“He did more for the guitar than any other man in jazz. His way of playing was unlike anyone else’s, and jazz is different because of him. There can be many other fine guitarists, but never can there be another Reinhardt. I am sure of that.” Stéphane Grappelli remembers his hugely influential musical partner, Django Reinhardt, who died today in 1953.
Death of guitarist Jean Baptiste Reinhardt aka Django Reinhardt at the age of 43. A Belgian-born Sinti Gypsy, Django’s early life was spent travelling across Europe, before settling in a camp near Paris.
Coming to the guitar via stints as a violinist and banjo player, he forged a reputation playing in clubs and made his first recordings with accordionist Jean Vaissade (billed as “Jiango Renard”). However, Django’s life was irreversibly altered by an accident in November 1928, when a fire in his caravan left him with serious burns.
A disfigured left hand seemed at first to have ended his playing days, but Reinhardt returned with an altered style that would give him his trademark sound – especially when he became fascinated by jazz, following exposure to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstong.
Reinhardt began to frequent the Hot Club de France – a Parisian meeting place for jazz players and musicians – beginning an association with violinist Stéphane Grappelli in the Hot Club Quintet. With two further guitarists and a bassist completing the ensemble, they embarked upon a prolific period of playing and recording from 1934 until the outbreak of World War II.
On tour in England at that time, Grapelli opted to stay while Reinhardt returned to France – where he had the good fortune to encounter jazz-lovers among the occupying German forces, ensuring he avoided the grisly fate of many fellow Romanies. Django teamed up with clarinetist/ saxophonist Hubert Rostaing and also recorded sides in Paris backed by a US Air Force band.
A post-war reunion with Grapelli was followed by gigs with Duke Ellington in the USA. Suffering a stroke in 1951, Django played lived in semi-retirement in the village of Seine-et-Marne until his death. Over half a century later though, his legacy remains strong, due to the work of those he influenced across a musical spectrum; from country (Chet Atkins) to blues (BB King) and even heavy metal (Tony Iommi). Annual tribute concerts are also staged in both France and the USA.
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And here’s some footage of Django in action: