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Django Reinhardt

Jean Baptiste  Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 - May 16, 1953), known by his stage name Django Reinhardt, was a Romani-French guitarist born in Belgium. Hailed as one of the most significant proponents of jazz, he was one of the first major jazz musicians to emerge from Europe. 

Along with violinist Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt founded the Paris jazz group Quintette du Hot Club de France - one of the first jazz acts to feature the guitar as a lead instrument. Django collaborated with some of the most renowned jazz artists of all time, including Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington and Benny Carter. A most prolific musician, Django recorded over 900 sides from 1928 to 1953 - released in a posthumous compilation in 20 volumes by the music label Fremaux.

Django Reinhardt's left hand was seriously injured by a wildfire, leaving it partly paralyzed. Despite his paralysis he managed to develop the style of Gypsy Jazz guitar, which would go on to revolutionize jazz music. Due to his damaged hand, Reinhardt had to modify both his chordal and melodic approach extensively. For chords he developed a novel system based largely around 3-note chords, each of which could serve as the equivalent of several conventional chords in different inversions; for the treble notes he could employ his ring and little fingers to fret the relevant high strings even though he could not articulate these fingers independently, while in some chords he also employed his left hand thumb on the lowest string. Within his rapid melodic runs he frequently incorporated arpeggios, which could be played using two notes per string (played with his two "good" fingers, being his index and middle fingers) while shifting up or down the fingerboard.

Django Reinhardt created a beautiful and melodious new type of jazz to rival American swing, and although the fire affected his ability to play with his left hand, he used his musical ear to write solos and develop his signature guitar style. Combining the melodies of American jazz with the fast rhythms characteristic of gypsy music, his innovative approach has had a profound influence on a whole generation of guitarists. His devotees included Chet Atkin, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Byrd and Jeff Beck amongst countless others. Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, both of whom lost fingers in accidents, were inspired by Reinhardt's example of becoming an accomplished guitar player despite his injuries.

Reinhardt had two sons, both of whom became respected jazz guitarist - Lousson (a.k.a. Henri Baumgartner) and Babik.

In his final years, Django retired to Samois-sur-Seine, a commune in north-central France, and continued to play in jazz clubs until his death. In his final recordings, made with his Nouvelle Quintette, he had begun moving in a new musical direction.

On 16 May, 1953, after playing in a Paris club, he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at an early age of only 43.

Willie Nelson, a lifelong fan of Reinhardt, said in his memoirs, "He changed my musical life, gave me an entirely new outlook on guitar, and, at a deeper level, a new appreciation for my own relationship to sound.”

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