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Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz

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  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 611
    Hey Teddy,
    nwilkins wrote:
    just jazz, plain and simple. He was bringing his own unique take to it, just as others did (Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, etc.)

    The style of music Django played in the 30s and 40s could not be considred a unique branch or genre until it began to be emulated on a large scale during the revival of the 1970s, and I don't believe it was treated as such until then.

    So are you saying that Django never played the music that later became known as "gypsy jazz"?

    He approach was slightly different. Django was all about improvisation. If Delauney is the be believe, Django would sit for hours improvising on "St. Louis Blues" - of todays players, who would (or would be able) to do that? We've discussed plenty of times before the frustration some people have with the lack of originality (ie constant repetition in repertoire and solos) in this music...

    Best,

    Ted
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 611
    Hey Ando,

    I do understand your post about "Jewish Jazz", etc - you're stating that since we don't refer to other forms of jazz by ethnicity, why do we do that with Gypsy Jazz? Let's not forget that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jazz music was frowned upon, and did have negative connotations as being associated with what was perceived as less-than-desirable elements of society. All the players we hear about today from that era - Bolden, Morton, Oliver, Keppard, Petit, Dusen, Johnson, Armstrong, Bechet were all black or Creoles of Color.

    "Jazz" music got it's first real shot in the arm when the laws of New Orleans took away the select status of Creoles of Color (people of African/Caribean, French and Spanish ancestry) who had a much higher social status than average people of color, and made them just "people of color". The Creoles brought their refined techniques, and strong musical education to enhance what was more or less rough, barrelhouse dance music. The lines were a lot clearer in those days than they are today.

    I do think that most of the "white" bands out there who put "Gypsy Jazz" in their CD jackets aren't playing anything like Gypsy Jazz, so it's a misnomer and doing more of a disservice to the music. But, I do think that if history is our guilde, with white guys like Don Vink and Andreas Oberg and Stu and everyone else playing this music the way they do, we're going to see the "Gypsy" reference losing a lot of it's value because they are showing that you don't have to be a Gypsy to play this style of jazz. In a sense, as it did with early forms, the "white" element will help to make the music "right", as sad as that sounds. Not so much here, but in Europe where Gypsies still have a very negative public image.
    Ando wrote:
    Ted's original questions:
    At what point does Gypsy Jazz stop becoming Gypsy Jazz?

    Well, in a number of ways, we've called into question the entire category, which makes answering Ted's question difficult.

    I think its becoming apparent that it's not as easy as one would who have thought a week ago ( :wink: ), but I still think it's quite possible to do.
    Ando wrote:
    I'm of the view that "gypsy jazz" only has stable meaning as "jazz, of whatever kind, played by gypsies." That is different from general usage, which means something like "a style of jazz derived from Django Reinhardt and French gypsies of the early twentieth century."

    Well, yes...sort of. That was the way it got labelled the way it did - Gypsies playing jazz, albeit Django's brand of jazz, not really mainstream jazz. My understanding is that the roots of the term do originate in France, which would make sense given it's propensity for use in this style of jazz in particular.

    Elek Bacsik (pronounced Bah-Chick) played some of the best mainstream jazz of his era, was of tzigane origins, yet, next to Django, was probably the best gypsy guitarist who played jazz. Elek is still not lumped into the "Gypsy Jazz" category by most because he played a heavily modified Guild X-500 and played bop.

    I think Nick's idea is very interesting and gets to the heart of the matter:
    nwilkins wrote:
    One further observation/question: I wonder how great a factor ethnicity is in defining music as "gypsy jazz". In other words, although a Manouche playing Django repertoire with a 175 (as in the above example) is considred gypsy jazz, could an American player using the same equipment and instrumental lineup ever be considered a gypsy jazz player? Do gadje thus need to incorporate other elements (technique, guitar type, la pompe, etc) in order to identify themselves as being within the Django tradition?

    I'd respond with an enthusiastic yes on all counts to this.
    What does a Gypsy (or Gypsy style) guitarist bring to table that a straightahead player doesn't, and vice versa?
    Ando wrote:
    The answer seems to be 1) strong views about aggressive right-hand technique

    I think this is debatable - Fapy's right hand isn't aggressive at all. It's strong, but not aggressive....
    Ando wrote:
    2) skill in playing "la pompe" rhythm,

    I can think of some gypsies right now who didn't use pompe, yet they were Gypsies, playing with Selmer type guitarists, so I think this is highly debatable as well.
    Ando wrote:
    3) a solo vocabulary derived from Django and "the European virtuosic tradition,"

    I'm more inclined to agree with you on this.
    Ando wrote:
    4) a traditional and European way of ornamenting melodies (e.g., mordents, and pralls instead of bends),

    Yes, I think there is definitely something Eurocentric about this music.
    Ando wrote:
    5) a traditional approach to repertoire,

    Depends on how you define "traditional approach".
    Ando wrote:
    and 6) emotional preference for strong feeling, high contrast, uninhibited passion, sudden plunges into melancholy or impressionistic delicatesse, etc.

    Chalk it up to "excessive ornamentation" :lol: but I do agree with this.

    Best,

    Ted
  • Posts: 101
    The answer seems to be 1) strong views about aggressive right-hand technique

    I think the distinction between aggressive and strong is a good one- but (although I don't know if I can really explain it) there is something about the way the soloist's right/ picking hand has to define/push the groove which makes the music a bit edgy and "hip" - it's aggressive in the way you approach the beat.

    I remember a fellow who came to a jam session years back, and while he was a good player, he struggled playing lead once we kicked it up a few notches and he commented afterwards that he felt like he was dragging the beat, and that the biggest difference he noticed was that in other blues and jazz jams soloists often would slide licks in after the beat, etc.

    He was astounded at how when one of the more fluent players (not I!) was playing how his lines were pushing the beat, and I guess I see the right/lead hand in this style having a far more percussive role than in other styles, part of it is probably the legacy of playing it on an acoustic guitar, and maybe part is the lack of a larger big-band rhythm section, so the lead player often is playing the equivalent of drum rolls and other percussive tricks of the trade.
  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator
    Posts: 319
    Ted, that's fascinating stuff about early jazz and law.

    Yes, my question about "Jewish" and "negro" jazz was another way of asking why we continue to refer to this music with an ethnic term, since that's not the general practice. As we know, "gypsy" is imprecise, and like 'negro', it is at best antiquated and at worst offensive. (Regarding offensiveness, I know that offense depends on whom you ask. Ian Hancock wants it gone. I happen to like Boulou Ferre's use of the term 'gypsy' in "Django's Legacy": he says it with a smirk.)

    Nick, John Zorn's projects are indeed an interesting comparison. But isn't Jewish music more clearly a certain thing to begin with? I'm not sure "gypsy" music is clearly a certain thing in the same way. Gatlif's wonderful film, "Latcho Drom," is a persuasive case that certain musical values persist across time and place in the Rajasthani diaspora, but isn't the Jewish diaspora different that way? I absolutely don't know a thing about it, but that has never stopped me before. :-) I suspect there are distinct modes, forms, and perhaps even entire melodies that get passed down reliably over time and place. This is a deep subject, and way outside my ken, but my guess is that how music develops through the Jewish diaspora differs from the way it developed through the Rajasthani one. What do you think? Off-line, of course.

    It should be possible to track down the first use of the term "jazz manouche" or "jazz gitan" in France.
    Elek is still not lumped into the "Gypsy Jazz" category by most because he played a heavily modified Guild X-500 and played bop.

    Well, Ted, those people are just wrong. You have to be firm with them.

    And to be consistent, for the sake of argument, I'll say that you and Nick are wrong, too, in suggesting that any non-gypsy can play "gypsy jazz." No non-gypsy can play gypsy jazz. If non-gypsies play this kind of music, they have to call it something else, like "jazz a la manouche," or "jazz, sinti-style." I'll go even further: if David Reinhardt starts playing like freakin' Jim Hall, what he plays will still be "gypsy jazz," no matter what. Even if he plays like Pat Metheny! ...and that, my friend, brings us to the point of absurdity. Does it really make sense to use a term that suggests ethnicity is the most important defining factor of this music?

    My answer is no. In the end, all that matters is what one values. If someone wants to copy the QHCF circa 1937, call it "hot club music." If someone wants to play like the Wintersteins, call it "jazz sinti." If it's late Django, call it "django jazz" or "hot electric jazz." If it's heavily musette-influenced, call it "jazz musette." There must be a dozen more precise descriptors than "gypsy jazz." Let's use them, if we rage for categorical order.

    But of course, that won't happen. If you have problems describing "gypsy jazz" to people, try saying you play "jazz in the style of descendents of the Rajasthani diaspora." THAT'LL get you the gig, for sure!

    Cheers,
    Ando
  • Posts: 101
    Does it really make sense to use a term that suggests ethnicity is the most important defining factor of this music?

    I'm not so sure that's really how people are interpreting that though, Ando.

    As was mentioned earlier, "jazz" to a lot of people these days means boring wanking faux intelligentsia music. I have a problem not using jazz but instead using swing, in Chicago that means a different vibe altogether, and implies you are playing more along the lines of the modern swing bands (not that that's bad, but it isn't what we're playing).

    Then there is "latin jazz" for example, and you certainly don't have to be latin (which is in and of itself a bit tough to define, it means different things to different people) to play it, but you know exactly what you're getting if you go see a band billed as latin jazz- there's latin flavor, either due to the tunes themselves, or the rhythms, or the instrumentation or a combination of those, plus the players must improvise.

    Gypsy jazz is no different in that sense - I assume we all are playing at least some actual gypsy tunes, not just standards played in the Hot Club style. There are gypsy rhythms (putting them all under "la pompe" seems to minimize the incredible diversity of them, in fact), and the acoustic guitar-focused lineup is something that perhaps was not gypsy as originally conceived, but it is the gypsies who kept it alive when everyone else was going electric.

    To me, jazz is exactly what it says, it's a verb (you "jazz something up", there is no "it's a jazz"), not a noun. It implies action, motion, excitement - it's not an object or something static, it's by definition constantly changing, so all the terminology goes out the window, to some degree. What someone calls it doesn't really change how you're gonna play it, right?

    It's hard to describe, but I'd wager most people have a positive image of what "gypsy" in the context of music means. It's emotional, it's charged, it's vital & crackling with energy. What are embellishments after all but an addition of energy to a melody? In Latcho Drom you see exactly the magic that gypsies have been bringing to music, it deserves recognition and respect, IMO.

    Around here, if you say jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt people seem to get it, but all the players seem to use the phrase gypsy jazz. Maybe it's just quicker to say?

    But either way, the feeling is what you are trying to convey, the risk taking, the mystery of what may happen on any given gig, that if you blink you might miss something fantastic never to be repeated. But hot jazz or improv jazz don't cut it, they sound dated or have come to be viewed as something different altogether.

    Now if gypsies themselves find the term offensive, that's a different matter altogether, I'd agree.

    Carter
  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator
    Posts: 319
    Carter,

    As usual, you make a most engaging and sympathetic case for interpreting "gypsy" aesthetically rather than ethnically. And I bet you're right that most people in the US view it that way, given the prevailing ignorance of even the term "Roma," let alone the real issues involved in their migrations.

    All this categorizing makes me nervous. At a certain point, I'm with Charlie Parker, who is reported to have said to a music journalist quizzing him on the term be-bop, "how about let's just call it 'music'?"

    But Ted did specify, very specifically, that we were not to be "bland." :-)

    Cheers,
    Ando
  • Posts: 101
    aw heck, I'm just trying to put a positive spin on it! :)

    it just seems it would be a shame if gypsies, who seem to have historically been deprived of everything, lost an association (and their contribution) with such a vibrant and smokin' art form.

    I don't know how jazz lost its edge, but man, it's almost a dirty word with some folks. I dont know if too many people have only heard the New Agey- bubbly stuff or what, it's too bad, as there are so many great musicians out there lucky to be making as much as the door guy.

    I certainly hear you on Bird's take, at the end of the day it's all music!

    Or... is it? (insert Twilight Zone music here)

    Carter
  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,911
    Ando wrote:
    No non-gypsy can play gypsy jazz. If non-gypsies play this kind of music, they have to call it something else, like "jazz a la manouche," or "jazz, sinti-style."

    I can't quite tell if you're playing devil's advocate, but I wouldn't agree with this, because...
    Around here, if you say jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt people seem to get it, but all the players seem to use the phrase gypsy jazz.

    Yeah, I think it's just become another signifier for musicians, a shorthand way of all of us saying "This is what I play". If someone says "I play New Orleans Jazz", I don't assume they're from that great city, but I immediately know what they sound like. Part of the appeal, for me, is that 'gypsy jazz' covers a multitude of things: it's not just Django-style, or jazz Manouche, etc., though I'm all for being more specific within the genre.
    Now if gypsies themselves find the term offensive, that's a different matter altogether, I'd agree.

    Agreed.

    Best,
    Jack.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,775
    A couple of thoughts:

    1) Insider v.s Outsider (i.e. Gypsy vs Gadjo perspectives): Carter touched on this....thought I'd elaborate. Despite the growing interest in this style among non-Gypsies, there's no arguing that the vast majority of practitioners, innovators, and big name performers are of Sinti ot Gitan heritage. For that reason, their perspective on what is or isn't Gypsy jazz carries the most weight. In my interviews with numerous Sinti musicians in Holland I found that most Gypsies consider the music itself to be jazz. There's nothing Gypsy about it. Similarly, the Hungarian based violin repertoire that many gadjos call "Gypsy Music" is just called Hungarian music by the Gypsies. They know it's not their music. However, they do firmly believe there is a Gypsy style. The values of their culture reflect their approaches to improvisation, repertoire, phrasing, etc...whether it's jazz, Hungarian music, flamenco, etc.

    Many of the non-Gypsy musicians I interviewed saw this music not so much Gypsy, but "European Jazz" or "French Jazz."


    2) Identity Music: It's pretty clear to me that Django was a jazz musician. He had no Gypsy agenda...except for the Mass for the Gypsies that he never finished. However, since his time his music has become a strong signifier for Gypsy identity. And more importantly Sinti identity. The Sinti see themselves as a distinct group from the Gitan, Rom, etc. In fact, many of them despise the Rom, and playing Django's music is one way to set them apart from their Eastern European brethren. For that reason, most of the Gypsies I interviewed were very proud of the their music and preferred the label "Gypsy Jazz." They saw nothing offensive whatsoever...just the opposite. They use the term "Gypsy" as often a possible, hence all the bands with names like "Paulus Schaefer Gypsy Band," "The Gypsy Kids," "The Gypsy Boys," "Bireli Lagrene's Gypsy Project," etc. Part of the reason for this is that most Gypsies don't realize that the English word "Gypsy" often carries a negative connotation. The Dutch Gypsies hate the Dutch word Ziguener because they know it's a negative label. But Gypsy doesn't really register with them, hence the acceptance of it. And if you really want to piss them off call them "Rom"....they hate that! One of the primary Sinti rights activists I interviewed was trying to get the World Romani congress changed to The World Romani AND Sinti Congress.

    Someone mentioned Jewish Jazz....well a similar identity music phenomenon has happened within the Jewish community over the last 20 years. It started with Klezmer and has developed into the klezmer based jazz explorations of Andy Statman, Frank London, Hasidic New Wave, etc. They have album titles like "Jews and Rhythm" which come from a strong desire to make music with a Jewish identity attached to it.


    Thanks everyone for keeping this interesting!

    -Michael
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 611
    Hi Ando
    Ando wrote:
    Elek is still not lumped into the "Gypsy Jazz" category by most because he played a heavily modified Guild X-500 and played bop.

    Well, Ted, those people are just wrong. You have to be firm with them.

    How can this be when you listed a set of criteria by which to judge what is and isn't Gypsy Jazz, and Bacsik doesn't do most of what is on that list?
    Ando wrote:
    And to be consistent, for the sake of argument, I'll say that you and Nick are wrong, too, in suggesting that any non-gypsy can play "gypsy jazz." No non-gypsy can play gypsy jazz.

    Are you sure about that? Patrick Saussois' grandmother was Gypsy...he grew up seeing Gypsies play, but his first real passion was West Coast jazz guitar. His version of "The Song is You" is about 90% inspired by Grant Green, yet without hearing Grant's version, one would think it was pure Gypsy Jazz. A lot of Patrick's current style (as well as that of Ninine, David Reinhardt and others) is derived from the heavy influence of Blue Note jazz.

    Also, a friend of mine from Holland, nicknamed by some as "The White Rosenberg", is a killer guitarist, invited to perform at many private Gypsy family parties (and is the only non-gypsy I have ever heard of getting a call from the patriarch of the Weiss family asking him to come play at their home). He wasn't inspired by jazz and doesn't play jazz...he plays Gypsy Jazz. The old saying works well to describe both these players - "If it looks like a snake, sounds like a snake and acts like a snake...than it is a snake."
    Ando wrote:
    If non-gypsies play this kind of music, they have to call it something else, like "jazz a la manouche," or "jazz, sinti-style."

    Ando, you're constantly walking over your previous assertions. First you say "Why give the title anything ethnic at all" but then you write above "call it Jazz, Sinti-Style" or "Jazz a la Manouche". I'm confused by your arguements.
    Ando wrote:
    Does it really make sense to use a term that suggests ethnicity is the most important defining factor of this music?

    You tell me...you just used ethnicity to describe and label the music in the paragraph above. :D

    Best,

    Ted
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