Django doesn’t need another name.
Django has become a myth – in France, maybe also in your country.
He is a strange myth, a forgotten myth that is no longer spoken of, but when you say his name: Django, I swear, you don’t have to give the last name, everyone knows who you are talking about – it’s only the youngest who check: you are talking about Django Reinhardt, the guitarist?
Yes, yes, Django, himself, the phenomenal guitarist.
Django was a Manouche – I think you say : Sinti for them – in France they are called: Manouche, madame, you know? we are the Travelers. So he was a particular gypsy – a traveler. He came from Belgium to the East of France and travelled with his family all over Europe – at least.
As a child, he played the violin – no teacher, no lesson, he observed and listened. At the age of 12 he discovered the banjo – and he played it so quickly so well, so well, that he wanted to play outside the community. At 13, he was playing in the courtyards of buildings, in cabarets, for private parties.
Little by little, he impressed musicians so much that contract offers came pouring in. Django, who was a real gypsy, couldn’t read music, in fact he couldn’t read at all – but the music was in his heart, flesh and soul, and he skinned his fingers to get the sounds he wanted.
Everything seemed to smile to him then – he was young, he was 18, he had a first record and a beautiful wife. They were both living in their caravan, in Paris, in the community. But his wife was selling celluloid flowers – so one night the caravan burned down. Django got out of there with a serious injury to his leg and especially to his left hand. At the age of 18, he will lose the use of his left hand: two fingers and a paralysis of the hand.
Impossible to continue playing.
Really impossible : not to play anymore was the new rule.
He could not accept this future promised by the doctors. He needed 18 months for his wounds to heal, 18 months of pain with this horrible sentence: never play again.
He asked for his banjo.
He will not be allowed to use it – too noisy.
So his brother brought him a guitar. It was a little less loud.
Django learned the guitar with a crippled hand and this insane will to be stronger than “that”: the story says that he needed 6 months to invent a new way to play the guitar, a way where he didn’t need all the fingers of his left hand, a way where he could take advantage of the almost total paralysis of this hand, a way to slide on the strings to make them laugh and cry at the same time.
That’s how Django, the guitar god was born.
After this terrible ordeal, he learns that a new music is coming from America: jazz.
He listens – and falls madly in love.
He will be a jazzman.
But a jazzman from home, a jazzman who was dreaming of a jazz done with guitars & violins, a jazzman from the roads of Europe, a jazzman from the Zone of Paris, behind the “fortifs” – the fortifications that have since been razed to the ground to make way for the inner ring road.
It was a strange place, the Zone of Paris at that time – a place where you should not go if you were well brought up, the place of the thugs, the gypsies, the rival gangs, where you died if you were not faithful to the King of the gypsies.
He was 20 years old – the army came for him: he had not fulfilled his military obligations.
He could not read or write – how could he send back the papers proving his disability? There are many legends about this episode in his life – but the army left him alone and apparently without consequence.
He wanted to take the plunge, to see America and the real men of Jazz. He played in Duke Ellington’s band. He didn’t take it well, he was a free musician, with no rules and no constraints, and what were all those rules? He never wanted to learn English – so he came back – but without bitterness, on the contrary, there he had met men of genius.
When I read his biography, I realized that whoever wrote it didn’t really know the customs of the gypsies.
On Django’s birth certificate, it says: Jean.
And the biographer wonders why he changed his name to Django, which means: I wake you up.
But gypsies do not give their real name, their Gypsy name, first. They give their French name, which they choose a little at random. Django’s real name was Django. Jean, it was to make… normal citizen.
I learned that his music had been used in American cartoons, and that Walt Disney had loved and made the notes of Django the guitar god resound in every young ear in the world. I didn’t know that, and that made me very happy.
So I imagine that while listening to this, you will think of those lovely hours of your childhood.
Well…since it’s free access… I give in to temptation – here are most of his great pieces
Django’s Manouche life: the road, family, freedom, music
Featured Image : Django Reinhardt and his family
More : Django Reinhardt: Three-Fingered Lightning …. to watch on youtube, a short documentary on the life of this extraordinary man