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Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt
Born January 23, 1910
Died May 16, 1953
Alias(es) Jean Baptiste
Genre(s) Roma music, Jazz
Affiliation(s) Stéphane Grappelli
Years active

Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 - May 16, 1953) was a Belgian Roma jazz guitarist. He was one of the first important jazz musicians to be born in Europe, and one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. His most renowned tunes include "Minor Swing", "Tears", "Belleville", "Djangology" and "Nuages" (French, meaning "Clouds"). Django is pronounced jang go.


Born in Liberchies, Pont-a-Celles, Belgium, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in Basque gypsy encampments close to Paris, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age professionally at dance halls in Paris. He started first on the violin and eventually moved on to a banjo-guitar that had been given to him and his first known recordings (in 1928) were of him playing the banjo (a banjo guitar has six strings tuned in standard guitar tuning).

Django Reinhardt as a boy
Django Reinhardt as a boy

At the age of 18 Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with Bella, his first wife. They were very poor. When the fire happened, they lost everything. She made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper for her living. Consequently, their home was full of this highly flammable material. Returning from a performance late one night, Django apparently knocked over a candle on his way to bed. While his family and neighbors were quick to pull him to safety, he received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralyzed and his left hand was badly burnt. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate the leg. But he left the hospital after a short time and within a year could walk with use of a cane.

His brother Joseph Reinhardt, an accomplished guitarist in his own right, bought Django a new guitar. With painful rehabilatation and practice Django relearned his craft in a completely new way, even as his third and fourth fingers remained partially paralyzed. He was still able to use these two fingers for playing chords, but was unable to use them for playing solos.

Reinhardt (left) & Grappelli (right).

In 1934, Louis Vola formed the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" with Reinhardt, violinist Stephane Grappelli, Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and himself on bass. Occasionally Chaput was replaced by Pierre "Baro" Ferret. The concept of "lead guitar" (Django) and backing "rhythm guitar" (Joseph Reinhardt/Roger Chaput or Pierre Ferret) was born with that band. They also used their guitars for percussive sounds, as they had no true percussion section.

Reinhardt later formed bands with more conventional instrumentations as with clarinet or saxophone, piano, bass and drums. He produced numerous recordings at this time with the quintet. But he played and recorded also with many American Jazz legends such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart (who later stayed in Paris), and a jam-session with jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Reinhardt could neither read nor write music, and was reportedly illiterate because of his gypsy upbringing.

As World War II was declared, the original 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 death camps of the Nazis. It was especially hard for Django's people because jazz itself was not allowed under Hitler's regime. He had the help of a Luftwaffe official named Dietrich Schulz-Kohn, also known as "Doktor Jazz", who deeply admired his music. In 1943 Django married Sophie Ziegler in Salbris, 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 Grappelli in the UK, and went on to tour the United States, opening for Duke Ellington, and playing at Carnegie Hall, with many notable musicians and composers such as Maury Deutsch. Despite Reinhardt's great pride in touring with Ellington (one of his two letters to Grappelli relates this excitement), he wasn't really integrated into the band, playing only a few tunes at the end of the show, with no special arrangements written personally for him. He was used to his brother, Joseph, carrying around his guitar for him and tuning it. Allegedly, Reinhardt was given an untuned guitar to play with (discovered after strumming a chord) and it took him five whole minutes to tune it (though it should be noted that this is not an unusual amount of time for a guitar to be tuned, especially before the invention of modern electronic tuners). Also, he was used to playing the Selmer Maccaferri, the guitar he made famous, but he was required to play a new amplified model. After "going electric", the results were not as much liked by fans. He returned to France with broken dreams, but continued to play and make many recordings.

Django Reinhardt was among the first people in France to appreciate and understand the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie whom he sought after when he arrived in New York. Unfortunately they were all on tour.

After returning to France, Django spent the remainder of his days going back to gypsy life, finding it hard to adjust to modern life. One of the most enigmatic events was when Reinhardt allegedly abandoned a newly-purchased car on the side of a road because it had run out of gasoline. Reinhardt would sometimes show up to concerts without a guitar, wander off to the park or beach, or even refuse to get out of bed. He continued composing and is regarded as among the most advanced guitar players of jazz music.

In 1948, Reinhardt recruited a few Italian jazz players (on bass, piano, and snare drum) and recorded one of his most acclaimed contributions, "Djangology", once again with his compatriot Stephane Grappelli on violin. However, his experience in the U.S. made him a different person than what Grappelli had known, influenced greatly by American jazz. But on this recording, Reinhardt switched back to his old roots, once again playing the Acoustic Selmer-Maccafferi. This recording was recently discovered by jazz enthusiasts and is now available in the U.S. and Europe.

In 1951, he retired to Samois sur Seine, France, near Fontainebleau. He lived there for two years until May 16, 1953, when, while returning from the Avon train station, he collapsed outside his house from a brain hemorrhage. It took a full day for a doctor to arrive and Django was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.

Distinctive features
  • Reinhardt and other guitarists of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France used a Selmer Maccaferri acoustic guitar.
  • The Quintet of the Hot Club of France was one of the few well-known jazz bands to have no drums or rhythm section. The percussive sounds were played on a guitar.
  • Reinhardt was known by his band, fans, and managers to be extremely unpredictable. He would often skip sold-out concerts to simply "walk to the beach" or "smell the dew".


Influence on and admiration by other musicians

Several musicians have expressed their admiration for Reinhardt in interviews about their influences. Julian Bream, the classical guitarist, cited him as his favorite guitarist. Country artist Chet Atkins, when asked to name the ten greatest guitarists of the 20th century, placed Reinhardt #1 on the list (he placed himself at fifth position). British guitarist Diz Disley was strongly influenced by Django Reinhardt and collaborated on numerous projects with Stéphane Grappelli. Many other guitarists have been known to cite Reinhardt as a major influence, including Jeff Beck, Latin rocker Carlos Santana, blues legend B.B. King, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, Mark Knopfler, Les Paul, Texas artist Stevie Ray Vaughan, Peter Frampton, Denny Laine, Robert Fripp, Steve Howe, Charlie Christian, R&B artist George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Trey Anastasio. Willie Nelson wore a Django Reinhardt T-shirt on tour in Europe in 2002, stating in an interview that he admired Django's music and ability.

Reinhardt also bore an influence on the style of other musical genres and musicians. Western Swing is influenced by Reinhardt and Grappelli, notably in the work of Bob Wills. Tchavolo Schmitt, the manouche jazz guitar player, follows in the tradition of Reinhardt's music.

Musicians have paid tribute to Reinhardt in many other ways, such as by invoking his name in their own work or personal life. Jimi Hendrix is said to have named one of his bands the Band of Gypsys because of Django's music. A number of musicians named their sons Django in reference to Reinhardt, including former Slade singer Noddy Holder, Jerry Jeff Walker, and folk singer David Crosby.

Songs written in Reinhardt's honor include "Django," composed by John Lewis, which has become a jazz standard performed by musicians such as Miles Davis. The Allman Brothers Band song Jessica was written by Dickey Betts in tribute to Reinhardt - he wanted to write a song that could be played using only two fingers. This aspect of the artist's work also motivated Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who was inspired by Reinhardt to keep playing guitar after a factory accident that cost him two fingertips.

In 2005 Django Reinhardt ended on the 66th place in the election of The Greatest Belgian (De Grootste Belg) in Flanders and on the 76th place in the Walloon version of the same competition Le plus grand belge.

Reinhardt in popular culture


  • Reinhardt is the idol of the fictional 1930's guitarist Emmet Ray (played by Sean Penn), who passes out upon meeting Django in the Woody Allenfilm Sweet and Lowdown> (1999).
  • Reinhardt is portrayed in the opening sequence of the 2003 animated film I>Les Triplettes de Belleville.
  • He is portrayed by guitarist John Jorgenson in the movie Head in the Clouds.
  • The song Johnny Depp plays in the river party scene in Lasse Hallstrom's Chocolat was Django and Grapelli's hit, "Minor Swing".
  • Reinhardt's music has been used in many films, including the oracle scene in The Matrix; Rhythm Futur (95 minute mark) and I Cant Give You Anything But Love (41 minute mark) in The Aviator; Nuages in Gattaca; the score for Louis Malle's 1974 movie, Lacombe Lucien; the background for the Steve Martin movie L.A. Story; the background for a number of Woody Allen movies, including Stardust Memories, where Woody's character plays a Django record; Honeysuckle Rose in the background of the Central Park carriage ride scene in Kate and Leopold, and during the Juilliard audition in the movie Daltry Calhoun. Reinhardt's work also figures heavily into B. Monkey and The Pallbearer.
  • Reinhardt is the idol of the character Arvid in the movie Swing Kids. The character loses movement in two of his fingers, but is inspired to continue playing because Django also had two paralyzed fingers.


  • The character Andre Custine has a double bass that had been played by Reinhardt in the novel Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds.
  • The 2002 video game Mafia used many of his songs on the soundtrack.
  • Sealab 2021 paid tribute to Django in the episode "Bebop Cola". In it, Captain Murphy comments on a drink dispensed from the Bebop Cola machine: "Ahh, Mango Rheinhardt! The thinking man's pop!"
  • Harlan Ellison's short story "Django" is a fantasia about a guitarist, with similarities to Reinhardt.
  • The Django web framework, a Python web framework, was named after Reinhardt.



  • 1945 Paris 1945
  • 1951 Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club Quintet
  • 1951 At Club St. Germain
  • 1953 Django Reinhardt et Ses Rythmes
  • 1954 The Great Artistry of Django Reinhardt
  • 1955 Django's Guitar
  • 1959 Django Reinhardt and His Rhythm
  • 1996 Imagine
  • 2001 All Star Sessions
  • 2001 Jazz in Paris: Swing 39
  • 2002 Djangology (remastered) (recorded in 1948, discovered, remastered and released by bluebird jazz)
  • 2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuages
  • 2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuits de Saint-Germain des-Prés
  • 2004 Le Génie Vagabond


  • Retrospective Django Reinhardt 1934/53 (probably the most complete one)
  • The Django -- The Unforgettable
  • Django Reinhardt [Forlane]
  • Stardust Records Presents Django Reinhardt: Anthology 1934-1937
  • Django
  • The Art of Django
  • Quintet of the Hot Club of France [GNP]
  • Vol. 6: Nuages
  • Django Reinhardt and the Quintet
  • Django, Vol. 2 [ITI]

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