About Jean-Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt (23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953) was a pioneering virtuoso Belgian jazz guitarist and composer.
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.
Reinhardt was attracted to music at an early age, playing the violin at first. At the age of 12, he received a banjo-guitar as a gift. He quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched. His first known recordings (in 1928) were of him playing the banjo. During this period he was influenced by two older gypsy musicians, the banjoist Gusti Mahla and the guitarist Jean "Poulette" Castro. By the age of 13, Reinhardt was able to make a living playing music. As a result, he received little formal education and acquired the rudiments of literacy only in adult life.
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 1929, Reinhardt's estranged wife Florine gave birth to a son named Henri "Lousson" Reinhardt (aka Lousson Baumgartner).
Discovery of jazz
The years between 1929 and 1933 were formative for Reinhardt. One development was his abandonment of the banjo-guitar in favour of the 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". Shortly afterwards he made the acquaintance of a young violinist with very similar musical interests—Stéphane Grappelli. In the absence of paid work in their radical new music, the two would jam together, along with a loose circle of other musicians. Finally, Reinhardt would acquire his first Selmer guitar in the mid 1930s. The volume and expressiveness of the instrument were to become an integral part of his style.
Formation of the quintet Reinhardt and Grappelli.
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.
In Paris on 14 March 1933, Reinhardt recorded two takes each of "Parce que je vous aime" and "Si, j'aime Suzy", vocal numbers with lots of guitar fills and guitar support, using three 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 Quintette. In both years, it should be noted, the great majority of their recordings featured a wide variety of horns, often in multiples, piano, and other instruments. Nonetheless, the all-string format is the one most often adopted by emulators of the Hot Club sound.
Reinhardt also played and recorded with many American jazz musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris), and participated in a jam-session and radio performance with Louis Armstrong. Later in his career he played with Dizzy Gillespie in France. Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France used the Selmer Maccaferri, the first commercially available guitars with a cutaway and later with an aluminium-reinforced neck. World War II
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, Reinhardt married Sophie "Naguine" Ziegler in Salbris, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who became a respected guitarist in his own right.
Reinhardt survived the war unscathed, unlike many Romanis who perished in the Porajmos, the Nazi regime's systematic murder of several hundred thousand European Romanis. He was well aware of the dangers he and his family faced, and made several unsuccessful attempts to escape occupied France. Part of the explanation of his survival is that he enjoyed the protection of (surreptitiously) jazz-loving Nazis such as Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, nicknamed "Doktor Jazz".
Reinhardt's problems were compounded by the fact that the Nazis also officially disapproved of jazz. Reinhardt became interested in other musical directions, attempting to write a Mass for the Gypsies and Symphony (since he could not write music, he would perform improvisations to be notated by an assistant). His modernist piece Rhythm Futur was intended to be acceptably unjazzlike.
United States tour
After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK, 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. At the end of the tour he played two nights at Carnegie Hall; he received a great ovation and took six curtain calls on the first night. Despite Reinhardt's great pride in touring with Ellington (one of his two letters to Grappelli relates this excitement), he was not really integrated into the band, playing only a few tunes at the end of the show, backed by Ellington, with no special arrangements written for him. After the tour he secured an engagement at Café Society Uptown, where he did four solos a day backed by the resident band. These performances drew large audiences.
Reinhardt was reportedly given an untuned guitar to play with (discovered after strumming a chord) which took him five minutes to tune. Having failed to take along a Selmer Modèle Jazz, the guitar he made famous, he had to play on a haphazardly borrowed electric guitar, which failed to bring out the delicacy of his style.
He had been promised some jobs in California but these failed to materialize and he got tired of waiting. He returned to France in February 1947. After the quintet
After returning to France, Reinhardt spent the remainder of his days re-immersed in Romani 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".
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.
Final years Plaque commemorating Reinhardt at Samois-sur-Seine.
In 1951, he retired to Samois-sur-Seine, near Fontainebleau, where he lived until his death. He continued to play in Paris jazz clubs and began playing electric guitar (often a Selmer fitted with an electric pickup), despite his initial hesitation towards the instrument. His final recordings made with his "Nouvelle Quintette" in the last few months of his life show him moving in a new musical direction; he had assimilated the vocabulary of bebop and fused it with his own melodic style.
While walking from the Avon railway station after playing in a Paris club he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. 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.
Reinhardt's second son, Babik, was a guitarist in the contemporary jazz style. His first son, Lousson, was more of a traditionalist, but followed the Romani lifestyle and rarely performed in public. Reinhardt's brother Joseph had initially sworn to abandon music on hearing of Reinhardt's death, but was persuaded to start performing and recording again. Joseph's son Markus is a gypsy violinist. There is now a third generation of direct descendants: Reinhardt's grandson (by his son Babik), David Reinhardt, leads his own trio; his grandson by Lousson, Dallas Baumgartner, is a guitarist who follows in his father's footsteps by traveling and keeping a low public profile.
Django had a cousin, Schnuckenack Reinhardt, who was a violinist. Schnukenack lived in Germany, and the two never met. Many of his descendants are also involved in gypsy music, such as his grandson Lulo Reinhardt.
Legacy Main article: Gypsy jazz
For about a decade after Reinhardt's death, interest in his musical style was minimal, with the fifties seeing bebop superseding swing in jazz, the rise of rock and roll, and electric instruments taking over from acoustic ones in popular music. Reinhardt's friends and sidemen Pierre Ferret and his brothers continued to perform their own version of gypsy swing.
There was a revival of interest in Reinhardt's music from the mid sixties, with acoustic music having become popular through the folk movement. Several of Reinhardt's near-contemporaries recorded for the first time in the sixties and seventies, for instance Paul "Tchan Tchou" Vidal
In 1973 Stéphane Grappelli formed a successful Quintette-style band with British guitarists Diz Disley and Denny Wright. Grappelli would go on to form many other musical partnerships, including John Etheridge, Nigel Kennedy and David Grisman. He was also to acquire his own emulators, for instance Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis.
Django Reinhardt's Timeline
May 16, 1953
Samois-sur-Seine, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France