Reda Kateb as Django Reinhardt, gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso
Paris, Summer 1943
Release Date: April 26, 2017
Director: Étienne Comar
Costume Designer: Pascaline Chavanne
My interest in Django Reinhardt’s music began in the spring of 2004, when 14-year-old me eagerly purchased Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, a computer game that was essentially the Grand Theft Auto series with a Prohibition-era twist and a dash of Scorsese-ese inspiration. Set in 1930s New Jersey, the game was scored by period music including familiar favorites by Duke Ellington and a style that was all new to me, the rhythmic, guitar-driven gypsy jazz pioneered by Django Reinhardt.
Born in Belgium 110 years ago today on January 23, 1910, Django Reinhardt had an early start to music, particularly after receiving a banjo-guitar when he was 12 years old. The young Romani musician gained a reputation for his talent, resulting in the opportunity to play for British bandleader Jack Hylton’s famous band when he was only 18 years old. Reinhardt never had a chance to join the orchestra, however, as he was badly burned when a fire quickly spread through the wagon he shared with his wife in November 1928, resulting in nearly a year and a half of hospitalization.
Most significantly for his new vocation, Reinhardt was told that the burns meant he could never play guitar again, as the ring finger and pinky on his left hand were too badly burned. Undeterred, Reinhardt developed a new method that relied heavily on the index and middle fingers of his left hand. He spent the early years of the 1930s busking his way through France as he and his new pal, violinist Stéphane Grappelli, bonded over a mutual interest in American jazz. In 1934, Reinhardt and Grappelli founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Reinhardt’s brother Joseph, guitarist Roger Chaput, and bassist Louis Vola rounding out the quintet.
The quintet’s innovative sound made a worldwide star out of Reinhardt, and his 1940 hit “Nuages” became considered an unofficial anthem of hope in occupied Paris. As a Romani jazz musician, Reinhardt was in considerable danger living in occupied France and twice tried to escape the country.
Fortunately, Reinhardt survived the war and his career blossomed with his first tour of the United States and scores of classic recordings made in Rome and Paris. In May 1953, the 43-year-old Reinhardt collapsed outside his Fontainebleau home of a brain hemorrhage and died in the hours that passed before a doctor arrived.
Django Reinhardt remains a cultural icons decades after his brief but brilliant recording career, inspiring future musicians like Woody Nelson, Jerry Garcia, and Jeff Beck, the latter of whom described Reinhardt as “by far the most astonishing guitar player ever”. A 2017 biopic entitled Django, directed by Étienne Comar (who celebrates his 55th birthday in two days), opened the 67th Berlin International FIlm Festival. Focused on Reinhardt’s attempted escapes from occupied France, Django starred Reda Kateb as the guitarist and featuring the sounds of the Rosenberg Trio, a Dutch gypsy jazz band that released its first album in 1989.
What’d He Wear?
For Reda Kateb’s on-screen introduction as Django Reinhardt, the actor is dressed in a cream double-breasted suit not unlike the off-white suits that the real Reinhardt was frequently photographed wearing during this period in his life. In fact, this style of suit was so associated with Reinhardt that Sean Penn wore one in Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Woody Allen’s paean to gypsy jazz.
Kateb takes the stage as Django in a cream-colored suit, made from a soft napped cloth with a “fuzzy” finish suggestive of cashmere blended with silk or woolen flannel.
The double-breasted suit jacket has wide peak lapels that roll to a 4×2-button layout of cream sew-through buttons. The ventless jacket has straight, wide shoulders with roped sleeveheads and each sleeve is finished with non-functioning 3-button cuffs.
In addition to the straight jetted hip pockets, Reinhardt has a welted breast pocket where he wears a dark burgundy silk pocket square that coordinates with the color scheme of his shirt, tie, and even shoes.
The suit has double forward-pleated trousers with an era-correct medium-to-high rise. The waistband has a pointed tab on the front that closes through a hidden hook closure, and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs). There are gently slanted pockets on the sides and jetted pockets on the back.
Kateb’s Reinhardt leaves the belt loops unused, choosing instead to sport a natty set of striped suspenders (braces) to hold up his trousers. These narrow beige suspenders are patterned with thin brick red stripes, adjusted with slim silver-toned hardware and hooking to the trousers with long dark brown leather hooks that extend down from mid-torso.
The decision to dress Reinhardt in such a dark contrasting shirt under his off-white suit was likely inspired by contemporary photographs of the musician in one of his light double-breasted suits with a dark shirt and lighter tie. Kateb wears a silky burgundy shirt with a point collar, plain front, and rounded cuffs with a single button to close and gauntlet cuffs farther up the wrist that remain unbuttoned. His silk tie echoes the other colors his outfit with colorful swirls against a burgundy ground.
Kateb’s Reinhardt goes the extra step of matching his footwear to his shirt and tie, sporting a sharp pair of dark red leather wingtip oxford brogues with burgundy ribbed socks just a shade darker than his shoes.
What to Listen to
This should be obvious enough! While one of the most celebrated elements of the 2017 biopic is the music by the Rosenberg Trio, there’s no reason not to listen to the actual recordings made by the real Django Reinhardt and the various outfits that he played with over his quarter-century career.
If you’re looking for a place to start, “Minor Swing” is often considered not only Reinhardt’s signature song but also a quintessential composition in the history of gypsy jazz. Composed by Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, “Minor Swing” was first recorded by Quintette du Hot Club de France in November 1937 with Reinhardt and Grappelli on guitar and violin, respectively, joined by Joseph Reinhardt and Eugène Vées playing rhythm guitars, and quintet regular Louis Vola on double bass.
A decade after QHCF’s original recording, Reinhardt would record “Minor Swing” at least four more times, including once more with Grappelli during a Rome session in early 1949.
In addition to original compositions, Reinhardt also became famous putting his own unique spin on existing standards or contemporary hits. One such example is “Limehouse Blues”, the standard that had premiered in the early 1920s and was an early hit for Reinhardt when he recorded the first of five versions in October 1935. Reinhardt also recognized the then-common trend of major artists “jazzing up” classical pieces, and his 1937 recording of “Liebestraum No. 3″—also featured in Sweet and Lowdown—remains one of the most creative interpretations of Franz Liszt’s powerful number.
Other personal favorites include the jaunty and intriguing tracks I was introduced to by Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, including “Belleville”, “Cavalerie”, “Lentement mademoiselle”, “Manoir des mes reves”, “Vendredi”, and “Coucou” featuring Josette Dayde, in addition to the retrospective recordings he made in Rome in 1950 toward the end of his all-too-brief life such as “I Surrender Dear”, “Sophisticated Lady”, and “September Song”. Should anyone be interested in a primer of my favorite Reinhardt hits, I invite you to listen to a curated playlist and submit some of your own favorites in the comments below!
How to Get the Look
Reda Kateb’s attire as Django Reinhardt may be an accurate reflection of what the actual guitarist would wear on stage during the 1940s, though the sum of the look would likely be too flashy for anyone who isn’t performing for an audience. That said, off-white double-breasted suits evoke a classic era in warm-weather menswear (think Cary Grant) and Kateb adds some interest pizzaz to the look with his burgundy shirt, tie, shoes, and socks.
- Cream-colored cashmere-blend suit:
- Double-breasted suit jacket with 4×2-button stance, wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, slightly slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Burgundy silky shirt with point collar, plain front, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Burgundy swirl-patterned silk tie
- Brick-and-beige striped suspenders with silver hardware and long dark brown leather hooks
- Dark red leather wingtip oxford brogues
- Burgundy ribbed socks
- Dark burgundy silk pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.