Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend

Overview


Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Yet there is no major biography of Reinhardt.

Now, in Django, Michael Dregni offers a definitive portrait of this great guitarist. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost ...

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Overview


Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Yet there is no major biography of Reinhardt.

Now, in Django, Michael Dregni offers a definitive portrait of this great guitarist. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost killed in a freak fire that burned half of his body and left his left hand twisted into a claw. But with this maimed left hand flying over the frets and his right hand plucking at dizzying speed, Django became Europe's most famous jazz musician, commanding exorbitant fees--and spending the money as fast as he made it. Dregni not only chronicles this remarkably colorful life--including a fascinating account of gypsy culture--but he also sheds much light on Django's musicianship. He examines his long musical partnership with violinist Stéphane Grappelli--the one suave and smooth, the other sharper and more dissonant--and he traces the evolution of their novel string jazz ensemble, Quintette du Hot Club de France. Indeed, the author spotlights Django's amazing musical diversity, describing his swing-styled Nouveau Quintette, his big band Django's Music, and his later bebop ensemble, as well as his many compositions, including symphonic pieces influenced by Ravel and Debussy and his unfinished organ mass inspired by Bach. And along the way, the author offers vivid snapshots of the jazz scene in Paris--colorful portraits of Josephine Baker, Bricktop, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and countless others--and of Django's vagabond wanderings around France, Europe, and the United States, where he toured with Duke Ellington.

Capturing the extraordinary life and times of one of the great musicians of the twentieth century, Django is a must-read portrait of a true original.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"One of the most satisfying jazz biographies in recent years.... Dregni writes lyrically of a place where the crosscurrents of art, music and fashion collided to produce a cultural richness that happens only once or twice a century, if humans are lucky.... Rich and rewarding."--Baltimore Sun

"Extremely informative.... An important appreciation of an oft-forgotten musician.... Dregni carefully dissects Reinhardt's virtuoso playing style without resorting to technical jargon, and he spends plenty of time tending to Reinhardt's passionate soul--artistic, gypsy and otherwise."--Mitch Myers, DownBeat

"A rags-to-riches story of a unique talent whose works continue to touch aspiring guitarists of all genres."--Library Journal (starred review)

"A compelling portrait of this colorful musician, one that gives equal time to Reinhardt's fascinating story as well as ample musical analysis."--JazzTimes

"An encyclopedic account of the Gypsy jazzman's life and times that provides an abundance of new information, finds new connections between what was already known, and clears up many misconceptions along the way."--Guitar Player

"In many ways the book jazz enthusiasts have been waiting for.... Fascinating and well-written. Dregni's musical analysis will send fans running to the stereo, digging out the old recordings and listening with fresh ears. Guitarists will have a feast reading about Django's technique and his famous Selmer Maccaferri guitar. Although Django will always be a larger-than-life figure, Dregni has given us a much clearer picture of the man behind the myth. 'Django' is, for now, the definitive biography, and we are in Dregni's debt for considerably advancing our understanding of the remarkable Django Reinhardt, his music and the world he lived in."--David French, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Dregni's biography does his complex subject justice.... His immersion in the period's history enriches his storytelling and our understanding. The panoramic results present Django Reinhardt as he has never been seen.... Dregni clarifies a lot of history while weaving an illuminated web of contexts around his subject. He vividly describes Gypsy life and mores, and anti-Gypsy bigotry; unearths new aspects of Reinhardt's life and work; discusses Parisian musette, American 'hot' jazz and bebop, and classical music; and insightfully details the music Reinhardt made and the instruments and people he made it with."--Gene Santoro, The New York Times Book Review

"There was only one Django Reinhardt, and Dregni supplies a vivid, detailed portrait of the man behind the guitar.... Dregni has given us Reinhardt the man--rascal, scoundrel, transcendent improviser, failed human being."--Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle

"The great strength of his book is his tireless research into the world of Django's gypsy roots. He has tracked down and interviewed as many of Reinhardt's relatives as he can find, as well as older gypsies who knew and worked with him. The result is a more complete portrait of Reinhardt's inner life, including his relationships with his parents, his wife and many other women, and two sons. There is even a detailed account of the tragic fire that cost him two fingers.... Django is a remarkable book, and its outsider's perspective is part of the reason."--New York Sun

"In this carefully researched biography, rich with details from interviews with family members, friends and musicians, Dregni brings legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt into the spotlight.... Dregni casts Django as a mercurial, charismatic Romany innocent, alternately transfixed by dajo life and dismissive of it. Colorful descriptions of the nightclubs of jazz-age Paris and sensitive appraisals of Django's musicianship add to the book's appeal."--Publishers Weekly

"The book is alive from beginning to end, and after awhile you feel like you were there as Django's career unfolds. Dregni insures that the story behind the music will not fade. Musicians, guitarists, students of the history of WWII, and those who love a good biography will love this book."--Frank Forte, Just Jazz Guitar

"Dregni...not only has managed to break into the French milieu of jazz aficionados and sects in which Django worked but has penetrated the Gypsy, or Romany, world from which Django emerged--a clannish world whose existence, well into the nineteen-fifties and sixties, was still largely furtive, outdoors, vagabond, and, occasionally, criminal. Dregni clears up the two much mystified areas of Django's life--what exactly he did during the Second World War, and what really happened on his one trip to America, in 1946--and he sorts through the music and, nice bonus, manages to suggest plots for at least three fine French movie musicals."--Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

"Uncovers the influences that helped fuse Reinhardt's unique talent and background with a developing music scene that would eventually become a lasting art form."--Vintage Guitar Magazine

"Present[s] Reinhardt's life and mythology with a clarity and detail previously lacking."--All About Jazz

Gene Santoro
In Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend' the music journalist Michael Dregni clarifies a lot of history while weaving an illuminating web of contexts around his subject. He vividly describes Gypsy life and mores, and anti-Gypsy bigotry; unearths new aspects of Reinhardt's life and work; discusses Parisian musette, American ''hot'' jazz and bebop, and classical music; and insightfully details the music Reinhardt made and the instruments and people he made it with.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this carefully researched biography, rich with details from interviews with family members, friends and musicians, Dregni, a writer for Vintage Guitar magazine, brings legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) into the spotlight. Born in a Belgian caravan, Django began performing in Parisian dance halls at 12. In 1928, after a fire turned his left hand into a clawed hook, he learned to work the frets with just two fully mobile fingers, creating new chord forms and playing with stunning dexterity. With his brother and three other musicians including celebrated violinist St phane Grappelli (staid, suave, classically trained, St phane was in many ways Django's opposite) he formed a string jazz ensemble, Quintette du Hot Club de France, which started informally in 1934 and was, by 1937, nearly "falling apart under the strain of [its] own genius." But they kept playing, and their fame spread. Spared by the Nazis because a German kommandant liked his playing, Django became a national hero when one of his compositions, "Nuages," became the unofficial anthem of occupied France. Dregni casts Django as a mercurial, charismatic Romany innocent, alternately transfixed by gadjo life and dismissive of it. Colorful descriptions of the nightclubs of jazz-age Paris and sensitive appraisals of Django's musicianship add to the book's appeal. Agent, Paul Bresnick at Carlisle & Company. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fifty years after his death, Django Reinhardt remains one of the most influential guitarists. His playing has touched blues players like B.B. King, jazzers like Charlie Christian, and even rockers la Jerry Garcia. Reinhardt was born into a true gypsy world not easily accessible to outsiders, and his personal life has been a mystery until now. Dregni, a features writer for Vintage Guitar magazine, has fully researched the jazzer's background in and around France prior to World War II. He describes the gypsy life, reinforcing some myths and dispelling others. Dregni interviews many who knew the guitarist personally, including relatives, accompanists, fellow musicians, and close friends. What emerges is a rags-to-riches story of a unique talent whose works continue to touch aspiring guitarists of all genres. Of the few other books available about Reinhardt, all focusing on his music, the best is Charles Delaunay's Django Reinhardt. As the first examination of his life, Dregni's book is a fine companion. Recommended for all public libraries and specialty music libraries. Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195304480
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/12/2006
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 692,111
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Dregni is a writer for Vintage Guitar magazine; his work has also appeared in Acoustic Guitar, Guitar Player, and The Utne Reader, among other publications. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Table of Contents

1 Awakening, 1910-1922 1
2 Panam, 1922-1928 17
3 La Musique Diabolique, 1926-1928 37
4 Wanderings, 1928-1934 45
5 Le Hot, 1934-1935 69
6 Djangology, 1935-1936 93
7 Swing, 1937 117
8 Ruling Britannia, 1938-1939 140
9 Nuages, 1939-1944 154
10 Echos de France, 1944-1946 188
11 Pilgrimage, 1946-1947 208
12 Schism, 1947-1950 229
13 A New Man, 1951-1953 252
Afterword: Gypsy Jazz 269
Notes 279
Bibliography 305
Acknowledgments 316
Index 320
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