Superhuman - the Gypsy Phoenix

Jean "Django" Reinhardt had everything going against him. He was born in 1910, just as Europe was about to endure "the War to end all wars". He came into the world a Gypsy, a Manouche, a Romani, the very lowest of the low, and thus experienced racial and socio-economic prejudice and persecution that we can only dream of in cozy 21st century America. He and his entire clan were homeless drifters, owning no real estate and forever wandering from place to place in search of the next subsistence level job and hand making cane furniture and other crafts in their wagons in order to make ends meet. He was totally illiterate, having had no opportunity for even basic education as a child.
As if that weren't enough, when he was only 18, his caravan wagon caught on fire. All his already meager possessions were destroyed, and he was badly burned, enduring 1st and 2nd degree burns over half of his body. His wife left him and ran off with another man, taking his unborn first son with her. His guitar was destroyed. And the doctors told him he would never play again, and that they would have to amputate his leg.
But it gets worse. This maimed, mangled, misbegotten, Manouche dealt himself what must have seemed a mortal blow by deciding to devote his time to studying American Jazz music. This was a genre which at the time had almost NO following and basically guaranteed that Django would never be able to get a paying gig. It seemed that he was done for.
The doctors did NOT amputate Django's leg. He did play his guitar again, and got a new one. He learned to walk with a cane. And he learned to play again with an entirely new and different method and style. Around this time, in his early twenties, as he was recovering and relearning, he met a small group of like minded musicians. Foremost among these was violinist Stéphane Grappelli. This tough little cadre would go on to become The Quintette du Hot Club de France. And it is as the leader of this group that Django Reinhardt would make history.
It must have seemed to the world that this group came out of nowhere. In 1930, Django was a penniless, unknown, invalid. By 1935 he was the leader of a successful band that was beginning to become known on both sides of the Atlantic. In reality, it was anything but out of nowhere. It was Django's relentless, indomitable spirit and vision that allowed him to recreate himself out of the literal ashes like a phoenix.
The rest, as they say, is history. Django and The Quintette successfully toured France, Europe, and the UK. When World War II broke out, rather than staying safely in Britain, Django went straight back to France and stayed there at untold personal risk throughout the war. He survived in part due to various Nazi officials who were closet Jazz fans. His style was so amazing that it was just too damn hard for even hardened jingoists to want to bring him down, Gypsy or not. He had brought himself from the very gutter to a point where even the notoriously arrogant Thousand Year Reich was willing to tacitly accept him.
In later years, Django became notoriously unreliable and tended to wander off or not show up at various inopportune moments. But he can't wander off or no-show this Friday because we have him safely locked down on vinyl. And DJ Dominic Howarth will be spinning that vinyl for your dancing pleasure in a Battle of the Bands style match up of Django Reinhardt vs Count Basie, More information can be found here: http://www.thatdanceguy.org/node/1 .


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