Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt

Père du jazz manouche et guitariste prodige, Django Reinhardt a fortement marqué la musique du 20e siècle. Il continue encore aujourd'hui à fasciner et à influencer les guitaristes du monde entier.

Father of gypsy jazz and guitar prodigy, Django Reinhardt has strongly marked the music of the 20th century. He continues to fascinate and influence guitarists around the world to this day.

Jean Reinhardt, better known as Django, was born in 1910 in Liberchies (Belgium) into a community of travellers. After spending his childhood travelling through Europe and North Africa, he settled with his family in Paris.

He learnt music by himself (first the violin, then the banjo-guitar and the guitar) by observing passing musicians, and quickly showed an extraordinary dexterity. After joining the family orchestra, he began to play in the street, then at balls and cabarets, and even in the salons of bourgeois families. The teenager was spotted by the ballroom accordionist Vetese Guérino and acquired a certain reputation among music lovers. It was finally accordionist Jean Vaissade who finally allowed him to record his first album in 1918.

That same year, a fire broke out in Django's caravan, seriously injuring his right leg and left hand. He lost two fingers and spent 18 months in hospital. His brother gave him a new guitar as a rehabilitation tool, and Django learned to play again by developing a new technique. When he gets out of hospital, he discovers jazz through Louis Amstrong and Duke Ellington. This was a revelation for Django, who decided to devote his life to this new genre of music.

In 1934, he founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. They proposed a new style of music, mixing the Gypsy heritage and the jazz of the time. Their atypical group quickly won over the public and went on tour throughout Europe. They recorded many records and played alongside jazz giants such as Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Django is gradually being praised around the world for his dexterity, improvisational talent and musical prowess. Minor Swing, recorded in 1937, is today one of the main standards of gypsy jazz.

After having accompanied singers Jean Sablon and Henri Salvador, he recorded the famous track Nuages with jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Hubert Rostaing. He then collaborated with several orchestras and founded a new quintet. After the war, he was one of the first Frenchmen to integrate bebop influences into his compositions.

At the forefront of the jazz avant-garde, he regularly collaborates with French boppers and continues to record titles that will inspire guitarists around the world for decades to come. He recorded his last album in 1953, one month before he died at home of a cerebral hemorrhage. Django Reinhardt remains one of the most influential guitarists in the history of jazz. He played with several models of Selmer-Maccaferri guitars, notably the 503, and made them the reference guitars for gypsy jazz.

Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb