Django Reinhardt

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Django Reinhardt.
Django Reinhardt.



Jean "Django" Reinhardt was born in Belgium on 23 January 1910 and died in France on 16 May 1953.

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, described by critic Thom Jurek as "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").


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 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.
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. Amazingly 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. It is said that he played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and managed to use the two injured digits only for chord work. However, it is hard to imagine that his solos could possibly have been played in that manner.

Here you can clearly see the scarring left by the Fire.


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. 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.

Nagasaki - featuring Freddy Taylor.

In Paris on March 14, 1933 Reinhardt recorded 2 takes each of "Parce que je vous aime" and "Si, j'aime Suzy", vocal numbers with lots of guitar fills and great guitar support, using 3 guitarists along with an accordion lead, violin, and bass. In August of the following year recordings were also made with more than one guitar (Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput, and Django), including the first recording by the Quintet. In both years, it should be noted, the great majority of recordings featured a wide variety of horns, often in multiples, piano, etc.

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.

The War Years. WWII.

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.

Reinhardt survived World War II unscathed, unlike the many Gypsies who perished in the porajmos, the Nazi regime's systematic murder of several hundred thousand European Gypsies, quite a few of whom were sent to death camps. He was especially fortunate because the Nazi regime did not allow jazz to be performed and recorded. He apparently enjoyed the protection of the Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, nicknamed "Doktor Jazz", who deeply admired his music.

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 (one of his two letters to Grappelli relates this excitement), 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 was used to his brother, Joseph, carrying around his guitar for him and tuning it. Allegedly, 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. The recording was recently discovered by jazz enthusiasts and is now available in the U.S. and Europe.

The End.

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.


1945 Paris 1945
1947 Ellingtonia - with the Rex Stewart Band - Dial 215
1949 Djangology
1951 Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club Quintet
1951 At Club St. Germain
1953 Django Reinhardt et Ses Rythmes
1954 The Great Artistry of Django Reinhardt
1955 Django's Guitar
1959 Django Reinhardt and His Rhythm
1980 Routes to Django Reinhardt
1996 Imagine
2001 All Star Sessions
2001 Jazz in Paris: Swing 39
2002 Djangology (remastered) (recorded in 1948, discovered, remastered and released by Bluebird Records)
2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuages
2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuits de Saint-Germain des-Prés
2004 Le Génie Vagabond
2008 Django on the Radio (radio broadcasts, 1945 - 1953)

At least eight compilations have also been released.

Film Clip.

Quintette du Hot Club de France


Relative GMC Lesson Links.

[Jazz Manouche 1 by Jad Diab]
[Jazz Manouche 2 by Jad Diab.]
[Gypsy Jazz Common Phrasing by Ramiro Delforte.]
[Gypsy Jazz Workout by Vasilije Vukmirovic.]
[Jazz Swing Rhythm Lesson by Muris Varajic.]
[Jazz Swing Lead Lesson by Muris Varajic.]
[Jazz Swing Lead Advanced Lesson by Muris Varajic.]

--Sensible Jones 20:19, 13 February 2009 (CET)