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Practicing, Sincerity, Awareness, and Passion!

by Denis Chang

Greetings folks! Today, I would like to talk about two important, yet, often overlooked aspects of music: awareness and intent. These two terms are rather vague, indeed, but encompass many aspects of music, and I would like to focus on what I believe to be the most important ones. Many people contact me asking for advice on what they should be practicing; I strongly feel that understanding these issues will inevitably help you determine what you should be working on, as a musician.

To start with, my reasons for generally appreciating an artist, are usually different than most people’s: to me, it is the very subtle, yet important details that I notice, and that I really appreciate. The common qualities that I find in all the artist that I like are sincerity and passion. Granted, these terms can be quite subjective, but I tend to view sincerity as someone who follows his/her own path in music rather than following a particular trend. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that one shouldn’t try to emulate other artists, but rather, that one should strictly work on what one wants to achieve musically. There are many paths to achieve this, and the correct path is the one that you choose for yourself. Over time, the path may change as you evolve, but as long as you stay true to yourself, it will always be the correct path. That is what I would consider sincerity, and it is extremely important.


To put this into context, many students of music are often wondering what they should be practicing. To some extent, that is a very valid question, and outside guidance can be very valuable; on the other hand, if someone tells you that you should be practicing X, Y, and Z, you should be also asking yourself: what is the purpose? What do I want to do with music? What is my goal?  You see these questions all the time on music forums, and people will often reply with all sorts of varied and interesting advice (some not so good). In the end, however, what is it that you really want to do? My advice would change depending on who was asking the question.

To a hobbyist who has very little time to practice, I would simply suggest learning songs; learning melodies; maybe a few basic licks and simple improvisation concepts. Being able to keep decent time would certainly be a priority. These are the things that would allow all players of all levels to be able to jam in an ensemble setting. After all, why is it that we play music in the first place? To play actual musicright? Well, for some, it is to be the fastest player in the world with little regard for actual music. Fair enough! For those people, the path is quite simple and mathematical.

Unfortunately however, in order to achieve a high level of proficiency in anything, it requires a lot of personal effort and sacrifice. That means hours upon hours of dedicated practice. A hobbyist with limited practice time should, therefore, be realistic about what he/she can achieve. Since I come from a Gypsy Jazz/Django Reinhardt background, I personally wouldn’t ask a student to spend hours, working on all the subtle details of Gypsy Jazz rhythm playing, for instance. A basic but steady pulsing rhythm is good enough; of course, a decent sound would be nice too.

I also have a lot of highly accomplished, professional musicians come to me for Gypsy Jazz advice. It is a somewhat similar situation; they already have an impressive musical background, and might not want to pursue this style all the way, but, somehow, combine their previous knowledge with Gypsy Jazz concepts. That is certainly valid. To these people, I would certainly show them as many details as possible, but let them figure out for themselves in which direction they would like to go.

One of the deceptive practices and myths perpetuated by musical institutions is the idea that one should work on X, Y, and Z to be prepared for the professional musical world. From a non-classical point of view, many of these are absolute non-sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily against musical institutions, I think there are some advantages to going to a music school, but for now that topic is beyond the scope of this article. The problem (well, not necessarily a problem) with non-classical music, and especially improvised music, is that it is extremely vast; one might even say infinite. Here, we have a music school imposing a curriculum as to what one should be playing and learning, in order to become a well-rounded musician.  That is as absurd as suggesting that there should be one and ONLY one way to live life (YIKES!!!). Well, I know that there are people out there who think this way, but, thankfully, these people don’t rule my life. The truth is that you will never be able to master every styles of music, or every aspect of your instrument; everyone has their specialty. There are a few a freaks of nature out there who are extremely versatile, but even then, they still haven’t mastered everything, and it’s certainly not by following a musical institution’s imposed curriculum that they achieved such a high level of versatility!

Beware the teachers that advertise that they can teach all styles; technically, I, myself, can teach all styles. The truth is, however, that I would be learning at the same time as the student if I were teaching a style with which I was not familiar; the student would get more accurate information at a much faster rate if he/she went to someone that specialized in X style. Furthermore, many styles of music are more than just specific notes/chords/rhythms, there’s often an entire culture behind them. Being aware of said culture plays a big role in how to approach a style of music. That is why I specialize in Gypsy Jazz; people come to me specifically for Gypsy Jazz, and I don’t have to do any research (or very little anyway) if someone has a question about the style. It’s like hiring a lawyer, you hire a lawyer based on his/her area of expertise, and based on his/her reputation. Every lawyer can consult books (as they all do), but the ones we want are the ones that already have the knowledge on hand, or know exactly where to find it in as short a time as possible.

In essence, that is what I mean by sincerity. It’s about always staying true to yourself, while keeping an open mind. You should certainly consider other people’s opinions, but don’t let them dictate your life! This is very important, as I feel that many people get lost in this because of the overwhelming amount of information that is available to us; in the end, it is as simple as following your gut instinct. Your first priority should always be to make yourself happy, by specifically working on the things that interest you. These things may change (possibly in drastically different directions) as you evolve as a musician, but as long as you continuously follow this path, there will be much less confusion as to what you should be working on.

As an improvising musician, I respect a very wide range of musicians, but that does not mean that I passionately listen to every single one of them. That is fine by me. I cannot, for example, blaze through John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, simply because I did not  invest the necessary amount of time and energy in order to do so. It is certainly fun to practice, but it is not my priority, and it has very little to do with what I am currently doing.  This is important, because, someone who can blaze through Giant Steps, might have trouble doing the things that I specialize in.  Up to a certain point, there are certain things that are worth working on and that is beneficial for every musician, but on the flip side, working on extremely difficult sets of changes does not mean that you will automatically sound better on easier sets of changes. That is simply not how it works. Bluegrass, for instance, is one of the most harmonically and rhythmically simple styles of music there is, but there is an entire culture and vocabulary behind it; working on Giant Steps will simply not make you a better improviser when playing bluegrass. Work on the things that you are passionate about!

Passion. Some people call it playing "with feel". Many seem to possess a device that I would love to have. Apparently, this mystical device allows them to determine who plays "with feel", based on the number of guitar bends and facial expressions one makes. Those who play fast, have "no feel". Absurd, of course!

Passion is also quite subjective, but to me, it is directly related to sincerity, intent, and awareness. When it comes to improvised music, I tend to believe that we all play like we are. As long as we remain sincere when we practice, we naturally gravitate towards the musician that we want to become. For the athlete "musician" whose sole interest is to become the world’s fastest player, I have no doubt that he/she (OK most likely he) is passionate about his/her goal. Whether others relate to it or not, does not matter.

I have had the good fortune of getting to know and meet many of the world’s best musicians, and I am always fascinated to see a connection between an artist’s personality and his/her playing style. As in real life, there all sorts of people, and that is the beauty of it. We can’t all be best pals with one another, but as long as we are able to find some common level of tolerance and respect, it’s all good. On the other hand, we can also be pals with one another, but sometimes we can only take so much of each other. That’s fine as well.  Music is exactly the same; you can’t please everyone, so worry only about making yourself musically happy, and work hard to be the best that you can be. That, to me, is real passion!

I know that we are treading on very subjective territory here; I’m fully aware of it, but we can take things a bit further when we talk about playing with passion and feel: musical intent. Playing the right notes with the right timing is not enough to make good music, or else we wouldn’t need to learn to play instruments; we would all become MIDI programmers and listen to sampled instruments. You can also call it interpretation, and that is what make music come alive with passion. Everything that we do on our instruments should be intentional. The possibilities are endless! On an acoustic guitar alone, I can pick close to the bridge, close to the edge of the soundhole, close to the neck; I can palm-mute, making the notes ring, or make the notes legato; I can pick with a soft attack, a medium attack, or a hard attack; I can use open strings or closed positions; I can slide into a note, bend into a note, play a note with harmonics, use vibrato, etc. Any and every combination of these things is valid and should be intentional.

Since I’m a guitarist, I will give you one simple idea. Consider the notes G A B C D D# and E, played as 8th notes. Let’s explore a number of different ways of playing these notes while maintaining the same rhythm:

  • Try playing it all with a softl attack
  • Try playing it all with a medium attack
  • Try playing it with a stronger attack (but still not too aggressive)
  • Try playing it with the strongest attack possible
  • Try a crescendo
  • Try only downstrokes
  • Try alternate picking
  • Try sliding up to the first note
  • Try sliding down to the first note
  • Try playing the last note with a harmonic
  • Try bending into the last note
  • Try to use  fingerings that allow the notes to ring in as much as possible
  • Try to play as legato as possible
  • Try to play staccato


I could go on and on, the possibilities are truly endless, and one should certainly try to explore as many different ways as possible to articulate the notes.

Now let’s open ourselves to different rhythmic possibilities:

  • Swing the 8th notes
  • Try a dotted 8th + 16th note pattern
  • Try to be as rhythmically precise as possible
  • Try to play slightly ahead of the beat
  • Try to play laidback (behind the beat)


These 5 rhythmic examples take into a account that the length of the phrase remains the same (4 beats), but already, so much can be done to alter the feel of a phrase, based on these 5 concepts alone. We can take it even further by displacing certain notes rhythmically to create syncopation; the possibilities then become endless. These rhythmic ideas are absolutely indispensable, yet, often overlooked. If there is one thing, any musician can benefit from, it’s working on timing.

It is extremely important to be rhythmically aware; I cannot stress this enough. It is every musician’s weakness; drummers and percussionists included. You can always improve your timing. It starts by being aware of what you are playing. For example, in jazz and swing music, many players automatically assume that it’s a matter of swinging the 8th notes; I very much disagree. The proof is in the music. Once again, don’t get me wrong, the 8th note swing feel certainly does exist, but it is not what creates the swing. The swing comes from accenting notes at the right moment; a topic that is beyond the scope of this article. In good jazz and swing music, you’ll often hear a lot of quarter notes and straight 8th notes. Using the swing feel is an effect, and one must simply be aware of when to use it and when not to use it. There are no rules for this. Basically, do not automatically do something and not be aware that you are doing it; you must always strive to be aware of what you are doing. Listen to this version of All Of Me by Louis Armstrong:


This is a great recording that demonstrates many of the concepts that I mentioned above. There is a lot of laid back playing, straight 8th notes, occasional swung 8th notes and even the dotted 8th + 16th note combination. There are short tones, long tones, a wide range of dynamics and attack, and wide palette of rhythmic variety. To me, this is the real passion and soul of music. 

Generally, the best kind of rhythmic feel, is the one that is either very precise, or laid back; this goes without saying that this only works if the rhythm section is good! Any combination of these two (again no rules) will greatly improve the way you sound. In my opinion, playing ahead of the beat rarely works, unless it is truly intentional. Guitarists with dexterity are often guilty of this; I am no exception. It’s something I constantly think about when I practice and perform. It is something that many players struggle with. The best players are often aware of this (sometimes even subconsciously) and it shows in their playing.

This is precisely what I was referring to in my opening statement about my reasons for appreciating a particular artist. Many would often be impressed by the notes played, but I am instead impressed by the way they are played and at what precise moments they are being played.

With regards to a rhythm section, there is much to say about awareness and intent. Once again, I remind you dear readers, that I come from a Gypsy Jazz background. If have ever been to a Gypsy Jazz festival, and listened to a jam session, it can appear to be chaotic; quite frankly, it often is. Jam sessions can certainly be fun. However, do not let jam sessions (of any style) convince you that this is just the way it is, and that it is the best way to learn. The more you participate in these kinds of jam sessions, the more it can influence you, in a bad way. For this reason, it is very important, once again, to be aware. If you are aware, you can jam as much as you want and come out of it musically unscathed!

What does "aware" mean in this context? For starters, I would like to say that in 95.684% (I could be wrong by 1.9812%) of jam sessions in which I have personally participated, I have always had to adapt to other players. This happens because no one is really paying attention to what is exactly going on, everyone just blindly assumes that they are playing the same thing when they are definitely not. Many players walk into a jam session, thinking they know a particular song; indeed, they may do, but it may not be a similar version. The chord changes to songs are highly interpretative, and many songs have evolved in different ways. The chords all eventually follow a similar logic, but the paths to resolution can be widely different and conflicting. For instance, you go to any contemporary bass player, and ask him/her to accompany you on a rhythm changes form. Chances are the bass player will play the form that is most popular these days. However, today’s popular changes to the classic form are not what they used to be in the old days, and there are even a number variations. The same thing applies to the blues form; the changes that the vast majority of jazz players use today are not the same as they were in a different era.

It’s certainly fun and good to learn as many songs as possible and then be able to go into a jam session and jam the night away, but, really, what does it mean to learn a song? Pull out a lead sheet, memorize the melody and chords? For many, yes. For me, no. That is why I think the jam session mentality, while fun, can also be a negative influence. When I play an actual show, the repertoire I select is carefully chosen, and each song is carefully researched; my band is therefore on the same musical page as me. Researching a song doesn’t mean you have to play it the way that it was originally intended, but it means that you have an idea of where it comes from.  If it greatly differs than the way it is performed today, within your genre, it gives you the choice to interpret it in different ways.

In Gypsy Jazz alone, many players play the "wrong" changes. This is another topic itself, and deserving of its own article, but playing the "wrong" changes has also become a tradition within the genre. In certain situations, I have played these changes as well (and on purpose), and, I’ll be honest, it can be fun; it’s one of the characteristics of Gypsy Jazz. Nonetheless, other times, I try to adapt the chords to the appropriate situation. As far as I am concerned, I especially adapt the chords to the melody when it is being played. When the improvisation part comes, I play simple chords so that the soloist has more melodic freedom. This is especially true on slower songs, where the chord duration is longer and, therefore, more audible.

For instance, in the song Dinette by Django Reinhardt, in the A section, the V chord should be an Eb7b9, whereas many players play Eb9. This is because the melody is emphasizing the b9 of the chord. To play a regular 9 would then clash against the melody.

In the song Belleville, again by Django Reinhardt, the chords for the melody are different than the chords for the soloing section. The soloing part is a variation on the rhythm changes progression. The chords for the melody section, on the other hand, follow the actual melody; for your information, there are two different popular ways to accompany the melody.

In the song Daphne, at the end of the A section, there is a chromatic ascending pattern. Most players play G to Gm , but in actual fact, the chords should be G to G#dim7 in order to fit the melody. For soloing, I may revert back to Gm if I prefer soloing over those changes.

In the song All Of Me, many players play F to F#dim7, when the original chords are F to Fm. Interestingly enough, however, both chord progressions fit the melody. It’s always fun witnessing a jam session with more than one rhythm guitar player and hearing both changes being played at the same time. Most of the time, the two or more rhythm players are completely oblivious to the clash. I always wonder if they’re even listening!

While on the topic of All Of Me,  the last II V I is not a regular II V I; The II chord is borrowed from the parallel minor tonality: Dm7b5. I’m aware of this, but I personally, still play a regular Dm7, like most jazz musicians.  It’s just good to research, to pay attention, and to be aware.

Another interesting point, is that the song is rather melancholic, and it’s funny to see it played as an upbeat, up-tempo swing in the Gypsy Jazz genre today. When Django Reinhardt recorded it, it was played as a medium/slowish swing, and the melancholy was still preserved. I’d like to think that Django Reinhardt had a very heightened sense of awareness; and that is the difference between Gypsy Jazz and the jazz that Django played. Don’t get me wrong (this must be the 5th time that I warn you, but I don’t want people to misconstrue me), I am not criticizing Gypsy Jazz; I really love it, but the difference between Django’s jazz and Gypsy Jazz is enormous. Once again, it’s definitely deserving of a whole article of its own.

So here we are talking about changes, and which changes/voicings to use. That is one important aspect, and we must ask ourselves: "how should we interpret these changes?" The rhythm section is more than just a time keeping section, it can express a wide variety of moods in the way that the parts are executed. Just because a C6/9 is related to C, does not mean that it’s the right chord for the situation. This is extremely subjective, but when I play a particular voicing, it is because it is the one that I feel is best for the given situation; I won’t automatically use my comfort voicings just because they are the ones that I know. My choice of voicings depend on the song, the people that I am playing with, the style that I am trying to convey, etc. Everything is always fully intentional.

As far as the execution is concerned, from a Gypsy Jazz point of view, the rhythm guitar can do so many things:

  • long tones
  • short tones
  • long tones with regular emphasis of each beat
  • only downstrokes
  • with an upstroke grace note
  • soft attack
  • confident attack (medium)
  • aggressive attack
  • precise timing on all beats
  • laid back on 2 and 4
  • ahead on 2 and 4
  • slight tendency to always play ahead


There are so many ways to do things, and many things can be done within the same song. The important thing is to listen to what is going on, and to adapt accordingly. The timing issue is especially important. No one is ever 100% robotically metronomic. The timing does move, but it should move in a pleasant and subtle way. Again, another topic, deserving of its own article, but I will say that everything depends on the factors that I cited above: who you play with, what song you are playing, what style you are trying to evoke, etc.

It’s also important to be aware of certain natural tendencies that we may have, that are in fact mistakes. For example, on a ballad, when playing a staccato and aggressive style of accompaniment, there is a strong tendency to want to accelerate. Therefore, you must be aware of this, and show restraint not to speed up. Or, when accompanying a bass solo on an up-tempo swing, most rhythm players will play as softly as possible. The tendency, then, is to slow down! You must always be aware at all times! Being a rhythm guitar player is more than just doing chunk chunk chunk chunk. There are many important details to which one must pay attention.

The bass player is just as important. Unfortunately, most contemporary jazz players are only aware of playing walking bass with a long note feel. This is certainly a great way of doing things when the situation calls for it, but it is certainly NOT the only way. In my experience working with various contemporary bass players, their idea of playing swing, is to play two feel with long tones. It works for ballads, but for swing songs, it just totally kills the swing. Then there are some bass players who will try to do too much, adding all sorts of unnecessary effects, the same way a guitar player will try to use too many flourishes. These things can be fun if used in moderation (with a heavy emphasis on the word "moderation") but, by and large, are quite unnecessary.

Like rhythm guitarists, bass players have lots to think about:

  • walking bass
  • two feel
  • short notes
  • long notes
  • heavy attack
  • using only one finger for pizz to get a steady tone
  • alternating fingers
  • slap
  • arco
  • long tone arco
  • short arco
  • pedal tones
  • two feel, but each note doubled in quarter notes (C, C, G, G) and staccato


Again, the possibilities are endless. One song can make use of various feels depending on what is going on.

The important thing in a rhythm section, is that all instruments of the rhythm section should be listening to each other, while also listening to what is going on in the lead section. The rhythm section needs to be on the same page, and they will influence each other in not only the color but also the timing.  There is nothing worse than a stubborn player that thinks that his/her timing is the correct one. Sometimes it may be true, and it is also quite subjective, but if we are dealing with musicians of equal caliber, it should not about one leading all others, but about careful listening and finding a common meeting point. Therefore, a rhythm section is like a relationship, you need to find partners that are on the same page as you. Sometimes, some people don’t work well with each other even if they may be considered "good musicians" of equal caliber. That is fine, you’ll just have to look elsewhere. At any rate, while all this is happening, the rhythm section should also be listening to what the soloist is doing, and going in the same direction. It is a very organic process.

So much can be said about awareness. It even extends beyond the actual music we are playing. For instance, tapping one’s foot when playing guitar can influence how you play. When tapping your foot, the tapping should be precise and locked in to the rhythm section. If your foot is wobbling out of time, it can potentially affect your timing. Granted, some people manage to have a wobbly foot and still play in time, but many cannot! I have also noticed people make very pronounced grimaces when they play difficult passages. Most of the time, I’ve witnessed this, the difficult passages were played sloppily. I urge people to be aware of all these things and more, and to take the time to work on things properly. Then again, one could also argue that those flaws are just how they are. Fair enough! In the end, as musicians, we choose who we play with. As a leader, I hire the musicians that I want to; these are the musicians that I feel can best interpret the music the way I envision it. Sometimes, it’s not always possible to have the musicians we want, in which case, we either refuse the gig, or we just tough it out!

Last but not least, it goes without saying, but striving to improve your ears and memory is also indispensable. After all, can we say that we are fully aware if we cannot hear what we are playing or want to play? There is an international culture of chart readers among professional musicians today. I find this quite unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong (how many times have I said that now?), reading can be a useful skill, but it should never replace our ears and our ability to memorize. In my encounters, however, that is, unfortunately, often the case. I find that so frustrating and sad. Our ears can always be trained, even without an instrument in our hands. Learn to a sing a song or a phrase in time and in tune. Try to figure out melodies you hear in your day to day life. Take any basic melody, a Christmas carol for instance, and figure out the notes in your head. If you don’t have perfect pitch, use a pitch pipe or a smartphone app to determine the key, or just pretend it’s in the key of C. Off the top of my head, "Frosty the snowman" in the key of C, starts on the note G, goes down to E, up to F, up to G, up to C, etc. These are very simple and diatonic melodies. If you cannot even hear these and figure these out quickly, can you say that your improvisations are truly "sincere"?

This article is rather philosophical but I believe that if you strive to be aware of all these things, you can immediately use your current musical knowledge to take your music in better directions. One of the best things that you can do, is to make a live recording of your band. Listen back carefully and with critical ears; listen for all the things that I mentioned above, and ask yourself honestly: "is this exactly how I want it to sound?" If you don’t have a band, you can make your own one-man band, by overdubbing all the parts; use a bass guitar for the bass parts. Above all, play it like you mean it! Most important of all, however, just have fun; play what you want to play, and don’t worry about what other people think.

To quote Beethoven:

"To play a wrong note is insignificant;
to play without passion is inexcusable."

To take that even further, I’ll end with a quote from one of Beethoven’s students, Ferdinand Ries from "Beethoven remembered":

"When I left out something in a passage, a note or a skip, which in many cases he wished to have specially emphasized, or struck a wrong key, he seldom said anything; yet when I was at fault with regard to the expression, the crescendi or matters of that kind, or in the character of the piece, he would grow angry.  Mistakes of the other kind, he said, were due to chance; but these last resulted from want of knowledge, feeling, or attention.  He himself often made mistakes of the first kind, even when playing in public."

If you enjoyed this article, please have a look at my DC Music School website. Many of the lessons that I have produced take all of the concepts, discussed in this article, into account.


For Gypsy Jazz rhythm sections:




For anyone interested in Gypsy Jazz interpretation:





For ear training and awareness:



Excerpt from “Django Reinhardt in Italy”

Excerpt from “Django Reinhardt in Italy” ed. Carish/Music Sales

by Fabio Lossani

copertina alta def.

While on the horizon acetate slowly declined to be replaced by 78 rpm records, in Paris a certain Dizzy was performing what could be defined as the first concert of Modern Jazz, sparking a sharp debate among fans of Be-bop – the Jazz of the future, symbol of modernity and progress – and those of Classic Jazz – a reminder of past times, times of war and suffering and maybe because of this hardly borne, actually more by the plexus than by the ears. Critics ride, exploit, and stir up trouble. The guitarist – born in Belgium but of Manouche origins – and the violinist – born in France but of Italian origins – idols of swing that the war had separated, had just met again and reassembled the Quintette. But even if their greatness was unanimously recognised, they found themselves negatively involved in these internal fights.

Cerri e Django “They play so fast, so fast!” exclaimed Django on one evening of May 1945 while he was listening to Gillespie and His All Star Quintet with Charlie Parker. He was not jealous, he was on the contrary interested in the new trend and it was with a new enthusiasm that he played with Bird, Miles and Dizzy. To the critics, who were sitting many rows behind him hinting at an influence of Bop over the guitarist, the journalist and critic Livio Cerri pointed out that the taste of Django for discords traced back far before the birth of the Bop school, so if anything he was one of its pioneers!

Meanwhile at the Gare de Lyon, Django and Staphane met their American colleagues, who came back to playing in Europe after the end of the war, and greeted them smiling. But on that day their instrument cases seemed heavier, since on them, among the labels of the cities they had played in, was that of a by now out-dated jazz. They left Paris to accept the proposal of an Italian manager, who at that time – just like in a film by Woody Allen – could equally manage ballerinas, magicians, Louis Armstrong or Buffalo Bill and organise both big tours and single evenings.

In the first days of December 1948 Grappelli played in Milan at the night club Ciro’s during some evenings and in a couple of concerts at the New Theatre with Joseph Reinhardt (Django’s brother), the double-bass player Giorgio Poli, the pianist Franco Cassano and the guitarist Angelo Servida. “Django, come to Milan immediately! Here there’s the possibility of a two-month contract at the Astoria, a very elegant night-club in Piazza S. Maria Beltrame, not far from the Cathedral.” The violinist told him after having tracked him down at a friend’s house in Rome.

Santa Claus brought a big present that year to the young guitarist from Milan, Franco Cerri, who found himself playing on Boxing Day with the best guitarists of the period.  Armando Camera – the other guitarist hired – must instead have regretted having signed a prior contract with an orchestra of Turin and being therefore replaced by Piero Visani! At the back of the night club they smoke, Grappelli sips a cognac; Reinhardt plays poker with the double-bass player Ubaldo Beduschi and other two people.  In the seat of RAI in Corso Sempione the musicians of the Gorni Kramer orchestra were left gaping listening to Django, who played Cerri’s electric guitar for twenty minutes.  

astoriaclub “Live he is even more extraordinary!”, exclaimed a customer, since the news that Django was playing at the Astoria Club spread like wildfire and many were the jazz lovers, musicians and guitarists – some of which already well-known – who went to the club that evening to listen to him. Among them were probably Michele Ortuso or Giovanni Ferrero, Cosimo Di Ceglie, Alfio and Rocco Grasso and Franco Pisano. Some had even paid homage to him, like the well-known Luciano Zuccheri, who under his influence founded the ensemble “Quintetto Ritmico di Milano”. Neither tarot cards nor tea leaves could, however, have predicted that the contract would be rejected after only twelve days. “Dance, dance everyone, please do! Django is leaving.”

On the train heading to the capital city Django, singing softly “Tornerai” (“J’attendrai”) written by the Italian Dino Olivier – one of the rare pieces of video evidence – he thinks about the first time he came to Italy: it was 1915 in Livorno and then in Rome. His friend, Vittorio Spina, sitting with his guitar on his lap in one the first carriages of the Italian Jazz, remembers Django as a five-year-old boy who spent his days in the Usignolo in Via Anime Sante, listening to the waltzes, polkas and fox trots he played with Paolo, the gipsy guitarist Django strolled around Roma with.

Posing in front of a building named in his honour, Stefano Grappelli wears a tricolour scarf around his waist, but it is not about the violinist so much as his grandfather, mayor of the town of Alatri. “The most important names of wealthy Rome come here” Christian Livorness, a big fan of theirs, informed them while pointing at the Rupe Tarpea, a club at number 13 Via Veneto, in which they were going to play. The two friends were attracted above all by the wonderful smell coming from the kitchen, which wafted right into the dining room where they would be playing. A poster advertised: “The three fulminating fingers” – Django smiled sarcastically looking at his hand. They passed by a little room, named Jicky Club, which was used as a dance hall.

VoilĂ  La Dolce Vita! Boys of good families, politicians and some members of the Vatican. “Look! Porfirio Rubirosa is at that table over there!” The well-selected audience – particularly by the price – was miscellaneous and, apart from some toffee-nosed rich layabouts from Rome, there were people who were really interested in jazz – some even knew it quite well – as well as in beautiful women and champagne. Lover of swing, but father of the intransigent bopper and grandfather of the unbridled rocker who would hardly bear the beat grandchild, he often moved the chairs around the dance floor in order to better listen to the performance of the quintet. Sergio Sangiorgi, president of the Hot Club of Rome, who once organised a concert in the Bernini theatre in Via Borgognona, did the same.  

Sometimes Carlo Loffredo replaced Pecori at the double bass and when the manouche couldn’t stand the miserable rooms of the Hotel Alexandra anymore, he took him to Piazzale Clodio, where there was a funfair run by some gipsy cousins, who lived in ten or so caravans. He often spent the night there.

The fork kills more than the sword! Is it possible to give up Italian cuisine? “Well, it is not as refined as the French…and how does Gianni Safred lay the table? And what about how Carlo Percori serves the plates?! Oh mon dieu, Aurelio De Carolis’ pots!” Only a biased palate could state that this cuisine is insipid, spurs taking new risks – also regarding the rhythm – and finding a “broken” accompaniment – like those of the bopper friends – with a quite original phrasings and chords and that it forces the embellishment of the accompaniment of Grappelli’s solos with exquisite and strong interventions.

Don’t you enjoy it Django? And so why did you agree that Livorness should take the matter up with Rai – with which he collaborated hosting a weekly programme from France – to get you a contract and record 70 songs, which would then be aired? Classics of the Quintette du Hot Club de France and famous songs, but also recent compositions or tracks that would become standards of the be-bop repertoire. “I also want to play a guitar improvisation in honour of the great Joaquin Turina, who died about ten days ago”.

Over The Rainbow/Night And Day/Minor Blues/Nature Boy/The World Is Waiting
For The Sunrise/Vous, Qui Passez Sans Me Voir/Hallelujah/Nagasaki/I’ll Never Be
The Same/Swing 39/Clopin-Clopant/Honeysuckle Rose/All The Things You
Are/Djangology/Liza/For Sentimental Reasons/Daphne/La Mer /Sweet Georgia
Brown/Lover Man/Marie/Stormy Weather/Minor Swing/To Each His Own/What Is
This Thing Called Love?/Ou Es-Tu, Mon Amour?/Undecided/Improvisation N°4/I’m
in the Mood for Love/Swing 42/I Surrender Dear/After You’ve Gone/Mam’zelle/I
Got Rythym/I Saw Stars/Artillerie Lourde/It’s Only A Paper Moon/Time On My
Hands/Bricktop/Improvisation Sur La Symphonie No. 6 De Tchaikovsky/My Blue
Heaven/Menilmontant/Swing Guitars/My Melancholy Baby/Truckin’/Webster/Micro
(Mike)1-2/Dream Of You/Begin The Beguine/How High The Moon/Nuages 1-2/I Can’t
Get Started/I Can’t Give You Anything But Love/Manoir De Mes Reves/The Man I
Love/The Peanuts Vendor/Just A Gigolo/Troublant Bolero/Rosetta/Blue Skies/It
Might As Well Be Spring/Blue Lou/I’ll Never Be The Same/Brazil/What A
Difference A Day Made/Pigalle/Body and Soul/Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours.

Everything in complete freedom in the choice of both songs and the tempo of playing, without any bonds of duration in minutes, and sometimes with no fixed arrangements, but relying completely on the strong empathy between the guitarist and the violinist. Now it would be called a “live disco” or an “unplugged”. Regarding the mystery of these recordings, My Lord, Members of the Court, with the support of the experience of who worked in Rai, we would like to ask the witness Christian Livorness two simple questions:

1. Could a national Body like RAI allow the arbitrary use of its recording studios without a contract providing for the payment of the musicians and the relative right of ownership of what is recorded?

2. In view of the lack of a rigorous control, could it have been possible that someone, maybe a collaborator of Rai, brought home laquers, tapes or discs?
The verdict is up to you!

At the opening of the cine-theatre Metropolitan of Milan they performed the last concert, the last song, the last note. Then the roads that the destiny had joined together, giving birth to a fantastic musical fellowship, went their separate ways forever – Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli leave Italy, the boot-shaped peninsula, the freeze of March and the snow covering South Italy until Palermo. What remain are the memories and the anecdotes to be told, maybe mediated – as it should be –  by the personal perception of events, but above all remain the immortal pages of Great Music.

The wind of Jazz blows always quicker among the reeds of brass instruments and a brush more often replaces the plectrum in Django’s hands.

Pope Pio XII blesses the Saint Year 1950 and among the three million believers who came to Rome, there also were five French musicians, gathered together for the last time as the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France. They arrive after a 24-hour train journey, but better like this than by plane, for the memories and the fear for the tragedy of the football players of the great Turin team of few months before were too strong. They arrive in Via San Nicola da Tolentino no. 4, where, at the corner with via Bassolati, a great building has been erected a few months before  – a pagan cathedral, seat of the roman administrative department of Fiat: offices, an exposition centre, galleries, meeting rooms, shops, two cinemas (Fiamma and Fiammetta) and in the cellar, connected by a long staircase, there was the club which hired them, the Open Gate Club. “What? They’ve sent away Sven Asmussen and his ensemble, one of the most highly regarded?? Ach moune! When does the next train to Paris leave?” Django asked Alf Masselier, the double bass player.

django 1950For sure, playing in that club during dinner was not easy. “Three”, gestured Roger Paraboschi, the drummer, granting the request of the maĂ®tre d’, and away! They started playing for the fourth time the theme of “Il Terzo Uomo” (The third man). “As soon as I find a moment I’ll see that film!” said the pianist Ralph SchĂ©croun. The audience were even richer and selected that at the Rupe Tarpea, but among these were Greek ship-owners and American oil tycoons. But where are the Italian Jazz lovers?? Ah, there’s Mario De Crescenzo! “For your birthday I’ll give you one of my drawings”.  Bye bye Carlo Pes and Armando Trovajoli! See you later at your house in Monte Mario, Armando, and maybe we can do a jam session until six in the morning with the musicians of Benny Goodmann’s sextet – I knocked them all down last time! I’m sorry Mr. Goodmann, thank you for the invitation, but I won’t go back to the US.

“J’adore Rome!” And actually Rome is beautiful in April, and ten minutes from here is the Trevi Fountain – I wonder if Misses Ekbar is already in there?! How can you resist the charm of the Eternal City? How wonderful it is, stopping by to look at the old column capitals, with a broad-brimmed hat and red scarf around the neck? So, what puts you in such a bad mood? The irreverent club? The rain that’s started falling? The feeling that time is running faster than your fingers? Still, you have a lot to say and this is why you are recording once again in Rai. Here you are with Andrè Ekyan, the saxophonist – who has been a friend of yours for 20 years – and the quintet; all gathered around one microphone in the middle of the recording room. Paraboschi, who was playing a little far from you, is not pictured in this photo, but don’t worry Robert, fifty years later a young musician from Milan will send you a photo, in which you too are pictured and in return you will maybe tell him your memories.

Again in the Rai studios but this time you left Maccaferri for Galimberti – the luthier of the company MOnzino-GARlandini – actually you left the acoustic and a little clanking sound for the electronic one of a electrified Mogar with a pick-up application…..and an amplifier…… During those 30 days you run wild. The quest for a new sonority nearer to anxiety that pervades you is a fundamental element of the be-bob curse. Because of the electric instrument the phrasing is modified and the anxiety becomes distortion…

Anniversary Song/Stormy Weather/Russian Songs Medley/Jersey Bounce/Dinette/
Sophisticated Lady/Micro/Dream Of You/Nuages/Darktown Strutters’ Ball/Danse
Norvegienne N° 2/A-Tisket A-Tasket/Manoir De Mes Reves/Place De
Bouckere/September Song/Royal Garden Blues/Saint Louis Blues/Sweet Georgia
Brown/Minor Swing/Double Scotch (Double Whisky)/Artillerie Lourde/St James’
Infirmary/C Jam Blues/Honeysuckle Rose/Stompin’ At The Savoy/
Rêverie/Impromptu/Black Night/Boogie-Woogie/Boléro.

Precious but short-lived documents which disappear after being aired on the radio, but eventually turn up many years later in a roman villa – with the name “C. Livorness” on the gate – some of which crumble in the hands, just like ancient roman denarii. You hear a thunder, but it is not the sound of applause so much as the rain, which doesn’t want spring to bloom in Rome and prevents painters from promenading and painting portraits. “Excuse me, does this train stop in Montecarlone (Capena), as in the film “La Route du Bonheur”? Django, Naguine, Babik hurry; the train is leaving!

The keen researcher looking for old documents, rummaging through old photos yellowed with time, would excitedly find a photo of Django at the Astoria of Milan, but the careless photographer forgot to wind the roll on and so he exposed two different pictures: one of the musicians and one of a couple going down the staircase of the club. Images which blur like the memories of who lived those moments as a protagonist or as a spectator. And so all the articles, the interviews, the books from Delaunay onwards help to remember but, at the same time, they confuse. It has been possible to tell this story – romancing it a little – because of the testimonies provided by those who lived – as spectator or protagonist – Django’s adventure in Italy, which I personally collected in some cases. For this I thank:

Livio Cerri, Franco Cerri, Mario De Crescenzo, Stephane Grappelli, Christian
Livorness, Carlo Loffredo, Adriano Mazzoletti, Roberto Nicolosi, Roger Paraboschi,
Arrigo Polillo, Vittorio Spina, Piero Visani, Luciano Zuccheri.

Charles Delaunay – “Django Reinhardt – Souvenirs” Ed. Jazz Hot
“Django, Mon Frere” Eric Losfeld Ed.
Adriano Mazzoletti – “Il Jazz in Italia – dalle Origini al Dopoguerra”ed. Laterza
“Il Jazz in Italia” ed. EDT
Alain Antonietto – “François Billard – “Django il Gigante del Jazz Tzigano” ed. Arcana
“Django Reinhardt – Rythmes futurs” ed. Fayard 2004

Films :
“La Route du Bonheur” prod. Italia/Francia by Labro e Simonelli film
with Django (his wife Naguine, his son Babik ?) replaced in the Italian version by Yves Montand with Henri Crolla .

“Open Gate club” newsreel “La Settimana Incom “ 17/03/1950

Interview with Sebastien Giniaux

By Michel Mercier

© 2014 Michel Mercier

© 2014 Michel Mercier

One of the most outstanding and original players to have appeared in the gypsy jazz scene, SĂ©bastien Giniaux has a truly eclectic, versatile training and career. The Selmer 607 album revealed him to a broader audience, but his musical journey started at a very early age and brought him to the highest sphere of Jazz manouche. A unique and unpredictable personality, SĂ©bastien Giniaux is as free as can be in his life and career.


First, please tell us about your discovery of music and training…

I grew up in the southern suburbs of Paris, in Bourg-la-Reine. I started at the age of 5: music for kids at the music academy, clapping hands and stuff… Then you’re asked about what instrument you’d like to play. I didn’t really know, my elder brother was playing the violin for 4 years so I said ”ok violin, is fine”. But I didn’t want to play in a standing position, I was seeing him playing in his room, standing and it pissed me off. So I thought to myself “seated violin” and that’s what I said to my parents. They answered “terrific! We’ve got something great for you” and I started cello. That wasn’t really a choice, I was only 5… I then went to the music academy until I was 18 years old, and then to a music school and then to the CNR in Boulogne Billancourt. Besides  that, I met some people when I was 12 or 13 years old, like that guy named Babx (quite a famous songwriter and of the “chanson française” scene), we became very good friends. His mother is an ethnomusicologist and she had a school where she taught traditional singing. I started to listen to tsigan songs and a lot of other stuff. There were a lot of records there: qawwalĂ® music, african music, lots of things… so I worked a bit in that school, I worked on songs with Babx and when I reached 16 I started playing a few folk music chords on guitar to accompany a friend that was playing irish music on the violin:  basically E minor an D major.

And in that school Kamlo (BarrĂ©) used to do masterclasses. I saw his manouche guitar, I didn’t know about it at all and I was struck by the sound of that guitar. After that I owned another folk guitar which I tried to convert as a gypsy guitar… It was a bit ridiculous because it had a regular folk bridge and I had put a gypsy guitar tailpiece on it… that was really random… I didn’t have a dime to buy a guitar. Then when I was 18 a buddy of mine called Pierrick Hardy, a great jazz guitar player and teacher who plays on a Lowden folk guitar, phoned me. He had an opportunity to buy a 1976 Jacques Favino but got his amps and gear robbed so he found himself broke and couldn’t buy it. It was a friend of his who was selling it for 1000 francs (150€) so he told me I could have it if I put down 200 bucks (30 €) more. That way he was happy that the guitar remained in the circle of his friends so I bought a Favino for 1200 francs… So I got this and I started to practice that gypsy jazz style. We had already started quite a confidential band with Norig, playing in tiny venues. Things went on and, little by little, I stopped cello for 3 years. When I finished the music academy I had worked with a band, “l’orchestre de l’oratoire du Louvre”, did some contemporary music projects and a few other things…
When I really got into guitar I stopped all that. I worked and played like crazy for 5 years.


You also play other instruments, right?

I learned the piano because I compose a lot and was also interested in classical music composition. It’s quite useful to have some basic piano skills even if I’m not a proper piano player.


And double bass as well?

Yes double bass is funny because it’s the same approach as cello but tuned like a guitar so it’s quite easy to handle if you have some basic musical knowledge, the process is rather quick.


© 2014 Fabienne Ilias

© 2014 Fabienne Ilias

Would you advise musicians to learn several instruments?

Well it all depends on what you’re looking for, but to me, generally speaking, being open-minded is important for a musician and not only about the instruments but also with different styles of music. Jazz manouche, and the many other styles I’ve been involved in, feel to me like closed circles. I’ve always had some kind of punk attitude with that: due to my background I’ve always been interested in many different styles of music. The richness that I think I have in my own music comes from all of that: my playing of several instruments, the inspiration I get from things I don’t know well. So well, yes, I would recommend all musicians to listen to music as a general thing, not as a particular style. See how Django was keen on Ravel, Debussy, African-American jazzmen… Take “Sketches of Spain” from Miles Davis or Chick Corea’s music. All the great musicians, regardless of background, took their inspiration from numerous sources. That concerns jazz but not only: the cello suite from Bach, like the Sarabande for instance were originally popular dances, usually played on a hurdy-gurdy!


Speaking about Django, and jazz manouche… To me Django’s music is not jazz manouche but as far as jazz manouche is concerned, one still has to start by learning the basic idioms of the style, right?

Yes, totally. To me it’s a great guitar school, a “French guitar school” as would say my cousin Christophe Lagane (luthier and musician). That’s why I went so deep into it, it was a great way to learn the instrument but they are so many different schools… That’s what I like with the guitar: just go over the bridge, cross a border and you’ll find someone playing it differently, you won’t even understand what  he’s doing! When you go in Granada, they play the same instrument but you don’t get it at all… Different right hand, rhythms, chords… you don’t have that on every instrument: playing the piano is just playing the piano… there are different styles but only one technique, same with the cello. With the guitar, you’re confused every time you change country and that makes a lot of things to work on and be interested in. That’s exciting!
But indeed Django is not specifically jazz manouche to me.


How did you get to know Django?

Backwards… I think I knew “Minor Swing” or “Les yeux noirs” like everybody, as a part of our popular culture. I met Kamlo… the first record I got was given to me by SĂ©bastien Gastine (bass player and brother of rhythm David Gastine), it was Matelo’s “TziganskaĂŻa”. I listened to it so much, I was a real fan but I was not listening to Django. Then I listened (a lot and for a long time!) to Angelo’s “Gypsy Guitars” and a bit of Django but it wasn’t striking to me. Maybe it was a matter of sound or just a matter of me being stupid, that’s also a possibility! Then I listened to Romane and Stochelo’s “Elegance” and later I started buying and really listening to more of Django. There it was: a big slap in the face…


Why that big slap in the face?

Because it’s pure. First, there’s a dynamic that you don’t find elsewhere. Well I don’t want to bash him but I think it’s because of this vintage sound. For instance Matthieu Châtelain, who’s part of a HCF style Quintette with Gwen Cahue, tried different EQ filters on some of their recordings. When you listen to the basic recording (and note that they even cover some complete Django and Grappelli solos) it sounds good but just as any Gypsy Jazz recording. When filtering the guitar is suddenly boosted, with different frequencies… So I guess it was both something from Django and something from that vintage recording making people feel special about him.


But the sound of Django’s last recordings was excellent and clean?

Yes but it was not “manouche”, it was more modern. Not to say it wasn’t amazing because as an improviser it was indeed awesome but until 1945, a lot is due to the way it’s recorded.


I guess you also listened to Fapy’s recordings?

Yes of course…quite dazzling and Django…quite so and so. (laughs)


© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

What’s your opinion about Jazz manouche today? Is it too closed? Are there some fusions that you like?

Generally speaking I think that many things are too closed, not only in jazz manouche… Well there is something special when you go in a gypsy campsite with some friends, when the playing is genuine and… you see that it’s really a culture, it’s deep and it’s also a political thing because that’s the only good thing they can show to the world to avoid being despised. Now that it’s hip again, it’s a kind of flag for this community so I understand that they want to keep the tradition, I think it’s a good thing. And there are a lot of people within this community like Bireli or Angelo that try to mix that music to something else, more modern and make it evolve… but yes, I love jazz manouche, I love to meet friends in a bar and jam for hours. Now, as a musician and regarding all the different things I’ve made so far, I wouldn’t feel like making a record where I’d play “Minor Swing”. That’s my own vision, everybody has to find their own way through that. I fully understand those wanting to keep the authenticity of what’s been built since Django. By the way, it’s very interesting.


What would be, in today’s gypsy jazz scene, the players that impress you the most and those who you particularly like to listen to?

Well myself, I love my own playing by the way… just joking! Bireli of course. Bireli and Angelo are the two players I like to listen to, and for completely different reasons. Bireli always had this playful and easy approach on the guitar, though I guess he worked like crazy to be able to do that but he’s always into ingenuity and playing (in the literal sense)… Nice and beautiful! I love Angelo because he’s not here for fun, he takes music seriously and has so much lyricism. It’s really different. I think he found something extremely expressive, especially since he’s been playing with that dirty amplified sound… Each time I listen to him I’m staggered by the emotion he brings. There’s also Rocky Gresset who I love to listen to and play with. We’ve been having those “tonight I’ll kick your ass” kind of jokes for a long time but Rocky’s really not into competition. He pushes you to play music, otherwise he gets bored. You don’t have other choice than listening closely and doing your best with him. Anyway Bireli and Angelo would really be the guitarists that influenced me the most.


Does that mean you also got a purple Dunlop pick when seeing “Live a Vienne” DVD (laughs)?

Completely, immediately (laughs). I got one but also started playing with the round end which changed a lot of things.


Does it really make a difference?

What I tell to my students is that cello players have a meter of bow to produce some sound. With a pick you’ll have something like 1,5mm … it just makes “click” and then you can go home (laughs). That’s the problem of acoustic guitar. Playing with the round end brings two things. First: more space to produce the sound, because you can do it on 1 cm by inclining the pick, just like playing a bow. That way you can have something “fatter”, closer to a tortoise pick’s tone. Second: it allows you to play sweeps and play in a more precise way that the old fat pick. Sweeping with a 5 mm pick is just terrible, I wish you the best with it! So that round end playing allows both to play modern style and get a fat tone when needed.


Do you still practice your guitar?

Yeah, definitely.


What would you do on a regular practice day?

Same as I always did.  When I started I used to put a record on and play over it, like playing ugly solos over Angelo (laughs)… if he only knew that… I hope my solos are not so ugly now but that’s what I do. I play records, try to set myself upon the rhythm section and find the chords if the tune is new to me… I play and try to pick up whatever pleases me. I also practiced my arpeggios like hell but not anymore. So when I listen to a solo (and it can be Angelo or anybody else: Charlie Parker, Vivaldi, whatever piece of music that makes my ear wriggle) I try to transcribe it in order to understand the harmonic path and find why I liked it. That way you don’t only get the phrase, but the whole harmonic process which you can then play with all over the neck.


How do you feel now that, having reached the circle of top players, you’re the one being transcribed? 

First I’m thinking “are they stupid or what?” (laughs)… It all depends on your inner state. I regularly have moments of doubts about my work. As I’m much into creation and original projects, I often wonder if   it’s worth it… So in those moments, when I think about people transcribing my solos, it means to me that I still managed to do something worthy, it comforts your ego… and at other moments I think they’d better transcribe Charlie Parker (laughs)! But really, I never thought I would reach such a position in the scene. For instance there’s that guy, Harry Edwards from Tasmania (a totally remote place!) who sent me a “Suite for Giniaux” on Youtube … all the way from Tasmania! That’s touching, I‘m very happy with that… and my parents too!


© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

You’re also into painting, what does it mean to you and how did you start?

As a child, you’re happy to do whatever you get encouraged for. It was quite natural for me as my parents liked my drawings. My family had no tv so we did lots of manual activities, sharing color pencils and stuff, making wood constructions… Our Christmas gift was an orange (laughs)… No we were spoiled, really, but there was a will of creative education. That’s why my parents sent us to the music academy. My parents are not trained musicians, just music lovers who like to sing. Anyway they encouraged me when I started drawing portraits of them, horses, etc…

In High school, I used to draw comics but I always got bored after 3 pages… A friend of mine used to write the scenarios and they were so lame (laughs)! So I never finished a comic but I did that a lot, also portraits of girls I wanted to date… I was quite good at realistic drawings: birds, portraits… I was really passionate with birds, drawings tons of them.
From 8th grade my scholarship really became chaotic, I didn’t know what I was doing there anymore… I passed the Literature/plastic arts BaccalaurĂ©at (main french High School diploma), also known as the “crook BaccalaurĂ©at” because the Painting exam has a coefficient of 9. You can fail all the other topics (like I did) and still earn your diploma. Anyway I had a great plastic art teacher in that class, Madame Rolley. She only taught modern art, starting from early 20th century: Picasso, Marcel Duchamp. I didn’t know a thing about modern art and she changed my life. Suddenly I understood that painting could be something going beyond the visual dimension, and I was passionate about it, painting a lot.

I put it aside when I began my career as a musician: too many projects, not enough room in my apartment. When I started to work on my album “MĂ©lodie des choses”, I thought it would be good to see what I was able to do and I went back to painting for one and a half years. To me, music and painting are just ways of expression: telling about your life or criticizing people’s life, saying what you have to say. Both arts are complementary to me because music is quite a socializing thing and I’m not always the socializing kind of guy. It’s a good Yin and Yang thing so I can appreciate going out with people as much as staying on my own. Painting is something quite anarchic to me. With my training in music I learned rules that I now like to break. That’s the logical way to me, learning to build something that you later learn to break. With painting, I worked alone and had to create my own technique, with my own influences. I feel freer as a painter than as a musician. Breaking the boundaries is fun but takes a lot of energy. Everything feels brand new and fresh when I’m painting, I don’t always feel this way with music…


Being a complete artist, would you say that artists have a role in society? What would it be?

I think it’s a complicated question…


I’m asking you that because you express personal things in your paintings but also political matters, right?

Politics is now a career, but at the beginning it was really a citizen’s duty, everyone should feel concerned about it. I don’t see myself as an artist. I feel more concerned by the good sides of politics, I feel more like someone revolted than an artist. We are in a period where people gave up on politics (which you can understand) so I think to myself “why not try to give some messages”. Being on stage, I have access to an audience. You have to be careful but from there you’re sure to have 2000, 200 or even 20 listeners. As I play instrumental music (I’m not a songwriter) I tend to take the mike during breaks.  You can’t have that listening just by yelling in the streets. In my ideal world, everybody would paint, play music… there would be masters, students… this would be part of your personal path, instead of iPhones and McDonald’s… I’m really more a resistant citizen than an artist.


© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

What are your current musical projects? What about your “Django 53” project?

Well we will soon be recording an album. Honestly, I’m sometimes wondering about my legitimacy in this project. I always try to do personal projects… I think have more legitimacy when doing “MĂ©lodie des choses”, my painting exhibitions or when playing Ravel’s music on stage. It’s not a will to stand out, just a will to be myself but despite my doubts it’s really a tremendous pleasure to play with that quartet in the spirit of this era.

© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

© 2014 Sébastien Giniaux

I also have a duo project that we just recorded (late October) with ChĂ©rif Soumano, Kora player from Africa and myself on guitar. ChĂ©rif was featured on my “MĂ©lodie des choses” album, and we’ll be produced by the same LDC Studio (also producer of Selmer 607). By the way we are recording in the former Vogue studio.

Last but not least, I have another project which I care very much about: The Balkan project. It’s very difficult to tour with as we are 6 musicians with drums etc… but it’s brand new. I started it a few times ago but didn’t have time to manage it properly. This project is about guitar, Serbian and Hungarian music. I have a lot of running projects but I can’t say they’re successful. It’s not difficult to tour with easy projects, but not with true creation. I can have calls for a Gypsy jazz all-stars concert but not for “MĂ©lodie des choses”.. that’s the way the system goes.


Last question for the guitar geeks, what’s your gear?

Well I don’t have a guitar anymore (laughs). First I play an Aria Pro II jazz guitar, a good shitty and cheap guitar but it works well and I’m not afraid to take it on the plane. I had an Olivier Marin for years but right now it has issues with a brace and the top. I left it at Dupont’s workshop in Paris and am currently waiting to have it back but I’ll have to find another solution. I often play Dupont guitars, I’m lucky enough to have Maurice lending me some when I need it. The record I told you about with Cherif will be done on a great Dupont Folk model. Apart from that I play a lot on Stratocaster, even in a jazz context, with a kind of Tom Morello pedal board! I have a Roland Midi system at home but it’s just for fun. Anyway the Strat works well, especially with an equalizer to bring some warmness… very polyvalent!


Django, Baro, and Gangsters

By Roger Baxter

1. Django Banjo caption
There is no reason to believe that Django Reinhardt was a particularly unlawful individual. We do know that he boasted of teaching Babik to shoplift and according to Stephane Grappelli, he was very adept at catching and wringing the necks of chickens on country walks, but these could leniently be considered only relatively minor misdemeanours. He was much too interested in music, women and gambling to be heavily involved in any major criminal activity although it has been claimed that he often cheated at billiards and cards. Despite such indiscretions, I do not think he should be viewed as a thief in the classic sense but more a somewhat eccentric man whose upbringing gave him a very flexible attitude to possessions. There are many stories of people "loaning" something to Django and never seeing it again. 2. 1942 Django captionAs early as 1925, a shabbily dressed young gypsy entered a bar with a damaged banjo looking for a gig. The band leader felt sorry for him, repaired his banjo, and let him borrow one of the waiter’s dinner jacket and trousers so he would look presentable enough to play. At the end of the second night, having performed brilliantly, Django disappeared with the repaired banjo and the dinner jacket and trousers and was not seen again. The epilogue is that 17 years later in 1942, Django had a gig in the area and returned to the bar. As soon as he arrived, he asked to see the band leader again. This time he was wearing a white suit, red socks, pale blue shoes and looked absolutely immaculate. He said he was very hungry so they made him some food which he ate in the kitchen with everybody excitedly crowding round. Having eaten their food and basked in their admiration, he abruptly left and they never saw him again. It may well be that Django perceived no problem in "borrowing" other people’s possessions but he was equally as ambivalent about giving away the things he owned. We can only speculate as to how many Selmers he briefly owned before indiscriminately passing them on to "family" or admirers as the fancy took him. Other possessions and money moved through his fingers equally as easily. One minute he would be living in a chic apartment in Montmartre and the next, in a shabby caravan on what resembled a bomb site. In both, he was equally happy because possessions in their simplest sense did not really mean that much to him: their value was merely in the status they gave him which was primarily symbolic and only transitory. Django was not a saint but he did not actively set out to swindle, intimidate, racketeer or steal. The same cannot be said for his friend Pierre Joseph "Baro" Ferret (or sometimes FerrĂ©).

3. 1937 Baro Caption
The gypsy community is very tight-lipped about one of their own who strayed as far from the straight and narrow as Baro Ferret and that reticence makes it is difficult to be absolutely sure about his activities. One thing we can be certain of though is that he was, as Emmanuel Soudieux once described him, "a gangster". He was more a gangster than a guitarist. He was a man you certainly did not want to mess with. If you had something he desired, it was made very clear to you that it was going to be his regardless of any reluctance you may have to part with it and, consequently, it would be in your best interests to simply give it to him. Having said that, I do not believe Baro Ferret was necessarily gratuitously or ruthlessly violent but he would be prepared to use force to achieve his "business" objectives when he felt it was required. 4. Baro CaptionHis temper was famously quixotic. Alain Antonietto said "Django’s heart was good but Baro did not have one". The nature of Baro’s activities are illustrated by the fact that when he once asked Jo Privat to head up a new bar venture for him, probably because Privat did not have a criminal record, the latter declined as he considered it too dangerous. He felt there were "…. too many murders in this business". It has been claimed that Baro Ferret was, for a while, the most successful pimp in Paris and there is no doubt whatsoever that he was a pimp, however successful. He was probably involved in the black market during the war and is best described in the language of the day as a racketeer.

In 1945, Baro opened a bar in Paris (there are differing views as to which one it was) and the launch was caught on camera. In the first photo we see his musical gypsy friends on the left and his gangster friends, who may well have been gypsies too, on the right. Far left, almost out of shot, is Django Reinhardt and next to him is Eugene Vees. Another of the Ferret clan, Sarane, is almost hidden to the immediate right of Vees. Third from right is the star of the event Baro Ferret and behind him two of his gangster backers. Baro’s girlfriend here is thought to be a singer and she does look a little like Lucienne Delyle but that is pure conjecture. However, I do think it is possible that the bald headed man sitting at the bar looking directly into the camera is 6. 1945 Django Baro Lousson Sarane Large Caption Gusti Malha. It is most unusual for Django not to be at the centre of the action when amongst his gypsy friends and followers yet here he is a peripheral figure apparently keeping out of the spotlight. Is that merely a moment in time caught by the camera or is it significant? The second photo seems to confirm Django’s lack of desire to be too close to Baro’s underworld friends as he is sitting "protected" and seemingly not particularly happy between his son Lousson and Sarane Ferret. He is not even playing the guitar when other gypsies are and that is completely unprecedented.  So perhaps Django was not really involved with Baro’s "business associates" but simply there to support his friend. The third picture, however, seems to undermine that scenario totally because Django is standing talking happily to one of the men who was almost certainly part of Baro’s criminal entourage. Furthermore, the photograph is signed by Django who has written "For my friend7. 1945 Django Baro Bar Opening 1945 Signed caption Jean". The smaller, overlaid picture shows Django and Joseph Reinhardt with the same man and one of the women from the launch photographs. They appear to be in a relaxed, casual, almost holiday environment. Also, there is a photograph of Django holding a trumpet taken in 1939 which is usually cropped to only show Django, Charles Delaunay and Naguine. The full picture, however, includes two rather suspicious characters on the right, one of whom looks very much like the gangster "Jean" in the Baro’s bar shots. Should we conclude then that Django was close to these people or was he just accepting that he had to rub along with them in the same way as American jazz musicians did during the prohibition era with the likes of Al Capone? In some ways, Django may have been rather gauche and childlike but he knew how to survive. He had come from incredible poverty and had the inbred cunning of a gypsy.  He would have been quite relaxed about dubious ways of earning a living and been prepared to accept some of the perks an association with such activities could bring but without necessarily wishing to become involved himself. The impression generally given is that although Django could be very emotional, particularly over musical issues, he was physically a rather passive, even cowardly person and therefore hardly suited to the harsh criminal8. 1939 Trumpet full crop caption underworld. This was not always the case. On one occasion, he and Joseph had an argument at a gig and they pulled knives on each other and could only be separated by their mother. Louis Vola claims that Django would sometimes say "Come on, let’s go out. I’ve got an urge to fight" and he would drag Vola around the bistros looking for someone to fight with. This character trait is perhaps surprising but I do not think it necessarily makes Django a criminal or even criminal material. It was just a consequence of his tough, rugged gypsy upbringing which would sometimes bubble to the surface.

Baro Ferret, on the other hand, became totally immersed in the world of crime and as a result, spent many years in prison. He owned several bars; the two most famous being Le Baro Bar near Rue Pigalle and La Lanterne near Port de Champerret.  He was rumoured to always keep a shotgun under the counter and at La Lanterne, the entrance was made deliberately narrow so people had to enter sideways and it could be easily seen if they were carrying a rifle or shotgun. According to a member of Jacques HĂ©lian’s orchestra, there were bars in Paris especially for gypsies which were frequented by some very shady characters and where9. Baro Music non-gypsy musicians or cliental were not welcome. It may well be that Baro ran one such bar although he does appear to have been a major player in the Parisian underworld generally, not just gypsy circles. There are reports that he was powerful enough to be involved in settling gang turf wars. There were some major battles between French and Corsican gangsters in the 1930s with the latter gradually controlling more and more of the Paris night life. The clubs and bars they "bought" were then turned into strip-tease joints heavily involved in prostitution and drugs. In order for an entertainment establishment to be able to survive in the war, it needed protection from the criminal underworld and from the Germans, both the Corsican and French gangsters often working together with the French Gestapo. Interestingly, Rue Frochot was one of the Corsican gangster’s strongholds and Django lived nearby for a while in the rather more exclusive Avenue Frochot. However, the reason Django moved there was apparently nothing to do with gangsters but because it was close to mĂ©tro Pigalle, considered to be the "safest" bomb shelter in Paris.

10. Poulette Castro
Baro recorded extensively during the thirties mostly as a rhythm guitarist with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France but also with his brothers, Sarane and Matelo. Yet the last recording he made with Django was in February, 1940 as part of "Django’s Music" and he hardly recorded during the war at all. There is no record of him performing with the New Quintet or being part of Django’s wartime success in France. It is as if this stage in Django’s musical development left Baro behind or in some way alienated him. Perhaps it was at this point that he finally decided he could not keep pace with Django and as a result, became disaffected with music in general. Perhaps that feeling was exacerbated by the lure of the lucrative opportunities offered by the black market. Whatever the reason, the next time we hear of Baro is in 1949 when he made his much lauded series of recordings with Jo Privat; the recordings which really define him.
It has been said that Django and Baro were friends but also great musical rivals. I do not believe the latter was true at all. There are stories that when they were young and learning to play, they would go round to Poulette Castro’s caravan together for some rudimentary "lessons", and it may be that in those early days, there was an element of rivalry between them. However, during his lifetime, Django became an internationally famous jazz guitarist thought by many to be the greatest non-classical guitarist ever. Baro, or as he was normally referred to in those days, Pierre, was hardly known in France outside of Paris. Why would Django Reinhardt consider him a rival? Additionally, although incredibly talented, Baro Ferret was not a convincing jazz soloist and jazz was the music Reinhardt really cared about. Neither was Baro a particularly good improviser; his solos tending to be extensively rehearsed and pre-prepared. Very little exists of Baro as a featured conventional jazz soloist but on "Swing Cocktail" with Gus Viseur’s Music, his solo is far from convincing and it does not really swing. There is no doubt that Django was fully aware of his own talent and when he met Marcel Cerdan in New York in 1946 and the boxer told him about an injury he had, Django showed him his own damaged left hand as a comparison and said "….. but I am still the greatest guitarist in the world". Gerard Leveque is quoted as saying of Django "He was always delighted with his own playing. He’d sit there saying "Aren’t I great? How well I’m playing here. Just listen to this!" He believed himself to be the greatest and he was." I do not think Django considered Baro Ferret or any other guitarist to be his rival. It may well be that Baro perceived things differently and, for a while, felt he could compete with Django but ultimately, he did have to admit that although he believed he was as technically competent as Django, he could not keep pace with his incredible creativity. "Django’s technique does not scare me…… it’s what he has in his brain that scares me." Partly as a result of this realisation together with his increasing involvement in criminal activities, Baro Ferret withdrew more and more from playing the guitar and performing in public. Django’s international fame and his own lack of recognition may also have been a factor.

11. 1937 Django Baro caption
Django Reinhardt was a fascinating character full of deep anxieties and complexities, someone we will never truly understand. Baro Ferret was, from a different perspective, equally as fascinating although, sadly, our knowledge of him is only rudimentary. Even his friends were unsure where he actually lived and unusually for a gypsy, he never married. In many ways, I see him as an enigma in same the way I see his music as enigmatic; full of drama, unexpected stabs and obscure directions, often dissonant, angular, almost harsh. A man who did not have the musical genius of Django Reinhardt but who was still an incredibly talented guitarist and a man who arguably squandered that talent with his choice of lifestyle. One might contend that, like Oscar Aleman, Baro Ferret was unfortunate to be around at the same time as the unique creativity of Django Reinhardt which inevitably overshadowed him. The contrary view is that had Django’s fame not focussed attention on Paris in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Baro Ferret may have never been heard outside of a small Parisian clique or even the gypsy community itself. One thing I think we can be sure of is that Django Reinhardt was essentially a guitarist who by the nature of his upbringing, his profession and the times he lived in touched the edges of the criminal underworld. His friend Baro Ferret, on the other hand, was a professional criminal who also happened to play the guitar, but they were both fascinating individuals and they produced some wonderful music together; music that will never be forgotten.



  1. The information and photographs in this article have been collected over many years from a variety of different sources. However, I would like to particularly thank Dr François Ravez and Scot Wise for their help in putting this piece together. My thanks also go to Alain Antonietto, Michel Mercier, Marc Masselin and Chris Goddard.
  2. Baro Ferret soloing on "Swing Cocktail" by Gus Viseur’s Music. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q80JOqwiVhY

Sinti culture, language & the origin of the name Django

by Denis Chang



Greetings dear readers. If you are reading this, then you are probably interested in the music of Django Reinhardt, or perhaps, interested in Romani culture. This article is about Sinti culture, Sinti language, and the origin of the name Django. Before I begin, I would like to stress that this is, in no way, a scholarly article. This is strictly an account of my personal experiences. Furthermore, I am not a linguist nor do I consider myself a full-on expert on Gypsy culture; I can only talk about what I have personally observed over the years. Many scholarly articles/books have been written on this subject, and I will leave that to the true experts! I would certainly welcome any feedback from academics/scholars.

Furthermore, I would like to mention that as far as the Sinti are concerned, their culture and language tend to be highly secretive; that is the way many of them like it, and want it. While I somewhat understand their position, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I will do my best to respect it. As such, there are certain things about their language and culture that I will purposely not reveal.

There is a fair amount of information about Sinti culture and language on the internet, if one speaks French or German. Unfortunately, a lot of the information is not always accurate, or at best, incomplete, and therefore confusing. The purpose of this article is to make things as clear as possible. All this, without revealing too much; indeed, it will be a fine line between just enough, and too much!


This article is specifically about my personal encounters with the Sinti, the Gypsies of western Europe. I have been in somewhat close contact with Sinti from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Holland for many years now, so I would dare say that, while I will never claim to be an expert on Gypsy culture, I do have at least some level of understanding. There are many Gypsy tribes out there, so please keep in mind that I am only dealing with the Sinti here. I will talk more about it later.

Bear with me, this will be a long article; shedding light on some of the myths takes a lot of explaining and cannot be done in a short article! I also want to make it clear that I do not consider myself fully fluent in Romanes (as of July 2014); I know how the language works, I can express myself in certain contexts but due to the ambiguous nature of the language, which I will later explain, I simply do not dare say that I am fully fluent. I can understand written Romanes fairly well (which happens usually on social media), but spoken Romanes is usually too fast for me. However, whenever I’ve asked people to slow down their speech and to articulate each word clearly, I was able to understand. I still have a long way to go.

I would like to start by talking a little bit about myself, who I am, and where I come from. It’s going to be a long detour, and it may seem that it has nothing to do with the actual topic at hand, but it has everything to do with it; my upbringing is what allowed me to learn Gypsy Jazz and Romanes!




It all started in an alley in downtown Detroit; the year was 1963. OK, that’s a lie…

For those who do not know me, my name is Denis Chang, and I am a Gypsy Jazz guitarist. I was born in the French part of Canada (Montreal, Quebec) to Taiwanese parents. Oddly enough, my father, though born in Taiwan, did not cross the Pacific ocean to reach Canada; he came from Europe; more specifically, Switzerland, if I am not mistaken. Unfortunately, my father traveled a lot in my youth and I did not get to know him too well, and he passed away early on in my life, in Paris, France. Whatever I did know of my father, was that he was deeply fascinated with Europe and he was quite the Francophile. He was born in Taiwan, at a time when it was occupied by Japan. He grew up speaking three languages: Taiwanese, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese. His fascination with Europe brought him to Switzerland. By the time I was born, he had also mastered English (with a British accent) and French (with a French accent); he also had a somewhat working knowledge of German and Russian. He was a lifelong academic, scholar, and activist for human rights in Taiwan. How does this relate to this article? Patience I say!

For those who do not know much about Taiwan, it is a little island south of Japan, and east of China. For many centuries, Taiwan has been occupied by various forces (Dutch, Spanish, various ancient Chinese kingdoms, Japan). Occupation in itself is not necessarily a problem. To make a long story short, the problem is when Communist China defeated the ruling Chinese Kuomintang party (KMT), forcing the latter to flee to Taiwan, just as Japan gave up rule of Taiwan due to the outcome of WW II.

The KMT fled to Taiwan with Chinese national treasures, with hopes to rebuild their strengths and eventually reclaim mainland China. In their eyes, they were the "real" China, and, therefore, by occupying the island known as Taiwan, they wanted the whole world to recognize Taiwan as being the real China. I will not get into this debate in this article, as it is quite complex. The reason, I am bringing this up, is that the KMT declared martial law in Taiwan. People were forced to identify as Chinese and to assimilate to the KMT’s imposed culture. Anyone who disagreed with the dictatorship was subject to severe punishment. As kids, my parents and many Taiwanese were beaten in school for simply speaking Taiwanese. The KMT did everything they could, by any means necessary, to destroy the Taiwanese identity. Simply for not agreeing with the government could mean certain punishment, which could include death. My family suffered greatly because of this, and it is the reason why my father fled. To this day, although the dictatorship period has ended, the KMT is still one of the leading parties (rumored to be the wealthiest democratic party in the world thanks to the riches they brought along with them from China).

The situation in Taiwan is still ambiguous and tense; with China pointing missiles at Taiwan, and the KMT hoping to somehow reunite with China under their own terms, people have been living under the status-quo, which basically boils down to: China will not invade Taiwan so long as the Taiwanese will not officially say that they are independent of China. While there is now a revival movement of the Taiwanese language and culture; the KMT’s damage to the Taiwanese identity was devastating. A lot of people in the capital do not care too much about the Taiwanese language, and prefer to use the official KMT imposed language: Mandarin. Even those who speak Taiwanese seem to prefer to use Mandarin; after all it feels more natural, thanks to the successful efforts of the KMT.

On the other hand, there are those of a much older generation who openly despise all things Chinese and will refuse to speak Mandarin unless there is no other choice. That would be my parents, and many Taiwanese expats living all over the world. Growing up, I was denied the opportunity to learn Mandarin, and my brothers and I were taught to hate all things China. For many years, I did so, without really questioning it. Then I realized how terrible that is. Hatred is a terrible thing to inherit. I will never understand what my parents went through, and while I certainly will not forget their suffering, it is not fair for me to inherit the disdain without having experienced the same kind of suffering. This is not a political declaration on my part, but simply a description of things that have happened in my parents’ country. I also do not mean to disrespect my parents, they did what they felt was right; they are not certainly the only ones with such sentiments. As far as I am concerned, I only wish for people to have the right to speak their mind and to choose their own fate (whatever it may be) without fearing retribution and with as little corruptive influence as possible (preferably none, of course), which unfortunately is still not the case in Taiwan despite its supposed democratic status.

Thinking of this has made me realize how similar the Gypsy situation is. For centuries, Gypsies have been persecuted, with WW II being especially devastating. As such, many young Gypsies are taught to hate and/or to not trust the Gadje (the Romani word for non-Gypsies, which can also mean peasants). The persecution still exists today and is a vicious cycle of mistrust and hate. As such, to escape discrimination, some Gypsies feel that it is better to assimilate to their host country’s culture, and to deny/hide their heritage. This can result in loss of language and culture. In France, outside of the French-German border, very few Sinti speak Romanes (the Gypsy language). Indeed, it reminds me of many young Taiwanese, who do not care to investigate their lineage, and who opt to blend in with the KMT’s imposed culture. It is a very sad thing to me. To me, a language is more than words, it is an entire culture and a way of being and thinking. This is especially true with Romanes.

I also grew up in a tense area of Canada where French is the official language. These French-Canadians are the Québécois; the people who reside in the province of Quebec, and who are descendants of French settlers. A majority of Québécois do not identify with Canadian culture at all. Though the rest of Canada may not like it, I can definitely understand it; in my travels across Canada, it has always been interesting to see just how different Quebec is; not just in language, but in culture and mentality.

With the massive influx of immigration, there is also the multicultural hub that is Montreal (the second largest city in Canada) within the province of Quebec. It is also a very complex situation here. Whether Quebec should become independent of Canada, is not something I care to talk about, but I certainly feel that the local language and culture should be protected; though not necessarily by the means currently employed, which I will not get into. Essentially, many QuĂ©bĂ©cois resent the victory of English Canada at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in the 18th century. This victory is what influenced Quebec’s integration into modern Canada. One could then also argue that the natives resent the arrival of European settlers. Yet another vicious cycle, and I will stop here! Again, I make no political declarations; these are merely descriptions of history.

Indeed, to me, language and culture are very important. To be clear, it is not about superiority, but about encouraging and embracing diversity. There is a lot of paranoia on both sides and also a lot of ignorance. That seems to be the case wherever there is conflict, be it Quebec- Canada, Taiwan-China, or Gypsies-Gadje.

I grew up speaking three languages from an early age. Taiwanese is my first language; French was acquired shortly before school started (my two older brothers were already speaking it). English was acquired from watching American cartoons. I went to school under the French system (from France), so many of my classmates and teachers were European. I basically grew up hearing and learning two kinds of French: Québécois French and French from France. For those who are unaware of the difference between Québécois French and French from France, compare British English to southern USA colloquial English! All these variations in dialects/languages made me very good with pronunciation and intonation.

While, I forgot most of everything I learned in school, I distinctly remember learning about Alsace and Lorraine. I don’t know why I remember these two French regions (that once belonged to Germany), but oddly enough, these two regions would become very important to my life when I would begin my Gypsy Jazz journey. Alsace and Lorraine are the two regions in France where a great number of Sinti are settled, and more importantly, where the language and culture is still somewhat preserved.

In High School, I was given the opportunity to study German for a number of years. Though I’ve forgotten most of it, enough has remained for it to be of use to me. The Sinti dialect of Romanes borrows heavily from German, and it was one of the ways that I managed to figure out the language. How funny it is, that from an early age, I was being prepared for my Gypsy Jazz journey. My parents raised my brothers and I to be as open-minded about different cultures as possible and to learn from them. I don’t know how my brothers feel, but I personally do not identify as Canadian, Quebecois, or Taiwanese. I am some strange mix of all those cultures and more. Many people have said this about me as well. I am not sure how to put it; it is not a question of superiority either, it is simple the way I am. It is what has allowed me to understand and to see things that most people often overlook, and it is what has allowed me to generally get along with anyone no matter how different their views are from mine.


As of 2014, I have been involved with Gypsy Jazz for almost 15 years. In my early Gypsy Jazz years, I still dabbled with other styles of music, it was not until meeting French guitarist (now living in the USA), Stéphane Wrembel, in 2002, that I gradually decided to dedicate myself exclusively to the style. In 2004, I started hanging out with Gypsies in Europe (being able to speak French was a tremendous advantage). The rest is history; I made friends with more and more people, Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike, and good times were had!


Anyone who has Gypsy friends is guaranteed to learn the same words and expressions: mischto (well/good), latches (excellent/well done), schukar (beautiful), latscho diewes (hello/good day), har dszala? (how goes it?/how are you?), etc. They will most likely also learn bad words, which I will not share here; vulgarity is VERY taboo in Gypsy culture, especially with the older generation. At any rate, few manage to go deeper than these basic words and expressions.

To truly understand how the language works is an entirely different matter; that is where many Sinti are much more secretive. As I said earlier on, unfortunately, like some Taiwanese are influenced to hate all things China, and like some QuĂ©bĂ©cois are influenced to hate English speakers, so too are many Gypsies taught to distrust non-Gypsies. This is, of course, a generalization, I would hope and certainly like to believe that these people are a minority. For some Gypsies, the idea of outsiders speaking Romanes is still very taboo. Fortunately, as far as I am concerned, I have not really met any resistance; quite the contrary, many Sinti seem to be happy that I speak it. Perhaps it is because I am of Asian descent (am I the only Asian who speaks Romanes?). In fact, I get asked quite a lot if I am a Gypsy as a result of me singing a lot of Romani songs. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked hal tu i Sinto (are you a Gypsy)? The physical traits and my last name should be clear enough, but oh well!

I, myself, did not really investigate Romanes until a few years ago, although, by then, I had already compiled a number of expressions, words, and even lyrics to certain songs. Actually, for many years I tried to disassociate myself from the Gypsy aspect of Gypsy Jazz; when I first discovered the music of Django Reinhardt, I had no idea that it had ties to modern Gypsy culture. In fact, to me Django was simply a Gypsy who played guitar and who played great music. Historically, the whole idea of Gypsy Jazz came much later, after Django’s death; Django’s style of playing eventually became a folk music for the Sinti, and that is where the Gypsy aspect started to influence this swinging jazz music. That in itself, is worthy of an entire article of its own, so I will stop here. Since I was a gadjo, I simply wanted to play this jazz music in the style of Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt, Oscar Alemán, etc.

However, as the years went by, I befriended more and more Sinti and my vocabulary kept expanding. I have a really good memory, so whenever anyone taught me anything, I usually remembered it. Whether I wanted it or not, I was becoming more and more familiar with their culture. The Sinti that I know have always been very welcoming and friendly to me; I have always felt very much at home with them.

It was not until author Michael Dregni published his book Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend that I started to seriously investigate the language. In one of the early chapters, Dregni states that Django in Romani means I awake. Now, you must want to know right away: is he right? The quick answer is yes, but a better question to ask would be: does the name Django Reinhardt come from the Romani word for I awake? That is the true question, which we will explore later. You might be interested to know that the author also mentions that German/Polish Gypsy violinist Schnuckenack Reinhardt’s name means glorious music in Romanes. This, I know for a fact, is not true; Schnuckenack comes from two words Schukar (beautiful)and Nack (nose).

We first need to understand how the Gypsy language works. Just how did I learn it anyway? This is the reason why I talked about my Taiwanese lineage. Actually for most of my youth, I hated going to Taiwan, because in the capital, Taipei, every day life happens in Mandarin, especially for the younger people. When I speak to them in Taiwanese, people are often stunned, and are then shocked to find out that I do not speak Mandarin. It was not until a few years ago that I started making efforts to learn Mandarin; by doing so, my Taiwanese improved as well, and I started to understand how both languages worked. Believe it or not, this also made learning Romanes a lot easier!

Like the Gypsies, I learned to speak my parents’ language strictly orally. For the longest time, I was completely unaware of the origins of many words or about the grammatical structure of the language. To be honest, I still am not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot through studying Mandarin, which shares similar grammatical structures as Taiwanese. For your information, Mandarin and Taiwanese are as mutually intelligible as French and English; you might recognize certain words, but by and large, you will not understand anything.

Pronunciation was a big one, for many years, I remember my brother and I completely mispronouncing certain words, but no one ever corrected us, until much later in life. This is especially important as far as Romanes is concerned. Since Romanes is exclusively passed down orally, many Gypsies will hear expressions and words differently, and, therefore, the words will evolve into another, often shortened, form.

Before I go on, I would like to, again, remind you readers, that I am specifically dealing with the Sinti here. They are one of the many tribes of Gypsies out there. They are also called Manush; Gypsy Jazz fans are perhaps more familiar with the French spelling Manouche. It is said that the Manush are the Sinti who live in France, but in my experience, the Sinti use both words interchangeably.

Actually, to be precise, the word manush is one of the many Romanes words that translate to man. In Romanes, there are many words to express the same thing, and, sometimes, the same word can mean different things! The word sinti is believed by certain experts, to come from Sanskrit. For consistency’s sake, I will no longer use the term Gypsy unless necessary. While we’re at it, some of you may have heard that the term Gypsy is derogatory, and that the correct term should be Roma. Once again, the answer is yes and no. Here we go, yet another detour!

As I mentioned before, there are many Gypsy tribes. As far as the Sinti are concerned, there are essentially two groups: the Sinti and the Roma (which includes all other tribes of Gypsies). The Sinti do not like to be called Roma. Once again, it is not necessarily an issue of one culture being superior to the other, but it is a question of making sure that people understand that both cultures are different (keeping in mind that the Roma can be further subdivided into other tribes), even though they share a common ancestry. It is why I talked about my Taiwanese lineage. Many Taiwanese are descended from the largest ethnic group in China, the Han Chinese; yet, most Taiwanese are quick to point out that they are distinctly Taiwanese, and not Chinese, in identity and culture (much to the fury of mainland China; enough so, that thousands of missiles are pointed at Taiwan). A Sinto (singular form of the plural Sinti or Sinte) once asked me what the difference was between China and Taiwan, I simply replied "Roma / Sinti" to which he replied "say no more, I understand perfectly". I told this to another Sinto and he jokingly asked "so who is the Sinti and the Roma, as far as the Chinese and Taiwanese are concerned?"; considering, that the Taiwanese are descended from the Han Chinese, and that the Sinti are descended from the Roma, logic would dictate that the Taiwanese are the Sinti! To this day, there is a lot of confusion about this, and many Sinti continue to be categorized as Roma, much to their frustration; imagine constantly calling the descendent of an early American settler, British!

Based on my personal research and observations (and I openly admit that I did not really investigate too much, so I welcome anyone more knowledgeable to chime in), there appears to be a lot more information on Roma culture out there than there is on Sinti culture. Roma also appear to be better represented on a global scale than the Sinti. They even have an international Roma day on April 8 (coincidentally my birthday – send me Argentines heavy gauge strings!!!); I am not sure if the majority of Sinti are aware of this.

It is for the Roma for whom the term Gypsy is derogatory. They prefer to be called Roma or Romani. For most Sinti, the English word Gypsy is OK and they use it all the time. The German equivalent of Gypsy is Zigeuner; oddly enough, that word is considered derogatory. Perhaps it it is because Gypsyis an English word, and, therefore, does not have the same connotation as its German counterpart, considering recent historical events. Some Sinti do not mind being called Romani (also spelled Romany) either, but Roma is generally a big no-no. Oddly enough, Roma just happens to be the shortened form of Romani.

Romani is also the word used to designate all Gypsy tribes, and it is also the word used to designate their language. In the actual Gypsy language, the word is Romanes. Grammatically, words that end in -es have an adverb-like quality to them; consider the following words: kokeres (alone), latches (well done), ferleidiges (annoying/bothersome/boring), valschtikes (French), ingeletikes (English), gatschekenes (German). Literally, these adverb-like words translate to "in the way of/in the style of"; when one says he speaks French in Romanes, he says that he "speaks in the way of the French" (valschtikes). Therefore, the same word to designate a language can also be used to designate "in the style of"; for example, kelel li romanes (she dances in the Gypsy way). These words that end in -es can be transformed into adjectives by changing the ending to –o, -i, or -e depending on gender or plural form.

That was a nice little detour! So now I will commit myself to the term Sinti for the remainder of the article, as much as possible.

Basically, as I was saying, the Sinti learn Romanes orally from their parents, the same way, that my brothers and I learned Taiwanese from our parents. Over the years, we have butchered a lot of words, and we have notoriously butchered the grammar, but my parents never corrected us because they understood us. When I realized that this was also the situation for many Sinti, the mystery behind their language was suddenly very clear to me!

As I mentioned, anyone who hangs out with Sinti are bound to learn the most common words and phrases. Since I have many Sinti friends from various countries, I learned a bit more than most outsiders tend to learn. Some have even been nice enough to teach me a lot, and to teach me lyrics to songs that I liked. In fact, it is mainly through the Sinti songs that I learned to decipher the language. Speaking different languages, and growing up in a very multicultural environment has also made it significantly easier for me to figure out Romanes. It also helps that I speak French and have a basic grasp of German. Scholars, academics, and other people interested in Romanes have also shared certain documents with me that have helped as well. Nonetheless, it is especially thanks to my Sinti friends, who trusted me enough, that I was able to make the most progress; nothing beats immersion! Nonetheless, I stress, once more, that I do not dare say that I am fluent; I am simply able to have the most basic of conversations. I do hope that I will continue to improve.

It is worthwhile to note that Romanes has no official spelling system as far the Sinti are concerned; everyone writes phonetically according to what they hear, and more importantly, according to their host country’s spelling rules. Consider the word schukar (beautiful):

The Dutch Sinti may write: sjoekar
The German Sinti may write: schukar
The French Sinti may write: choukar

Consider also the word latscho (good):

The French Sinti may write: latcho
The Italian Sinti may write: laccio

These are just one example per host language, but any other phonetic variation will work as well, schukar, schuker, shukar, etc.

Furthermore, when spoken (until the recent rise of social media, Romanes was rarely written) a lot of syllables are often not prominently articulated, such as the -r in schukar;this often results in many Sinti hearing it as a new sound: schuka. It basically results in certain Sinti hearing things in a shortened form. Consider the word ferleidiges (troublesome/annoying/boring)or the verb kero (I make, I do).In France, for example, many Sinti will, instead, say fleidiges and kro. It brings back memories of my brothers and I mispronouncing Taiwanese words because our parents spoke so fast; it was not until later on that I realized that I was skipping certain syllables!

For your information, I have personally devised my own spelling system based on German phonetics (and a bit of French, when it suits me) which I mainly use throughout this article, unless otherwise noted. It is strictly my own, and should not be considered authoritative in any way!

The variations are truly endless. Another point to consider is that a lot of the sounds used in Romanes are not inherent in certain languages, such as French. Furthermore, French Romanes is often much more shortened than German Romanes. When the French Sinti write, because of French spelling rules, it often appears more complicated and ambiguous than it really is (to the point that Sinti of other countries might not understand at all!). For example:

Ma bisté ga, i toute douille tchavé! tou al ima mato!
(Don’t forget, you have two kids! You are always drunk!)

Furthermore, many Sinti do not always grammatically separate the words; whether this is intentional or not, I do not know, but the same sentence could be written in this way as well:

ma bistega, itoute douille tchavé, toual ima mato!

Under my spelling system, and using a fuller form of Romanes with correct word separation, the same sentence would be:

Ma bister gar, hi tut duĂŻ tschawe! tu hal immer mato!

In Eastern European Romanes (non-Sinti), there is an expression, taves baxtalo, that roughly translates to good luck. A quick google search will yield many results (though you may have to try a few other spellings such as taves bachtalo or tawes bachtalo). Since my knowledge of non-Sinti Romanes is extremely limited, I am not sure about the grammatical aspect of this expression, but in Sinti Romanes, the equivalent is te wes bachtalo; it is the subjunctive form, and the closest literal translation would be may luck/joy come to you.

Another point of interest is that in Romanes there is a sound that is between k and g; d and t; and p and b. The German Sinti may write: Me gamau gau latscho dszipen (I want this good life),whereasthe French Sinti may write: Me kamo ko latcho djiben. Countless variations may exist. German Romanes sometimes tends to have an ao (au under my spelling system) sound as well, whereas the French use an -o sound: gau bersch vs ko bersch (this year). Of course, these sounds are not exclusive to one country. One can encounter all kinds of sounds in any given country, it all depends on the individual. One final example would be the word ketene (together); I have encountered so many variations such as ketenes, ketane, tekenes, etc. Indeed when doing research on Romanes, one has to try as many spellings as one can think of, to maximize results. In some instances, the word is completely transformed: ketene vs tekenes. I have seen the word zenelo (green) become zeleno as well! The thing to remember, is that anything is possible!

I sometimes even wonder if the Sinti are influenced by their host country’s language’s sounds, which would explain the tendency to gravitates towards a g sound in Germany, and a k sound in France. In the word mange (for me), the g is not heavily articulated among most German Sinti, but for some French Sinti, the g is much more pronounced (under the French spelling system, it would be manguĂ©). I remember a Flemish Sinto correcting me when I pronounced it the French way (where I first heard it), and he insisted that it should be pronounced the German Sinti way.

There are also two aspects of Romanes that are critical to unlocking the secrets behind the language: conjugation and grammatical cases. As far as conjugation is concerned, there are a number of systems that are used, depending on the region and/or family. Some conjugation systems are more ambiguous than others and require one to pay close to attention to the context to determine the exact meaning. There is a famous Gypsy song that can either be called Me Ham Mato (I am drunk) or Me Hum Mato. Hum and ham are distinctly different, with the latter being much more ambiguous, because its meaning can change depending on the context.

Romanes also uses grammatical cases like in German, and many other languages, such as Sanskrit. Cases are very important in determining the exact meaning of a sentence. However, the use of cases can sometimes be arbitrary for the Sinti, which results in even more ambiguity and linguistic variation. Grammatical cases are typically used for certain common expressions / words, and in other instances, they are not used at all; it truly depends on the individual. When a case is used, it transforms target words into new ones. An example of the use of a case is French Sinto Samson Schmitt’s debut album Djieske; the album title is a combination of two words: the nominative form (original form) dji (heart)and the case attribute leske (for him/it). This results in a new meaning: for the heart. In my early days of learning Romanes, I once asked a French Sinto what Djieske meant. He did not know; it appears, he was not familiar of using the case transformation system as far as the word dji was concerned. I know it was not an issue of him not trusting me, as he otherwise taught me quite a lot! A way to express the same thing, by avoiding grammatical cases, is to use the nominative (standard) case: vor o dszi (note that I reverted to my personal spelling system), which is literally for the heart.

There have been many attempts to translate Gypsy songs; many are full of mistakes, usually because the author is not familiar with what I mentioned above. As of July 2014, I might have come across just about every single translation attempt that is publicly available; very few of them are 100% accurate, such as the translations that Titi Winterstein gave away to some of his songs (which was met with great criticism from the German Sinti community). Some come quite close but have certain grammatical inconsistencies. Conjugation and grammatical cases make all the difference in Romanes!

I also mentioned that Sinti Romanes borrows a lot from German. In fact, Romanes essentially started as some form of dialect from India (perhaps related to Sanskrit), and, as Gypsies traveled westward towards Europe, they borrowed words from various host countries. It is therefore very difficult to classify the language, and to determine which words are"originally" Gypsy words and which words are borrowed, considering that the vast majority of words are borrowed anyway!

The numbers 7, 8, and 9 are efta, ochto, enja which are directly borrowed from Greek! In Sinti Romanes, the commonly used word for violin is gaĂŻga which is from the German word geige. However, certain Sinti are also aware of another word used by the Roma, lawuta. As I hinted earlier on with the word manush, there are many ways to express the same thing. The German influence on Sinti Romanes is strong in all the countries where the Sinti live, be it France, Belgium, Holland, or Italy (or anywhere else). It is further complicated by the borrowed words in any of these other host countries.

In France, many Sinti say plesira for pleasure (from the French plaisir). As far as many German Sinti are concerned, however, this word does not exist, and they would most likely not understand! By and large, when Sinti from different countries speak to each other, they generally understand each other. Occasionally, a few words might not be understood but the general meaning of the conversation is understood.

Grammatically, sentence structures may also vary according to the influence of the host country. Every variation one can think of probably exists! This is the reason why I simply dare not say I am fluent in Romanes! The number of variations is simply overwhelming! It reminds me of the different pronunciation systems of the Taiwanese language as well. People in northern Taiwan pronounce words much differently than people in the south, yet we all understand each other. Likewise, I mentioned growing up with Quebecois French and French from France; as long as colloquialism is kept to a minimum, the Québécois and French generally understand each other. However, when both groups start to heavily use their native expressions and vocabulary, things can get quite tricky!

One might then say that some Sinti are speaking Romanes wrong, the same way I was speaking Taiwanese wrong! But this is where things truly differ! Whereas I was definitely speaking wrong, the Sinti dialect of Romanes is intrinsically tied to their culture. It is a culture that espouses freedom. In traditional Sinti culture, they do not like any notion of categorization, or being bound by any kind of rules; this is the reason why Django often did not bother to respect contractual obligations. For him, a contract was no more than a piece of paper that carried no weight or consequences. As such, linguistically, whether, they are aware that they are changing the words or not, is of little importance; in their culture, no matter how drastic the transformation of the words, their Romanes will always remain authentic! The only thing that matters is that they understand each other. The more the variations, the more difficult it is for the non-Gypsy to decipher the language; therefore, all the better for them! By birth right alone, they have the right determine what is authentic or not!

Of course, that is traditional Sinti culture in its purest form, and, therefore, simply a generalization! Do not assume that all are like that. I am sure (and I do know, for sure) that there are some who do not like too much language transformation, especially when there is too much borrowing from other languages. There are many Sinti who are in touch with their heritage but do not agree with the some of the conservative ways of their culture. The same can be said for any cultural group really!

At any rate, it reminds me of my childhood, speaking Taiwanese to my parents, and using words from English or French when I did not know the Taiwanese word. Imagine the underlined words being the Taiwanese the language, and the word in bold being the borrowed word: I took the bus to go to school. For your information, I only learned the Taiwanese word for bus a year ago! Furthermore, for the longest time, I could barely count in Taiwanese, and I would often have to switch to another language to express numbers. It is the same with many Sinti; after number 20, many Sinti resort to their host language to express numbers.

I have already mentioned that there are many words to express the same thing. There are also many words that have different meanings depending on the context. For instance, the word for both, tomorrow and yesterday is the same: taĂŻsa. Certain families may have individual words to differentiate the two, but I am not familiar with them. Certain similar words also have different meanings depending on the pronunciation; in the example pale, wo pale khere (After, I go home), the first pale is not pronounced the same way as the second pale. While I could list many examples, I am afraid that this is as much as I am willing to reveal.

In France, where many Sinti have forgotten how to speak Romanes, it is not uncommon to hear them mainly speaking French with a few Romanes words thrown in, much like my Taiwanese bus example, but the reverse: Je vais aller au foro acheter du maro(I am going to the city to buy some bread).

Another complex issue is Sinti identification. The Sinti have a word for those who have adopted the Gypsy lifestyle, and perhaps even some of the language, but who are actually not Sinti, and perhaps not even Gypsy. The word is bareskro,or baringren in plural. Scholars define these people as being from the Yenish tribe who are apparently not ethnically related to the Roma. Many of these baringren may borrow a lot of words from Sinti Romanes which can certainly confuse a lot of people. One of the most famous Gypsy Jazz players in the world is considered by many Sinti to be a bareskro! No, I will not publicly reveal who this person is.

This begs the question, what makes one a real Gypsy ? Considering that many have certainly married outside their ethnicity, which is often further evidenced by their physical attributes (non-dark eyes, pale skin, blonde hair, etc.), who is to say, who is a real Gypsy, and who isn’t? There is no hard rule to which the Sinti adhere, in order to determine whether one is a true Sinto or not; it really seems quite arbitrary. Indeed, yet another layer of complexity! Is it the lineage? Do both parents have to be Sinti? Many Sinti come from mixed lineages! If one is born of a French mother and a Gypsy father, that certainly makes one ethnically half Gypsy and half French, but then if this person marries another "full-blooded" Gypsy, and produces an offspring, does that make the baby a full Gypsy? Is it the language that determines whether one is Gypsy or not? Certain Sinti definitely seem to believe so, but would that not make many French Sinti, non-Gypsies? Indeed, a very complex issue and I will say no more!

While I have already spoken about traditional Sinti culture, to further complicate things, the Sinti from different host countries each have their own mentality and sub-culture; the French, German, Dutch, Italian Sinti are all distinctly different in culture and mentality. Just think of the USA, west coast vs east coast, north vs south, etc. Of course, keep in mind, that we are generalizing here; while traces of a cultural trait may exist, every individual is unique, just like in any culture. For Gypsies, political issues involving human rights and persecution still exist today, perhaps in one country, but not so (or less) so in another. This is sometimes reflected in how Sinti interact with outsiders in their host countries. This again is another big topic with which I am not as familiar, and that is deserving of its own article.




Finally, I will now talk about the name, Django. This is essentially the whole reason I started to really investigate Romanes. As I mentioned earlier on, though not the first to do so, Michael Dregni popularized the notion that Django meant I awake. As of July 2014, it is referenced on the wikipedia page about Django Reinhardt. An article on the the New York Times has referenced it, and I imagine many other articles. Dregni’s biography of Django is the go-to book for many English speakers. My investigations revealed to me that French scholar Patrick Williams might be the first to claim that Django meant I awake. I have never been in contact with either Mr. Dregni or Mr. Williams. What I am about to write is not an attack against them! Far from it, I owe them my deepest gratitude in getting me to pursue knowledge! But unfortunately, what I will write will certainly put their bold statements into question. From a scholarly point of view, it is the right thing to do, is it not? I hope that they take no offense to this! I am simply the kind of person who questions everything and likes to do my own research. I encourage you readers to do your own investigation as well, and to question my statements. I welcome any feedback!

Let’s start with the easy part first; yes, django does mean I awake. However, it depends on how you pronounce it. The English pronunciation of Django is close to the Romanes word (though still not quite). In French, however, the name Django is pronounced differently. More importantly, Django pronounces his name the French way; listen to him distinctly call out his own name in a recording titled Festival Swing 41 (Paris 25/12/1940). This is very important, because many Sinti, when pronouncing words in Romanes, often use the Romanes pronunciation. Not all, of course, but it is quite common. For example, the word Manush, I personally have never heard a Sinto pronounce it any another way than the Romanes way. So it begs the question, if Django Reinhardt’s actual name is derived from the Romani word for I awake, why does he distinctly pronounce his own name the French way? I have personally never heard a Sinto pronounce Django’s name in the Romanes way for I awake. This, of course, is not proof enough.

From a traditional cultural point of view, the Sinti do not care too much how their name is written, as long as it works phonetically and it is understood. The rhythm guitar player for the Rosenberg Trio has had his name spelt Nous’che and Noesje (Dutch spelling rules). According to Djangophile Roger Baxter, in Django’s early recordings, his named was spelled Jiango or Jeangot! Who was the first to suggest the now standardized spelling?

Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier on, there is no official spelling system in Romanes, as far as the Sinti are concerned. I awake can be written as dzango, dszango, dszanego, dzhango, zhango, and any combination one can think of! Since different pronunciations for the same word can also exist, who knows how Django and his family pronounced the Romanes word for I awake?

The most important clue of all is modern conjugation. As I mentioned before, there are many variations to Romanes. Nowadays, many Sinti speak a shortened version of the language. Indeed, in the past, the full conjugation form for I awake would have been dszangewo or dszangewau, or a similar variation. This system of conjugation is used in some of French/Belgian musician Bamboula Ferret’s compositions (published by Spocus records under Roots of Gypsy Swing/ Volume 1 – Bamboula Ferret & Fapy Lafertin: O Welto Risela); many Sinti call this old Romanes.

In my research, I have discovered an old German document from 1844 titled Die Zigeuner in Europe und Asien (The Gypsies in Europe and Asia), in which the author, August Friedrich Pott, uses the word dzangewawa for I awake. In the same book, he gives another example me sschom dschangalo : ich bin wachend (I am awake). In this second example dschangalo is an adjective. Based on my experience, it is is still widely used today to signify being awake: me hum dszangelo (I am awake).

Patrick Williams has mentioned that the third person singular conjugation of the verb (he wakes) is also a common Gypsy name, Djangela. Indeed, i am aware of at least one Sinto with that name, a Dutch violinist that leads the group Tata Mirando, Djangela Mirando Weiss. Oddly enough, he personally signs his name, Sjangela Weiss; perhaps another possible pronunciation in which the dj is not so pronounced? This is quite possible, as it reminds me of the Romanes word for heart, dszi (or dji if you prefer); many German Sinti omit the dj sound and simply pronounce it zi, like an American would pronounce the letter z.

At any rate, there is also a German-Romanes dictionary published in 1898 , (close to Django’s year of birth, 1910),: Wörterbuch das Dialekts der deutschen Zigeuner compiled by Rudolf von Sowa. The examples given are:

dzangelo, tschangelo (adjective)
dzangevava (verb )

Essentially, we have two different books written 50 years apart that use the same form of conjugation. The shortened form does not appear in either of those books (unless I missed something).

I have a theory that in past times, when the Sinti were less spread out, the language was more consistent and words, more syllabic than they are today. As they spread out, and contact was more sparse between the various families, the language began to slowly evolve in different ways. How long ago, did this start to happen, I don’t know, and, of course, this is just a theory.

When did the shortened form of conjugation (which resulted in the modern dszango) begin to occur? In recordings from the early 70s, of German/Polish Sinto Schnuckenack Reinhardt, where he sings in Romanes, this shortened form definitely occurred. Beyond that, I do not have any earlier documents or recordings where the shortened form occurred. If anyone out there has anything, I’d love to hear from you. Otherwise, that basically leaves a 70 year undocumented gap where anything could have happened!

Also note that in Romanes, there is no infinitive form, the verb is always conjugated. When using infinitive equivalents, the verb still takes on a conjugated form: hunti rap tschomoni (I have to eat something) or hunti ras tschomoni (you have to eat something).

In my research, I stumbled upon an online article from LeMonde.fr about Django Reinhardt, where the author states that no one knows the origin of Django’s name, although he does go on to mention that Django meant I awake in Romanes! In the comments section, a certain Jean-Claude Fagard writes (sic. for the whole article):

Django, personne ne sait l’origine de son nom? Faux. Il est nĂ© dans le borinage en wallonie oĂą le prĂ©nom Django ou Djangou Ă©tait rĂ©pandu Ă  l’Ă©poque. Il s’agit d’un diminutif de Djan (Jean) en wallon. VoilĂ  l’origine de son prĂ©nom que je connaissais dĂ©jĂ  quand j’avais 18 ans (j’en ai Ă  ce jour 60). L’auteur de votre article ne devait pas ĂŞtre très bien informer Doit-on douter du reste de l’article?

Basically, Mr. Fagard claims that Django or Djangou was a common name in Wallonia where Django was born! It is derived from the name Jean which was Django’s civic name. In Sinti culture, it is common for Gypsies to have both, a Gypsy name, and a civic name. There are a few reasons for this, but it is beyond the scope of this article – I have made enough deviations as it is!

I then came across a book on common names from Wallonia titled Dictionnaire des noms de famille en Wallonie et Ă  Bruxelles by Jean Germain and Jules Herbillon. In it, there is the following entry:

Gengoux, Gengou, w. nam. Djangou, Geangoux, Gingoux, Gego, Gego, […] nom issu de l’anthrop. germ. gang-wulf dont la ferme en w. lieg est Djego, egalement connu par saint Gengoul, saint bourguignon du 8e s. cf. aussi Gangolf et Gogot.

This book seems to corroborate Mr. Fagard statement, although the origins of the name are different; or, perhaps in recent times, Djangou has become the Wallonian equivalent of Jean.

I have met a few other Sinti who also have the name Django; all claim that their name is in honor of Django Reinhardt.

As a side note, Alain Antonietto, one of the world’s leading experts on Sinti culture and Gypsy Jazz, has stated that French Gypsy guitarist Moreno Winterstein once suggested that the name Django came from the adjective dszungelo, which means mean/bad/naughty.

Django was known to have at least three siblings, Joseph Nin-Nin Reinhardt, Sara Tsanga Reinhardt, and a certain Carmen Reinhardt, of whom I know nothing. As far as I know, Nin-Nin is simply a nickname; Tsanga, on the other hand, is from the German word, Zange which means pliers. Alain Antoniette, a close friend of the Reinhardt family, has mentioned that she was given this name because she would often pinch her brothers when they argued. This would, therefore, imply that her Gypsy name was not given to her at birth. This in itself does not help solve the mystery behind Django’s name, but one wonders why Django would be given such a poetic name (assuming that it does come from I awake)and not his siblings. Furthermore, was he given this name at birth? Again, it is definitely not a strong argument that I would use, but for the sake of completion, I felt it would be nice to at least reveal the story behind his siblings’ names.

Similarly, Dutch Gypsy guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg has claimed on numerous occasions that his name had no particular meaning. Other Sinti have suggested that it comes from the Gypsy word for stork. In German, the word is Storch; since Romanes borrows heavily from German, its Romani equivalent would be along the lines of Stocho or Storo. There is a Sinto named Storo Limberger as well. The word storo in Romanes can mean cabbage. Could one then say that Stochelo comes from the Romani word for cabbage?

So in the end, yes there is a word for I awake that is indeed Django (keeping in mind that proper pronunciation is important) but does Django Reinhardt’s name really come from this word? Based on my research, the answer is inconclusive! The only one who probably really knew this was Django himself and his immediate family,. Though, not necessarily his descendants, who might be influenced by modern Romanes and/or, who would only be too happy to associate their ancestor’s name with such a poetic provenance. Unless, the story of its provenance was passed down within the family, we might never know. Charles Delaunay, Django’s first biographer, was a close friend of his, but he never mentioned the origins of his name. Did Django never share that with him? Who knows. With the information that you now have, it is up to you to decide! The idea is certainly very poetic, but is it really the truth?


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