Django Reinhardt

Artist / Band / Musician
Jazz / Blues / Roots Music
Born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in Basque gypsy encampments close to Paris, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age professionally at dance halls in Paris. He started first on the violin and eventually moved on to a banjo-guitar that had been given to him, and his first known recordings (in 1928) were of him playing the banjo (a banjo guitar has six strings and is tuned like a guitar).At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. He almost lost a leg, and the third and fourth digits on his left hand (his fretting hand) were burned badly. Reinhardt focused on the guitar and developed an original style of playing that emphasized his undamaged fingers. He was still able to use the two damaged fingers for playing chords, but was unable to use them for playing solos.In 1934, Louis Vola formed the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" with Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. He produced numerous recordings at this time and played with many American Jazz legends such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter , Rex Stewart and Louis Armstrong.Reinhardt could not read nor write music, and was allegedly illiterate.As World War II was declared, the 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, and Reinhardt reformed the quintet in Paris with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet in place of Grappelli's violin.Reinhardt survived World War II unscathed, unlike many other gypsies who perished in the concentration death camps of the Nazis. He had the help of a Luftwaffe official named Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, a.k.a. Doktor Jazz, who deeply admired his music. In 1943 he married Sophie Ziegler in Salbris, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who went on to become a respected guitarist in his own right.After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK, and went on to tour the United States, opening for Duke Ellington, and playing at Carnegie Hall, with many notable musicians and composers such as Dr.Maury Deutsch. Despite Reinhardt's great pride in touring with Ellington (one of his two letters to Grappelli relates this excitment), he wasn't really integrated into the band, playing only a few tunes at the end of the show, with no special arrangements for him. Also, he was used to playing the Selmer Macaferri, 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 and understand the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie whom he sought after when he arrived in New York. Unfortunately they were all on tour.After returning to France, Django spent the remainder of his days going back to gypsy life, finding it hard to adjust to modern life. One of the most enigmatic events was when Reinhardt abandoned a newly-purchased car on the side of a road because it had run out of petrol.The Concept of "Lead Guitar" (Django) and backing "Rhythm Guitars" (Joseph Reinhardt/Roger Chaput) was born with the Quintette Du Hot Club De France , without percussion instruments they used the rhythm guitars to serve this purpose.He later formed a new band with saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. He continued composing, and is regarded as among the most advanced guitar players of jazz music.In 1951, he retired to Samois sur Seine, France, near Fontainebleau. He lived there for two years until May 16, 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.
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