Born in 1910 to a gypsy family in Belgium, Django learned to play banjo, violin and guitar at an early age. At the age of 18, Django lost the use of two of his fingers on his playing hand while escaping from a fire. As a result, he was forced into developing a new style with his remaining two fingers. During leads, Django would only use his index and middle finger, making use of his injured fingers only when playing chords. The song Jessica by The Allman Brothers was written as a tribute to Django, as Dicky Betts wanted to write a song he could play with only two fingers. After meeting violinist Stephane Grappelly, Django's playing changed considerably, creating a dynamic which included both rhythm and lead players.
Django's lead work is rich with colourful melodies that express his unmatched creativity. His ability to construct phrases that take the listener on a musical journey is one of the great wonders of the musical world. It is as if the man himself is simply a conduit in which music is passed through. As great as his capabilities as a lead guitarist were, his ability to play rhythm is just as impressive. Django's precision is particularly noticeable, which is suprising considering his handicap.
Django's influence on improvisational music is endless. Trey has said that Phish would always listen to Django's music while in the recording studio. In a 2002 High Times article, Trey is asked who his jazz-guitar hero is. This was his response: "Probably Django Reinhardt. I spend the most time listening to him. I listen to a lot of Django at home." Jimi Hendrix is also believe to have named the Band of Gypsys because of Django. His playing can clearly be heard in Jerry Garcia's soloing, who was admittedly a huge fan. Perhaps his musical companion Stephane Grappelly said it best:
"He did more for the guitar than any other man in jazz. His way of playing was unlike anyone else's, and jazz is different because of him. There can be many other fine guitarists, but there can bever be another Reinhardt. I am sure of that."Below I have posted a few videos highlighting Django's guitar playing. Due to the age of the recordings, they are all audio-only.
Here is a video of Django playing Minor Swing, a song written by him and Stephane.
This version features Django playing his electric guitar (a rare occurance) with Duke Ellington. They are playing Honeysuckle Rose, the Fats Waller song.
This next video shows Django's influence. The video is of Phish's N02 from the White Tape. Listen to Trey's solo at 4:55 to hear some Djangoisms.