stéphane Grappelli he cofounded the Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz. Reinhardt’s most popular compositions have become jazz standards, including “Minor Swing”, “Tears”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42″ and “Nuages” (French for “Clouds”).

Listen to Django Reinhardt ‘Djangology (1935)’

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Listen to Django Reinhardt ‘Minor Swing (25th november 1937)’

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Both songs performed by Quintette du Hot Club de France: Stephane Grapelli (v), Django Reinhardt (g solo), Joseph Reinhardt, Eugène Vées (g) and Louis Vola (b).

Born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, Reinhardt’s gypsy nickname “Django” was Romani for “I awake”. He spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments close to Paris, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age, and professionally at Bal-musette halls in Paris. He started first on the violin and eventually moved on to a banjo-guitar (foto dja) that had been given to him and his first known recordings (in 1928) were of him playing the banjo.

At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with Florine “Bella” Mayer, his first wife. They were very poor, and to supplement their income Bella made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbors were quick to pull him to safety, he received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burnt (foto hand). Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.

His brother Joseph Reinhardt, an accomplished guitarist himself, bought Django a new guitar.
With painful rehabilitation and practice Django relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his third and fourth fingers remained partially paralyzed. Hence, he played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and his thumb, and managed to use the two injured digits only for chord work.

> Career

In 1934, Reinhardt and Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France” with Reinhardt’s brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. Occasionally Chaput was replaced by Reinhardt’s best friend and fellow Gypsy Pierre “Baro” Ferret. The vocalist Freddy Taylor participated in a few songs, such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Nagasaki”. Jean Sablon was the first singer to record with him more than thirty songs from 1933 (foto DR-3). They also used their guitars for percussive sounds, as they had no true percussion section. The Quintet du Hot Club de France was one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of string instruments.

Reinhardt played and recorded also with many American Jazz legends such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris), and a jam-session and radio performance with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Later in his career he gigged with Dizzy Gillespie in France. Reinhardt could neither read nor write music, and was barely literate. Stéphane took the band’s downtime to teach him. (foto Duke)

The guitars used by Django and the Hot Club of France, the Selmer Maccaferri, are the first commercially available guitars with a cutaway. Another innovation is a reinforced neck. Many luthiers consider them to be among the finest guitars ever made (foto Selmer-503).

> World war II

When World War II broke out, the original quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once, leaving his wife behind. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war. Reinhardt reformed the quintet, with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet replacing Grappelli’s violin. In 1943, Django married Sophie Ziegler in Salbris, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who became a respected guitarist in his own right.

> Post war

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953) was a Belgian Gypsy jazz guitarist.
One of the first prominent European jazz musicians, Reinhardt remains one of the most renowned jazz guitarists due to his innovative and distinctive playing. With violinist Stéphane Grappelli he cofounded the Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz. Reinhardt’s most popular compositions have become jazz standards, including “Minor Swing”, “Tears”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42″ and “Nuages” (French for “Clouds”).

Listen to Django Reinhardt ‘Djangology (1935)’

Listen to Django Reinhardt ‘Minor Swing (25th november 1937)’

Both songs performed by Quintette du Hot Club de France: Stephane Grapelli (v), Django Reinhardt (g solo), Joseph Reinhardt, Eugène Vées (g) and Louis Vola (b).

Born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, Reinhardt’s gypsy nickname “Django” was Romani for “I awake”. He spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments close to Paris, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age, and professionally at Bal-musette halls in Paris. He started first on the violin and eventually moved on to a banjo-guitar (foto dja) that had been given to him and his first known recordings (in 1928) were of him playing the banjo.

At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with Florine “Bella” Mayer, his first wife. They were very poor, and to supplement their income Bella made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbors were quick to pull him to safety, he received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burnt (foto hand). Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane.

His brother Joseph Reinhardt, an accomplished guitarist himself, bought Django a new guitar.
With painful rehabilitation and practice Django relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his third and fourth fingers remained partially paralyzed. Hence, he played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and his thumb, and managed to use the two injured digits only for chord work.

> Career

In 1934, Reinhardt and Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France” with Reinhardt’s brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. Occasionally Chaput was replaced by Reinhardt’s best friend and fellow Gypsy Pierre “Baro” Ferret. The vocalist Freddy Taylor participated in a few songs, such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Nagasaki”. Jean Sablon was the first singer to record with him more than thirty songs from 1933 (foto DR-3). They also used their guitars for percussive sounds, as they had no true percussion section. The Quintet du Hot Club de France was one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of string instruments.

Reinhardt played and recorded also with many American Jazz legends such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris), and a jam-session and radio performance with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Later in his career he gigged with Dizzy Gillespie in France. Reinhardt could neither read nor write music, and was barely literate. Stéphane took the band’s downtime to teach him. (foto Duke)

The guitars used by Django and the Hot Club of France, the Selmer Maccaferri, are the first commercially available guitars with a cutaway. Another innovation is a reinforced neck. Many luthiers consider them to be among the finest guitars ever made (foto Selmer-503).

> World war II

When World War II broke out, the original quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once, leaving his wife behind. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war. Reinhardt reformed the quintet, with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet replacing Grappelli’s violin. In 1943, Django married Sophie Ziegler in Salbris, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who became a respected guitarist in his own right.

> Post war

After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK, and then went on in fall 1946 to tour the United States as a special guest soloist with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, playing two nights at Carnegie Hall with many notable musicians and composers such as Maury Deutsch. Despite Reinhardt’s great pride in touring with Ellington (his excitement was expressed one of his two letters to Grappelli), he wasn’t really integrated into the band, playing only a few tunes at the end of the show, with no special arrangements written personally for him. He missed his brother Joseph, who used to take care of things, like carrying around his guitar and tuning it. Allegedly, on these tours Reinhardt was given an untuned guitar to play with (discovered after strumming a chord) and it took him five whole minutes to tune it. Also, he was used to playing a Selmer Modèle Jazz, the guitar he made famous, but he was required to play a new amplified model. After “going electric”, the results were not as much liked by fans. He returned to France with broken dreams, but continued to play and make many recordings.

Django Reinhardt was among the first people in France to appreciate the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie whom he sought when he arrived in New York. Unfortunately they were both on tour.

After returning to France, Django spent the remainder of his days re-immersed in gypsy life, having found it difficult to adjust to the modern world. He would sometimes show up for concerts without a guitar or amp, or wander off to the park or beach, and on a few occasions he refused even to get out of bed. Reinhardt was known by his band, fans, and managers to be extremely unpredictable. He would often skip sold-out concerts to simply “walk to the beach” or “smell the dew”. However, he did continue to compose and is still regarded as one of the most advanced jazz guitarists to ever play the instrument.

In 1948, Reinhardt recruited a few Italian jazz players (on bass, piano, and snare drum) and recorded one of his most acclaimed contributions, “Djangology”, once again with Stephane Grappelli on violin. Although his experience in the U.S. left him influenced greatly by American jazz, making him a different player from the man Grappelli had known, on this recording Reinhardt switched back to his old roots, once again playing the acoustic Selmer-Maccaferri.

In 1951, he retired to Samois-sur-Seine, France, near Fontainebleau. He lived there for two years until 16 May 1953, when, while returning from the Avon train station, he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. It took a full day for a doctor to arrive and Django was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.

(source: Wikipedia)