Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Django Reinhardt

I love listening to a bit of Django Reinhardt (and Stéphane Grappelli) as I walk the streets, imagining life as an old fashioned film. Often regarded as one of the greatest guitar players of all time and the first important European jazz musician who made major contributions to the development of the genre, Django was a fascinating character... 

(the following mostly from wiki-p)
At age 18 in Saint-Ouen, Reinhardt was injured in a fire which ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. Reinhardt received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralysed and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs. Reinhardt refused to have the surgery and left the hospital after a short time; he was able to walk within a year with the aid of a cane. His brother Joseph Reinhardt, an accomplished guitarist himself, bought Django a new guitar. With rehabilitation and practice he relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his fourth and fifth fingers remained partially paralysed. He played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and used the two injured digits only for chord work.

Between the years 1929 and 1933, Reinhardt first heard American jazz and made the acquaintance of a young French violinist with very similar musical interests, Stéphane Grappelli. In the absence of paid work in their radical new music, the two would jam together, along with a loose circle of other musicians. Together they founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934, one of the first all-string jazz bands. Reinhardt's most popular compositions have become jazz standards, including "Minor Swing", "Daphne", "Belleville", "Djangology", "Swing '42", and "Nuages".

Minor Swing

Vocalist Freddy Taylor participated in a few great tunes, such as "Georgia on My Mind" and "Nagasaki".

In May 1953, after playing in a Paris club he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. It was a Saturday and it took a full day for a doctor to arrive, and Reinhardt was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau at the age of 43.

Many musicians have expressed admiration for Django or have cited him as a major influence. Jeff Beck described Reinhardt as "By far the most astonishing guitar player ever... quite superhuman."

For about a decade after Reinhardt's death, interest in his musical style was minimal, with the rise of bebop jazz then rock and roll, and electric instruments taking over from acoustic ones in popular music. Reinhardt's friends and brothers continued to perform their own version of gypsy swing. There was a revival of interest from the mid sixties, with acoustic music having become popular through the folk movement. Several of Reinhardt's near-contemporaries recorded for the first time in the sixties and seventies. Stéphane Grappelli became known as "the grandfather of jazz violinists" and continued playing concerts around the world well into his 80s.

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