Saturday, February 12, 2011

Django Reinhardt - Gypsy Guitar Music Virtuoso - Part 1 By Steve M Herron

Almost a half century after his passing, Django Reinhardt still remains a towering figure in the annals of jazz guitar. To this day, his blazing guitar playing stands up to that of present day master jazz guitarists such as Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Johnny Smith and George Benson. Author James Lincoln Collier in his publication "The Making of Jazz", called Django "the most important guitarist in the anals of jazz". When you take into consideration the army of jazz guitarists he has motivated, he may very well be. His unheard of style of guitar playing - combining European influenced licks and harmonies with jazz music rhythms was unheard of during his lifetime. He was among the very first of the European jazz musicians who could the jazz feel correctly and he left an historical stamp on the world of jazz guitar playing. His major influence was session guitarist Eddie Lang (the first major jazz guitarist) and he absorbed Lang's European based harmonic concepts 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 line, Django was raised in true gypsy fashion - touring around in a caravan and living like a vagabond. He spent many of his formative years wandering across Europe, eventually settling 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 gift for music and finally received a banjo from a neighbor named Raclot when he was twelve years old. He never received formal lessons, but was schooled by his father and other musicians in the area and shortly thereafter started performing with his father in cafes. By age fourteen he had become a permanent fixture on the Parisian night club circuit and by age eighteen he recorded his first session as a sideman, backing up an accordion performer on his banjo.
On November 2, 1928, tragedy struck. Django heard some noise and thought it was a mouse scurrying around his wagon. He grabbed a candle, which promptly fell out of the candle holder and onto a stack of very flammable artificial flowers that immediately burst into flames, setting the wagon on fire. Django used a blanket to take his wife out of the blazing wagon, but his bare legs and left hand were badly burned. Because of the degree of the burns, doctors suggested removing Django's legs, but he adamantly refused. He would later regain the use of both legs. 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 second fingers, but never the full use of the third and fourth fingers. Over a year later, he was able to play guitar again employing his functioning left-hand fingers! Fortunately, for aspiring gypsy jazz guitarists there are multiple guitar tab books in print that feature Django's recorded guitar solos as well as multiple instructional guitar DVDs that teach his melodic and chordal concepts along with the guitar techniques he used to play them.
Peabody Conservatory trained guitarist Steven Herron helps people succeed at becoming better guitar players. His company 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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