Django Reinhardt as a boy
Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 - May 16, 1953) was a Belgian Gypsy jazz musician.
Born in Liberchies, Belgium, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments close to Paris, France, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age professionally at dance halls in Paris. He started first with a banjo-guitar that had been given to him, and his first recordings (in 1928) were with him playing the banjo (a banjo guitar has six strings and is tuned like a guitar).
At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. The third and fourth digits on his left hand were burned so badly they were fused together, and although the doctors succeeded in separating the fingers, they were of little use to him in his future guitar playing (Acker Bilk was another musician whose dexterity seemed unimpaired by finger-damage). Determined to keep playing, Reinhardt focused on the guitar, and developed an original style of chording that required only his undamaged fingers.
In 1934, he formed the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" with violinist Stephane Grappelli, Reinhardt's brother Joseph and R. Chaput on guitar, and L. Vola on bass. He produced numerous recordings at this time, and played with many American musicians, like Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Rex Stewart.
As World War II was declared, the quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once, leaving his wife behind. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war, and Reinhardt reformed the quintet in Paris with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet in place of Grappelli's violin.
Reinhardt survived World War II unscathed, unlike many other gypsies who perished in the concentration and death camps of the Nazis, and in 1943 married Sophie Ziegler, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who went on to become a respected guitarist in his own right.
After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Stephan Grappelli in the UK, and went on to tour the United States, opening for Duke Ellington, and playing at Carnegie Hall, as well as making more recordings.
In 1951, he retired to Samois sur Seine in France, near Fontainebleau, and lived there for two years until, on the morning of May 16th, he woke up complaining of being unable to move. Although he claimed to feel better, he collapsed outside of his house from a brain hemorrhage. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.
All the known film of Django Reinhardt in performance is available on DVD at www.musiconearth.co.uk see 'Stephane Grappelli -A Life In the Jazz Century'.
Reinhardt is the idol of the fictional 30's guitarist, Emmet Ray, in the Woody Allen film, Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
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