He chose a six-string guitar over second-string soccer

Lulo Reinhardt, grandson of the legendary Django, feels comfortable with his legacy. At this year’s Felicja Blumental Festival.

May 7, 2010 16:31
Lulo Reinhardt

Lulo Reinhardt 311. (photo credit: .)

This year’s Felicja Blumental Festival is chock-full of musical nuggets wherever you look in the six-day program, which takes place at the Tel Aviv Museum between May 10 and May 15. As expected, much of the program is classical-based, but there is plenty of top-class entertainment available from other areas too.

While Blumental – an acclaimed classical pianist in Poland before going on to even greater renown in her adopted home of Brazil and, later, the rest of the Western world – may not have indulged in the genre, one presumes she would not have objected to the inclusion of gypsy jazz in the festival named after her, which started eight years after her death.

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One also assumes she would have had even less opposition to a guitarist by the name of Reinhardt featuring in the festival lineup.

While the Reinhardt in question goes by the given name of Lulo, rather than his legendary grandfather Django, the level of artistry will be consummate. The 48-year-old, German-born Reinhardt, who will perform on May 12 along with the Israeli trio Swing de Gitanes, is certainly a worthy heir to his illustrious ancestor’s musicianship, but he had to make a difficult career choice as a young man.

“I was about to become a professional soccer player when I was in my early twenties, for my local team TuS Koblenz,” he explains, “but they said that I couldn’t play music if I played soccer for them.”

The decision was made on both practical and artistic grounds.

“You can’t tell a musician to stop playing music; but also, back in the early Eighties, playing for a second division team wasn’t a living.”

As Reinhardt had been taught to play the guitar at the age of only five and began performing professionally with his father’s band, the Mike Reinhardt Sextet, just seven years later, he was well into his musical career before making any impression on the Koblenz soccer pitch.

Since he opted to play a six-string guitar full time rather than playing for a second-string soccer team, Reinhardt has thrown himself into the musical fray with gusto. The only one of his siblings to become a professional musician, Reinhardt has continued to perform regularly with his dad and, over the years, has spread his musical net into other areas. He cofounded the acclaimed Django Reinhardt and the Heartbreakers group and, together with Mike and cousin Dege, founded the I Gitanos gypsy swing band.

The entertainment world is littered with the offspring of icons who find the family name a heavy burden to bear and, it must be said, the nomenclature sometimes overshadows the talent of the second and third generations. Happily, in Reinhardt’s case, that particular theory does not hold water. He is a polished guitarist, even though he says he is not a true gypsy jazz guitarist.

“I can play rhythm guitar okay, but I am not a genuine solo guitarist in this genre. When I play solo you hear other things, other influences, in what I do. I add flamenco, Latin and other colors. It’s a totally new style, not swing, I use a lot of flamenco technique too.” Reinhardt Project No. 1 album duly incorporates a wide range of styles, from samba to flamenco with latin jazz, bossa, rumba. And, naturally, gypsy swing is also in there. A second equally diverse album is due out later this year.

Reinhardt feels completely comfortable with his more eclectic approach and believes his granddad – who died at the age of only 43, almost 10 years before Reinhardt was born – would have applauded.

“I’m sure Django would have liked it. Since he came on the scene, there have been thousands of gypsy guitar players who have copied him. So I play Django tunes, but I also do my own songs.

“I can’t follow in his footsteps. You have to be your own person, be a musician in your own right. That’s probably part of the reason why I started looking around outside the gypsy guitar field.”

In recent years, Reinhardt’s quest for new musical vistas has taken him across the world to gain different hands-on cultural experiences. “I lived in Algiers for a year and played desert music there,” he says, “and I now go to Australia every year to play. That’s a wonderful experience.”

Reinhardt’s Australia forays, in fact, have several ethnic facets to them. For a start,  when Down Under, he often plays with a Jewish violinist, which brings him closer to Eastern European musical idioms; and there have been some synergies with an oud player too.

The latter was a surprisingly familiar experience for him. “Oud players use exactly the same technique as gypsy guitarists,” Reinhardt explains. “It may be surprising, but that’s the way it really is.”

Then there is the Gypsies in the Desert project, which brings him into contact with the wide open spaces of Australia, as well with the indigenous population.

“I will doing Gypsies in the Desert in September,” he continues. “I have an incredible time there. There are workshops and night walks, singing and playing, and then I do a concert for 3,000 aborigines. There will be a film crew there in September making a documentary, so everyone will be able to get an idea of what goes on there.”

One of the aspects of his famous grandfather’s work with which Reinhardt has had to contend is the white-hot speed with which Django worked his way across and around his strings and fretboard – despite a digit deficit. When Django was a youngster, his caravan caught fire and he came out of the incident with two paralyzed fingers, so he adapted his playing style to be able to produce all the chords he needed with only two fingers of his left hand.

Even though – happily – his grandson has the use of all his fingers, Reinhardt insists he is not trying to emulate his grandfather’s high-energy style.

“You can have 10 fingers and still not play like Django. No one can play like him. Anyway, I don’t like competitions. There are all those guitarists out there trying to play faster and have the best technique.

“I can play fast, but I do my own music. I want to have fun with other guitar players. Some musicians try to compete and show off all their stuff, and they don’t respect the other musicians. If I’m not having fun with the other players, there’s no point to it all.

“And, don’t forget, you have to put your heart into your music. That makes all the difference.”

For more information: www.blumentalfestival.com

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