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Jean “Django” Reinhardt, the Story of the man Behind Gypsy Jazz

May 14, 2010

Django Reinhardt 23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953

Just over one hundred years ago, in Liberchies, Belgium, the legend Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt was born. More commonly known as “Django” Reinhardt, a nickname from his Romani roots meaning “I awake”.

Django was immersed in music from an early age, learning how to play violin, banjo, and guitar just Gypsy encampment just outside Paris where he lived. It was in these Gypsy encampments across France and Belgium that the word of Reinhardt’s musical gifts quickly began to spread, and where the young prodigies’ talents were nurtured.

At the age of only 12 Django was already playing professionally and rapidly growing both his audience and his talents as a musician. It seemed as if the future of the young virtuoso’s musical career was set to be one of great magnitude, until disaster struck the home of 18 year old Django. In 1928, after returning home late from a performance, Django knocked over a candle on his way to bed, setting his caravan on fire, quickly engulfing it in flames. Luckily, Django’s family and neighbors were quick to rescue him from the fire, but, unfortunately, he didn’t escape unscathed. Django suffered severe burns to over half of his body, leaving his right leg paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers on his left hand badly injured. Believing he would never be able to play guitar again Django fell into a deep depression.

“Django” never would regain the use of his paralyzed fingers but spurred on by the gift of a guitar from his brother he began to play again. Django, as his name suggests, had “awoke” from his depression. He had to relearn to play the instrument using only two fingers, developing an instrumental technique and sound entirely of his own.

With his new technique and second chance at pursuing his musical career, Django along with Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of string instruments. From then on “Django” enjoyed a full and wonderful musical career performing and touring with jazz giants such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Rex Stewart.

Sadly on May 16th 1953, Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt passed away of a stroke at the young age of 43. Although his life was short, it was filled with great disappointments and monumental achievements, creating a legacy with his music and the Gypsy Jazz style he created. “Django” Reinhardt will be forever remembered as a pioneer of jazz.

See also our article on Gypsy Jazz

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One comment

  1. The relatively short but memorable life of Django is definitely an interesting one. Anyone would find it fascinating that Reinhardt relearned to play again and accidentally yet fortunately created a music genre that is loved by gypsy jazz fans today. I have read a post regarding music review for Django’s music here http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-django-reinhardt-the-essential/#comments especially for those who want to know a little bit more about the music of Reinhardt.



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