Django Reinhardt - Quick Biography:
Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt was born on January 23, 1910 in Liberchies, a small town in Eastern Belgium. He was a Sinto, a tribe of nomadic peoples closely related to the Roma (Gypsies). Despite a severe hand injury, he was a multi-instrumentalist but is best known as a jazz guitar virtuoso. Django Reinhardt died on May 16, 1953 in Fontainebleau, France.
Early Musicianship of Django Reinhardt:
Django Reinhardt was a musician from childhood. Growing up in Gypsy camps outside of Paris, he was given his first instrument, a guitjo (a cross between a banjo and a guitar) when he was 12 years old. He went on to learn fiddle and guitar. By age 13, he was working as a backing musician in a popular bal-musette band in Paris.
Tragedy Strikes Django Reinhardt:
In November of 1928, Django Reinhardt came to his caravan after playing a gig. As the story goes, his young wife was a paper flower maker and their caravan was therefore full of flammable material. Django knocked down a candle and the caravan rapidly went up in flames. Though both Django and his wife made it out, he was severely burned. His left hand (the fingering/fretting hand on a string instrument) was maimed, with only two fingers retaining complete mobility.
Django Reinhardt Discovers Jazz Music:
Instead of giving up music due to his injury, Django simply re-invented his guitar playing, finding new ways to play chords and runs with his two working fingers. In 1934, Django was invited to join a band called The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. The band played American big band music using traditional Gypsy instrumentation. The Quintet was the first collaboration between Django and legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Django Reinhardt During the War Years:
The Hot Club Quintet was touring England in 1939 when World War II officially broke out. Grappelli remained in England while Django returned to France - a risky move, as the Nazis were already heavily persecuting Gypsies at that time. However, probably because he was a beloved musician and a public figure, Django was not put into a concentration camp and made it through the war.
Django Reinhardt's Music After the War:
By the time WWII was over, Django Reinhardt had become famous on both sides of the Atlantic. Stephane Grappelli returned to France, and they recorded a number of international hit records with the Hot Club. Django also toured the United States with Duke Ellington. In 1951, at age 41, Django retired. He died in 1953 of a stroke.
Django Reinhardt - The Legend:
Django Reinhardt's playing was so virtuosic that he is considered by many professional musicians to be one of the best guitar players of all time. He has influenced musicians in all genres, and has become a near-mythological figure in modern music history.
More About Django Reinhardt:
Recommended Reading: Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend - Michael Dregni
Recommended CD: The Best of Django Reinhardt (Compare Prices)
Recommended Downloads: Essential Django Reinhardt Playlist