Every once in a while I like to write about "old timey" music, like I did a while back when I paid tribute to the great Louis Jordan. In order to live in a vintage world like mine, you have to set the right tone, and Django Reinhardt's (I've also seen his name spelled Rhinehardt) music certainly provides a great background for a vintage lifestyle. His fascinating life story illustrates how a personal tragedy can sometimes lead to a great triumph, and I thought it would be inspiring to give a little mini bio here.
Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal Online
Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium in 1910 and raised in a Romany gypsy community that eventually moved to the outskirts of Paris. He and his brother both played instruments as children, and Django often performed for money as a young man. By age 18 he was married and living in a gypsy caravan with his first wife, who made decorative celluloid flowers to sell and supplement their income.
Celluloid and wire flowers:
Photo Credit: Ruby Lane
After a performance one evening, Django knocked over a lit candle on the way to bed, igniting the highly flammable celluloid materials used to make the flowers. He and his wife were pulled to safety, but Django was severely burned over half of his body, including the fingers of his left hand. Doctors broke the dire news to him that he would never play the guitar again, and that his paralyzed right leg should be amputated. Reinhardt refused to have the amputation and left the hospital after several days against doctors' recommendations.
Django's brother bought him a new guitar and helped him learn to play in a different way because of his injury. This is what I find so inspiring. Many people would have become depressed and given up at this point, thinking their musical gift was ruined. Instead, Reinhardt turned lemons into lemonade, and eventually became wildly popular with his new style of guitar playing. He played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, using the two injured fingers only for chord work.
Django eventually met violinist Stéphane Grappelli, someone who was on the same page, musically speaking. Together they formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France which enjoyed success in Europe until World War II interrupted the night life scene.
The quintet was all string instruments, as you can see here:
After the war Reinhardt was asked to tour the US as a guest soloist with Duke Ellington. Upon return to France, Reinhardt continued to play until a brain hemorrhage caused his untimely death at the age of 43.
Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France with the 1937 recording of "The Sheik of Araby". I think you'll appreciate the difficulty of the piece, even if you've never picked up a guitar:
My little blog post barely skims the surface of Django Reinhardt's fascinating life and career. My hope is that he might have gained a few new fans today!