French Letter Music Blog


French Letter

Mister Beau-Django

Jun 29

Written by:
Friday, June 29, 2007  RssIcon

First things first: we must shatter a popular myth - Django Reinhardt never lost any fingers. For all of his life he had the full set of ten. Look at the picture below right and count them (okay, so you can't see his thumbs).

However, what is true is that, because of injuries he sustained in a fire when he was 18, two fingers of his left hand were badly withered (due to the same incident his right leg was so badly damaged that he had to use a cane for the rest of his life). Although he depended on his two left forefingers to do nearly all his fretwork, he occasionally could use the two damaged fingers.

Disability was not the only obstacle Django had to overcome. He was a gypsy at a time (the Nazi occupation of France) when many gypsies were deported to concentration camps (the Third Reich tolerated neither ethnic minorities nor jazz). He escaped to Britain during the war with the help of a Luftwaffe officer called Dietrich Schulz-Kohn (known to his friends as 'Doktor Jazz') who was a huge fan of Reinhardt and his music. After the war he returned to France and his encampment to the north of Paris - today if you take the train between Charles de Gaulle Airport and Paris, you'll still see modern gypsy camps in the same area near the Stade de France.

Reinhardt never adapted to modern life nor sought to join the settled community. Happily for him, the modern world would, out of admiration for his astounding music, often adapt itself to him. One of our favourite Django stories (and there are loads out there) tells of the time that the Belgian royal family, huge fans of his music, invited him to dinner in their palace in Brussels. When salad was served Django ignored the cutlery and began eating with his fingers. After several seconds of stunned silence the royals, not wanting to offend him, also began eating their salad with their fingers.

Reinhardt lived his final years in Samois-sur-Seine, outside Paris, and this weekend the town honours him by hosting its annual festival of the 'jazz manouche' (or gypsy jazz) style he defined.

Django's most famous works are those from his time with the 'Hot Club de Paris', the group he and violinist Stephane Grapelli played with in the jazz bars of Saint-Germain. The recordings that Reinhardt and Grapelli made are essential listening and continue to influence artists of all genres. In particular, we loved the Hot Club Of Cowtown, a Texan trio (now split up, unfortunately) that mixed jazz manouche with country swing. Strangely enough, the English band called Hot Club De Paris plays indie-rock.

From the rare surviving footage of Django in action, here's 'J'Attendrai':

Location: Blogs Parent Separator French Letter

1 comment(s) so far...

Re: Mister Beau-Django

A sweet and sharp mini history of the Hot Club's finest guitar man.

By Barry Cullen on   Friday, June 29, 2007

Your name:
Gravatar Preview
Your email:
(Optional) Email used only to show Gravatar.
Your website:
Security Code
Enter the code shown above in the box below
Add Comment   Cancel 


Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

Is your Irish band playing in France? Your French band playing in Ireland? Let us know, along with anything else you think we might be interested in.

E-mail: frenchletter(at)

Live from the boulevards and venues of Paris - follow French Letter on Twitter!
French Letter updates and the latest non-Paris stuff too - check out CLUAS on Facebook!



Best French Music

Blogs and sites we like 


CLUAS blogs

Check out these other CLUAS blogs:

Archived Articles

All 'French Letter' articles published between January 2006 and March 2007 have been archived.

RSS Feed

Copy and paste this link into your RSS aggregator of choice  Subscribe