Monday, May 5, 2008

Two-fingered Hot Gypsy Jazz

If there's anything better that seeing Django Reinhardt play, it's him with Stephan Grappelli, whose swinging violin style is instantly recognizable. There is no information on where this video is from, but the Hot Club of France stopped playing together in 1939 when World War II presented a different set of priorities. This group is credited with having pioneered the now common idea of pairing rhythm and lead guitar.

While the core of this sound is the free and easy feel behind the complicated tunes, Django's speed and dexterity is rendered all the more amazing by his unusual fretting style. Django's deformed left hand relied upon two fingers for all but some minor assistance in chording. It's hard to believe this is possible.

My daughter Twin B has a four-fingered hand. On the VACTERL continuum of how bad things could have been, we got very lucky. At three days old and weighing less than four pounds, there was a surgery to repair her misconnected trachea and esophagus. Despite a few minor complications involving a collapsing lung, the surgeon at Children's succeeded brilliantly. She's fine. Twenty-five years ago, this birth defect would have meant near-certain death.

At two, Twin B's vestigal thumb was removed and replaced by her forefinger. Her brain had already learned to see and use the digit as an opposable thumb. We again were fortunate. The microsurgery, known as pollicization, was performed by Dr. Hanel, the renowned Children's Hospital hand surgeon who has the distinction of starring in an Ellen Forney comic on the subject of reattached fingers.

"Today," he said, "this is the one thing that I'm doing. We're going to make a thumb." The procedure was a complete success. When performed early enough, the digit gradually broadens to become more thumb-like. It takes most people awhile to notice there's something different.

Twin B, at five, already knows she is going to be an artist. She loves all music, and has had the ability to to sing on key to pretty much anything since she was barely three. She wants to play guitar. If Django Reinhardt and Jerry Garcia (I'm still unclear on whether she's right or left-handed) are any indication, there's nothing to say she can't.

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