Django Reinhardt as a boy
Jean Baptiste 'Django' Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 - May 16, 1953) was a Belgian Gypsy jazz musician. His most renowned tunes include Minor Swing, Tears, Nagasaki and Nuages.
Born in Liberchies, Belgium, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments close to Paris, France, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age professionally at dance halls in Paris. He started first with a banjo-guitar that had been given to him, and his first recordings (in 1928) were with him playing the banjo (a banjo guitar has six strings and is tuned like a guitar).
At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. The third and fourth digits on his left hand were burned so badly they were fused together, and although the doctors succeeded in separating the fingers, they were of diminished use to him in his future guitar playing (Acker Bilk was another musician whose dexterity seemed unimpaired by finger-damage). Determined to keep playing, Reinhardt focused on the guitar and developed an original style of playing that emphasized his undamaged fingers.
In 1934, he formed the 'Quintette du Hot Club de France' with violinist Stephane Grappelli, Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. He produced numerous recordings at this time, and played with many American musicians, like Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Rex Stewart.
As World War II was declared, the 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, and Reinhardt reformed the quintet in Paris with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet in place of Grappelli's violin.
Reinhardt survived World War II unscathed, unlike many other gypsies who perished in the concentration death camps of the Nazis. He had the help of a Luftwaffe official named Dietrich Schultz-Kohn, a.k.a. Doktor Jazz, who admired deeply his music. In 1943 married Sophie Ziegler, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who went on to become a respected guitarist in his own right.
After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK, and went on to tour the United States, opening for Duke Ellington, and playing at Carnegie Hall, as well as making more recordings.
In 1951, he retired to Samois sur Seine in France, near Fontainebleau, and lived there for two years until, on the morning of May 16th, he woke up complaining of being unable to move. Although he claimed to feel better, he collapsed outside of his house from a brain hemorrhage. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.
Just before Christmas 1954, the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded pianist John Lewis' tribute, simply titled 'Django'. This elegant lament became an oft-recorded jazz classic.
In 1971, Stephane Grappelli teamed up with Belgian guitarist Phillip Catherine and Danish bass player Niels Henning Oersted-Pedersen to record a tribute titled 'Young Django', a reference to the nickname given to the virtuoso Catherine.
Reinhardt is the idol of the fictional 30's guitarist, Emmet Ray, in the Woody Allen film, Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
The song Johnny Depp plays in the river party scene in Lasse Hallström's movie 'Chocolat' was Django and Grapelli's great hit, 'Minor Swing'.
He is portrayed in the opening sequence of the 2003 cartoon Les Triplettes de Belleville, playing a mean guitar with his three fingers and puffing cigarette smoke out of his ears.
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