The 3 Best Books on Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt is one of the most legendary players in jazz history. His accomplishments in the studio remain some of the most important works in this scene, and his elevation of the guitar from a background instrument to the soloist’s tool had implications far beyond jazz.

He was born in 1910 to a large Romani family in Belgium. As a child, Django would play the banjo, violin, and, most notably, the guitar. When still a young man, a fire nearly ended his career. His right leg was injured near the point of amputation, and the ring and pinky fingers of his left hand made a future with the guitar unthinkable.

But Django healed and Django played.

He would go on to transform jazz with violinist and fellow legend Stéphane Grappelli, forming the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Their music was some of the first jazz to prominently feature the guitar. And in the many years since their rise, no European jazz players have ever surpassed the importance and profundity of their music.

Any jazz education requires an understanding of Reinhardt. If you are interested in learning more, we have scoured the world for the three best books on the king of Gypsy Jazz.

Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz
by Michael Dregni with Alain Antonietto

This book comes from authors with impeccable credentials. Antonietto is a writer and producer, creating retrospectives in Romani music and writing several articles on the topic as a leading jazz historian. Dregni comes from the other side as a guitarist and frequent contributor to publications on the instrument.

The two produce a work that features both an appreciation of Reinhardt’s historical context and legacy as well as the quality of guitar playing. The two perspectives pair well among the images.

With gorgeous presentation, rich illustrations, and in depth scholarship, there is so much to enjoy and learn from the pages. Because of the images, often rare and sometimes candid, the book will linger on your coffee table long after you’ve read through the contents.

Django Reinhardt
by Charles Delaunay

This was perhaps the first authoritative account of Reinhardt’s life and works. Delaunay’s book was out of print for many years, but jazz enthusiasts no longer have to wait to find it second hand.

Delaunay’s biography serves as both a work to be read straight through and a comprehensive reference book you will return to. With sections devoted to his life’s story, Reinhardt’s enormous discography, and photographs of the man and his Quintette du Hot Club de France.

As for the bona fides of the author, Delaunay was a founder of the Hot Club de France, and he played a part in putting together Reinhardt and Grappelli’s Quintette. He founded one of the longest running jazz magazines in French (Le Hot Jazz) and launched the world’s first jazz-exclusive record label. If there is anyone to tell this story, Delaunay is the one.

Django: The Life and Music of a Gyspy Legend
by Michael Dregni

Dregni’s book is perhaps the most modern non-fiction take on Reinhardt. While covering the exciting rise and impressive career, he also burrows into the world of French jazz. Dregni decorates the narrative with tantalizing details of life in Paris at the time and the larger than life personalities that filled the clubs.

The sweep of the tale, from Reinhardt’s origins in a nomadic Romani community to his international stardom and artistic legacy, gives Dregni’s work a sweeping grandeur and vision uncommon in jazz biographies.

With the sociological and cultural context, Reinhardt emerges as an even more impressive character. Dregni reminds us just how lucky we are to have the recordings and how much more is waiting for us in the notes when we look a little deeper into the man who played them.

William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.