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Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz

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  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,746
    Jack wrote:
    I think it has much to do with the gypsy approach to playing; i.e., regardless of the original source music, the interpretation almost always seems more upfront, emotionally, more aggressive.

    I agree whole heatedly with that statement. As has been mentioned before, there really isn't any Gypsy style of music, except for some vocal traditions rarely heard by gadjos. Gypsies play the music of their host cultures. What makes it different is their approach to the music. Romanian fiddling, Flamenco, or Gypsy jazz are all radically different styles of music. The one constant between them all is a Gypsy approach to playing which usually contains the following elements:

    1) High degree of technical proficiency.

    2) Unorthodox techniques (i.e. two finger guitar playing, playing in the extreme high register (especially on violin), etc.

    3) Melodies are usually highly embellished in a sort of arabesque style.

    4) ultra fast tempos.

    That's just a quick analysis.....
    Straightahead jazz (by Ted's def.), to me, almost always incorporates a more relaxed sense of swing, both in accompaniment and improvisation (regardless of tempo).

    I beg to differ....1940s bebop is ultra fast, dissonant, and aggressive. I think you've been listening to too much cocktail jazz....ha ha
    Which brings us to rhythm-to me, perhaps the defining aspect of 'gypsy jazz'. This ties in too to the guitaristic elements of the style; as soon as I hear piano or a trap kit heading up a rhythm section, it all becomes a bit more American sounding. But beyond that, it's just how the beat is felt-again, 'gypsy jazz', to me, pushes everything much more than 'straightahead' does.

    To be more specific....I'd say what is unique is the realization of a swing rhythm section enitrely on the guitar. The basic elements of la pompe are all from American swing drumming. What makes it so unique is the adaptation of that rhythm to the guitar.
    Two other things I've been thinking about but haven't really settled for myself: 1) the influence of blues in American jazz playing vs. classical influence in Europe, and 2) acoustic vs. electric influence.

    There is definitely less blues in Gypsy jazz then American jazz. However, I'd say classical music has been equally important on both sides of the Atlantic. Most American jazz pioneers were avid students of classical music and used it as a basis for their own innovations in jazz.


    I do know that one thing I absolutely love about most 'gypsy jazz' is hearing the natural sound of the guitar...in the Dark Ages before I discovered Django I really despised most jazz guitar-it just seemed obscene to have three or four instruments with a beautiful acoustic sound (horns, drums, piano) and then add in that phony-baloney electric guitar tone. It just negated any emotional content of the playing for me (at the time), so when I began to get into gypsy jazz, it was a revelation; everything sounded so honest and unmediated, and much more engaged.

    I'm with you on that. I played electric jazz guitar for years....mostly out of necessity. I got a Johnny Smith to help ease the pain...it's the most natural sounding electric to my ears. There are some players who get a really nice electric sound that I like. I'd say my favorite is Russell Malone...super fat tone. And he plays really hard....that makes a difference, even on electric. You can really hear that he's whacking the hell out of the notes. I think he'd do pretty well in an acoustic setting...

    But in the end...there's no beating the sound of the acoustic!

    'm
  • nwilkinsnwilkins New
    Posts: 431
    If rhythm on guitars and without a drummer is necessary to/a defining characteristic of gypsy jazz, then how would you define Tchan Tchou's Guitare Partie album? Or Minor Swing Quartet?
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,746
    nwilkins wrote:
    If rhythm on guitars and without a drummer is necessary to/a defining characteristic of gypsy jazz, then how would you define Tchan Tchou's Guitare Partie album? Or Minor Swing Quartet?

    I don't think the presence of drums makes any difference (that's Jack's theory)....I'd bet if you did a statistical analysis of Django's recordings you'd find that he played with drummers more then without.

    'm
  • nwilkinsnwilkins New
    Posts: 431
    Michael, I was responding to Jack's post but also your comment:

    "I'd say what is unique is the realization of a swing rhythm section enitrely on the guitar. The basic elements of la pompe are all from American swing drumming. What makes it so unique is the adaptation of that rhythm to the guitar. "

    I'm not arguing, I'm just wondering how Gypsy Jazz is defined if it is not necessarily defined by the rhythm.

    Maybe there is no element that makes both Bousquet and Baro Ferret part of the same genre, other than that they were French gypsies who both had some (tenuous or otherwise) musical connection to Django. The only thing I can think of is the attack and aggressiveness of the lead player maybe?

    Or is gypsy jazz an artificial genre, not defined so much by the music itself as by the presence of at least one (or two or three) element(s), such as: ethnicity of player, type of guitar used, technique, repertoire, type of rhythm, etc.

    This latter definition is, I think, closest to the truth. If a person or group has a few of these characteristics they seem to be considered part of Gypsy Jazz.

    Thus a gypsy playing Django tunes with rest stroke technique on a 175 with drums and piano is gypsy jazz, and a gadjo playing original tunes acoustically on a Selmer with la pompe backing is also gypsy jazz, even though neither of the two have much if anything in common.
  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,911
    nwilkins wrote:
    Or is gypsy jazz an artificial genre, not defined so much by the music itself as by the presence of at least one (or two or three) element(s), such as: ethnicity of player, type of guitar used, technique, repertoire, type of rhythm, etc.

    This latter definition is, I think, closest to the truth. If a person or group has a few of these characteristics they seem to be considered part of Gypsy Jazz.

    Thus a gypsy playing Django tunes with rest stroke technique on a 175 with drums and piano is gypsy jazz, and a gadjo playing original tunes acoustically on a Selmer with la pompe backing is also gypsy jazz, even though neither of the two have much if anything in common.

    That's sort of where I was going with my last post. I didn't mean to imply that drums or a piano automatically move the music outside of gypsy jazz, but that when you add them (or a sax, say), it often begins to move the music closer to an American sound, and that's where the gray areas start to emerge. You could almost consider it 'gypsy jazz influenced jazz'.

    As an aside, I wonder if someone can give me an idea of the variety of instruments seen at the Samois jams? Do drums or horns figure into it there?

    Best,
    Jack.
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 610
    Hey Nick,
    nwilkins wrote:
    This latter definition is, I think, closest to the truth. If a person or group has a few of these characteristics they seem to be considered part of Gypsy Jazz....Thus a gypsy playing Django tunes with rest stroke technique on a 175 with drums and piano is gypsy jazz, and a gadjo playing original tunes acoustically on a Selmer with la pompe backing is also gypsy jazz, even though neither of the two have much if anything in common.

    Nice post. Oddly enough, I was surprised when I saw Antonietto's discography - his view of the music is defined by repertoire as by ethnicity. If a composition by Django was recorded by a straightahead player, that record is listed (the album "Back to Back" by mandolinists Jethro Burns & Tiny Moore is listed because they cover "Sweet Chorus"). If someone recorded with Grappelly, its listed, if the musician is a gypsy (not just French, German or Dutch) and contains some jazz based or inspired content, than its listed and if the recording featured someone like Titi Winterstein, but the contact isn't necesarily jazz or Hot Club oriented, its listed.

    Best,

    Ted
  • BarengeroBarengero Auda CityProdigy
    Posts: 527

    I was surprised when I saw Antonietto's discography - his view of the music is defined by repertoire as by ethnicity. If a composition by Django was recorded by a straightahead player, that record is listed (the album "Back to Back" by mandolinists Jethro Burns & Tiny Moore is listed because they cover "Sweet Chorus"). If someone recorded with Grappelly, its listed, if the musician is a gypsy (not just French, German or Dutch) and contains some jazz based or inspired content, than its listed and if the recording featured someone like Titi Winterstein, but the contact isn't necesarily jazz or Hot Club oriented, its listed.

    Best,

    Ted

    Hi Ted,

    what disography of Alain Antonietto are you talking about? I have the "Discographie du Jazz Tsigane" which he published in "Etudes Tsiganes" in 1987/1988. I couldn´t find Jethro Burns & Tiny Moore´s "Back to Back" there (I found Jethro Burns with Mike Dowling on guitar and I think he listed it because of Mike Dowling, but I can´t find out why for heaven´s sake he did this). So please let me know if there is another discography of Alain Antonietto than I have or an addenda to it that I don´t know.

    Nevertheless you are right: I was astonished to find "Johnny Gimble and the Texas Swing Pioneers" with their "Honky-Tonk Hits" or Paul Fields with "Main Jiddisch fidl" or Miles Davis with "Kind of blue" and so on. I think that Alain wanted to carry together as many informations as possible. You know that since 1996 I make a GJ-radioshow every month and for this purpose it is nice to know which artist recorded typical tunes of the GJ-repertoire (why?) and to know gypsies who make completetely different music like Karl Ratzer or Marianne Rosenberg. And you see how the repertoire develops (look at "Entre dos aguas": Paco de Lucia - Raphael Fays - Stochelo Rosenberg).

    I am working at a Gypsy Jazz Discography for years now and I doubt if it´s possible to make a consistent delimitation of Gypsy Jazz and Not-Gypsy-Jazz. By the way, you would have to find distinctive marks for Jazz and Not-Jazz. Is George Boulanger Gypsy Jazz? Maybe. Is Emerich Kalman Gypsy Jazz? Probably not. But what would have been with Schnuckenack Reinhardt without Emerich Kalman? I don´t know. Is Hildegard Knef´s "Illusionen" a Gypsy Jazz tune? Not really. And if Häns´che Weiss covers this tune? It becomes one of the finest Gypsy Jazz tunes. It´s the same with "Bei Dir war es immer so schön". It is a Gypsy Jazz tune, if Bireli plays it. If you ever heard Bireli playing "Bei Dir war es immer so schön" before, the song keeps on being a Gypsy Jazz song likewise you hear Sari Barabas or Schnecko Mettbach ("Pasch tutte") singing it. You know what happens if Django plays Franz Liszt…

    There is an extensible boundary with regard to hungarian folk music, corsican folk music, pop music, classic music, musette music (and it´s italian roots), flamenco music…

    I hope that this discussion will help me to form the boundary of my own discography. I would like to avoid the hypertrophic that you can find here and there in Alain Antoniettos discography.

    So let the discussion go on!!

    Best,

    Barengero
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,746
    nwilkins wrote:
    Michael, I was responding to Jack's post but also your comment:

    "I'd say what is unique is the realization of a swing rhythm section entirely on the guitar. The basic elements of la pompe are all from American swing drumming. What makes it so unique is the adaptation of that rhythm to the guitar. "

    I'm not arguing, I'm just wondering how Gypsy Jazz is defined if it is not necessarily defined by the rhythm.

    It's not so much the rhythm itself. As I mentioned, it's a swing rhythm that really isn't any different then American style swing. What is unique is how that rhythm is realized on the guitar. American swing guitar has a very limited role....it's function was to fill a small niche within a bigger rhythm section (i.e. piano, bass, and drums.) La pompe combines the role of the piano, drums, and sometimes the bass all on one guitar. Now that's unique.

    However, I wouldn't say it's the defining element of Gypsy jazz. How could it be? La pompe was used by Django primarily from 1933-39. He played flat four and other rhythms before and after that.

    Categorization of music is always problematic. People wrestle with these sort of definitions for every genre. Artists usually say they find musical labels confining. However, we need some way to describe styles of music that obviously have some connection to each other.

    I think the only way to do it is to come with a list of traits, each of which is given some sort of value of importance. Any music could be deemed to be or not be Gypsy jazz if it's final score meets a certain minimum. For instance, a list of traits could be:

    1) Influence of Django Reinhardt - on a scale of 1-10 this would probably be a 9. Every Gypsy jazz musician is influenced by Django, either directly or indirectly. But not all those who are influenced by Django are Gypsy jazz musicians. Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian were influenced by Django, but they're obviously not Gypsy jazz.

    2) Prominence of the acoustic guitar - I'd give this a 6. Even though many Gypsy jazz musicians play electric, the vast majority developed their technique on the acoustic. And I'm sure there's a Gypsy jazz band out there without a guitar. I just can't think of one!

    3) Gypsy ethnicity (Sinti or Gitan) - I'd give this a 7. And that will probably go even lower as more and more non-Gypsies play this music. Also, there are plenty of Gitan and Sinti musicians who play other styles of music.

    Anyway...that's just a little sample of my theory. The bottom line is that it's hard to come up with a few words that accurately describes everything we call Gypsy jazz, and that equally excludes everything else. Maybe we could call it "Django Reinhardt influenced music played primarily on the guitar."

    'm

    p.s. speaking of Tiny Moore/Jethro Burns...just got Back to Back in. See: Back to Back

    moore_burns_b.jpeg
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 610
    Barengero wrote:
    what disography of Alain Antonietto are you talking about? I have the "Discographie du Jazz Tsigane" which he published in "Etudes Tsiganes" in 1987/1988. I couldn´t find Jethro Burns & Tiny Moore´s "Back to Back" there (I found Jethro Burns with Mike Dowling on guitar and I think he listed it because of Mike Dowling, but I can´t find out why for heaven´s sake he did this). So please let me know if there is another discography of Alain Antonietto than I have or an addenda to it that I don´t know.

    Sorry Barengero, same discography, wrong album. It's Jethro Burns & Vassar Clements, released on Flying Fish. Sorry for the confusion.

    Best,

    Ted
  • BarengeroBarengero Auda CityProdigy
    Posts: 527
    Sorry for the confusion.

    Hi Ted,

    I didn´t want to be a smart aleck, I am only worrying if there is any Gypsy Jazz Discography out there that I don´t know.

    Best,

    Barengero
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