Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz



  • Posts: 101
    and the way in which he assimilated many diverse influences, the strongest of which was jazz

    This is a key element for me, personally- can you imagine many parents allowing their children to go out and play music in nightclubs and the like the way Django's did?

    In this age I can't think of a single jazz club where having even a young prodigy would be tolerated, too much legal liability with the serving of alcohol, smoking, and the lateness factor.

    Perhaps Django's parents allowed this because they were musicians and understood the importance of their son getting out there and getting his feet wet & allowing his talent to grow (and they appreciated the income), but I think there is still a cultural value being placed on pursuing music as a career instead of traditional schooling that is not simply something unique to Django as a person, and something which seems to set the gypsies apart.

    It strikes me as a bit of a gamble that most people wouldn't allow their kids to make, as the odds are pretty brutal. I can't even tell you how many musicians I know who would never dream of encouraging their kids to pursue music as a career, because it's a serious bitch.

    When I heard Django for the first time I in no way thought I listening to a talented swing guitar player, or even a talented jazz player - there was absolutely something there that transported me to a completely different world, and the best of the gypsy jazz players (Bireli, Raphael Fays, Angelo) do the same thing, although nobody makes it "breathe" like Django!

    Maybe a good way of looking at it is to look at chess, which has a lot more history than jazz & as much passion surrounding it - you have French openings, Catalan openings, etc. It doesn't mean that you have to be French or Catalan to play them or improvise on them, it simply recognizes the culture in which the opening was developed and propagated.

    I do agree Paris had a unique culture of its own (for way too many reasons to get into), but while I see the Parisian underworld incubating Django, his culture & upbringing was the seed.

  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 615
    Hi All,

    Teddy's scenario fits the situation where I first heard Django perfectly. I had first become aware of him when he was mentioned in an article about musicians who overcame disabilities and went on to become great musicians. The first tune that I heard was the duet with Vola on "You Rascal, You". The fact that he was a gypsy never entered my mind. What did pop in was that lack of blues. I could tell immediately that he was a European, but at the same time, he was so far ahead of the other guitarists that I was listening to from that era like Lang and Lonnie Johnson. He had a sense of swing and feel, and syncopation which no guitarist in the US had until Charlie Christian, who was literally here today and gone tomorrow. Then several years later I read a quote from Doc Cheatam, who had said (paraphrase): "Django swung. It was a different kind of swing, but it hurt to see a European swing like that." I think this really sums it up - he did swing, he was a jazzman, he just did it a little differently. Everett Barksdale, guitarist with Eddie South, said that he wanted to quit playing after he saw Django.

    John Hammond considered Django "A clown with a mandolin" and everyone knows that Leonard Feather wasn't so hot on Django. Mundel Lowe would said that he never liked Django, and came under the spell of Charlie Christian, while Les Paul, Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith and even Christian himself were open about the debt they owed Django. It's the critics and musicians with an afrocentric point of view who are guarenteed to find Django's music offensive because of this fact. I'm sure there were plenty of jazz musicians in the US and UK, some were perhaps afrocentric, others just had an opinion, who didn't think much of Django. To this day I have friends who will come to see play in a classic jazz band, but not in a gypsy hot gig because they just don't get it. To each his own, I guess.

    In relation to this topic, I firmly believe that the roots of Django, whether subconsious or consious, did play a role in both how he approached his instrument, and how he played. I don't think this can be disputed. However, I think that the true genius of the man himself set him apart from everyone else and made him what he was. Like all the great musicians who take a little of this and a little of that to create something new - Monet, Parker, Dali, Bolden - he had that mind. Would he appalled at the contemporary scene? I used to think so but now I feel that he would've been amused simply because he did have an ego and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Thank you one and all for making this absolutely the most read thread on - and for all of those great thinkers who contributed. As a group, this is what I've always dreamt of, a place where the music can be discussed in an intelligent, intellectual and insightful way and you've all made it a reality.


  • Posts: 101
    hey, thank YOU Ted, you have really done us all a service - it's certainly fun to discuss, and I personally learn a lot from these discussions.
    To this day I have friends who will come to see play in a classic jazz band, but not in a gypsy hot gig because they just don't get it. To each his own, I guess.

    Jeez, ain't that the truth? I am happy to say that I now have more friends who feel the exact opposite, though!
  • Posts: 11
    :) Salut tout le monde
    I thought i would give my thoughts on this subject as it is of some importance to me. That is how does one play guitaristically?
    My mentor/ teacher of many years set me straight on this.
    He said dont' think of the guitar as a saxophone it's a guitar!
    You have a polyphonic chordal based instrument play it like that.
    In considering his advice i thought long on this!
    Does the guitar dispite ones best effort really phrase like a horn?
    No! not really nor can it. The guitars harmonic sense or layout is very different from a piano!
    Playing guitaristically means playing the guitar in a way that explores it's uniqueness. We can't sustain long tones so what to do?
    The guitar stands out in a similar way to the violin in that the use of double stops makes for a more sustained and less "fiddly" sound than playing all single notes. I agree that Django's style of playing went a long way in bringing out many guitaristic devices. However, i would suggest that dbl sops are really under utilized by most players.
    My teacher would encourage me to add notes to my lines of various intervals at random. I have heard him do two choures of Coltranes giant steps transcribed right off the record of his solo in dbl stops. That is quite a feat. But it makes a point! Solo's sound more musical and interesting using more stops than endless succesions of "horn like
    ' single note lines.
    It's an oversimplification but as we all know blues players employ these techniques. So i never conciously try to sound like a horn. I endeavor to play more than one note at a time with what falls easily. Otherwise the solo is contrived. I believe in playing the guitar the guitars way if that makes any sense. So i resist copying anyone directly let alone a horn or a pianist. The Django style is a pleasure to play beacuse it is guitar based.
    Pianist were always killing me! As i like to play changes! Django's style is however, not really that interesting on the harmonic end of it.
    I love changes, pretty changes bui i love the guitar and Django and knowledge of him is indepensible as is Bach to a keyboard player.
    My point is this our chosen axe is very different from anything else.
    However, we are creating our own tradition. Jazz guitar as an art is less than 100 years old.
    What Michael says about many straight ahead player is true. Some listen to everyone else other than guitar players. I don't get that!
    One should know and listen to Eddie Lang Django Johnny Smith etc and study these players moving thru the history. Just as you wouldn't tackle Schonberg and then move to Bach would you?
    These were truly guitristic players ie Lang, Van Eps,Mcdonough etc coming from simliar European traditions as Django did. Long arpeggios Dbl stops octaves Chord solos intervals. These devices are essential! I feel that since the sixities succeding generations are poessed of the lead guitar syndrome! We must remember the chordal nature of the instrument and exploit it all we can.
    Only horns play like horns pianos etc. I always bristle at the idea that straight ahead players play like horns. We can play more than one note at a time why not use them more often hence play guitaristically.
    Anthony Hughes
  • trumbologytrumbology San FranciscoNew
    Posts: 124

    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....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.


    It's also interesting that this culture of hyper-Gypsy virtuosity is a product of the aristocratic Gypsy bands. I think Hungary has the most virtuosic Gypsy many other countries Gypsies are basically folk musicians. Really good, but not as over the top virtuosic as the Hungarian Gypsies are. It seems pretty clear that many of the Manouche were descendants of these highly trained musicians. That virtuosity was later directed towards jazz...hence Django!


    Please indulge the culturally ignorant for a moment.

    "The Sinti see themselves as a distinct group from the Gitan, Rom, etc." I can't remember--are they distinct from the Manouche, or are Sinti and Manouche synonomous?

    'And if you really want to piss them off call them "Rom"'
    Do they Speak Roma? Do they call it Roma? Not, of course, that this would be incompatible with avoiding the designation "Rom." I speak English, but would correct anyone who called me English.

    "...Hungarian Gypsies...It seems pretty clear that many of the Manouche were descendants of these highly trained musicians. That virtuosity was later directed towards jazz...hence Django!"

    Do modern Sinti want to distance themselves from the Hungarians too? Again, not that this is incompatible with Django's generation being more sympatico with Hungarians. And were you even referring to Hungarians when you mentioned the Sinti's Eastern European Bretheren?

  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,868
    Hi Neil,

    The Manouche are just the French branch of the Sinti tribe.

    The Sinti speak a language called "Romanesh"....the Sinti have varying degrees of acknowledgment of their connections with the Rom of Eastern Europe. Some admit it, some try to hide it, others just flat out deny it.

    Although there are actually many different Gypsy groups in Eastern Europe, the the various Hungarian Gypsies groups are generally considered Rom. Most of the older Sinti musicians played Hungarian music, and most likely had ancestry from Hungary (like Django's father for example.) So since they have an appreciation for Hungarian music, they do sometimes show a certain respect for the great Hungarian Gypsy musicians Roby Lakatos for example. But almost all the younger generation dropped the fiddle and cymbalom for the guitar. They quit playing Hungarian music and took up Django's music. So for the most part they've left the Hungarian traditions behind them. Fapy still plays some of it...and I know that the 20 something Tcha Limberger actually went to Hungary to study violin. But that's rare....

  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Just wanted to bump this up a bit, seeing as much effort was put into many of these posts and Mr Horowitz weighs in quite heavily...should be a sticky, really...very educational in all.
  • dlloyddlloyd New
    Posts: 18
    Interesting thread. When I first became aware of Django as a teenager, I was aware that he was a "gypsy", but I didn't associate that fact with the music. To me it was just French swing that differed from its American equivalent mainly in instrumentation and influence from Musette.

    In particular, the use of the terms "Gypsy" and "Gypsy Jazz" in relation to this music fascinates me. I was under the impression that "Gypsy" was an English term. Do the Sinti really refer to themselves as "Gypsies"? Or is it used in translation?
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    edited March 2007 Posts: 5,868
    dlloyd wrote:
    I Do the Sinti really refer to themselves as "Gypsies"? Or is it used in translation?

    No, they call themselves The Netherlands non-Gypsies call them Tziguener, which has negative connotations like the English word "Gypsy." But the Sinti don't seem to make that connection, so they dislike the word Tziguener, but fully embrace the word Gypsy.

    Here's something I wrote about that:

    Transnational Dialogues, Other-ness, and Authenticity
    Roma Music in Europe

    Michael Horowitz
    September 5, 2001

    Music performed by various Roma groups from Europe have faired extremely well in the contemporary “World Music” marketing scheme. Groups such as the Franco-Spanish Gypsy Kings, Romania’s Taraf de Haïdouks, and the Dutch Rosenberg Trio have experienced significant commercial success in Europe and abroad performing unrelated genres which have been loosely grouped together as “Gypsy”. Much of their success can be attributed to the virtuosic musical skill and well tested repertoire these musicians acquired from centuries old Roma musical dynasties. However, their reliance on a “Gypsy” identification in the marketing of their music forces one to consider how stereotypes, prejudices, and untruths developed during the 500 years of European Roma music making effect current perceptions of “Gypsy “music.
    A 1998 video of the Rosenberg Trio produced to promote their “Latin” album entitled Noches Cielentes illustrates the ethnic, geographic, historic and symbolic complexities of marketing Gypsy-ness in contemporary Europe. In the video the Rosenbergs play music of Spanish origin such as Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Paco De Lucia’s Rio Ancho accompanied by images of flamenco dancers and the Moorish architecture of Andalusia. To the uncritical eye the paring of Dutch Sinti musicians with the culture of the Spanish Gitan might seem sensible in terms of a pan-Roma culture. However, the religious, linguistic, historical, and cultural differences between these two groups make such a pairing seem more like a constructed marketing strategy then a sincere representation of a Roma-ness.

    The Rosenberg Trio gained their fame by playing the music of the Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt, a style of music which originally had little Roma identification but more recently has become a significant marker of Sinti identity known as “Gypsy jazz”. In what seems to be an attempt to free themselves from the confines of the relatively small jazz market, the Rosenbergs have revamped their image and their music to suite the Other-ness fetish of “World Music” marketing strategies. The Rosenbergs modeled their new sound on the most commercially successful of all Roma musics, the rumba flamenco performed by the Gitan , a genre which has been most successfully pervade by the Gypsy Kings. In addition, the Rosenbergs have recorded gypsy influenced Spanish classical music by Albeniz and Rodrigo.
    By adopting rumba flamenco and Spanish classical music the Rosenbergs are not only navigating current trends but are also relying on an essentialized notion of pan-European “gypsy-ness” to legitimize their adoption of this foreign style. However, the Rosenbergs are not the first to engage in such a transnational exchange of Roma music but rather, are part of a long history in which a plethora of divergent “Gypsy” musics have been engaged in dialogues with each other that defy regional, ethnic, stylistic, and political boundaries. Furthermore, “Gypsy music” has played a role in national music discourses in which it is defined in extremes ranging from absolute “Other-ness” to a well spring of authenticity for Romantic Nationalists. This paper will investigate how Gypsy identified musical genres developed by 19th century romantic nationalist composers in Hungary, France, and Spain have been co-opted by contemporary Roma as emblems of identity and pan-Roma solidarity.
    With the exception of a handful of brief accounts of Gypsy music, most early writing concerning the Gypsies in Europe has been handed down in the form of literature and theater. The most noteworthy of these early works was a short novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) entitled La Gitanilla (1613). The protagonist is Preciosa, the first in a long line of female Gypsy heroines which includes Goethe’s Mignon, Victor Hugo’s Esmeralda, and Merimée’s Carmen. In the subsequent boom of Gypsy inspired literature during the 18th century Gypsies are associated with the themes of freedom, passionate love, eroticism, and nature.
    A number of art songs, instrumental works, ballets and operas were also inspired by Gypsy musical and or literary themes. The earliest example is the lute piece Zeuner Tantz (1540) which is believed to be a transcription from the repertoire of professional Gypsy musicians living around Budapest circa 1489. Among the many operas based on La Gitanilla, Michael William Balfe’s (1808-70) opera The Bohemian Girl (1843) was one of the most successful. With over a hundred performances, The Bohemian Girl was the most popular opera in 19th century England. In general, music written before the mid-19th century which attempted to evoke Gypsy themes, especially opera, rarely relied on melodies or musical devices used by Gypsies. Instead, composers relied on a set of codified Gypsy clichés such as tambourines, castanets, or romantic sets. Serious attempts to emulate elements of Gypsy repertoire and style began with the efforts of 19th century romantic nationalist composers such as Mikhail Iwanowic Glinka, Franz Liszt, and Isaac Albeniz.

    If you want to read the whole thing let me know...
  • dlloyddlloyd New
    Posts: 18
    Know the call themselves The Netherlands non-Gypsies call them Tziguener, which has negative connotations like the English word "Gypsy." But the Sinti don't seem to make that connection, so they dislike the word Tziguener, but fully embrace the word Gypsy.

    To Romnichel (UK Roma), the term "Gypsy" is largely viewed as offensive or at least anachronistic. But then you get organisations like the "Gypsy Council of Britain" who continue to use it. I'm part Romnichel and usually feel uncomfortable about the term, as it's usually used in a negative way in the media. However, I think I kind of like its use in this context. I'm undecided...
    Here's something I wrote about that:

    Transnational Dialogues, Other-ness, and Authenticity
    Roma Music in Europe


    If you want to read the whole thing let me know...

    That's a no-brainer... yes please!
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