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Before & After: Simba Baumgartner

Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson steps into the limelight

Simba Baumgartner
Simba Baumgartner (photo: Irene Ypenberg)

Simba Baumgartner, Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson, is just 22, but he has already proven himself an adept practitioner of Gypsy jazz, the indelible style pioneered by Reinhardt in the 1930s. Baumgartner’s debut album, Les Yeux Noir (Arte Boreal), is a faithful tribute to Reinhardt made up entirely of songs he recorded in his relatively short lifetime, including “Blues Clair,” “Dark Eyes,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Baumgartner began playing guitar at age four, and he regards his great-grandfather’s music as almost a cultural heirloom. He resides with his family in the small French town of Samois-sur-Seine, where Reinhardt died, and lives a traditional Gypsy lifestyle. He speaks just French. He does not go to school, and cannot read or write. He does not listen to a lot of music outside of Reinhardt’s discography.

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Matthew Kassel

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications.