Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Legend of Django Reinhardt

For anyone brought up to appreciate the artistry of men like Andres Segovia and Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), it is sad to see the abuse of the guitar in contemporary popular music. The instrument has been transformed into a monster emitting deafening electronic noise. And the more distortion the better.

Django was in his prime in the 1930s and 40s. The war interrupted his career and together with some mishaps and bad judgment his postwar career was a series of hits and misses. But the recordings he made are jazz classics. Very little of his work was captured on film but it has to be seen to be believed. Django lost the use of two fingers on his left hand in a gypsy caravan fire. But what he did with the other three was incredible.

In spite of his fame in the musical capitals of Europe. Django was born a gypsy and died a gypsy. According to biographer Michael Dregni, Django "was born in a caravan at a crossroads in the dead of winter." In accordance with gypsy tradition when a man dies "the family moves out of the deceased's caravan, then sets it afire with all the beloved's worldly possessions." And so it was with Django. Everything he owned, including his Selmer guitar, went up in flames.

Django had tough times after the war but when he died he was on the verge of establishing the international presence he had never had. Norman Granz, the mastermind of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, had signed up Django for an American tour in the fall of 1953. Django would be appearing with all the jazz greats. More than that, Granz planned to record Django as part of a trio with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.

Django Reinhardt died of a brain hemorrhage in Paris May 16, 1953. He was 43 years old.

Paul E. Robinson

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