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You Tube Gold: Django Reinhardt

Still the GOAT of jazz guitar

Django Reinhardt
Poster of Django Reinhardt advertising Selmer guitars, c 1939.
Photo by JP Jazz Archive/Redferns

The current documentary about Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls naturally brings up the question of who the G.O.A.T. - the greatest of all time - is.

It basically comes down to Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or LeBron James although we always say Bill Russell should be considered because his teams were essentially unbeatable.

It’s subject to debate though. That’s not the case in every field. Take jazz guitar. Django Reinhardt was born in 1910 Belgium to a Roma family. He discovered Jazz in the 1930s and, already a masterful musician, absorbed it and became the leading jazz guitarist in Europe and soon the world. With Stephane Grapelli he founded The Quintet of the Hot Club of France, the club being where they usually played.

His career was greatly interrupted by World War II and though he was in the UK when it broke out, he immediately went back to France. Being a Roma and playing jazz, his life was in enormous jeopardy. It was amazing that he survived at all.

Also amazing: he was terribly burned in a fire in 1928. His left hand was severely affected and he lost the use of two fingers. He had to relearn how to play with just two fingers. As great as Jordan, Chamberlain and Russell were and James is, they never had to overcome anything remotely that challenging.

Here’s some rare video of the Quintet in action. Reinhardt died in 1953 at just 43; Grappelli lived until 1989 and played brilliant music to the end of his life.