It was at an early age Django Reinhardt became attracted to music. When twelve years old he received his first instrument, a banjo/guitar that was given to him by a neighbor who had noticed his keen interest in music. He quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched. He was soon astounding adults with his ability on the guitar, and before he was thirteen he began his musical career playing with popular accordionist Guerino at a dance hall on the Rue Monge. He went on to play with numerous other bands and musicians and made his first recordings with accordionist Jean Vaissade for the Ideal Company. Since Django could not read or write at the time "Jiango Renard" was how his name appeared on these records.
On November 2nd, 1928 an event took place that would forever change Django's life. At one o'clock in the morning the 18 year old Django returned from a night of playing music at a new club "La Java" to the caravan that was now the home of himself and his new wife. The caravan was filled with celluloid flowers his wife had made to sell at the market on the following day. Django upon hearing what he thought was a mouse among the flowers bent down with a candle to look. The wick from the candle fell into the highly flammable celluloid flowers and the caravan was almost instantly transformed into a raging inferno. Django wrapped himself in a blanket to shield him from the flames. Somehow he and his wife made it across the blazing room to safety outside, but his left hand, and his right side from knee to waist were badly burned.
Gypsy Jazz (aka Gypsy Swing aka Jazz Manouche) is the jazz style made famous by Django, originating in France in the 1930s.
Most gypsy jazz bands exist only of string instruments. The drum is replaced by 2 rhythm guitars that are played using a specific technique called "la pompe". This special kind of strumming is done by playing a fast up-down strum followed by a down strum.
The lead guitar (and violin) are played in a virtuose, chromatic style with a heavy swing feel (see Django Reinhardt's guitar technique further below).
Most gypsy musicians couldn't read music, their musical tradition was passed down from the older generation to the younger. Beginning players were usually taught by a family member and by listening to recordings.
In 1934, Hot Club de France secretary Pierre Nourry invited Reinhardt and Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli to form the "Quintette du Hot Club de France" with Reinhardt's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass. Occasionally Chaput was replaced by Reinhardt's best friend and fellow Gypsy Pierre "Baro" Ferret. Vocalist Freddy Taylor participated in a few songs, such as "Georgia on My Mind" and "Nagasaki". Jean Sablon was the first singer to record with Django, (more than 30 songs from 1933). They also used their guitars for percussive sounds, as they had no true percussion section. The Quintette du Hot Club de France (in some of its versions at least) was one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of stringed instruments.
In Paris on 14 March 1933, Reinhardt recorded two takes each of "Parce-que je vous aime" and "Si, j'aime Suzy", vocal numbers with lots of guitar fills and guitar support, using three guitarists along with an accordion lead, violin, and bass. In August of the following year recordings were also made with more than one guitar (Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput, and Django), including the first recording by the Quintette. In both years, it should be noted, the great majority of their recordings featured a wide variety of horns, often in multiples, piano, and other instruments. Nonetheless, the all-string format is the one most often adopted by emulators of the Hot Club sound.