Happy Birthday Django Reinhardt!
Jean "Django" Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 – May 16, 1953) was a pioneering jazz guitarist and composer who is often credited as the first European jazz musician who significantly influenced the genre. Reinhardt developed a new technique, sometimes known as 'hot' jazz guitar, that has since become a living musical tradition within French gypsy culture. His most popular compositions which have since become jazz standards, include "Minor Swing", "Daphne", "Belleville", "Djangology", "Swing '42", and "Nuages". (Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium into a family of Manouche gypsies, many of whom were keen musicians. His nickname "Django" means "I awake" in the Romani language. At an early age, he was encouraged to develop his musical talents, and received a banjo-guitar as a gift when he was twelve. By age thirteen, he was able to make a living playing music, and thus received little formal education.
When he was eighteen, Reinhardt was severely injured when his caravan caught on fire. By the time he was pulled to safety, he had suffered first- and second-degree burns over half his body, and his right leg was paralyzed. The third and fourth fingers on his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs. He refused the surgery and within a year, was able to walk with the help of a cane. Reinhardt's brother Joseph, a fellow guitarist, bought him a new guitar. Eventually, Django taught himself an entirely new way to play the instrument, performing all his guitar solos with two fingers, and using his injured fingers for chord work.
In the next few years, Django turned his interest to the guitar rather than the banjo-guitar. He also first heard American jazz during this period, when a man called Emile Savitry played him a number of records from his collection: he was particularly impressed with Louis Armstrong, whom he called "my brother".
Quintette du Hot Club de France, via The Gypsy Chronicles
In 1934, Reinhardt and Parisian violinist Grappelli were invited to form the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" with Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass.
The Quintette became known for it's incredibly original sound, and for being one of the few well-established jazz groups which used only string instruments. Reinhardt also played and recorded with many American jazz musicians such as Adelaide Hall, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart and participated in a jam-session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong.
When WWII broke out, the original quintet was on tour in the UK. Reinhardt returned to Paris, leaving his wife behind. In 1943, Reinhardt remarried Sophie "Naguine" Ziegler in Salbris, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt. Reinhardt made several failed attempts to escape occupied France, but he survived the war unscathed, unlike thousands of fellow Gypsies sentenced to death under the Nazi regime. Reinhardt attributed the success of his survival to the fact that some Nazi officers loved jazz music, like Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, nicknamed "Doktor Jazz".
After the war, Reinhardt toured the United States, playing with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, as well as two nights at Carnegie Hall. In Rome in 1949, Reinhardt recruited three Italian jazz players (on bass, piano, and snare drum) and recorded his final (double) album, "Djangology". He was once again united with Grappelli, and returned to his acoustic Selmer-Maccaferri. The recording was discovered and issued for the first time in the late 1950s.
Reinhardt retired to Samois-sur-Seine, in northern France, where he lived for the rest of his life. He continued to play in Paris jazz clubs and began playing an electric guitar. His final recordings show a fusion of bebop music, which was relatively new at the time, with his own established style. Django was only 43 when he died, collapsing from a brain hemorrhage. It took the doctor a full day to arrive and Reinhardt was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Django's brother Joseph initially swore never to play music again, but was later persuaded to resume performing and recording. Many of the Reinhardt descendants, including Babik, have become established musicians in their own right.
- Birthday Date: Thursday, 23 January 2014