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Gypsy Jazz Guitar

Updated on April 2, 2020
Jon Green profile image

Music comes and goes, but Django's musical legacy lives on, and will always sound great!

Gypsy Jazz Guitar

There is a rare clip of the great Django Reinhardt playing before WW2 available on Youtube - there is almost no surviving footage of Django playing, but plenty of anecdotes passed down from Stephane Grappelli, his long-time violinist.

The DVD Life in the Jazz Century features many interviews and historical background provided by Stephane. The Amazon capsule lists this for a mere $56,000, which seems expensive. Fortunately, many recordings were made of Django over a long career, despite his conviction that recording would never catch on!

  • Jazz literally saved his life when captured by Nazis while trying to cross the border from France - the officer in charge was a jazz fan and recognised him. Django loved the music of Louis Armstrong, and elements of his style were incorporated into the Gypsy music that surrounded Django in Belgium and France.
  • Django was badly burned in a caravan fire, and was left with about 2 or 3 working fingers on his left hand - he then had to relearn how to play the guitar
  • Django could not read or write, and used to sign with a cross, although Stephane tried to teach him
  • Django missed a Carnegie hall concert and went fishing instead. He used to drive people nuts with his unreliable and capricious nature!
  • Guitar was only No.2 in his priorities - billiards was No.1
  • When travelling he insisted on first class, while his brothers went second class and had to carry his guitar...he could be a bit mean!
  • He missed his first recording session, saying that recording would never catch on!
  • His record Nuages, a great composition, became a big hit in Paris during the 1940s, despite the Nazi occupation.
  • Other great Django tunes include Manoir De Mes Reves and Tears - both great compositions and well worth learning.

The second video is of Bireli Lagrene, a contemporary player who may be one of Django's distant relatives, not sure about that 100% though. He is a great gypsy jazz style player, but also plays standard guitar jazz on electric guitar. An amazing musician, in a stunning band.


Learning gypsy jazz or Manouche guitar

Bireli Lagrene is one of the masters of this style, there are many others, but he is also funny and cheeky with it! Robin Nolan is a great teacher, and can be found on Youtube demonstrating a lot of the key concepts in this style, I'm a big fan. You may notice that the Selmer Maccaferri style guitar as used by Django is an important part of playing this music - although I like the sound, I can't get on with the chunky neck profile myself. Bireli can be seen playing many other guitars, even solid body electrics, and still has the stylistic flair.


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