Posts Tagged ‘Jean Django Reinhardt’


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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Jazz Styles Family Tree. (Pre-World War II)

April 6, 2010

Jazz music has evolved since its inception in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, creating a jazz family tree of styles. Jazz by nature is an evolving and exploratory form of music and new shoots continue to sprout.

Scott Joplin, a pioneer of Ragtime

At the very root of this tree is Ragtime. Ragtime itself was an amalgamation of many forms of music such as traditional African songs and folk music mixed with traditional European musical forms such as waltzes and marches. These styles were however only really influences upon Ragtime and why it is consider the first form of jazz.

Ragtime was born in the South of the United States and so was jazz’s first variation. New Orleans Jazz (sometimes referred to as Dixieland), developed from the popularity of ragtime. Musicians in New Orleans embraced this new style but used the instruments from brass bands which were popular in the city at the time. This change of lineup brought about changes in the music with the skill and influences of the musicians, creating the New Orleans style. This style was less focused on the solo, but there was more individuality shown from the players. Musicians  would embellishing their playing to show off their talents. In New Orleans Jazz improvisation had become a huge part of the style.

In the 1920’s Jazz’s popularity began to spread across the United States with new musicians exposed to the genre. One of the major Cities to be captivated by this modern style was Chicago. Chicago in the 1920’s was a city going through drastic growth and changes with the youth of the city rebelling against the traditional societal values. A more individualistic and outspoken society was being created. This is reflected in Chicago Jazz which is characterized by its focus on innovation and improvisation.

Back in New Orleans Hot Jazz becoming more prominent led by a musician named  Louis Armstrong. Hot Jazz featured collective improvisation where the band would work around a central melodic structure to produce new and original work. The size of a hot jazz band was beginning to grow too from the basic brass band. This in most part was due to improvements in recording technology which allowed more instruments to be recorded at one time.

In the 1930’s Jazz not only began to become the prominent form of popular music in the United States but also spread across the Atlantic to Europe. It is also a decade considered to be a golden time in Jazz history with the emergence of the Kansas City scene. Kansas City Jazz is regarded as the beginning of what is regarded as modern jazz (see our article on Kansas City: The birthplace of modern jazz ). Kansas City Jazz fused blues styles with jazz and the heavy amount of improvisation created ground breaking and innovative music.

During the 1930’s Swing was king. Swing was  based on New Orleans style Jazz but using large orchestras and was full of the new innovative influences from Kansas City . The music was fun and invigorating making it great to dance to, giving it that mass appeal. Swing would continue to be a dominant form of music well in to the 40’s & 50’s.

Jazz had been exported to Europe during and post World War I by American soldiers posted on the continent and had become a popular form of music. New European inspired variations of jazz also began to appear the most notable being  Gypsy Jazz (see our article Gypsy Jazz: A European variation of an American invention). Gypsy jazz or Manouche jazz’s (as it is also known) main exponent was a Belgian by the name of Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt. In this style string instruments are used opposed to the brass and woodwind instruments used in American forms. There is also no rhythm section, with the beat being played out by banging on the stocks of their instruments.

Jazz’s influence across the globe would continue to spread, leading to further innovation and styles.

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