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Django Reinhardt

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Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium (1910 – 1953)

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (23 January 1910 - 16 May 1953) was a Belgian guitarist and composer credited with popularizing , as well as conceptualizing the style together with several other Gypsy musicians. Reinhardt, the meaning of whose nickname was “I Awake” in the Romani language, severely injured two of the digits on his left hand as a youth, and changed his guitar playing style to adapt to his handicap. Together with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, he founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France, regarded as one of the most innovative recording groups in the history of jazz music.

Born in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium into a family of Manouche Gypsies, Jean Reinhardt learned to play several instruments such as the banjo, violin and guitar from an early age; he spent most of his youth in Gypsy encampments close to Paris. His family made a living from crafting furniture, but included several amateur musicians who inspired Reinhardt. Eventually, Reinhardt was given a banjo-guitar, at which point he stopped playing the violin. During this period, he was inspired by two older Gypsy musicians, Gusti Mahla and Jean Castro. Able to make a living from his music from his teen years onwards playing in bal-musette halls in Paris, Reinhardt received little formal education until his adult life; he was taught the rudiments of literacy by fellow band member Stéphane Grappelli.

At the age of eighteen, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with Florine “Bella” Mayer, his first wife. They were very poor, and to supplement their income Bella made imitation flowers out of celluloid and paper; consequently, their home was full of this highly inflammable material.

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