I had a friend at university who pretty much never called anyone by their real name. Within 24 hours of meeting you, she would have assigned you a nickname. But the best part was that after she had known you a few weeks, the nickname itself would become shortened or extended or mutated into something completely unrelated to the original. Some of her closest friends included Ro, Lo, Tee-Kay, Turnip, Quage, and Spanky. I have no idea where most of those came from.
Nicknames are weird. Actually, names in general are weird. They’re one of the most personal aspects of our identity, and yet we don’t choose them for ourselves. Our names are chosen by our parents, and nicknames are usually chosen by our friends. We go through life picking out different clothes, hairstyles, attitudes, profile pictures…and yet very few of us change the name that we had no say in picking out.
If names are at the core of our identities, Django Reinhardt had even less of a hand in that choice than most people. His last name should have been Weiss, but his father changed it to avoid conscription into the French army. His first name is actually “Jean”, but he became known by his nickname, the decidedly cooler “Django.” Ethnically, he was Romani, a group better known by a name they didn’t choose for themselves either: “Gypsies.”
Django Reinhardt’s unique style of jazz, which was influenced by Romani folk music, became known as “Gypsy Jazz.” His style is echoed in modern acts like Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace, and it’s by far the best music to listen to when daydreaming about sitting in a café in Paris.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. Most of Reinhardt’s songs are much faster, but this one is uncharacteristically slow. The title means “Twilight Melody,” and I like to imagine Reinhardt watching the sun set from beneath his fedora, his guitar cradled in his arms.
2. The smoothness of the violin, played by the legendary Stephane Grappelli, is the perfect complement to Reinhardt’s hyperactive guitar.
3 .Reinhardt’s signature guitar style is all the more impressive when you find out that he played without using his fourth or fifth fingers, which were paralyzed. For someone defined by so many other people’s words, it’s fitting that he was such a gifted instrumentalist. It’s almost like he didn’t need words to figure out who he was.
Recommended listening activity:
Designing your own personal flag.