Lulo Reinhardt

Gypsy jazz
Koblenz, Germany

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Lulo Reinhardt is one of the foremost musical voices in Gypsy jazz today. The great-nephew of the legendary Django Reinhardt, he is heir to a unique musical lineage. The acclaimed musicians of the Reinhardt family have been the touchstone for this irresistible genre throughout three generations of guitarists.

“Gypsy jazz,” or “hot jazz,” is the explosive, thrilling style created from a melding of American jazz and Gypsy folk melodies. Almost since its inception, Gypsy jazz has been associated with its greatest exponent, Manouche Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Django’s musical legacy has been reverently kept, passed from father to son by fellow Gypsy musicians, with each generation expanding the repertoire and adding their own personal touch.

European Gypsies (Roma in their own language) are descendants of people who left Northern India in a series of migrations between the eighth and 10th centuries. The Roma moved slowly westward in a diaspora that spread throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe. As a persecuted minority nearly everywhere they traveled or settled, Gypsies were segregated both physically and professionally by non-Roma. The role of musician was one of the few occupations open to them in many countries; to satisfy all listeners, Gypsy musicians developed a wide repertoire of traditional and popular styles.

Django Reinhardt, born in a Gypsy caravan in 1910 in Belgium, came out of a Gypsy tradition that was developing in the early half of the 20th century. As a young child he learned Gypsy tunes on several instruments. At age 18, a caravan fire left him with terrible burns over half of his body, unable to use anything but the ring and index fingers on his left hand. With only two fingers functional for noting and chording, he developed unique chord progressions and a highly rhythmic style on guitar that not only made the most of his physical limitations, but transcended them. Django continued to live a life of an itinerant musician, building a loyal following at the Hot Club of Paris. His rise to fame was interrupted during World War II by internment in a Nazi concentration camp, which, unlike many of his fellow Gypsies, he miraculously survived. After the war, he continued to compose and play until his untimely death from a stroke in 1953. He was only 43 years old.

The soul of Django lives on in the hands and heart of his great-nephew, Lulo Reinhardt. By the age of five Lulo was already being handed down the guitar tradition through his father, Bawo Reinhardt; he has devoted his life to music ever since. By age 12, he was performing with his cousins in the Koblenz-based Mike Reinhardt Sextet. Lulo does not solely play in the style of Django. Like the originators of Gypsy jazz, he continues to explore other jazz styles and combines them with the Reinhardt tradition; his effortless playing and unique voice and musical genius cement his place as Django’s worthy successor.

Because many of the finest Gypsy musicians prefer to perform close to home in Europe, U.S. audiences seldom experience their live performances. So Lulo’s appearance at the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival presents a rare opportunity. He will be performing with Daniel Stelter, a major figure in German jazz, whose respect for Gypsy jazz and personal admiration for Lulo led to the formation of their duo. Their “live in concert” CD garnered immediate praise and led to their appearance at the 2017 Ellnora Guitar Festival in Urbana, Illinois, where they were met with sold-out crowds.