The key to Reinhardt's fresh interpretations of dynamic jazz standards, like Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" and Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," was an awe-inspiring right-hand technique. His hard flat-picking speed and spot-on precision seemed more like the work of a classically trained pianist than a self-taught six-string plucker. What's more, he pioneered a bold sweep-picking method that's curiously now de rigueur among aspiring metalheads and thrash guitarists the world over.
Though flashy, Reinhardt's performances were not about virtuosity for virtuosity's sake; they were all about the fun. His party-high approach to jazz was based around making the songs sing. Thus, despite the dizzying velocity of his note-to-note phrasing, his lines tended toward ear-pleasing, straightforward arpeggios of standard chord changes. In lesser hands this would mean trite music, but Reinhardt combined his melodic sensibility with kick-up-your-heels grooves that were so deep they actually peeved American jazz cats at the time who thought they had the monopoly on swing.
Today, countless six-string slingers from both sides of the Atlantic try to channel Reinhardt's sound into their own, but few come as close to the original spirit as Dorado Schmitt, a French Gypsy bandleader who's been touring the "Django Reinhardt Festival" with his son Samson and a variable cast of players for the past five years. This event promises to be the liveliest gig in this season's SFJAZZ fest and is a must-see showcase for guitarists and guitar fans of all stripes.