Just about a half century after his death, Django Reinhardt still remains a legendary figure in the history of jazz guitar. To this day, his incredible guitar technique stands up to that of present day virtuoso jazz guitarists such as Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Tal Farlow and George Benson. Author James Lincoln Collier in his publication "The Making of Jazz", called Django "the most important guitarist in the history of jazz". When you take into consideration the amount of jazz guitarists he has inspired, he may very well be. His unique style of playing - marrying European influenced licks and harmonies with jazz music rhythms was unheard of during his time. He was among the first of the European jazz musicians who could play the jazz feel correctly and he left an historical footprint on the world of jazz guitar playing. His most important influence was session guitarist Eddie Lang (the first major jazz guitarist) and he absorbed Lang's European based chordal techniques and took them one step further.
Born Jean Baptise Reinhardt to LaBelle Reinhardt and Jean Vees (his probable father) on January 23, 1910 in Liverchees, Belgium next to the French border, Django was raised in authentic gypsy fashion - travelling around in a caravan and living like a vagabond. He spent many of his early years wandering across Europe, eventually moving just outside of Paris. Django did not go to school and was illiterate - he could not read nor write. He did however always have a love and a talent for music and finally received a banjo from a friend named Raclot when he was twelve years old. He never took structured lessons, but was taught by his father and other musicians in the area and shortly thereafter began performing with his father in cafes. By age fourteen he had become a fixture on the Parisian club circuit and by age eighteen he made his first session as a sideman, backing up an accordion player on his banjo.
On November 2, 1928, personal tragedy struck. Django heard some noise and thought it was a mouse scurrying around his wagon. He grabbed a lighted candle, which promptly fell out of the candleholder and onto a pile of very flammable fake flowers that all at once exploded into flames, setting the wagon on fire. Django used a blanket to carry his wife out of the blazing caravan, but his bare legs and left hand were severely burned. Because of the degree of the burns, doctors suggested amputating Django's legs, but he vehemently refused. He would later regain the use of both burnedlegs. His burned left hand did not have the same good fortune and his music career was thought to be doomed. Django was strong however and trudged along, trying to play guitar again while in the hospital. He finally regained the use of his thumb, index and middle fingers, but never the full use of the third and pinky fingers. Over a year later, he was able to play again employing his functioning left-hand fingers! Fortunately, for serious gypsy jazz guitarists there are several guitar tab books in print that feature Django's recorded guitar solos as well as multiple instructional DVDs that teach his melodic and chordal concepts along with the guitar techniques he used to play them.
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Peabody Conservatory trained guitarist Steven Herron helps people succeed at becoming better guitar players. His company ChordMelody.com features an enormous, unique selection of jazz guitar tab as well as guitar books and instructional DVDs by Django Reinhardt himself.
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