Django Reinhardt: Brief Biography

Django Reinhardt was a Gypsy born in Europe. He was a jazz guitarist of tremendous talent. He especially excelled at playing anwriting swing music.

Jean "Django" Reinhardt was the son of European Gypsies. He was born in Belgium in 1910. Until he was ten, Django never had a permanent home. Instead, he traveled throughout France, Italy and North Africa with his clan.

At the close of World War I, Django's parents settled in de Choisy, France. There for the first time Django had a permanent place. Django's father played violin and Django accompanied him. The young boy showed an aptitude for the violin and would probably have continued to play that instrument had fate not deemed otherwise.

When Django was eighteen, he was badly burned in a fire. So badly burned was his left leg that doctors considered amputation. They ultimately managed to save his leg, but could not give him back the use of the badly burned third and fourth fingers of his left hand.

Doctors suggested he play the guitar to keep his fingers flexible. This was the beginning of a new career. Soon his two fingered guitar style was famous everywhere.

At age twenty, Django and friend Stephane Grappelli formed a jazz quintet called The Quintet Hot Club de France. They played in the best hotels and in the worst joints and people loved them.

World War II caused the break up of the Quintet when Stephane Grappelli fled to England ahead of the Nazi invasion. Reinhardt, somewhat protected by his fame and talent managed to avoid the death camps that spelled doom for Gypsies as well as Jews.



As the War progressed Django and his wife Sophie decided it was time to escape to Allied territory. They bid their friends farewell and disappeared into the night. Things must not have gone as planned, because two days later they were back where they started from.

Django was an eccentric man and Sophie understood that better than anyone. When bombing raids ended and the all clear was sounded, Django would send Sophie out to be sure it really was all clear. He wouldn't leave a shelter until she told him it was safe.

In 1946, Django went to the United States and played with the Duke Ellington Band. But he didn't impress the critics who seemed to think his playing was mundane. Of course, critics also said that his original compositions were unimaginative. Today, those same compositions are considered classics.

Disillusioned with the United States, Django returned to France. He began playing bebop and writing new material in that style as well.

By 1951 Django had tired of life as a musician and retired to Samois sur Seine, France.

Two years later he died there of a massive stroke. He left behind his wife Sophie and their son Babik.

Django Reinhardt is in the Down Beat Hall of Fame. His contributions to the art of jazz guitar are so much a part of jazz that it would be hard to pick them out. But any jazz guitarist will tell that nobody has played any better than the Gypsy King.

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