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If you’re on the shortlist for best guitarist of all time, you’re more or less guaranteed a few style devotees. But in the case of a certain clotheshorse gypsy jazz guitarist, that’s actually good news. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Django Reinhardt…

Perfectly Embodied:
Django loved a good suit as much as anyone, but he was too much of a gypsy to dress entirely straight. That’s why he usually had a brightly colored silk scarf tied loosely around his neck. It was an affectation, to be sure, but never enough to distract from his well-curated collection of suits. Combined with the peak-heavy jacket style of the 30s, it made for quite a performance wardrobe. Anyone who’s looking for a way to balance tradition with irrepressible dandyism should start here.

Words of Wisdom:
Jazz attracted me because in it I found a formal perfection and instrumental precision that I admire in classical music, but which popular music doesn’t have.

The Backstory:
In truth, it wasn’t entirely up to him. For much of his early life he scraped by playing with fellow gypsy musicians and selling celluloid flowers on the street. When he was 18, his stockpile of imitation flowers caught fire and burned his house to the ground. He was pulled from the fire by family, but his right leg was left near-amputation and his third and fourth fingers were permanently paralyzed. He had to relearn guitar entirely, and emerged with a new two-finger soloing style and a medically determined preference for jazz-style ninth chords.

The Gutsy Move:
Like many celebrities of the day, he occasionally wandered into zoot suit territory—but we won’t begrudge him a little extra fabric.

The Takeaway:
The early years of jazz were an open range for musicians, and Django made it his own as well as anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar. Fitting himself in between the gypsies and the metropolitan French was no easy task, but it’s the kind of problem personal style was made to solve—whether it’s the flair of a rambling solo or the flair of a scrap of silk.

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom