Born in Liberchies, Belgium, Reinhardt spent most of his youth in gypsy encampments close to Paris, France, playing banjo, guitar and violin from an early age professionally at dance halls in Paris. He started first with a banjo-guitar that had been given to him, and his first recordings (in 1928) were with him playing the banjo (a banjo guitar has six strings and is tuned like a guitar).
At the age of 18, Reinhardt was injured in a fire that ravaged the caravan he shared with his first wife. The third and fourth digits on his left hand were burned so badly they were fused together, and although the doctors succeeded in separating the fingers, they were of diminished use to him in his future guitar playing (Acker Bilk was another musician whose dexterity seemed unimpaired by finger-damage). Determined to keep playing, Reinhardt focused on the guitar and developed an original style of playing that emphasized his undamaged fingers.
In 1934, he formed the 'Quintette du Hot Club de France' with violinist Stephane Grappelli, Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. He produced numerous recordings at this time, and played with many American musicians, like Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Rex Stewart.
As World War II was declared, the quintet was on tour in the United Kingdom. Reinhardt returned to Paris at once, leaving his wife behind. Grappelli remained in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war, and Reinhardt reformed the quintet in Paris with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet in place of Grappelli's violin.
Reinhardt survived World War II unscathed, unlike many other gypsies who perished in the concentration death camps of the Nazis. He had the help of a Luftwaffe official named Dietrich Schultz-Kohn, a.k.a. Doktor Jazz, who admired deeply his music. In 1943 married Sophie Ziegler, with whom he had a son, Babik Reinhardt, who went on to become a respected guitarist in his own right.
After the war, Reinhardt rejoined Grappelli in the UK, and went on to tour the United States, opening for Duke Ellington, and playing at Carnegie Hall, as well as making more recordings.
In 1951, he retired to Samois sur Seine in France, near Fontainebleau, and lived there for two years until, on the morning of May 16th, he woke up complaining of being unable to move. Although he claimed to feel better, he collapsed outside of his house from a brain hemorrhage. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital in Fontainebleau.
Just before Christmas 1954, the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded pianist John Lewis' tribute, simply titled 'Django'. This elegant lament became an oft-recorded jazz classic.
In 1971, Stephane Grappelli teamed up with Belgian guitarist Phillip Catherine and Danish bass player Niels Henning Oersted-Pedersen to record a tribute titled 'Young Django', a reference to the nickname given to the virtuoso Catherine.
Reinhardt is the idol of the fictional 30's guitarist, Emmet Ray, in the Woody Allen film, Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
The song Johnny Depp plays in the river party scene in Lasse Hallström's movie 'Chocolat' was Django and Grapelli's great hit, 'Minor Swing'.
He is portrayed in the opening sequence of the 2003 cartoon Les Triplettes de Belleville, playing a mean guitar with his three fingers and puffing cigarette smoke out of his ears.
Reinhardt in popular culture
Reinhardt has been portrayed in several films, such as in the opening sequence of the 2003 animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville. The third and fourth fingers of the cartoon Reinhardt are considerably smaller than the fingers used to play the guitar. Reinhardt's legacy dominates in Woody Allen's 1999 Sweet and Lowdown. This spoof biopic focuses on fictional American guitarist Emmet Ray's obsession with Reinhardt, with soundtrack featuring Howard Alden. He is also portrayed by guitarist John Jorgenson in the movie Head in the Clouds.
Reinhardt is the idol of the character Arvid in the movie Swing Kids, where the character's left hand is smashed by a member of the Hitler Jugend, but is inspired by Reinhardt's example to keep playing. Similarly, in real life, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi suffered an industrial accident at 17, where the tips of his right middle and ring fingers were amputated on the last day of his job at a sheet metal factory. His boss, in an effort to encourage Iommi to follow his dream of being a professional guitarist, played a Django Reinhardt record for him for inspiration.
Reinhardt's music has been used in the soundtrack of many films, including in The Matrix; Rhythm Futur, Daltry Calhoun, Metroland, Chocolat, The Aviator, Alex and the Gypsy, Kate and Leopold and Gattaca; the score for Louis Malle's 1974 movie, Lacombe Lucien; the background for the Steve Martin movie L.A. Story; and the background for a number of Woody Allen movies, including Stardust Memories. He also appeared as a character in Allen's Sweet and Lowdown. Reinhardt's music has also been featured in the soundtracks of several video games, such as the 2002 game Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, Mafia II and several times in the 2007 game BioShock.
Reinhardt has been the subject of several songs, most notably "Django" (1954), a gypsy-flavoured piece that jazz pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet wrote in honour of Reinhardt; numerous versions of the song have been recorded, including one on the 1973 Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks self-titled debut album; it also appears on Joe Bonamassa's 2006 LP You & Me. The lyrics of the Norwegian song "Tanta til Beate" by Lillebjørn Nilsen mentions Reinhardt several times.
He is mentioned in Jump Little Children's song "Mexico": "I won't let you leave, not with all my Django, Emmylou and Steve".
In the novel Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds, the characters Wendell Floyd and André Custine mention having played music with Reinhardt.
In 2010 the French and Belgian Google homepages displayed a logo commemorating the centenary of his birthday on 23 January 2010.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Actors Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor named their son after Reinhardt.
Reinhardt is loosely suggested as the main character in the music video for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Brian Setzer.
The Django web framework is named after him, as is version 3.1 of the blog software WordPress.
"Twango", a track on Duane Eddy's album Road Trip, is a tribute to Reinhardt.
Many guitar players, and musicians, have expressed admiration for Django Reinhardt, or have cited him as a major influence. These include British rock guitarists Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton, all three of whom are regularly listed by publications such as Rolling Stone or Guitar Player Magazine as being within the top 10 greatest or most influential guitar players (often with Reinhardt, himself). In fact, Jeff Beck has described Reinhardt as "By far the most astonishing guitar player ever..." and "...quite superhuman..." Other notable guitar players influenced by Reinhardt, include Bob Dunn, Leon McAuliffe, Jimmy McCulloch, NWOAHM guitarist Synyster Gates (Brian Haner Jr.) of Avenged Sevenfold, classical guitarist Julian Bream; country artist Chet Atkins, who placed Reinhardt #1 on a list of the ten most influential guitarists of the 20th century (and himself fifth); Latinrocker Carlos Santana; blues legend B.B. King; Pete Townshend of The Who; Australian acoustic guitar player Tommy Emmanuel; The Wiggles' Murray Cook; Pierre Bensusan; Phish's Trey Anastasio; The Libertines' Carl Barat, Shawn Lane; Hank Marvin; Stevie Ray Vaughan; Derek Trucks; Mark Knopfler; Les Paul; Joe Pass; Peter Frampton; Denny Laine; Bill Nelson; Jon Larsen; Steve Howe; Charlie Christian; Frank Vignola; Barney Kessel; George Benson; Wes Montgomery; Martin Taylor; Michael Angelo Batio; Richard Thompson; Robert Fripp; René Thomas; and Jeff Martin. Willie Nelson wore a Django Reinhardt T-shirt on tour in Europe in 2002, stating in an interview that he admired Reinhardt's music and ability. Willie pointed out how Reinhardt's Hot Club quintet paralleled the hot jazz & country fiddle sound of 1930's Western Swing bands Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Jose Feliciano attributes his unique style to, in part, that of Reinhardt's. In 2009 he composed an album inspired by those musical influences and entitled it Djangoisms.
The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, both of whom lost fingers in accidents, were particularly inspired by Reinhardt's ability to become an accomplished guitar player/musician, despite the diminished use of his own permanently injured hand following an accident.
A number of musicians have even named their sons Django in honour of, or respect for, Reinhardt. They include Dawelie Reinhardt, David Crosby, former Slade singer Noddy Holder, Jerry Jeff Walker, Richard Durrant, as well as actors Nana Visitor, Alexander Siddig and Raphael Sbarge. Jazz musician Django Bates and singer-songwriter Django Haskins were also named after him.
Songs written in Reinhardt's honour include "Django," an instrumental guitar piece by renowned blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa. The piece was influenced by the violin introduction of "Vous et Moi" (Blues et Mineur 1942, Brussels) where Reinhardt himself played the violin. Vous et Moi (You and Me) became the title of Bonamassa's sixth album where the track first appeared in 2006. Slightly longer live versions appear on LIVE...From Nowhere In Particular (2009), and in DVD from the 4 May concert at Royal Albert Hall. "Django," composed by John Lewis, which has become a jazz standard performed by musicians such as Miles Davis. The Modern Jazz Quartet titled one of their albums Django in honour of him. The Allman Brothers Band song "Jessica" was written by Dickey Betts in tribute to Reinhardt — he wanted to write a song that could be played using only two fingers. This aspect of the artist's work also motivated Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who was inspired by Reinhardt to keep playing guitar after a factory accident that cost him two fingertips. Composer Jon Larsen has composed several crossover concerts featuring Reinhardt-inspired music together with symphonic arrangements, most famous are "White Night Stories" (2002) and "Vertavo" (1996).
Not only did Reinhardt put his stamp upon jazz, his "hot" string band music also had an impact upon the parallel development of Texas's western swing string bands, which eventually fed into the wellspring of what is now called country music.
In 2005, Django Reinhardt took 66th place in the election of The Greatest Belgian (De Grootste Belg) in Flanders and 76th place in the Walloon version of the same competition Le plus grand Belge.
1945 Paris 1945
1947 Ellingtonia – with the Rex Stewart Band – Dial 215
1951 Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club Quintet
1951 At Club St. Germain
1953 Django Reinhardt et Ses Rythmes
1954 The Great Artistry of Django Reinhardt
1955 Django's Guitar
1959 Django Reinhardt and His Rhythm
1980 Routes to Django Reinhardt
1991 Django Reinhardt - Pêche à la Mouche: The Great Blue Star Sessions 1947/1953
1997 Django Reinhardt: Nuages with Coleman Hawkins
1998 The Complete Django Reinhardt HMV Sessions
2000 The Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order (5 CD boxed set)
2001 All Star Sessions
2001 Jazz in Paris: Swing 39
2002 Djangology (remastered) (recorded in 1948, discovered, remastered and released by Bluebird Records)
2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuages
2003 Jazz in Paris: Nuits de Saint-Germain des-Prés
2004 Le Génie Vagabond
2005 Djangology (Bluebird)
2008 Django on the Radio (radio broadcasts, 1945–1953)
At least eight compilations have also been released.