"He was the greatest guitarist in my mind. I'd do anything to play as great as he did."
- Les Paul on Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) When he was 18 a fire broke out in his caravan (a horse-drawn wagon used as a gypsy home) while his young wife was making flowers to sell out of highly flammable celluloid. (Martin stopped using celluloid for pickguards during the mid-sixties because it was so dangerous.) He and his wife managed to get to the door on the other side of the caravan, but Django was badly burned on most of the left side of his body. Tragically, he lost the use of two fingers on his left hand which was the hand he used to finger the notes. He spent the next 18 months in the hospital recuperating and also re-learning how to play guitar.
Playing with only two fingers didn’t slow Django down at all. Do a YouTube search for “Django Reinhart The Quintet of the hot club of France Jattendrai Swing 1939” for the only film footage with sound of Django. His playing is fluid, melodic, full of sophisticated runs, and truly inspiring. Even more amazingly, the man mastered the language of jazz without being able to read music. In fact, except for signing his autograph for fans he couldn’t read or write.
Musical history was changed forever in 1934 when Django met violinist Stephane Grapelli and they formed the quintet ‘The Hot Club of France’. The success of their new and exciting sound enabled Django to record hundreds of tunes and songs until his untimely death at age 43.
- Minor Swing from 1937
- Nuages from 1940 (Django recorded this tune 13 times.)
My 1976 Favino Gypsy Jazz guitar – Part of the new sound Django Reinhardt created was also due to the new type of guitar he favored, a French made Selmer Modèle Jazz with its longer scale and cutaway body enabling access to higher notes. Because of Django, this type of guitar today is simply called by many as a “gypsy jazz guitar”. There weren’t enough Selmers to go around, so luthiers started making their own copies, most notably Jacques Favino also of Paris. Today there are many builders making gypsy jazz guitars, but if you’re not lucky enough to find an original Selmer, a vintage Favino is the next best thing.