Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium jazz club in New York, NY, around 1946. From the William P. Gottlieb Collection @Wiki Commons

Jazz history in short: a true melting pot many creative geniuses, many cultures and music styles. But few people are so representative of a sound as the Belgian-born jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910 – 1953). When hearing his music – that instantly recognisable sound and style on the guitar – it’s easy to forget that he pretty much invented it on his own! So what makes this 20th-century guitar picker so special?

Jazz was gaining popularity in Europe in the 20’s and the 30’s. When Django’s group, the Quintette du Hot Club de France featuring virtuoso violinist Stéphane Grappelli, hit the scene in Paris in 1934 they took the already existing Swing music to a whole new musical level. Influenced by both jazz and European gipsy and folk music, they gave birth to a new genre: Gipsy Jazz.

With their music, Django and his gang established that true, romantic and classic “Paris jazz” kind of feel, that upon hearing will make one long for drinking wine in small, smokey French cafés, and a nightly stroll along the Seine.

It is no wonder Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris features a lot of gipsy jazz in its soundtracks to set the tone:

This recording of “Dark Eyes (Les Yeux Noirs)” based on an old Russian folk melody shows the gipsy influence:

As if all this isn’t impressive enough yet, Django’s virtuosity is even more astounding when you take a look at his left hand: a caravan fire severely injured and crippled two of his fingers, leaving only two left to play with!

And last but not least: no guitarist has ever been cooler than Django in this video, hanging in his chair with his friends, improvising on the French classic ‘J’attendrai’.

Further listening:

Django could play at high speed as well as slow down to play his dreamy ballad “Nuages”. His solo playing is legendary and displays a mastery of the guitar that is scarcely matched even to this day.

Django would suddenly die of a stroke at the age of 43, but will live for eternity through incredible swinging enjoyable and danceable music that he recorded with his Quintette du Hot Club de France. Enjoy!