Jean "Django" Reinhardt was born 23 January 1910 in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, into a family of Manouche Romani descent. His father's name was Jean Eugene Weiss, but he used the alias "Jean-Baptiste Reinhard" on the birth certificate to hide from French military conscription. His mother, Laurence Reinhardt, was a dancer. The birth certificate mentions: « Jean Reinhart, son of Jean Baptiste Reinhart, artist, and Laurence Reinhart, housewife, domiciled in Paris ». Reinhardt's nickname "Django", in theRomani language, means "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 in Saint-Ouen, Seine-Saint-Denis, 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 fourth and fifth 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 fourth and fifth 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
In 1934, Hot Club de France secretary Pierre Nourry invited Reinhardt and Parisian violinist Grappelli 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 Adelaide Hall, 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. In 1937, the American jazz singer Adelaide Hall opened a nightclub in Montmartre along with her husband Bert Hicks and called it 'La Grosse Pomme.' She entertained there nightly and hired the Quintette du Hot Club de France as one of the house bands at the club. Also in the neighborhood was the artistic salon of R-26, at which Reinhardt and Grappelli performed regularly as they further developed their unique musical style.
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 Gypsies who perished in the Porajmos, the Nazi regime's systematic murder of several hundred thousand European Gypsies. 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 Germans 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 (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.
Django Reinhardt was among the first people in France to appreciate the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, whom he sought when he arrived in New York. They were both on tour at the time, however.
He had been promised some jobs in California but these failed to materialize and he 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 Gypsy 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". During this period he did, however, continue to attend the R-26 artistic salon in Montmartre, improvising with his devoted collaborator, Stéphane Grappelli.
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.
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 the age of 43.
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.
New generations began to emerge, for instance, Jimmy and Stochelo Rosenberg, Paulus Schäfer and their relatives from the Netherlands. Another musical clan is the Reinhardt brothers and cousins from Germany, distant relatives of Reinhardt's. Boulou Ferré, son of "Matelot" Ferret, was a child prodigy who entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 13, and studied under Olivier Messiaen. He continues to perform, with his brother Elios, and can mix bebop and even classical music with gypsy swing. Biréli Lagrène and Angelo Debarre were other prodigies.
Most of the above-mentioned are Roma who learned music by the 'gypsy method', involving intense practice, direct imitation of older musicians (often family members) and playing by ear, with little formal musical study (or, indeed, formal education of any kind). Since about the late 1970s, study materials of a more conventional kind such as workshops, books and videos have become available, allowing musicians worldwide to master the style.
An early non-Roma gypsy-style guitarist was René Didi Duprat (b. 1926). Contemporary ones include John Jorgenson, Jon Larsen (and his Hot Club de Norvège, established 1979),Joscho Stephan, Andreas Öberg, Frank Vignola, George Cole, Stephane Wrembel and Reynold Philipsek. Their music is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Gadjo jazz", whereGadjo is the Romani term for a non-Romani. Young players such as Adrien Moignard and Gwenole Cahue represent the rising generation. Another sign of the rising popularity of gypsy jazz is the increasing number of festivals, such as the Samois-sur-Seine festival (started about 1980), and the various DjangoFests held in the USA.
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Many guitar players, and musicians, have expressed admiration for Django Reinhardt, or have cited him as a major influence. These include British rock guitarists Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton. In fact, Jeff Beck has described Reinhardt as "By far the most astonishing guitar player ever..." and "...quite superhuman..."  Other notable guitar players influenced by Reinhardt, include Bob Dunn, Leon McAuliffe, Jimmy McCulloch, classical guitarist Julian Bream; country artist Chet Atkins, who placed Reinhardt No. 1 on a list of the ten most influential guitarists of the 20th century; Latinrocker Carlos Santana; blues legend B.B. King; Pete Townshend of The Who; Australian acoustic guitar playerTommy Emmanuel; The Wiggles' Murray Cook; Pierre Bensusan; Phish's Trey Anastasio; The Libertines' Carl Barat, Shawn Lane; Hank Marvin; Stevie Ray Vaughan; Derek Trucks; Chuck Hammer; Mark Knopfler; Keith Richards of the The Rolling Stones; Les Paul; Joe Pass; Peter Frampton; Denny Laine; Bill Nelson; Jon Larsen; Steve Howe; Charlie Christian; Frank Vignola; Barney Kessel; George Benson; Wes Montgomery; Jack Marshall; Martin Taylor; Michael Angelo Batio; Richard Thompson; Robert Fripp; René Thomas;Ray Condo; Big John Bates and Jeff Martin. Willie Nelson wore a Django Reinhardt T-shirt on tour in Europe in 2002, stating in an interview that he admired Reinhardt's music and ability. Willie pointed out how Reinhardt's Hot Club quintet paralleled the hot jazz & country fiddle sound of 1930's Western Swing bands Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. As well as individual guitarist Django's music has inspired numerous groups to form, including countless "Hot Clubs" as well as more diverse groups such as Swing Je T'aime, and the David Grisman Quintet.
Jose Feliciano attributes his unique style to, in part, that of Reinhardt's. In 2009 he composed an album inspired by those musical influences and entitled itDjangoisms.
Cuban composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer composed Variations on a Theme of Django Reinhardt for solo guitar (1984). It is based on Nuages, by Reinhardt.
Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, both of whom lost fingers in accidents, were particularly inspired by Reinhardt's ability to become an accomplished guitar player/musician, despite the diminished use of his own permanently injured hand following an accident. Jerry Garcia as quoted in June 1985 in Frets Magazine ; "His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has. I mean, the combination of incredible speed – all the speed you could possibly want – but also the thing of every note have a specific personality. You don’t hear it. I really haven’t heard it anywhere but with Django".
A number of musicians have even named their sons Django in honour of, or respect for, Reinhardt. They include Dawelie Reinhardt, David Crosby, Frankie Emerson of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, former Slade singer Noddy Holder, Jerry Jeff Walker, Richard Durrant, as well as actors Nana Visitor, Alexander Siddig and Raphael Sbarge. Jazz musicianDjango Bates and singer-songwriter Django Haskins were also named after him.
Songs written in Reinhardt's honour include "Django," an instrumental guitar piece by renowned blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa. The piece was influenced by the violin introduction of "Vous et Moi" (Blues et Mineur 1942, Brussels) where Reinhardt himself played the violin. Vous et Moi (You and Me) became the title of Bonamassa's sixth album where the track first appeared in 2006. Slightly longer live versions appear on LIVE...From Nowhere In Particular (2009), and in DVD from the 4 May concert at Royal Albert Hall. "Django," composed by John Lewis, which has become a jazz standard performed by musicians such as Miles Davis. The Modern Jazz Quartet titled one of their albums Django in honour of him. The Allman Brothers Band song "Jessica" was written by Dickey Betts in tribute to Reinhardt — he wanted to write a song that could be played using only two fingers. This aspect of the artist's work also motivated Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who was inspired by Reinhardt to keep playing guitar after a factory accident that cost him two fingertips. Composer Jon Larsen has composed several crossover concerts featuring Reinhardt-inspired music together with symphonic arrangements, most famous are "White Night Stories" (2002) and "Vertavo" (1996).
Not only did Reinhardt put his stamp upon jazz, his "hot" string band music also had an impact upon the parallel development of Texas's western swing string bands, which eventually fed into the wellspring of what is now called country music.
In 2005, Django Reinhardt took 66th place in the election of The Greatest Belgian (De Grootste Belg) in Flanders and 76th place in the Walloon version of the same competition Le plus grand Belge.
Each year the village of Liberchies (Belgium) where Django was born celebrate a festival.