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Django Reinhardt

(1910-1953)
The first European musical virtuoso to influence American jazz was Django Reinhardt, a Frenchspeaking Belgian gypsy who had only two working fingers on his left hand. He is regarded as the jazz guitar’s most dazzling soloist, most exciting improvisor, and most important innovator. Despite the fire injury at age 18 that crippled his fretting hand and challenged his very will to live, this extravagant, romantic, and illiterate genius went on to hasten the acceptance of the guitar as a popular solo instrument and to inspire musicians as varied as Yehudi Menuhin, Julian Bream, Les Paul, Barney Kessel, Chet Atkins, Joe Pass, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton. Often regarded as the first important European jazz musician who made major contributions to the development of the idiom, he is also revered by guitarists worldwide as among the foremost exponents of the instrument. Reinhardt invented an entirely new style of jazz guitar technique (sometimes called 'hot' jazz guitar) that has since become a living musical tradition within French gypsy culture. With violinist Stéphane Grappelli, he co-founded 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", "Daphne", "Belleville", "Djangology", "Swing '42", and "Nuages". Jean "Django" Reinhardt was born 23 January 1910 in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, into a family of Manouche gypsies. Reinhardt's nickname "Django" is Romani for "I awake." Reinhardt spent most of his youth in Romani (Gypsy) encampments close to Paris, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age. His family made cane furniture for a living, but included several keen amateur musicians. 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 rich in highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Reinhardt apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbours were quick to pull him to safety, he received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralysed and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. 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 rehabilitation and practice he relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his third and fourth fingers remained partially paralysed. He played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and used the two injured digits only for chord work. 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. 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 30 songs from 1933. They also used their guitars for percussive sounds, as they had no true percussion section. The Quintette du Hot Club de France (in some of its versions at least) was one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of string instruments.

Reinhardt recorded two takes each of "Parce que je vous aime" and "Si. Reinhardt was reportedly given an untuned guitar to play with (discovered after strumming a chord) which took him five minutes to tune. The recording was discovered and issued for the first time in the late 1950s. . Having failed to take along a Selmer Modèle Jazz. When World War II broke out. Reinhardt was known by his band. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once. Babik Reinhardt. having found it difficult to adjust to the modern world. He was once again united with Grappelli. the original quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. including the first recording by the Quintette. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war. and returned to his acoustic Selmer-Maccaferri. Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK. with whom he had a son. or wander off to the park or beach. piano. In 1943. the all-string format is the one most often adopted by emulators of the Hot Club sound. Reinhardt recruited three Italian jazz players (on bass. In August of the following year recordings were also made with more than one guitar (Joseph Reinhardt. and then went on in the autumn of 1946 to tour the United States as a special guest soloist with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. when he got to play with many notable musicians and composers such as Maury Deutsch. Reinhardt married Sophie "Naguine" Ziegler in Salbris. Roger Chaput. and on a few occasions he refused even to get out of bed. violin. In both years. At the end of the tour he played two nights at Carnegie Hall. j'aime Suzy".In Paris on 14 March 1933. playing only a few tunes at the end of the show. He would often skip sold-out concerts to simply "walk to the beach" or "smell the dew". fans. "Djangology". with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet replacing Grappelli's violin. and bass. After the tour he secured an engagement at Café Society Uptown. he had to play on a haphazardly borrowed electric guitar. piano. which failed to bring out the delicacy of his style. After returning to France. and snare drum) and recorded his final (double) album. These performances drew large audiences. and Django). Benny Carter. It was a Saturday and it took a full day for a doctor to arrive and Reinhardt was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau at age 43. the guitar he made famous. and participated in a jam-session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong. the first commercially available guitars with a cutaway and later with an aluminium-reinforced neck. Reinhardt reformed the quintet. Reinhardt also played and recorded with many American jazz musicians such as Coleman Hawkins. and managers to be extremely unpredictable. it should be noted. using three guitarists along with an accordion lead. who became a respected guitarist in his own right. backed by Ellington. Reinhardt spent the remainder of his days re-immersed in Romani life. In Rome in 1949. While walking from the Avon railway station after playing in a Paris club he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. leaving his wife behind. Despite Reinhardt's great pride in touring with Ellington (one of his two letters to Grappelli relates this excitement). often in multiples. the great majority of their recordings featured a wide variety of horns. Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France used the Selmer Maccaferri. where he did four solos a day backed by the resident band. Nonetheless. He would sometimes show up for concerts without a guitar or amp. vocal numbers with lots of guitar fills and guitar support. with no special arrangements written for him. he was not really integrated into the band. and other instruments. he received a great ovation and took six curtain calls on the first night. After the war. Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris). Later in his career he played with Dizzy Gillespie in France.