Django Reinhardt Demonstrates His Guitar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

In one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Sweet and Low­down, Sean Penn plays Emmett Ray, a fic­tion­al jazz gui­tarist who embod­ies the tit­u­lar qual­i­ties in equal­ly great mea­sure. “Already con­sid­ered peer­less among Amer­i­can jazz gui­tarists,” Ray admits of only one rival—Parisian gyp­sy gui­tarist Djan­go Rein­hardt, whom Emmett wor­ships, obvi­ous­ly pat­terns him­self after, and can’t stand to see in per­son with­out faint­ing dead away. Where Ray is a tremen­dous­ly con­vinc­ing cre­ation of Allen and Penn, Rein­hardt was very much a real musi­cian, and was indeed the reign­ing king of jazz gui­tar from the 1930s to the 50s. Reinhardt’s incred­i­ble skill is all the more impres­sive con­sid­er­ing he only had use of three fin­gers on his left hand due to injuries sus­tained in a car­a­van fire in 1928.

Rein­hardt and jazz vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li found­ed the Quin­tette du Hot Club de France in 1934, and in the for­ties, Rein­hardt began com­pos­ing, and toured Eng­land, Switzer­land, and the U.S. as a soloist with Duke Ellington’s band. He record­ed his final album, Djan­gol­o­gy in 1949, retired in 51, and died in 53, already a leg­end, “one of the few Euro­pean musi­cians to exert a seri­ous influ­ence on the Amer­i­can art form of jazz,” writes an NPR “Week­end Edi­tion” pro­file. Django’s play­ing, “at times joy­ous, fierce and lyri­cal,” draws heav­i­ly on his Roma roots while mas­ter­ing the vocab­u­lary of swing—a lan­guage, it seems, still new to many audi­ences in 1938, when the film at the top of the post, Jazz “Hot,” was made.

In a pre­vi­ous post, Mike Springer points out the “didac­tic tone” of the first cou­ple min­utes of the doc­u­men­tary, cre­at­ed by Reinhardt’s man­ag­er Lew Grade in order to famil­iar­ize the British pub­lic with jazz in advance of the quintet’s first UK tour. The film “real­ly comes alive when Djan­go arrives on the screen,” play­ing an arrange­ment of the pop­u­lar French song “J’attendrai.” Pri­or to the UK tour, the Quin­tet du Hot Club trav­eled to the Nether­lands and played The Hague. See them in the Dutch film clip above, begin­ning at 0:34. Grap­pel­li solos while Djan­go holds down the rhythm.

By 1944, Rein­hardt was well known to jazz lovers and musi­cians alike, appear­ing at the upscale Paris cabaret Bal Tabarin in the footage above at 2:54, fol­low­ing a clip of Mar­lene Diet­rich look­ing on from the audi­ence.

In 1952, the year before his death, Rein­hardt was famous enough to be cast along­side Louis Arm­strong and Sid­ney Bechet in the French-Ital­ian film La Route de Bon­heur (titled Salu­ti e baci in Italy). In this clip, Rein­hardt enter­tains a packed train car. The song dubbed over the footage is Nuits de St. Ger­main des Pres.

See much more film and pho­tog­ra­phy of Djan­go Rein­hardt and his famous quin­tet in this bio­graph­i­cal doc­u­men­tary, The Genius of Djan­go Rein­hardt. Described as an unsta­ble and child­like man capa­ble of the most unusu­al whims, the por­trait of Rein­hardt, prac­ti­cal­ly the inven­tor of jazz gui­tar, traces his life from birth in a Roma encamp­ment in Bel­gium to his final years in semi-retire­ment. And for even more Djan­go, don’t miss this French doc­u­men­tary film, Trois doigts de genie.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Leg­end Djan­go Rein­hardt

Djan­go Rein­hardt and the Inspir­ing Sto­ry Behind His Gui­tar Tech­nique

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (9)
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  • bjza says:

    “Prac­ti­cal­ly the inven­tor of jazz gui­tar.”

    Whoa there. Cita­tions need­ed on that one. I would­n’t write Euro­pean artists out com­plete­ly like jazz his­to­ri­ans of an ear­li­er era did, but I see a cou­ple of prob­lems with that asser­tion, not the least of which is Rein­hardt’s devo­tion to Eddie Lang’s small group record­ings, whether or not he’d heard Lon­nie John­son’s ses­sions with Arm­strong. And the gui­tarists from his era who most influ­enced the devel­op­ment of Amer­i­can jazz, Char­lie Chris­t­ian, steered jazz gui­tar toward horn-like melodies and far away from the gui­taris­tic tech­niques that Rein­hardt excelled at.

  • Swingo says:

    Djan­go’s last record­ing was made in 1953, short­ly before his death, not 1949 as said here. Call­ing him “inven­tor” of the Jazz gui­tar is cer­tain­ly a bit far-fetched as there were oth­ers, espe­cial­ly in the US, but he was not as is writ­ten below “devot­ed” to Eddie Lang’s play­ing, ever. He did state at one point in his car­reer that he found noth­ing to be impressed with in the lat­ter’s work…

  • Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg says:

    Yes Swingo is right . Dlan­go was with­out doubt the great­est jazz gui­tarist of his time along with Char­lie Chris­t­ian. The inven­tor of elec­tric gui­tar itself is Bob­by Durham (also a trom­bone play­er) and you can hear him in the Kansas City Six or Five with Buck Clay­ton and Lester Young, a small band as great as was the Hot Club de France of Rein­hardt and Grapel­li. Both HCF and Lester’s KC6 epit­o­mizes the swing music played by small­er bands.

  • Toad says:

    There was noth­ing to be invent­ed. There was jazz and peo­ple start­ed play­ing ban­jo (it was loud­er) and then gui­tar in the idiom–chordally at first because sin­gle note play­ing could­n’t be heard over the band, and then play­ing sin­gle-note lines, “like a horn” as the say­ing always goes, once they could fig­ure out how to be heard, but it’s not like nobody had played melodies on gui­tar before. There were no par­tic­u­lar new tech­niques invent­ed, peo­ple had already been play­ing chords and lines on gui­tar for a long time, and now they start­ed play­ing jazz chords and lines. Nobody invent­ed “jazz gui­tar” any more than any one per­son invent­ed jazz piano or jazz sax­o­phone.

  • lui says:

    djan­go him­self said “there is noth­ing to be learned from eddie lang” and if you hear the two side by side it’s obvi­ous who the cho­sen one is. As for char­lie chris­t­ian , he was fan­tas­tic but djan­go was doing things no one else did 20–30 years ahead of his time like chord solos, octave solos, flat fives in solos all the time, using the minor six sound in solos, and by the way he had two fin­gers that worked.… the list goes on, … even the way he bent notes was unprece­dent­ed and not heard until the 60s again (exclud­ing the blues). These are my two cents but real­ly the proof is in the pud­ding lis­ten to the record­ings of “i’ll see you in my dreams, chi­na boy, yeux nor” , chris­t­ian and lang have noth­ing on djan­go sor­ry it’s the truth. His solos are often more mem­o­rable and catchy than the melodies them­selves , how many jazz musi­cians can you say that about? not many. I’m hate to be a fan boy but djan­go was one in a bil­lion and no one comes close.

  • autre says:

    right on point with that dia­logue of styl­is­tic approach­es to sculpt­ing sound on a live set… the use of 5 flats and minor six defin­i­tive­ly made for a cul­tur­al shift in sen­ti­ment emo­tion­al­ly… con­sid­er the octave solo as the will­ing­ness to toss the lis­ten­er into a total cathar­tic over­ride because djan­go need­ed them to feel the under­pin­nings of a time that had been kicked to glob­al con­flict with an entire europe in the throws of fac­ing grim truth as an ongo­ing expres­sion of ‘nomad sen­si­bil­i­ties’ like his gyp­sy ances­tors had been forced to do… the world was ready and need­ing some djan­go in my view of how music man­ages an unspo­ken lan­guage of the soul

  • Django Follower says:

    Yes, Djan­go was tha Jazz gui­tar inven­tor, off course amer­i­cans can’t accept noth­ing but amer­i­can musi­cians. Djan­go was the best in the whole plan­et.

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