gigatos | January 11, 2022
Jean Reinhardt, known as Django (d. 16 May 1953 Fontainebleau) was a French jazz guitarist, composer and bandleader of Roma origin. He is considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time and is the first world-class musician “produced” on the European continent. The quintet founded by Django Reinhardt with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Quintette du Hot Club de France, is considered one of the most innovative in the history of jazz music. . Author of such immortal themes as “Minor Swing”, “Daphne”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ”42″ and “Nuages”, which have become standard pieces in jazz music.
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Jean “Django” Reinhardt was born on 23 January 1910 in the village of Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, to nomadic gypsies. His father, Jean Eugene Weiss, who had changed his name to Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt to avoid military service, was a musician. His mother, Laurence Reinhardt, known as “Négros”, was a dancer. The origin of the nickname “Django”, which means “I wake up” in Roman, is unknown. These nomadic Sinti gypsies, whom the French call “Manouches” (from Sanskrit Manushya, Manu = man), lived in caravans that travelled the length and breadth of Europe, shut up in their small communities, completely resistant to civilisation, most of them illiterate and with a medieval outlook on life. They were mainly engaged in music, circus and various crafts. Some members of the Reinhardt family made wicker furniture, others were musicians. Little Django never went to school, spending his childhood with his parents in France, then Italy and Algeria to avoid the vicissitudes of the First World War. After the war, his family settled in the outskirts of Paris, first in the notorious area near Porte de Choisy, then near Porte d”Italie. He took up music at an early age, his first instrument being the violin. Like most Manouche musicians, he knew no musical writing, learning to play by ear and observing other musicians. At age 12 he received a gift of a banjo, which it turns out was actually a banjo-guitar combination. In a short time, he practised assiduously and acquired an extraordinary dexterity, so that he was able to join the orchestra led by his father, who played piano and cymbal. During this period he was influenced by two old gypsy musicians, Gusti Mahla who played the banjo and the guitarist Jean “Poulette” Castro. Apart from his father”s orchestra, the young Django began playing in the street, then in cabarets and at musette balls and various parties. He is noticed by accordionist Vetese Guerino, who persuades him to accompany him. He began to become more and more popular with music lovers, so that another accordionist of the time, Jean Vaissade, gave him the opportunity to release his first record in 1928. Since the young Django could not write or read, not even his own name, the labels of the record would bear the text “Jiango Renard, banjoïste”.
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Impressed by his extraordinary virtuosity, an impresario and dance bandleader of the time, Jack Hylton”, offered him a contract to tour London. Just before his departure, on 26 October 1928, in Saint-Ouen, on the northern outskirts of Paris, near the Rue des Rosiers, a violent fire broke out in the caravan he was living in. The fire started from a candle, from which the celluloid flowers that his first wife, Bella Baumgartner (Florine “Bella” Mayer) had made were lit. The fire was particularly violent, as celluloid is a highly flammable material, and both he and his wife were seriously injured. Django in particular will suffer particularly severe burns to his left hand and right leg. The burns were so severe that doctors suggested amputating his leg, which Django flatly refused. As for his left hand, his ring and little fingers had become almost unusable, a real catastrophe for a guitarist. As his wounds were not healing, it was finally decided to heal them with silver nitrate. Django had to stay in hospital for treatment for almost 18 months. Because the banjo was too noisy, his brother brought him a guitar to practice with. Showing an extraordinary will, he developed a new playing technique, using only his two good fingers, the index and thumb for solos, and the other three, which he moved with great difficulty, for chords. Later films show us his extraordinary and precise technique, hence his inimitable sound. Around the beginning of 1930, while he was still in hospital, a military inspection committee came to consult him, as he was already 20 years old and had not responded to any of the summonses sent by the military authorities. The commission can only find that he is incapable of fulfilling his military service, so he will be permanently discharged.
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The years 1929-1933 would be crucial for Django Reinhardt”s artistic career. First, he would abandon the banjo for good in favour of the guitar. Émile Savitry, a photographer, Brassaï”s assistant and a great jazz lover, discovered the brothers Django and Joseph Reinhardt, whom he brought to Paris and put up with their families in his apartment on Boulevard Edgar Quinet. He met Django in 1931 on the Côte d”Azur, when he was playing at the Coq Hardi bar in Toulon, then at the Lido and Palm Beach in Cannes. It was through the photographer”s record collection that Django came into contact with the music of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. His discovery of jazz would be a real revelation for Reinhardt, who decided to devote himself to the genre for good. Jazz would be his definitive calling, although he would continue to play occasionally with the Italian-born accordionist Vetese Guerino, one of the veterans of the musette style, or with the brothers Baro and Matelo Ferret. Émile Savitry would introduce the Reinhardt brothers to the world of jazz clubs in Paris: La Boîte à Matelots at 10 rue Fontaine, where the two brothers made their Parisian debut, then in the cabarets La Roulotte at 62 rue Pigalle, L”Aéroport at 11 rue Jules-Chaplain 11, opened in June 1932, and in the club Le Ponton 2 in Montparnasse in 1934. He also played with established jazzmen such as Stéphane Mougin, André Ekyan and Alix Combelle at the Croix du Sud club. The first portraits of Reinhardt, also by Émile Savitry, date from 1933. Finally, towards the end of 1933, he also acquired his first quality instrument, a Selmer guitar. The expressive sound of this special instrument will become an integral part of his unmistakable style.
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Hot Club de France Quintet
The Quintette of the Hot Club de France was the first step towards international recognition taken by Django Reinhardt. Considered by most jazz historians to be the most important European jazz group of the interwar period, the quintet debuted in 1933 with a jam session at the Hotel Claridge (Rue Francois 1er., 37, Paris). The initiative for the formation of this group came from the secretary of the Hot Club of France, Pierre Nourry, who invited Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli to form a jazz group. The two were joined by Django”s brother Joseph and another guitarist, Roger Chaput, and finally Louis Vola on bass. The group quickly made a name for itself in jazz circles, both through concerts and recordings. With an inimitable sound, being a group made up exclusively of stringed instruments, the lack of a percussion section leading the members of the group to adopt the use of percussive chords, the Quintette of the Hot Club de France became extremely popular at the time. Occasionally Roger Chaput was replaced by another Manouche guitarist, Django”s friend Pierre “Baro” Ferret. Some recordings also feature vocal interventions by lead singer Eddie Taylor, who appears on “Georgia on My Mind” and “Nagasaki”. Starting in 1933, Jean Sablon, a very popular singer at the time, would record 33 tracks with Django. Wind instruments will also begin to make an appearance on the recordings, with the piano, guitar and violin remaining in the foreground. The group also had numerous guests from overseas, such as Adelaide Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart and Louis Armstrong. In 1937, American jazz soloist Adelaide Hall opened a club in Montmartre with husband Bert Hicks, La Grosse Pomme. Django, along with the Quintette of the Hot Club de France, were invited to play night after night at the club, becoming a crowd favourite. Another nearby club was the R-26 art salon, where Reinhardt and Grapelli were regular guests. The group broke up with the outbreak of the Second World War. They were on tour in London when Britain declared war on Germany. Grapelli decided to stay, while Reinhardt returned to France. They would not see each other again until 1946.
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World War II
Back in France, in Toulon, the military authorities try again to mobilize him, but he is reformed again due to burns. He returns to Paris, in the occupied zone, to resume his musical activity. He will remain in occupied France throughout the war, travelling extensively. He tried to escape to Switzerland after a stay in Thonon-les-Bains, but was unsuccessful. The melancholic atmosphere of Paris under occupation is reflected in the piece ”Nuages”, which he recorded in 1940 with the clarinettist and saxophonist Hubert Rostaing. In December 1940, he records with Pierre Allier”s orchestra. In 1943, in Salbris, in the Loir et Cher, where Django had bought a house, he marries Sophie “Naguine” Ziegler a second time. The following year, she gave him a son, Babik Reinhardt, who became a renowned guitarist. The uncertain atmosphere in Paris in 1943 prompts him to try again to escape to Switzerland. Arrested by the Germans near the Swiss border, he returns to Paris, where he opens a club, “Chez Django Reinhardt”, and forms a new quintet with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet and Pierre Fouad on percussion instruments. Swing style was at its height, so Nuages quickly became a big hit. After the liberation of Paris, he reunited with Grapelli, with whom he recorded a swing version of Marseillezei, which later became famous. Django Reinhardt was able to move and play unhindered through Nazi-occupied France thanks to the protection he enjoyed from Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, ”Dr Jazz”, a great jazz lover. Django Reinhardt is credited with being one of the first musicians on the old continent to understand the revolution brought about by the emergence of the bebop style, the most prominent promoters overseas being saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie, so towards the end of the war he also incorporated bebop chords into his compositions, without abandoning his original style.
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Immediately after the war, meeting Stéphane Grappelli again, he decided to resume work with Hot Club de France. In 1946, during a tour of the USA, Django finally has the opportunity to play with Duke Ellington. The two had met in 1939 during a Duke Ellington tour of Europe. But meeting Duke was far from what Reinhardt had imagined. The bohemian Parisian club life had nothing to do with the iron discipline that reigned in Duke Ellington”s big band. Disorderly, not knowing English, always late for concerts, sometimes even drunk and without a guitar, as Stéphane Grappelli recalls, Django Reinhardt eventually missed his American career. On the other hand, the fact that Duke Ellington did not integrate Django sufficiently into his complex arrangements, leaving him to appear at the end as a sort of surprise of the evening, just as Benny Goodman did with Charlie Christian, displeased Django, who hoped to be a true concert pianist, number one in the big-band. Despite the disillusionment of the two, his appearance in Duke Ellington”s big-band made a sensation throughout the United States, especially since both he and Stéphane Grappelli were Europeans. Arriving in New York, Django tried to meet Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, the elders of bebop, but without success, as they were all away on tour. With some disillusionment after this episode, he would later drift away from music, preoccupied with painting as well as fishing and billiards. This did not, however, prevent him from performing or recording with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, now led by Grapelli, whenever he had the opportunity.
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In 1951, Django Reinhardt bought a house in the commune of Samois-sur-Seine (Seine et Marne, today 77), near Fontainebleau. He continues to play, his style becoming increasingly exuberant and innovative. He now has his own group, made up of the most famous French beboppers: Roger Guérin, Hubert et Raymond Fol, Pierre Michelot, Bernard Peiffer, Jean-Louis Viale, always at the forefront of jazz. In 1953, the famous American impresario and producer Norman Granz offered him a contract to tour with Jazz at the Philharmonic. French record producer Eddie Barclay recorded eight pieces of exceptional quality that would become the “chapbook” of jazz guitarists around the world for decades to come.The last recordings date from 8 April 1953, with Martial Solal on piano, Pierre Michelot on double bass, Fats Sadi Lallemant on vibraphone and Pierre Lemarchand on percussion. With this group he often played in Parisian clubs, sometimes using an electric guitar, sometimes an acoustic Selmer guitar to which he adapted an electromagnetic pickup. His latest recordings demonstrate the perfection of Reinhardt”s innovative style, fusing be-bop with his unmistakable style. On 16 May 1953, on his way home from a concert, he collapsed on the platform of Avon station due to a brain haemorrhage. It was a weekend, so it was a long time before a doctor showed up. Taken to Fontainebleau hospital, doctors could only pronounce him dead. He was buried in Samois sur Seine. An annual jazz festival is held to celebrate the memory of the great musician who spent the last years of his life in this commune.
Both sons of Django Reinhardt became musicians. His first son, Lousson Baumgartner (1928 – 1992), a more traditionalist guitarist with ties to the Romani community, rarely appeared in public. The second, Babik Reinhardt (1944 – 2001), became a renowned jazz guitarist, but never reached his father”s genius. He was particularly interested in jazz fusion, performing for a time with Jean-Luc Ponty. His first LP was recorded in collaboration with the legendary Sidney Bechet. Django”s brother Joseph continued playing and recording after his brother”s death. Joseph”s son Markus Reinhardt is a violinist. Today, the third Reinhardt generation is making a name for itself in music. David Reinhardt, Babik”s son, has his own jazz trio. He is the only one of his nine children to carry on the family”s musical tradition. Lousson”s son, Dallas Baumgartner, is also a guitarist. Like his father, he travels extensively, but rarely appears in public.
Django Reinhardt”s legacy includes some 100 compositions, many written in collaboration with Stéphane Grappelli. Illiterate, with no knowledge of musical writing, his compositions were set to notes by an assistant. After his death, until the mid-1970s, interest in his work was minimal. The explosion of rock and roll, then jazz, the rise of be-bop, then cool and finally jazz-rock, meant that his work was known only in the small circle of jazz historians. By the late 1970s, however, his work was beginning to be discovered by young guitarists and jazz enthusiasts alike, both of whom were attracted by the irresistible swing of Reinhardt”s playing. A particular contribution was also made by the guitarists in his family, his circle of musicians, who carried on the tradition of gypsy swing. Stéphane Grappelli, who in 1973 founded a quintet in the same style as the old Quintette du Hot Club de France, with the English musicians Diz Disley and Denny Wright as his guitarists, also made a significant contribution to the revival of this style. Other guitarists who have rotated through Grapelli”s quintet have included John Etheridge, Nigel Kennedy and David Grisman. The gypsy swing festivals held in Samois-sur-Seine, Liberchies and elsewhere, as well as the various Django Fests in the USA, also played an important role in popularising the style.
Django Reinhardt”s exemplary personality and destiny have been evoked in numerous films. His music has also been used in the soundtrack of many films, among others: The Matrix, Metroland, Chocolat and The Aviator. His music has also appeared in the background of a number of Woody Allen films and in Louis Malle”s Lucien Lacombe. They are also used in the soundtrack of numerous video games, including The City of Lost Heaven and Mafia II. His music was also used in the film King of the Gypsies, which also features Stéphane Grappelli. John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) composed the song Django (1954) in memory of the great musician, which was later covered by many jazz musicians. The song “Jessica” was composed by Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers in memory of Reinhardt, wanting to write a song that could be played on the guitar with just two fingers. In 2010, the French and Belgian versions of Google displayed a logo in memory of the great musician, whose 100th birthday. The Belgian government also issued a €10 coin with Django”s effigy on the reverse.
Django Reinhardt was the greatest European jazz personality of his time, and influenced many guitarists around the world. Considered, along with Charlie Christian, Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, as one of the greatest jazz guitarists, Reinhardt is a reference point for many famous guitarists, such as Andrès Segovia, Mark Knopfler and Jimi Hendrix, who named his second group, Band of Gypsies in memory of the great musician. Many other guitarists have been influenced by Reinhardt”s exuberant and brilliant style, the most prominent of whom were Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana. Jeff Beck said of Reinhardt that he was by far “the most astonishing guitar player ever…” and “…quite superhuman…” Cuban composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer composed Variations on a Theme by Django Reinhardt, based on the song Nuages. In 2005, Reinhardt was ranked 66th in the Belgian greats chart.
Early in his career, Django Reinhardt used numerous instruments, many borrowed from his brother Joseph, also called “Nin-Nin”. The brand of instrument that established him, however, was Selmer. Selmer guitars, often called Selmer – Maccaferri, made by Henri Selmer & Cie. have an asymmetrical and somewhat larger resonator box than the normal, narrow soundhole, and the Maccaferri have an additional inner resonator. The main feature is the oval or rounded D-shaped opening. Django bought his first Selmer in the mid-1930s, attracted by the instrument”s rich, personal sound. As Django began to enjoy fame, Henri Selmer decided that it would be a kind of ambassador for his instruments for the rest of his life. Because of this, Reinhardt no longer bothered to purchase his own instruments, since he could always pick up a guitar from the factory for testing. However, he did purchase one, No. 704, in 1948. It is the only guitar that company records show was delivered to Django. The guitar was intended for the Italian tour. Damaged during the tour, an unknown Italian luthier replaced its top, using a circular aperture instead of the oval one typical of Selmer instruments. Reinhardt later gave the instrument to Grapelli, who in turn gave it to an Italian friend. It remained with him until recently, when it was sold at auction. French luthier Maurice Dupont restored it according to Selmer”s plans, using a half-century-old spruce board, while also restoring the fingerboard. The most famous guitar, however, was No. 503, bought by Reinhardt in 1940. It was his favourite instrument, which he played until the last moment of his life. After his death, his wife, Naguine, gave it to his son Babik to learn to play. Later, in 1964, he donated it to the Museum of Musical Instruments in Paris.
A lot of compilations have also appeared.