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American lead guitarists

Andrew UlleAndrew Ulle Cleveland, OH✭✭✭ Antoine DiMauro modele Django
in Technique Posts: 474
Gypsy players -
Who in your opinion in the US comes the closest to really getting the sound/ style of gypsy lead playing? I was listening to some Jazz Manouche playlists on Spotify and it seems once they (American bands) got past the first chorus and/or beyond the melody, their solos were nothing like the European players - more like random scales and arpeggios that while technically fitting, were not very musical. Of course, any of these lead players is heads and shoulders above my level so I'm not trying to put them down... :#


  • Chris MartinChris Martin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Petrarca, Catelluccia, Bucolo, Martino, Hofner, Hoyer, Burns
    Posts: 415
    Tread carefully Andrew; I dared to suggest something similar some time ago and got shot down in flames by the great and good on here.
    Andrew Ulle
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    edited December 2016 Posts: 2,027
    Well it depends what you mean Gypsy playing/sound. I've said it before many times, but to me, many music styles are more than scales / arpeggios / licks, they're often related to a community that has its own culture (sometimes more than one). This is definitely the case with western Gypsies (sinti) playing the music of Django Reinhardt. Most people call that Gypsy Jazz.

    But then nowadays, we have people from all over the world playing Gypsy Jazz, many have never had any kind of real contact with Gypsies. Some of these players are fantastic musicians too, so it's not a question of better or worse music, but a question of sound. The vast majority of these players dont' sound anything like the different Gypsy schools out there.

    In North America, practically no one has had serious contact with these Gypsy musicians. Someone brought this up to me a week ago. Seeing them in concert at a festival is not enough, I'm talking about going to their camps and spending time with them, eating, talking, etc. The way these musicians learn is entirely different from the way most people learn.

    The only people I can think of who have had true contact with these musicians in North America are Stephane Wrembel, Siv Brun Li, and myself. I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two people.... Stephane hasn't cared to sound "like a Gypsy" for over a decade, he's doing his own thing, but nonetheless, he spent much of his youth at Gypsy camps. Siv is an ethnomusicologist and not a guitarist who does a lot of research about Sinti and their music. I, myself, was once extremely obsessed with the sound that you are talking about, but am no longer because if I may dare say it, I understand what it is now after having spent so much time with Sinti musicians (and non-musicians). Also, I can't really say I'm much of a "musician" these days since I'm too busy producing / transcribing stuff.

    Being part of the community is just the first step, then you have to understand their approach to music, it's a complicated topic, but a fascinating one.

    That said, within the Sinti community , there are many different cultures (not just music but day to day life). I'm probably one of the few non-Gypsies in the world to have spent equal time with Sinti from France, Germany, Belgium, Holland. I've had very little contact with the ones from Italy. These are the countries/regions where most Sinti can be found. The German Sinti are different from the French, different from the Dutch, etc both musically and socially.

    Here's a controversial statement: the sound is not in the blood but in the environment. I've met Gypsy musicians born and raised in America, who sound nothing like their cousins in Europe. Again, I'm not talking about quality of music but of sound.
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,013
    ...their solos were nothing like the European players - more like random scales and arpeggios that while technically fitting, were not very musical

    To be fair, a lot of Europeans play like that too... :trollface:
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    Chris and I will just have to agree to disagree - I have the idea that he does not like American guitarists because they are Americans and I do like nearly all of them in spite of this serious shortcoming :) Also like French, Dutch, etc. My opinion, after playing music of all kinds for 50 years or so, is that anyone can play any kind of music. My personal experiences have proved this to me countless times. We don't insist that opera singers be Italian. But there is often only one learning path for many kinds of music. And it appears that there is only one way to learn how to play like a sinti gypsy, a way not available for most.

    American guitarists don't sound like European sinti gypsies because they are not European sinti gypsies, and Dennis explained this hows and whys of this a lot better than I ever could. After all he's really the only N American guitarist who ever went to the gypsy camps and learned it they way they learn it.

    American gypsy guitar players like Danny Fender don't sound like sinti gypsies. Neither do French gitane gypsies like Maurice Ferre or Ninine Garcia, or French guitarists like Patrick Saussois or Dutch guitarists like Reinier Voet.

    There are many fine guitarists playing this kind of music in N America. If they don't sound like European gypsies, so what? Who says they have to or even want to? Guitarists like Roberto Rosenman, Chris Bezant, Ross Bliss and Denis Chang in Canada, and John Jorgenson, Raul Reynoso, Dave Biller, Tommy Davy, Sam Miltich, Paul Mehling and Troy Chapman here in the states, to name just a few - these guys all play music directly descended from Django with great skill and imagination and originality, in the way their own environments directed. That's not wrong. Not liking it also isn't wrong.

    Chris - do you actually have a Lotus/Caterham Super 7 per your avatar? Coolest car ever! Didn't you work in F1?
  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    Posts: 444
    I think that if someone publishes a book explaining how to play a style of music and people believe that the book is right then for those people the results of following that advice can become the style for them. Then they write their own book..... and so it goes.

    Besides that there is a matter of judging like with like. I play flamenco and classical and don't enjoy listening to petty assertions about the supposed superiority of one over the other. The aesthetics are different. And in general people will choose someone from the 'enemy' camp to typify the weaknesses of the 'inferior' style. So it will be Paco compared to a tyrannical and unaccomplished provincial teacher, or Julian Bream making Jesse Cook ridiculous.

    It seems fairer to me to compare and enjoy the very different approaches of say Bireli and Julian Lage, or Bireli and Stochelo, or Julian and Tony Rice, or Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley.

    If a lack of authenticity troubles you in others then you might find that, like me, you are actually really only uncomfortable with your own inauthenticity. I am as upset with my inability to sound like myself as I am disappointed by my inability to sound like Django. I think that getting better at either would help me be better at the other.

    I don't think that I am alone in this.

    But the modern marketplace of ideas and music and vested interests and pathological reason can be challenging. Even a voice seeking earnestly for personal expression can sound hollow and unsatisfactory in the company of too much cliché, too much trite backslapping naval gazing unaccomplished intellectually lazy pandering smug glib twitter ready dehumanising poppy slicing playground politics. You know that kind of expression enjoyed by men who play only for themselves and with expensive toys. And in such company confident inanity might be applauded roundly providing, as it does, a salve for the deep knowledge of a personal lack of imagination in ears hungry for old ideas that never lose their lustre no matter how often discredited on rational grounds.

    Still despite that, cometh the hour cometh the Nero. There will always be new heroes, and we will assuredly deserve them....


  • Andrew UlleAndrew Ulle Cleveland, OH✭✭✭ Antoine DiMauro modele Django
    Posts: 474
    I was very concerned that my post would be taken more harshly than I meant. I am certainly not holding myself up as the best to judge, since my skills are so far below practically anyone on this forum. Perhaps it just happened to be the uninspired players I was hearing on Spotify that day; probably there are some terrific US players who just haven't any recordings on Spotify.

    While my own skills are weak, I do have a good ear for quality, and this is what I was talking about. There are many musical styles that I personally don't get into, jazz or otherwise, but still I can tell whether a performance is good and/or the musician is displaying talent. My original post was made after sitting through some painfully inartful solos (I won't name the group) in traditional-styled GJ that made me wonder "did this guy think this solo through or just improvise it in one or two takes?"

    So I guess my question was more "who are the top American players in the genre," not so much a criticism of all American GJ guitarists. I want to expand my library beyond the pantheon of Bireli, Angelo, Tchavolo, etc.

    Thanks to all who answered! Sorry for any offense, none was intended.
  • edited December 2016 Posts: 2,431
    Yes there's been something similar as @Chris Martin says and one before that too, somewhat heated similarly.

    I have to be honest and say that most of my listening is made up by European players. At the same time I'll occasionally listen to HCSF and I love a lot of stuff Pazzo plays.
    Then there are all of the awesome Monk covers they did.
    Gonzalo and Stephane both chose to live in the US.
    There are players less known but every bit as good as the best of them.
    Koran Agan from NY for example, whom I listen to and I enjoy his playing equally to European guys. Check him out if you want to hear a player who truly has his own voice and prefers musicality over showmanship.
    Even Chicago's virtuoso Alfonso Ponticelli isn't exactly a household name even among GJ fans. Very well versed in Django language, with a lot of showmanship, but hey he's a ton of fun to see and hear live.
    He played the main stage at Samois. If they thought he's good enough, well...

    @NylonDave is on to something when he says we maybe should compare Bireli to Lage.
    Here's why: there's something that pushes your playing more then talent and hard work alone when you're surrounded and live in the environment that's awash with like minded musicians and also has a rich history and tradition of greatness in that style.
    Be it Paris, New York or Gypsy community, you will go further when you're pushed, inspired and challenged by your peers.
    But that's why I also think that golden age of North American Gypsy jazz is still coming. For example Max O'Rourke is one of those guys we will keep hearing about.
    Every year I go to Django in June there are more and more young guys who already sound pretty impressive.
    That opens another debate because there's also a lot of athleticism involved but good stuff will always emerge over typewriter style of playing, just give it time and it will weed itself out.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Andrew UlleAndrew Ulle Cleveland, OH✭✭✭ Antoine DiMauro modele Django
    Posts: 474
    Tread carefully Andrew; I dared to suggest something similar some time ago and got shot down in flames by the great and good on here.

    I was very hesitant to post this; I knew it wouldn't come off the way I meant. I'd better stop before I put my foot in my mouth any further. :p
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    edited December 2016 Posts: 611
    Hi Andrew,

    I think your question and your post are certainly valid, written in a very respectful manner and I agree with you. I'll take it a step further and say that what's being considered 'contemporary Gypsy jazz' in Paris and Europe in general is as far away from 'Pure manouche style jazz' as what the the Americans are playing. Also, it's important to stress that there's nothing wrong about what these players here and abroad are doing. It's just different.

    A famous musician brought me to a 'gypsy jazz' jam session the last time I was apartment living in Paris. When we left and were going home I was asked what I thought and my response was 'You just brought me to NYC's Smalls Jazz Club with acoustic instruments instead of horns.' And that's what it was. Playing tunes like 'Anniversary Song' is great but it's still more modern jazzy unless you're using a specific vocabulary.

    Another French player, not as famous outside of Paris but I'm sure many people on this site know would recognize his name if I used it told me some interesting. A few years ago his little brother wanted to learn how to play 'gypsy jazz' so be bought John Jorgenson's book. He never thought of going to La Chope, Atelier Charonne or where ever. There is nothing wrong with learning from John Jorgenson's book. I'm using it as an example of why even in Paris people generally aren't playing it either. Again, this is the younger brother of a well known guitarist who was born and raised in Paris. That says a lot. Also, the musical education system is so much stronger in Europe so the players who want to play acoustic can learn to play with more downstrokes and a stronger attack.

    Now, as for why feel that the answer to this question is quite simple. Americans simply don't have the exposure to gypsies and their way of playing. It's easy to transcribe and memorize phrases and to assimilate them into you're playing. But if you're going to play it like you would an electric archtop or a flattop it won't sound the same. The attack isn't the same therefore the vibe isn't the same. One has to surround themselves with players from the style and we simply don't have that here and a three to five day masterclass is opening a door, but really not enough.

    I've lived, and I mean *shared* a caravan in a gypsy camp with members of Django's direct family. You can't get deeper than that. This means living their way, eating their food. I can tell you that very few players in this style today; except for Tchavolo, Moreno Winterstein and a select handful are playing actual, pure Manouche style jazz'. This doesn't make me any better or superior than anybody else. I just think I understand the differences between music vs everything else.

    My two cents, take it or leave it for sure!

    Happy Holidays to all and their families,


    Andrew Ulle
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,332
    Interesting thread, and I'm going to add my two cents, which nobody need accept... As Christopher Hitchens once said, "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

    But anyway, here goes...

    Part one

    Linguistics students talk of something called "first language interference" when learning a second, third or fourth language.

    So North Americans may study French, for example, and learn to speak fairly fluently, but there is always going to be a trace of their original language in the sound of the vowels, the phrasing, etc.

    I'd say the same thing applies to music, which is another sort of 'language'.

    Most of us in North America come to gypsy jazz from some other background, from bluegrass to heavy metal to mainstream jazz, etc, and that is going to influence our playing for better or worse...

    I imagine that part is fairly non-controversial?

    Part two--- perhaps more controversial.

    When I start creating my own phrases on the guitar, I often find that little subconscious phrases pop into my head along with the music, and these are always in English. Of course, I'm not consciously trying to do this, but it happens by itself whether I want it to or not!

    And I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens to other jazz guitarists all around the world.

    So would it be surprising if the guy who speaks Sinti or French finds different little phrases popping into their head along with the music which they are creating?

    And would it be surprising if their phrases are going to have a different 'feel' from that of a native English speaker?

    And then there's the matter of rhythm... I remember one workshop I attended at DiJ where the North Americans unanimously insisted that "Only squares clap on beats one and three" while the Europeans unanimously insisted that "Only squares clap on beats two and four".

    Part three--- perhaps even more controversial

    There is no such thing as the "best" flavour of ice cream, and there is no such thing as the "best" way to play gypsy jazz.

    Andrew Ulle
    I live in a little tourist town called Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada, which is about twenty miles north of Niagara Falls.

    If you are ever planning on visiting the beautiful Niagara area, feel free to PM me and perhaps we can get together and do some jamming.
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