Django Manouche Gypsy

Django – Grande Manouche Gypsy

Joseph&DjangoGypsiesDjango was a Manouche, the French-speaking Romany Tribe that settled in Belgium, Holland, Germany and the Alsace region of northern France.  Here we have selection of pictures from Django’s travelling Life as a itinerant gypsy musician when he would return to his wanderlust and commune with Nature.

No matter how much Django frequented Non-Roma, no matter how expensive his hotel rooms – sometimes he even stayed right at the Champs Elysées -, he always returned to his caravan, in short, he always was a member of the Roma, or – how the group calls itself – the Manouche.  In many Romani dialects this term signifies “human” and its members are close relatives of the Sinti. Both groups have considerable differences to other Roma groups in common, but the Roma are one whole as far as common culture, language (Romanes), traditions, values and professions are concerned, a whole that has been native to the European continent for centuries.  The Manouches almost certainly come from the most ancient of Romany Stock.  They arrived in Western Europe between the 15th and 16th century; and they chose France, The Netherlands and Germany as their permanent homes.

The name Manus, deriving from the Indo-European language group, proves their Indian origin. This term Manouches entered the French current language and according to the Sanskrit vocabulary it derives from Manusa: humane being.  Although many western European Gypsies are still nomadic, the vast majority elsewhere are sedentary. Of the more than 1 million in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, for example, probably no more than 10 percent are nomads.  Gypsies are fragmented into groups sometimes referred to as nations or tribes, generally defined by geographic area of settlement or recent origin. The European tribes include the Gitanos of Spain, the Manouche of France, the Sinte of Germany and central Europe, the Romnichals of Great Britain, the Boyash of Romania, and the Rom of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Under the influence of a growing worldwide nationalist movement that stresses cultural and ethnic unity, the word Rom (“the people”) is gradually replacing the term Gypsy.

The Manouche mainly settle in the French-speaking and the adjacent Flemish-Dutch area, that is France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Contrary to other groups of Roma they are still to a large extent itinerant, which is even more notable as their equally itinerant Sinti “brothers” have been murdered almost completely, and as travelling about was prevented in the communist countries of Central and Easter Europe by brutal reprisals.

The Wanderlust

Every now and then Django would drop out of circulation for a while by going off on a visit to see his old friends. He never accounted for his movements to anyone – not even his partner Stéphane Grappelli, who once declared of his alter ego’s vagabond nature: “Spring is my worst enemy!” Gypsy roving aside, Reinhardt and Grappelli went on to form a star double act, guitar and violin fusing together as if they were the most natural combination in the world.


Django at a Gypsy Wedding circa 1943 Circled l-to-r Pie Fouad, Django, Eugène Vées, Sarane Ferret, Huber Rostaing. – Joseph Reinhardt immediately right of Fouad Emmanuel Soudieux on bass behind the newly wed couple and the boarded up Hairdressers.

He himself did not attach great value to his origins. On tour, during breaks, while playing billiards, he probably was French. When talking at home to his parents, or when he had difficulties in expressing himself in French when talking to intellectuals, he might have felt a Rom. Now how did he feel when he held his guitar fretboard in the left, and his plectrum in the right hand?


Django – Bread, Cheese & Pickle?                        Joseph going Home

As the Scots would say – here’s tae us wha’s like us!

Joseph and Django with Wood Burning Stove

Django’s Personality

Those character traits that were praised in public life, were cursed by many in private life. Living the life of a Bohemian was part of being an artist, for that it was not necessary to be a Rom.  Still, improvisation is difficult for those who are accustomed to certain rules. For the audience, his fellow musicians, the organizers – in a small, remote club or in New York’s famous Carnegie Hall – who expected him at 8, and he arrived at 9pm. Or instead of him, a so-called cousin. Or he arrives, only to disappear again from the stage shortly after. To a game of cards, to friends, to making music. According to Hubert Rostaing, the best way to hear Django Reinhardt was to wait after the concert on the other side of the street – there you could probably hear him. Also later, artistic events played an important role for him. During a tour of the United Stated, he suddenly demanded to play together with Dizzy Gillespie, not wanting to hear that the latter was living at quite a distance.  Also his family had reason to complain. Already at an early age, his mother had to wait for him at the concert’s exit, in order to secure the family’s fee. We do not know how Django’s wife dealt with this later on.


Django with infant Babik with comic posing at the door of his caravan


Babik drifts from his Tarzan comic to take an interest in the fretboard and choose a string and a note.
Note the temporary step – Naguine in the background?  Did Django really drive and tow that Caravan? Mon Dieu he never held a Driver’s Licence! There are pictures of him seated at the wheel of a car.


In 1938 Django bought an American Buick and hired an English Chauffeur to drive it at the princely sum of 1000 Fr per month the equivalent of a French Cabinet Ministers salary at the time – after some exposure to Gypsy Camp Wars he he hurriedly left for England.


Django’s youth takes place in the Manouche‘s holy sphere, the family circle. He got his first insight into the world of the Gadže through the teenagers who danced on the occasion of the Musette – balls in the 1920’s, where gypsies were in demand. Hungarians, Romanians or Manouche, that did not make any difference. Even if he had contact with immigrated Roma, it is not clear which language they used to communicate. The immigrants probably spoke little French, and also the Manouche’s Romanes was strange to them.

Django – September Song

Tarzan comic discarded in favour of the Selmer MaccaBabik takes a chord lesson from the Maestro –
Stimer Pickup still attached

The Musician.

Django was self taught, he never read music and learnt to play as a street musician in Paris.  The accordion player Jean Vissade, with whom Django made his 1st recordings as an accompanist, said of Django,  I’ve found him almost too good, we were worried he would steal the limelight from us”.

He once played for the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia who asked him where he could get hold of the score for the music. Django replied, laughing, that he had just improvised the whole thing.

Solo Django – Improvisation No.1

At a jam in the nightclub “Chez Florence“, Django, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Bill Coleman had a competition to see who could play “I won’t dance” in the most keys. One by one they left the stage to leave Django to soak up the applause.  Django played a whole season at St John de Luz with only 4 strings and a piece from a comb as a plectrum. He’d been out on the road for many weeks and hadn’t managed to buy the special Argentinian steel strings he needed for his Maccaferri guitar.

In a review in the journal “Jazz Hot” of a concert with Django and Dizzy Gillespie in 1953 Jean-Louis Scali wrote:  “Right at the start Django broke a string, but that just made us wonder what he needed it for, his solo just got better and better”.

A quote from Alex Combelle who played with Django in the 30’s: “What was unusual about Django was that he couldn’t play out of tune or stumble in any way. Music came naturally to him. The right notes and the right chords seemed to fall beneath his fingers in a perfectly natural way”.


Django with artistic Bust – not the same suit – note the ‘scratchplate‘ on the Grande Bouche Selmer Guitar

Solo Django – Improvisation No.2

Notation Version


A sombre pose with open ground in the backdrop.


More amused by the Photographer outside his caravan situated in a built up Suburb.

Oscar Aleman


“I knew Django Reinhardt well. He used to say jazz was gypsy – we often argued over that. I agree with many Americans I met in France who said he played very well but with too many gypsy tricks. He had very good technique for both hands, or rather one hand and a pick, because he always played with a pick. Not me, I play with my fingers. There are things you can’t do with a pick – you can’t strike the treble with 2 fingers and play something else on the bass string. – But I admired him and he was my friend. He was my greatest friend in France. We played together many times, just for ourselves. I used to go to his wagon, where he lived. I’ve slept and eaten there – and also played! He had 3 or 4 guitars. Django never asked anyone to go to his wagon, but he made an exception with me. I appreciated him, and I believe the feeling was mutual”.

Solo Django – Improvisation No.3 1943 (With Notation and Half Speed)

This was typical of Django who when not playing before audiences enjoyed the carefree traditional Gypsy life. This included whiling away the hours in small talk with his extended family, playing billiards, fishing and driving along country roads. In 1949, after his career had entered a slump (partly the outcome of critics’ anger at his Carnegie Hall lateness), he sold his Paris apartment, bought a Lincoln, attached a trailer to it, and headed out to the open roads of France. Eventually he hooked up with a larger caravan that included his mother, who lived in an old Citroën that had been converted into a van. From his camps in the countryside, he’d venture into Paris for occasional gigs, always making sure to take some money from a fat wad of banknotes that he kept under his pillow. Male Gypsies exist in a timeless macho continuum in which obligations and appointments are largely meaningless.


Street Musette performance with what appears to be a re-cycled gramophone horn employed as a megaphone for the Chanteuse

Solo Django – Tea for Two 1937 (Transcription)

DjangoBoules2 DjangoBoules1

Django plays boules

Reading and Writing:
Django was unable to read or write, he attended school for one day.  As he couldn’t read the metro signs, he always took a taxi in Paris.  Grappelli taught him to write his name so that he could have a proper signature on his contracts instead of a cross.  He was too proud to admit that he couldn’t read, on one occasion, whilst looking at a contract for a tour of England he pointed at the paper and said, î’m not keen on this clause here! It turned out that this point was where it was agreed that the arranger would meet all the Quintettes first class hotel expenses.

Jealousy and Pride:
Before the Quintettes 1st radio broadcast in 1937, recorded by CBS in Paris and sent ‘coast to coast’ in the USA, the studio host made the mistake of introducing the Quintette as ‘Stephane Grappelli and his Hot Four’. Django was furious and got up with the intention of leaving the studio, only after major apologies and a garauntee that the error would be corrected later in the broadcast, could Django be persuaded to return. Even so, Django didn’t speak to Grappelli or the rest of the Quintette for weeks.

Idealised Train Compartment Encounter with Amplified Django, Sax, Vibes and Drums

Django was a passionate gambler and could often be found in the nearest casino. Money meant little to him even though he was one of the highest paid jazz musicians in Europe. Drummer Pierre Fouad recalls seeing Django lose between 300,000 and 500,000 francs at poker. Another time, when the Quintette were playing in Nice he was proud that he had won 345,000 Francs in the Casino. He neglected however to mention that he then lost 365,000 the next day.  When he was to tour with Duke Ellington he demanded the same payment that Errol Flynn had received for his last film.

Tears – Solo Notation

Django recorded 18 pieces for unaccompanied solo guitar. The most famous is his Improvisation # 1 which was recorded one day the Quintet had some extra time to kill in the studio. His last solo guitar recording was an improvisation over Nuages and Belleville in July 1950. Some of his pieces were real improvisations over a theme or a song while others were pre-composed. Improvisation No.2 is the only one of which multiple recordings were made. He with played it with finger style and made two similar takes on Sept. 1, 1938. He also used this composition as an Electric solo-feature on his Ellington Tour, Nov., 1946.

Today, in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Gypsies often teach their children Django’s music note for note like a catechism, handing down mare gilia from generation to generation starting when children can first finger a guitar or violin.


Joseph with clip-on DeArmond style pickup – Steph and Eugene Vees on Cutaway Electric Guitar Possibly late 50’s

La Roulette

Below right 1930’s Vardo – Gypsy Caravan


History of the Vardo

These smaller wagons were called “vardo” in the Romani language (originating from the Iranian word vurdon) for cart The Romani vardo evolved into some of the most advanced forms of travelling wagon, and are prized for their practicality as well as aesthetic design and beauty. There is no more iconic or recognizable Romani symbol than a highly decorated Romanichal vardo, and the time of its use is often affectionately called “the wagon time” by Romanichal travellers. The vardos were typically commissioned by families or by a newlywed couple from specialist coach builders. Building the vardo took between 6 months to a year; a variety of woods including oak, ash, elm, cedar and pine were utilized in its construction. Prized by the Romani, and later by non-Romani, including other traveller groups, for their practicality as well as aesthetic beauty, vardos can be categorized into 6 main styles; these being the Brush wagon, Reading, Ledge, Bow Top, Open lot and Burton. The general design evolved over time and were named after the home’s owners, as in (Brush), for their traditional style (Ledge), for the town of its construction (Reading), or for the name of the builder.

Django’s Banjo

– claimed as a 6 string guitar banjo but the full picture of young Django booted and suited with a ‘Banjo Guitar’ shows an 8 Tuner head But with perhaps only 6 strings.



This instrument is the Portuguese banjo and comes in different sizes and with different number of strings (often with different names, like viola banjo / banjolim / banjola / banjo de acordes.

There are banjos of cavaquinho size with 4 strings, or 4 double strings as a kind of mandolin, etc. They are all used for folk music.

BanjoGuitarGuitar Banjo

The guitar banjo is a hybrid instrument : a combination of a banjo-body with a guitar-neck, with 6 guitar-strings. Other names for it are banjitar and guitjo.
Note that the name 6-string banjo is also used for a 5-string banjo with an extra string (see under).

The banjitar is tuned and played like a normal guitar (but sounds much louder !).

Some exist even as a 12-string version, and some have a kind of guitar-body (with a hole for the round banjo-head !).

For years this has been one of the most popular banjo for guitar players, as it makes the sound of the banjo, but can be played like a normal guitar.

6 string Zither Banjo


William Temlett, one of England’s earliest banjo makers, who opened his shop in London in 1846 and sold banjos with closed backs and up to 7 strings and marketed these as “zither” Banjos from his 1869 patent.  A Zither banjo usually has a closed back and sides with the drum body (usually metal) and skin tensioning system suspended inside the wooden rim/back, the neck and string tailpiece was mounted on the wooden outer rim, the short string usually led through a tube in the neck so that the tuning peg could be mounted on the peg head. They were often made by builders who used guitar tuners that came in banks of 3 and so if 5 stringed it therefore had a redundant tuner.