Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist.
Born in Liberchies in Belgium, a French-speaking gypsy, Reinhardt spent his early life in a caravan near Paris. As a teenager he played the banjo, guitar, and violin. A caravan fire in 1928 badly damaged his left hand, but he managed to develop his own unorthodox fingering and a superbly fluent guitar style, without learning to read either words or music. In 1934 he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de Paris with the jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. The band was unique among jazz groups for being a string quintet, with two rhythm guitars and a string bass. It became world-famous, making many recordings in both France and Britain. Reinhardt was also a composer; his ‘Nuages’ was an international hit and was recorded many times. He also played and recorded with visiting American jazz musicians, such as Coleman Hawkins. After World War II, during which he worked in occupied France, he was reunited with Grappelli for one recording session. However later that year he switched permanently to the electric guitar and went to the USA to tour with Duke Ellington. In 1953 he co-starred with Dizzy Gillespie, and was scheduled to tour with Jazz at the Philharmonic, when he died.
Reinhardt was an extravagant, romantic, and illiterate man – a gambler and notoriously unreliable. All he cared about was music, and his ideas were so original that his recordings still bring pleasure to many people.