This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham
The music of Django Reinhardt is regarded as some of the best guitar playing of all time. Reinhardt was one of Europe’s most influential jazz guitarists. He spent his youth growing up in camps near the city of Paris, where he learned how to play both the banjo and guitar at a very early age. Though his family contained several musicians, his mother was a dancer and his father was a musician too, they made furniture for a living.
Django’s first known recordings took place in 1928, where he was working out the basics of the banjo after being gifted one on his twelfth birthday. Most of his education came from observation, carefully noting the movement of fingers as other artists played.
He married his first wife near the age of 18. The two were very poor and lived in a caravan outside of Saint-Ouen, which is where she sold paper flowers she made for spare change. Unfortunately, the materials she used were highly flammable. Reinhardt was returning home from a late-night gig when he accidentally knocked a candle over. This started a rather large fire, and though his neighbors pulled him to safety, Reinhardt suffered second and third degree burns over most of his body. These burns left his legs paralyzed, along with the third and fourth fingers of his left hand.
Django was given a new guitar after the injury, and he slowly retrained himself to play with just two fingers.
Django’s first introduction to jazz was Louis Armstrong. He loved the style and quickly formed a group to gig with, but found little success. It wasn’t until 1934, when Reinhardt formed a quartet to play at Hot Club de France, where Reinhardt’s music became well-known.