DJANGO REINHARDT | THE GYPSY GODFATHER OF HOT JAZZ GUITAR

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If you’re a guitarist, or just an avid fan of music history, you may be aware of two mythical icons who are the equivalent to the Holy Grail of guitar.  In the world of Blues, Robert Johnson imediately comes to mind– legend has it, Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his Blues guitar chops.  And in the world of Jazz guitar, there is no one more revered and influential as the one and only Hot Jazz hero, Django Reinhardt.

Django had only two operable fingers on his fretting hand (he was badly burned in a fire at age 18), which is unbelievable when you listen to the recordings of him noodling up and down the neck.  But it wasn’t the novelty of his playing with two fingers that made him a sensation– Django’s techniques and tone are legendary, and still cited as a major influence by the world’s best guitarists, past and present.  His early and unfortunate passing at the age of 43 yrs old (1910-1953), forever cemented his icon status.

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Gypsy Jazz Guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.  Here you get a good look at his crippled left hand.

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“Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost killed in a freak fire that burned half of his body and left his left hand twisted into a claw. But with this maimed left hand flying over the frets and his right hand plucking at dizzying speed, Django became Europe’s most famous jazz musician, commanding exorbitant fees—and spending the money as fast as he made it.”

Michael Dregni

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1934, France — Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) and Stephane Grappelli, of the Quintet de Hot Club de France. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“Amazingly, several of the Gypsy guitarists who came along after Django played with just two fingers in an effort to get the tone he had—guitarists like Jacques Montagne. Even today, players like John Jorgenson or Sam Miltich will every now and then play a song with two fingers for fun, and they are able to do it, but four fingers is certainly better.”

Michael Dregni

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Django Reinhardt, 1942.

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