Close to a half-century after his death, gypsy guitar player Django Reinhardt even now remains a legendary figure in the annals of jazz guitar.
To this day, his blazing guitar technique stands up to that of current master jazz guitar performers like Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Tal Farlow and George Benson.
Author James Lincoln Collier in his book “The Making of Jazz”, called Django “the most unbelievable guitarist in the historical past of jazz”. When you take into consideration the army of jazz guitarists he has influenced, he may quite well be. His unheard of style of playing – mixing European influenced licks and chords with jazz music rhythms was unheard of during his time.
Numerous collection books of jazz guitar tabs and jazz guitar tablatures would later be published documenting Django’s incredible solos. He was among the very first of the European jazz musicians who could interpret the jazz feel the right way and he left a historical footprint in the world of jazz guitar music. His main influence was studio guitar player Eddie Lang (the first major jazz guitar performer) and he absorbed Lang’s European based chordal methods and took them one step further.
Born Jean-Baptise Reinhardt to LaBelle Reinhardt and Jean Vees (his possible father) on January 23, 1910, in Liverchees, Belgium just near the French borderline, Django was brought up in authentic gypsy fashion – roaming around in a caravan and living like a vagabond. He invested much of his early years venturing all across Europe, eventually settling just outside of Paris. Django did not go to school and was illiterate – he could not read nor write. He did nevertheless always have a love and a talent for music and finally acquired a banjo from a close friend named Raclot when he was 12 years old. He never obtained structured lessons, but was educated by his dad and other musicians in the area and soon thereafter started performing with his father in cafes. By age fourteen, he had become a fixture on the Parisian club circuit and by age 18 he cut his initial record album as a sideman, accompanying an accordion player on his banjo.
On November 2, 1928, personal tragedy struck. Django heard a faint sound and thought it was a rat scurrying around close to his wagon. He took hold of a candle, which unexpectedly fell from the candleholder and on to a pile of extremely flammable artificial flowers that immediately burst into flames, setting the entire wagon on fire. Django used a blanket to bring his spouse from the blazing wagon, but his exposed legs and left hand were badly burned. Due to the degree of the burns, doctors suggested cutting off Django’s legs, but he adamantly refused. He would later on regain the use of both burned legs. His burned left hand did not have the same good fortune and his new music career was thought to be doomed.
Django was strong nevertheless and trudged along, trying to play guitar once more even though still in the hospital. He finally regained the use of his thumb, index and middle fingers, but never the complete use of the 3rd and fourth fingers. Over a year later, he was able to perform yet again employing his working left-hand fingers! Fortunately, for serious gypsy jazz guitarists, there are a lot of guitar tab books in print that feature Django’s recorded solos as well as multiple instructional DVDs that teach his melodic and harmonic ideas along with the guitar techniques he utilized to perform them.