Michael Dregni has written an exhaustive history of what he terms ‘gypsy jazz’ from its origins in the early 20th century in the bals de musette, focusing mostly on Django Reinhardt and his contemporaries and descendants.
Although I’ve listened to Reinhardt’s music most of my life I knew little about him before reading this book - and it turns out that the readily available recordings only scratch the surface of Reinhardt’s work.
As many Romani (‘gypsy’) musicians do, Django started playing when he was very young. He started on the banjo, moved on to an odd instrument called the ‘banjo-guitar’ - basically a guitar with the steel sound board of a banjo, and finally to the guitar. When he was 19 his caravan caught fire, nearly killing him, and leaving him without the use of 2 fingers on his left hand. He re-taught himself to play using only the 2 remaining fingers and thumb.
Dregni has unearthed many rare recordings, and tracked down many of Django’s contemporaries. He follows the evolution of gypsy jazz down to the present day, including some Romani hip-hop musicians.
This is probably way more information than the casual listener wants to know, but an informative and engaging read nonetheless.