August 02, 2007

The Spirit of Django Reinhardt

Jean "Django" Reinhardt is remembered today as one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time, but few could have predicted that his gypsy childhood in France would land him on the coveted stage of Carnegie Hall!

Born in Liberchies, Belgium, in 1910, young Django learned to play the banjo, guitar and violin and was performing in Parisian music halls at a very early age. His musical career appeared to be cut short when a terrible fire in his caravan burned much of his body, paralyzed his right leg and severely injured his hand. Despite overwhelming odds, Django re-learned to play the guitar using just 2 fingers of his left hand to work the chords.

In 1934, Django teamed up with his brother Joseph, violinist St├ęphane Grapelli, and 2 others to form "Quintette du Hot Club de France". The rest is musical legend. Jazz music was the rage in Europe and America and he rode the crest of the wave. Despite being musically illiterate, Django played with some of the greatest jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Amazingly he survived World War 2 with the help of a sympathetic Luftwaffe official known as "Doktor Jazz" who greatly admired his music and protected him from an almost certain trip to a concentration camp that was the fate for many gypsies.

After the war, Django continued to perform but the introduction of the new electric guitars did not suit his style and he eventually returned to his simple gypsy roots. He retired to Fontainebleau France in 1951 and died of a brain hemorrhage just 2 years later.

But the impact of Django Reinhardt lives on. His unique guitar style is credited by many popular musicians as the biggest influence on their careers. B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Peter Frampton, Jerry Garcia, George Benson and Willie Nelson have all publicly acknowledged their admiration and respect for Django as one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th Century.

Most recently, the New York institution "Jazz at Lincoln Center" celebrated its 5th annual "Spirit of Django Reinhardt" concert at the brand new Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Center. This sold-out show featured 2 acts with some of the greatest stars of the contemporary gypsy jazz movement, all influenced by Django Reinhardt. With guitarists Dorado Schmitt, his son Samson and John Jorgenson, Ludovic Beier on accordion and accordina, Pierre Blanchard on violin and an outstanding performance by Colombian Edmar Castaneda on the jazz harp, these musicians prove beyond a doubt that "Le Jazz Hot" is alive and well and thriving in the the 21st Century!

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