Django Reinhardt Day

January 23, 1910 – May 16, 1953

 

A tribute to the unique gypsy guitarist

Guitarist Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt was born January 23, 1910 in Liberchies, Belgium.

The most legendary of all jazz guitarists, Reinhardt grew up in a gypsy caravan, started on the violin, switched to banjo, and made his first recordings as a banjoist in 1928.

A near-disaster occurred when a fire occured in his caravan, resulting in Django having serious burns on his left hand and right leg; his leg recovered but he would never be able to use the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand again and had to learn how to voice chords with just three usable fingers.

It took two years but Reinhardt, who switched to the guitar, developed his own style and technique during that period, discovering jazz and becoming the first major European jazz musician.

He met violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1931 and during 1934-39 they collaborated on the innovative recordings and performances of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, recording frequently and making history.

Reinhardt, who also appeared on records with such visiting Americans as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Rex Stewart, composed such songs as “Nuages,” “Minor Swing” and “Djangology.”

In 1939 when the Quintet of the Hot Club of France was in England, World War II. broke out; Reinhardt impulsively returned to Paris where he managed to remain musically active during the occupation years (recording many impressive performances) while largely avoiding the Nazi authorities.

After the liberation of France, Reinhardt had the first of several reunions with Grappelli, switched to electric guitar, started to explore his own brand of bebop, and made his one visit to the U.S. in 1946 when he was a guest with Duke Ellington’s band at several concerts.

It took some time but by the late 1940s, Django Reinhardt was one of jazz’s finest modern electric guitarists.

There were plans for him to return to the U.S. as part of Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic but he died suddenly from a stroke in 1953 when he was only 43.

Four decades later, the music of Django Reinhardt could again be heard throughout Europe with the rise in popularity of gypsy swing, resulting in many festivals and a worldwide renaissance of his unique style that continues to this day.

Here is the most significant film that exists of Django Reinhardt, taken from a 1937 short subject and featuring him with Stephane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

-Scott Yanow