Thursday, 26 April 2012

django Reinhardt - The Two Fingered Guitar Genius

Django Reinhardt has astounded and thrilled numerous generations of guitar players and jazz lovers with his amazing command of the guitar. January 24th, 1910 at Liberchies Belgium, Django was born into the open air, rambling lifestyle of his gypsy parents. At the age of eight, his mother's tribe settled near the belt of fortifications that surrounded the old Paris, near the Choisy gate. Though born into poverty Django had the soul of a nobleman and this natural elegance of bearing and attitude expressed itself in his music.

 It was at an early age Django became attracted to music. When twelve years old he received his first instrument, a banjo/guitar that was given to him by a neighbor who had noticed his keen interest in music. He quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched. He was soon astounding adults with his ability on the guitar, and before he was thirteen he began his musical career playing with popular accordionist Guerino at a dance hall on the Rue Monge. Since Django could not read or write at the time "Jiango Renard" was how his name appeared on these records.

On November 2nd, 1928 at one o'clock in the morning the 18 year old Django returned to the caravan that was now the home of himself and his new wife. The caravan was filled with celluloid flowers his wife had made to sell the following day. Django heard what he thought was a mouse among the flowers, bent down with a candle to look. The wick from the candle fell into the highly flammable celluloid flowers and the caravan was almost instantly set alight. Django wrapped himself in a blanket to shield him from the flames. He and his wife made it across the blazing room to safety outside, but his left hand, and his right side from knee to waist were badly burned.

Django was bedridden for eighteen months. During this time he was given a guitar, and with great determination Django created a whole new fingering system built around the two fingers on his left hand that had full mobility. His fourth and fifth digits of the left hand were permanently curled towards the palm due to the tendons shrinking from the heat of the fire. He could use them on the first two strings of the guitar for chords and octaves but complete extension of these fingers was impossible. His soloing was all done with the index and middle fingers! Film clips of Django show his technique to be graceful and precise, almost defying belief.

1934 proved to be the most important year of his life. The Quintet of the Hot Club of France was born! As the fates would have it, the Quintet was formed by a chance meeting of Django and Stéphane Grappelli. A band of fourteen musicians including Django, Stéphane, Roger Chaput, and Louis Vola were commissioned to play at the Hotel Cambridge at teatime. During intermission Django would find a corner backstage and play his guitar. One day Stéphane joined in and both were so pleased with the exchange they went on to play together more and more frequently joined by Roger Chaput (guitar), Louis Vola (bass), and eventually Django's Django played and recorded throughout the war years substituting Hubert Rostaing's clarinet for Stephen's violin.

He avoided the fate of many of his kinfolk who went to their deaths in the Nazi concentration camps. After the war he was rejoined by Stéphane and they again played and recorded. He toured briefly with Duke Ellington in America and returned to Paris where he continued his career until 1951 when he retired to the small village of Samois sur Seine and subsequently died in 1953.

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