Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt, 23 Jan. '10, Liberchies, Belgium; d 16 May '53, Fontainebleau, France) Guitar, composer; the first European musician to infl. US jazz. Wandered in Belgium and France as a Gypsy, playing guitar, violin, banjo; he was injured in a fire in his caravan '28 which partially paralysed his left hand and he developed the technique to overcome it. He was already an adult professional musician when he discovered jazz, immediately understood it and incorporated it into the Gypsy guitar tradition, infl. by Eddie Lang; he worked with singer Jean Sablon (playing Lang to Sablon's Bing Crosby), formed the Quintet of the Hot Club of France '34 with Stephane Grappelli on violin (then spelled 'Grappelly'), brother Joseph Reinhardt (1912--82) and Roger Chaput, guitars, Louis Vola on bass (d Aug. '90 aged 88). Other musicians passing through incl. guitarists Pierre Ferret, EugŠne V‚es; basses Emmanuel Soudieux, Roger Grasset. They made more than 200 sides and became internationally famous, not only on account of Django's technique and swing but his lyricism and interplay with the violin. He recorded with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Dicky Wells '37, Carter and Larry Adler '38, Rex Stewart and Barney Bigard '39; the quintet recorded in London '38--9. During the war he was a superstar, people whistling his lovely 'Nuages' in the street. Grappelli was in England; Django formed a quintet with clarinettist Hubert Rostaing (d 10 June '90, Paris, aged 71). He also recorded on seven dates '40--43 with big bands. His brain was teeming with ideas, but he was unable to write them down, let alone lay out a score, and he was assisted by Gerard Leveque, Rostaing's successor as the quintet's clarinettist; Leveque later protested that he had not been qualified, but they succeeded well enough to make some records (Django's Music on Hep) most of which bear little resemblance to the big-band swing of the era, though some of the 25 titles are not Django's arrangements. During the occupation the Nazis outlawed jazz and murdered half a million Gypsies; a Gypsy jazz musician was twice an outlaw, but Django not only survived but lived in a sumptuous flat, ate and gambled in the poshest places. (The ban on jazz didn't work too well either; see Mike Zwerin's book, La Tristesse de Saint Louis.) 'Django Reinhardt and his American Swing Big Band' was actually recorded '44--5 with the Band of the Air Transport Command. The quintet was re-created on record '46 in London with Jack Llewellyn, Alan Hodgkiss on guitars, Coleridge Goode on bass. During the war he also worked on 'serious' music (a Mass for organ, a symphony, etc); some of this music was used in film soundtrack La Village de la ColŠre '46 but much of it has disappeared. Late that year he went to the USA to tour with Duke Ellington; due to his tendency to wander off the tour was not a success (The Great Chicago Concerts on MusicMasters incl. four tracks with Django). He began to play electric guitar, infl. by bop, which may not have been congenial with his personal lyricism; he recorded in Rome '49 with Grappelli and Gianni Sanfred's trio (Djangology on Bluebird). His compositions incl. 'Love's Melody', 'Improvisation', 'Belleville', others; co-wrote with Grappelli 'H.Q.C. Strut', 'Daphne', 'Souvenirs', 'Stomping At Decca', 'My Sweet', 'Djangology', 'Appel Direct', 'Nocturne', many more. Over 60 entries in the Schwann catalogue '96 incl. 'complete' series on Classics, another series on EPM, a ten-CD set on Blue Note. A true Gypsy, when Django was painting or fishing, he forgot all about music and became a painter or a fisherman. He died of a stroke. He inspired a generation of French Gypsy guitarists; his son Babik Reinhardt (b c'44) has played with Jean-Luc Ponty, Bireli Lagrene etc; albums in the '90s incl. Live on Swing (a quartet) and Nuances on RadioFrance (a variety of settings); his playing is better than his clich‚-modernist surroundings. Lagrene might be Django's heir