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Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz

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  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    I agree, anyone can, but the question is why do those who do it spectacularly do so? To say there's nothing particuarly unique to the gypsies that have kept this music alive & thumping strikes me as a pointless statement - if you really felt that way, why are you reading this thread? You surely must feel there's something to it that doesn't meet the eye.

    Of course I do. If the music did not resonate for me in a pretty personal way, I wouldn't have put in the effort to learn as much about it as i have - which is a LOT of energy and effort.

    I agree that some gypsies have excelled at the more folklorish aspects of this music. But I don't think that that has what has kept this music alive. I think it is the singular genius of Django Reinhardt that has kept this music alive. My thoughts on this are written out in nauseating length in the "Tradition" Thread in "Gypsy Picking".

    Carter - you say that you agree that anyone can play this music - but do you really? If the ethnic component is so important, why bother to learn a difficult thing that you have no real chance to succeed at? And if the ethnic component is so important then shouldn't it impose the same limits in all styles of music - for example Leontyne Price or Yo Yo Ma? Well, it's not true. They and many like them became great successes in music styles that have nothing to do with their ethnicity, and they are universally recognized as the great artists they are. I mean, if you claimed that only ethnic Italians could legitimately sing opera, you'd rightly be denounced as a racist.

    The fact is, people who excel usually manage it by working hard and not recognizing any limits to what they can achieve. Things like television sets and gameboys are the same impediments to playing high-standard baseball as they are to playing high-standard music. If this is how people spend their time, they probably have limited chances for excellence.

    And not everyone who lives in the 'burbs is a Hollywood caricature of dysfunction, consumption and large automobiles. I do hard physical work to make a living and I refuse to apologize for enjoying the modest pleasures of home and family, or for not being an angst-filled neurotic. I came up in a rural family of modest means - had to walk eight miles to school, uphill both ways bla bla - and don't want to feel the wolf at my door ever again.

    The first really great musicians I was ever around were fiddle players who played the Round Peak style of old-timey music that is traditional around Mt Airy North Carolina. One of them, Tommy Jarrell, was a motor grader operator for the county all his life. Another, Benton Flippen, carded socks in a textile mill for 50 years. They became great fiddle players because they wanted to be great fiddle players, and they did not have to be some kind of beatnik to do it.

    Music communities are where you find them. At the plant where I work, some nights on my breaks I play jazz with a cat in the stockroom who plays alto sax. Other nights I go play bluegrass with the guys who play that style. I like to play music, of almost any kind. And in my experience, in music as in life, it's the individual who succeeds or fails, not the group. I'm still with Birili. Anyone can play this music.

    My opinion, bien sur.
  • Posts: 101
    Carter - you say that you agree that anyone can play this music - but do you really? If the ethnic component is so important, why bother to learn a difficult thing that you have no real chance to succeed at?

    I'm not saying there's some genetic component inherent to gypsies, it's culture, culture, culture.

    the "genes" I mentioned were in the context of a parent > child thing, I think you are either taking that out of context, or you simply aren't willing to address the other 90% of what I posted involving culture.



    Go back to Samois - what's the appeal? What's the magic? It isn't people sitting around listening to old Django recordings, it's aliving, bresathing tradition. Of course there are gypsies & non-gypsies, but it is certainly my impression that Samois is essentially recreating what is a way of life for many gypsies.

    Music is free, it's not simply a question of choice, it's a question of opportunity. No TV and a guitar lead people to play more guitar, I don't quite understand your reluctance to accept this - it's a law of physics that if you don't have something, you can't spend any time with it,
    I think it is the singular genius of Django Reinhardt that has kept this music alive

    That doesn't get us anywhere, because you just shift the question to "what does 'this music' mean?". There are lots of other great compositions out there, they aren't all Django's.

    And anyway, he's been dead for 50 years- the gypsies have been out there playing the music, and I don't think it's been Americans, be they in the suburbs or the city, rich or poor.

    My experience is that this music carries way more oomph when seen live than when heard on a recording. Old recordings simply do not do it justice, nor do they really convey the excitement, energy and virtuosity that comes from the live performance.

    You need to get past this "legitimate" concept altogether, it has nothing to do with music at all. Who here is saying there's a legitimacy question for non-gypsies? If you're playing music for the enjoyment of it, who exactly do you need to prove yourself to?


    Carter[/quote][/b]
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    I have no questions or issues on legitimacy at all. I'm for liberty. But I know what I like, too.

    Read my previous posts. The point is this - excellence is excellence in anything, and people who achieve it come from all different walks of life. It takes talent and work, regardless of a person's ethnic or social background, and not everyone has the potential to be great. I don't think people are limited by "culture", either. If you disagree with all this, that's OK by me.

    In years past, here in the USA there were easily defined regional fiddle styles. In isolated parts of West Virginia, an educated ear could hear a real difference from one valley to the next. As fiddling became more popular, people from all parts of the country learned all kinds of styles. It's not uncommon today for skilled fiddlers to have expert chops in many styles from Texas to Cajun to WV and on and on. Regardless of where they came from. Thirty years ago, this simply was not true. I saw all of this transpire, from the last days days of true regional styles, to the modern age where a person from California might play expert Cajun fiddle and no one is surprised. Recordings, easier travel, more leisure and other factors made this all possible and it's been a good thing. It did not result in the loss or corruption of the original styles. It made more people aware of these different styles, and brought in new blood and new ideas.

    This is a pretty standard and well-understood aspect of the folk process as it works in North America. It has started to happen with gypsy jazz in the USA, just as it happened in Europe over the last 50 years, with gypsy jazz and with traditional jazz, which is popular all over Europe. It is not their music, but it is played at a high standard there.

    Carter, I understand the equation "less TV=more guitar" perfectly - but televisions and such are just choices in life. They are not prisons or addictions for most people, and not for me. I have a TV but I don't waste much time watching it. My choice. I don't see why you are so reluctant to accept this.

    What I meant by Django's talent keeping this music alive, was that he has always been the force that inspired guitarists to play this music, the goal to shoot for. In recent years this might have changed a bit. I certainly agree with Roger, and I think this is what what you've been saying, too - Django's (and Stochelo's and Yorgui's etc) gypsy background had some large influence in the way they play. How much is the same old nature v nurture that people in many fields have been squabbling about for years. Which is actually what we are disagreeing about, I think.

    There were periods of time over the last 50 years when there was little or no interest in this music by European gypsies. But that doesn't mean that there was no interest in it by anyone. There have always been guitarists all over the world who played this music. It's "guitaristic" music, it appeals to guitarists.

    My interest in music isn't just about sitting around listening to old records. Listening to music is a poor substitute for playing. I've been playing all kinds of music with all kinds of people for 25+ years - I'm the proof that not everyone can be great. I've never been to Samois, but I've certainly experienced a similar kind of magic at the big fiddler's conventions. Around here, this fiddle music is still a living tradition, too.

    Cheers
    Scot
  • Posts: 101
    I do see what you're saying Scot, and I'm not trying to be rigid, this is all certainly just my opinion, not gospel or anything, so sorry if that's how I'm coming across. But I can tell you for a fact that city life & the burbs and rural areas in the Midwest I've grown up with are not very conducive to the kind of musical exchange & atmosphere you describe, at least for kids.

    There were actually quite a few gypsies in my Chicago neighborhood when I was a kid, and believe me, they were not known for their musical contributions or atmosphere. Nobody was.

    Being known as a place with musical instruments in the 70's and early 80's was a sign your house was going to be broken into right quick. This was the era when people were sucking gas out of people's cars on the street (remember the locking gas caps?).

    So while Chicago is famous for blues and jazz music, musical venues and the like, you have to already be accomplished to get a foot in the door.

    There are really very, very few places in the city famous for live music on the street, where people are welcome to join in, there's Rainbow Beach on the South Side, where people have been playing afro-cuban rhythms for some 50 years, but for jazz? Can't think of one. Certainly nothing even remotely like the Samois atmosphere, and there aren't any trailer parks where people all live really close to each other with a shared interest in one kind of music, everything is too transient, and in flux.

    Most kids in the city get plopped in front of the tube at an early age because the parents have to work, and the resources are simply not there to be providing them with a musical education, much less an instrument. I'm not saying there aren't exceptions, but they are remarkable - I went to grade school briefly with a girl named Rachel Barton, who is now a violin viruoso, and her parents pulled her out of school in 1st or 2nd grade when they saw her potential. But suffice to say, most parents would not have that luxury even if they recognized the potential.

    If you grow up in this environment it is not simply about hard work, it's about exposure, and habits developed at a very young age before you really have any control in the matter. A young kid doesn't have the ability to "fight the system", and the system is geared towards producing people fluent in skills that pay the bills (math, science, etc.), not music. IMO, American capitalist culture simply does not push music. If you succed in becoming a professional musician in America, you are a rarity and an amazing success story, but you've done it more in spite of the system than because of it. Parents all across America have spoken repeatedly with their wallets - give them a choice between their schools cutting music and cutting math, and they cut music. It's unfortunate, but I don't see that as being my opinion, that's just a fact.

    That's where the gypsy caravan/ musical culture comes in - I saw these young kids in Samois hanging out with the kiler players, holding their own, getting tricks of the trade passed on to them, etc. The fact that they are growing up in a place where they can share an activity with adults and be treated as equals is amazing, and something special.

    It's not simply a question of "less TV= more guitar", it's that lots of kids who might have the talent never even get a chance because they get zero exposure - go back to the quote made about how a gypsy starting this music at age 12 is alrady considered at a disadvantage!

    My point is simply that I don't believe this is anything new in the gypsy culture, so what is the harm in recognizing it? You can't tell me there is nothing gypsy about this music, I just don't buy that. Certainly gypsies have enough bad stereotypes slapped on them, is it so bad to recognize this?

    The stuff in West Viriginia sounds great, absolutely, but if I want to learn Django technique, I'm not going to West Virigina, I'm either going to Europe or I'm finding someone who has seen the music as played by the gypsies. There's a lot of frustration about this on the Yahoo group, but if ask anyone who's been there if there's a substitute for it, I don't think you'll find one. American festivals are certainly getting closer, but that's happening by bring the gypsies here, by respecting that they have something unique to offer and we'd like to share in that. And with both American festivals and Samois, that's a weekend or a week, not a 24/7 lifestyle.

    The fact that an expert moves here and there is great, but it's not the same thing as living where it surrounds you - immersion is really what I'm talking about. If I wanted to become a fluent bluegrass player, you can definitely bet I'd head on down to Appalachia to get myself in the thick of it (as it stands, the Django material is a full time challenge right now!).

    Take it from someone who studied Spanish for 12 years but can't speak it with natives - I have vocabulary and sentecnce construction skills, but that's it. Now if I went to Mexico for a year I'm quite certain I'd become fluent very quickly, you have to, it's just everywhere around you.

    And gypsies do have an atttitude and a spirit with this music that seems to be the product of their culture, I don't think it can be pinned down, but they have been wandering the globe for over a thousand years, and playing music is one of the ways they've worked to bread on table, while still keeping a spirit of enthusiasm and joy. That's what I love about it, I could learn guitar techniques in a million different places, but it would not be the same.

    And getting back to the original question, "jazz" in and of itself is a meaningless phrase these days, if not an outright bad one in a lot of places. What does it even mean to be a "jazz" player? Is it playing the standards? Not in my opinion. Improvisation? Lots of different musicians improvise, the jazz genre has no monopoly on this. It's not fair or warranted that jazz has lost its luster, but it's a fact. I've read they trace the decline in record sales back to the cool jazzers & the modular approach, the instrumental wankery soon followed, and it stopped being people's music and became musician's music.

    Gypsy jazz to me has managed to be both, while "jazz" in general has been largely relegated to background mood music at fine restaraunts and in elevators.

    Why beat around the bush and try and get around the fact that the music I have chosen to focus on has its origins with a gypsy named Django, who became as great as he did because he was playing music full time from a very early age instead of going to school? The clubs in France were his school, but calling the music "30's French club jazz" wouldn't be quite right (musette music is its own thing, and rightly so), we don't emulate the music he started with, we emulate the music as more fully developed. I agree that you can't really separate France from Django, it's obvious that Paris was a huge part of the nurturing process (and I might add that the Parisian crowd at Samois were fantastic - they have a smoothness and style that is all their own), but it is of course Django who emerges with the new sound.

    I've tried to learn this music from a guy who went to France and experienced it in its natural element. The fact that most of that natural element has been gypsies with a smattering of non-gypsy guitar players is the culture, it's what makes it unique. If someone dismissively wants to go "what the hell is that?", than screw 'em, I'm not going to water it down and try and pretend it's something it isn't, we don't play big band swing, we don't play free jazz, brazilian jazz, latin jazz, etc. One more variant of jazz with a descriptive element doesn't change the fact it's still jazz, it's simply what I'd call truth-in-advertising, not a rigid "only gypsies play gypsy jazz" thing, IMO.
    The point is this - excellence is excellence in anything, and people who achieve it come from all different walks of life. It takes talent and work, regardless of a person's ethnic or social background, and not everyone has the potential to be great.

    Sure, but what does that have to do with the original question? I'm not suggesting just just being a gypsy means you're inherently a master guitar player or anything, just that their lifestyle and circumstances have led to what we now can enjoy and learn from today.

    And I fully agree that music can & should also simply be fun, a social event, something you do with your friends, family, etc. I think that's really a big part of the gypsy attitude I love so much, it's not so much that music has to be a trade, it's that it is a way of life. I play music everytime I get together with my Dad,but to say that's a rarity in Chicago is an understatement, at least in my experience. The first time my in-laws visited they were completely astounded just at the concept!

    So while I fully agree anyone can succeed (I don't buy the Fapy quote Stu mentioned either), when the culture nourishing this particular style has been gypsy, I just see no problem recognizing that. If you think it's more "guitarists" in general OK, I can see that, but "guitaristic jazz" doesn't really work for me, and more importantly, it seems to be a little too coincidental that the music took off (relatively, in the USA) shortly after Americans, via the internet and technology, get access to the Rosenbergs, Fapy, Rafael Fays, Bireli, Dorado, etc. It isn't David Grisman and Chet Atkins that are responsible for the booming interest, IMO. That's actually something John Jorgenson mentioned when he played in Chicago, how thrilled he was that there was an interest in this music he always loved, and that he now could play it to appreciative crowds.

    All my way-too-rambling 2 cents, of course,

    Carter
  • Posts: 101
    hey y'all, I'm probably off the computer until next week at this point, but I wanted to thank Ted for starting this one, this has been a great thread full of thoughtful, provocative posts, far better than the FAQ-style posts that feature a sentence or two.

    in retrospect, I think for me Ando nailed it with this:
    I think ethnicity is probably a wrong tack. My son is not gypsy, but if I sent him over to Fapy to learn how to play guitar for ten years (he's 4 now), he'd probably sound a helluva lot like the other gypsy kid players. So... what we're talking about here is musical tradition and values.

    but a great weekend & happy jamming to all!

    Carter
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,163
    scot wrote:
    People focus so much on his being a gypsy, that the fact that he was also French seems to be about forgotten.
    We should not underestimate the significance of this fact. If Django had been a gypsy living in Bulgaria, Poland, Turkey or even the UK, I believe his playing would have exhibited greater differences than had he been a non-gypsy living in Paris.

    Imagine listening to Django for the first time having no idea as to his origins and having never heard of "gypsy jazz" before. I doubt whether many people would relate what they heard to gypsies; more likely they would hear a relationship with American Country & Western. When I first heard Django in 1955, I heard only hot swinging guitar. There was no obvious gypsy influence there for me. I recently asked my father what he thought he was listening to when he first heard Django in 1935 and he said "swing" probably best described it. No gypsy for him either. Perhaps neither of us were pre-conditioned by all the current gypsy propaganda much of which I stress eminates from the non-gypsy community.

    People often hear gypsies playing what they believe to be traditional music and say there are elements of what they are playing in Django's work. Hence, they conclude his music was influenced by his gypsy heritage. The fact is that this "traditional" music was invariably produced after Django and the similarities are because they have been influenced by him. Before Django there were no such influences.
  • stublastubla Prodigy Godefroy Maruejouls
    Posts: 386
    scot wrote:
    People focus so much on his being a gypsy, that the fact that he was also French seems to be about forgotten.
    We should not underestimate the significance of this fact. If Django had been a gypsy living in Bulgaria, Poland, Turkey or even the UK, I believe his playing would have exhibited greater differences than had he been a non-gypsy living in Paris.

    Imagine listening to Django for the first time having no idea as to his origins and having never heard of "gypsy jazz" before. I doubt whether many people would relate what they heard to gypsies; more likely they would hear a relationship with American Country & Western. When I first heard Django in 1955, I heard only hot swinging guitar. There was no obvious gypsy influence there for me. I recently asked my father what he thought he was listening to when he first heard Django in 1935 and he said "swing" probably best described it. No gypsy for him either. Perhaps neither of us were pre-conditioned by all the current gypsy propaganda much of which I stress eminates from the non-gypsy community.

    People often hear gypsies playing what they believe to be traditional music and say there are elements of what they are playing in Django's work. Hence, they conclude his music was influenced by his gypsy heritage. The fact is that this "traditional" music was invariably produced after Django and the similarities are because they have been influenced by him. Before Django there were no such influences.


    Teddy
    With respect i think you bypass Scot's point.
    If Django was 'just' a swing musician I for one,
    and i suspect many others,
    ,wouldn't be THAT interested--Really!!-
    Give me BEBOP anytime!...when i listen to Django i'm a million miles away from Louis Armstrong and his Hot seven,or Artie Shaw or Bennie Goodman--i don't like that stuff that much really!!!
    Why?..forgive me but its exactly those non-jazz elements in his playing(Gallic and Gypsy)-yes!! that make Django unique!!!
    My grandfather, a Mr John Blagden ,btw, was a jazz trumpeter in Manchester in the 30's( even played with Coleman Hawkins!!)

    He HATED Grappelli and Django!!!
    TOO French;TOO foreign!!!.. he used to say!!!--that was a commonly held opinion amongst most 'non guitarist 'swing' musicians in the UK,the U.S and France let it be stated.
    I don't agree of course!!...
    Django and Stephane weren't regarded as Swing musicians 'puro'.
    They were always seen as 'apart' from that tradition.
    No!-Django wasn't 'just' a Swing musician-he wasn't 'just' a Gypsy either....
    He (in his physical approach to playing the guitar) played with a gypsy approach and most importantly he played Jazz but......
    Lets be honest!!
    This Music??....its something 'apart' isn't it!??
    F**k!...if Django sounded like Eddie Lang i'd still be listening to John Scofield and Pat Metheny!!!:-)
    In the end Django's uniqueness defies all labels and categories.Its his 'total' Music approach that seperates him from, frankly, 'boring' jazzers--and i love his 'european-ness'.
    ......Funny though(and food for thought) that MOST (but not all) of Django's really creative successors HAVE been Gypsies/Rom etc.
    I wonder why?...:-)
    Make up your own mind......it's all very complicated.
    Stu
  • joefjoef Wales, U.K.New
    Posts: 35
    People often hear gypsies playing what they believe to be traditional music and say there are elements of what they are playing in Django's work. Hence, they conclude his music was influenced by his gypsy heritage. The fact is that this "traditional" music was invariably produced after Django and the similarities are because they have been influenced by him. Before Django there were no such influences.

    The problems this is causing were highlighted at a Matcho Winterstein gig last year. Some people complained after the show that the act had been promoted as being Gypsy music, and that was what they had paid to see. Why then, they asked, was it that all they got were 30's jazz standards and note-for-note Django solos, played with an over-loud, harsh and distorted electric sound?

    They went to the show expecting Gypsy music and
    instead heard a Gypsy playing jazz.

    regards
    Joe
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,163
    stubla wrote:
    If Django was 'just' a swing musician I for one,
    and i suspect many others,
    ,wouldn't be THAT interested--Really!!-
    Stu you must be deliberately misunderstanding me here. You know I think Django is far more than just a swing guitarist but the fact is that in the 30's his playing was closer to swing than gypsy whatever the latter may be.
    stubla wrote:
    ...when i listen to Django i'm a million miles away from Louis Armstrong and his Hot seven...,or Artie Shaw or Bennie Goodman--i don't like that stuff that much really!!!
    The Hot Seven played swing?! Come now Stu. You've been at the meths again.
    stubla wrote:
    ..forgive me but its exactly those non-jazz elements in his playing(Gallic and Gypsy)-yes!! that make Django unique!!!
    No it's Django's own creativity that makes him unique and the way in which he assimilated many diverse influences, the strongest of which was jazz.
    stubla wrote:
    My grandfather, a Mr John Blagden ,btw, was a jazz trumpeter in Manchester in the 30's( even played with Coleman Hawkins!!)

    He HATED Grappelli and Django!!!
    That is one hell of a burden for you to live with Stu and may well explain a great deal about you :D
    stubla wrote:
    TOO French;TOO foreign!!!.. he used to say!!!--
    Fair enough but he didn't say "too gypsy" did he because he didn't think "gypsy" when he listened to them?
    stubla wrote:
    He (in his physical approach to playing the guitar) played with a gypsy approach and most importantly he played Jazz
    But how do you know what the gypsy approach was before Django? How much of their playing pre-Django have you heard? I agree there was probably a gypsy influence but primarily he was Django, then he was jazz and then he was many other differing elements.
    stubla wrote:
    In the end Django's uniqueness defies all labels and categories.Its his 'total' Music approach that seperates him from, frankly, 'boring' jazzers--and i love his 'european-ness'.
    Totally agreed.
    stubla wrote:
    .....Funny though(and food for thought) that MOST (but not all) of Django's really creative successors HAVE been Gypsies/Rom etc.
    I wonder why?...:-)
    Perhaps because you think of gypsy jazz in too restrictive a context: far more restrictive than Django would have found acceptable.

    I think part of the problem is that many people are starting from where we are now rather than the position that existed in the early thirties. Judgements are being made on a backward interpretation of events rather looking at how they actually evolved.
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    When I first heard Django in 1975 or so, I did not have a clue that he was a gypsy. I did not learn that fact until I read "From Here to Eternity" a couple of years later. But if I'd heard Georges Boulanger or Nicky Codolban bck then, I would have said "That's gypsy music".
    But how do you know what the gypsy approach was before Django? How much of their playing pre-Django have you heard? I agree there was probably a gypsy influence but primarily he was Django, then he was jazz and then he was many other differing elements.

    My best guess is for the first part of this is that the music of nomadic gypsies was probably the same as it was 50 years later - whatever it was most useful for them to play, wherever they happened to be.
    No it's Django's own creativity that makes him unique and the way in which he assimilated many diverse influences, the strongest of which was jazz.

    I totally agree with this statement and the last part of the previous quote. Django is still the benchmark for this kind of music.
    I think part of the problem is that many people are starting from where we are now rather than the position that existed in the early thirties. Judgements are being made on a backward interpretation of events rather looking at how they actually evolved.

    I also agree 100% with this statement. It's understandable and may be (very) slightly excused considering the difficulty in obtaining the old recordings and finding out exactly what DID happen between Django's time and Tchavolo's.
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