Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt was born in 1910 to Manouche (French Roma) parents. He became an excellent guitar and banjo player at an early age. At eighteen, he was injured in a fire, crippling the ring and pinky fingers on his left (fret) hand. Thanks to his brother Joseph (also a great guitar player) bringing him a guitar while in the hospital, he was able to regain and even surpass his level of virtuosity, even though he was using just two fingers on his left hand to solo. (You can see how he did so in this video, which I had wanted to show as one of the videos for today, but alas, YouTube had a restriction on it. Django and the rest of the quintet can be seen in the second half.)
In 1934, Django formed the Quintet of the Hot Club of France with his brother Joseph and Joseph Chaput on rhythm guitars, violinist Stephane Grappelli, and bassist Louis Vola. They made a number of records (two of which can be heard here: 1937’s “Sheik of Araby” and 1936’s “Limehouse Blues”) now considered classics by jazz aficionados. The Quintet was on tour in England at the beginning of World War II, and Django returned to France, believing that he was better off there. He survived the Nazi persecution of the Roma, largely because a number of Nazi officers were jazz fans as well. He reformed the quintet using more traditional instruments, including Hubert Rostaing on clarinet, during the war, and reunited with Grappelli after the war. The quintet disbanded in 1948, after which he toured with Duke Ellington before retiring in 1951. He died in 1953 of a brain hemorrhage.
Django’s playing influenced many guitar players, including several featured here (notably Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins), B. B. King, Carlos Santana, Les Paul, and many others. Much of his catalog was unavailable for a time, but through the magic of compact disc technology, the music of Le Quintette du Hot Club de France and of Django Reinhardt is now once again generally available.
Django Reinhardt: your Two for Tuesday, February 19, 2013.