A Gypsy With a Dream

David Mardakhayev, Reporter

In the past twenty years, there’s been a lot of talk about innovation. Sub Genres that range anywhere from mumble rap to technical-death-progressive-space-thrash metal have seen the light of day.  The kick-starters of these musical niches have been credited as incredibly talented. In most cases, this is true, but their feats do not stand nearly as tall as the late Django Reinhardt’s.

Django Reinhardt was a French gypsy, born in 1910, who lived Europe and is often regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time. The reason for this is that he not only ignited the genre known as “Gypsy Jazz,” but he did it with 8 functioning fingers. In 1928, Reinhardt was the victim of a fire which left his fourth and fifth fingers badly burned and almost unusable. Many thought that he would never play guitar again. However, Reinhardt refused to give in. He practiced and rehabilitated and learned to play guitar in a way that accommodated his handicap. He was good as new, if not better.

From here on out, Reinhardt had his sights set on American Jazz. It fascinated him through its free rhythm and expression. He created a group with other musicians, one of these being Stéphane Grapelli, an accomplished violinist. The group set fire to the powder keg known as Gypsy Jazz. This genre incorporated traditional jazz elements, but utilized blues and swing feels to craft a breath of fresh air in the genre. Typically, songs start with a double riff followed by trading guitar and violin solos. As a testament to the skill of Reinhardt, these solos are incredibly technical and many guitarists at the time wouldn’t have been able to play them with their entire arsenal of appendages (See “Minor Swing” for reference).

Reinhardt continued playing his unique brand of jazz up until his death in 1952 but his legacy lives on in the music of many musicians. A lot of well-versed guitarists have him to thank for their melodic ear or intuition for odd times. Though he is not a household name, like Frank Sinatra or Duke Ellington, the amount of talent Reinhardt possessed in two fingers out classes many current guitarists.

 Image: http://www.thebluegrassspecial.com/archive/2010/march10/django-reinhardt-michael-dregni.php