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Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz

Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
edited January 2014 in History Posts: 611
Hi All,

Music always grows and changes - beginning with certain attributes and evolving. Django proved this best. But since Django and many other gypsies proclaim that they simply play jazz, at what point does Gypsy Jazz stop becoming Gypsy Jazz.

I post this question in the History section because as we've discussed here and elsewhere, the music started to change during Django's life time and after he died it continued to change. Ninine Garcia's most recent CD has a couple of standards on it and with exception to the rhythm guitar, it doesn't sound much like a Gypsy Jazz recording (he isn't even playing a Selmer style guitar). Patrick Saussois' version of "The Song Is You" is taken largely from Grant Green. Philippe Nedjar's CD is more of a straightahead CD, which features some Django compositions - and were it not for the picture on the cover, I doubt anyone would have guessed he was playing a Favino/Stimer. As a baseline, here are some solid definitions to work from:

Jazz Manouche: This is Gypsy Jazz, Jazz Tzigano Parisian, Swing Tzigane, Hot Club music, Trad, old school, classic - whatever noun is used to describe Gypsy Jazz.

Straightahead: Augmenting this a little for our purposes, but we'll define this word as being anything with an attempt at obtaining a more American sound, but includes pre/post war Swing styles, bop and hard bop.

This thread should go deeper than bland statements like "Well, who first called Gypsy Jazz Gypsy Jazz? Because it's just a label..." Yes, it is just a label, I'm interested in people thinking about the music itself. What does a Gypsy (or Gypsy style) guitarist bring to table that a straightahead player doesn't, and vice versa?

I'm interested in your thoughts.

Best,

Ted
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Comments

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,024
    to ME, django is not gypsy jazz, it's a genius playing jazz in his own way...

    i once said that i don't hear any DIRECT gypsy (whatever that may be) influence in most of django's playing cept maybe a few tunes (1936 minor swing)... even his recordings of dark eyes don't seem "gypsy" to me... (and for the record dark eyes is not an exclusively gypsy / russian folk tune, a fair number of american jazz artists have recorded it )

    in fact when i discovered this music, i didn't even know it was "gypsy"... what i heard was old jazz/swing played with more balls in the rhythm; and more chops!!

    gypsy jazz to me is when people started making the gypsy influence more obvious by playing traditional folk tunes and combining it with django style phrasing- Schnukenak for starters , or the Sinti scene from Latcho Drom....

    Even though i personally dislike the term, i still use it for commercial reasons, but whenever i can i just tell people i play "jazz like in gangster movies".

    seriously, can ANYONE tell that babik is gypsy by listening to "all love"?
    Craig Denney
  • djangologydjangology Portland, OregonModerator Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 887
    I think the word "Straightahead" is perfect. Good choice of a word Ted, as I would agree with how you draw this line.

    The word "Straighahead" implies progression or evolution, which is what modern american jazz is famous for. Using this word to describe the branching off from trad. Jazz Manouche is perfect I think.

    I just bought 4 new CDs: Andreas Oberg - Young Jazz Guitarist, Ninine Garcia - My Dream Of Love, Stochelo & Romane - Double Jeu, and Bireli Lagrene - Move, and I would classify all of them as falling into the "Straightahead" category. Seems as if there is a push lately to depart from trad. Jazz Manouche?

    Ninine Garcia falls into the Straightahead classification but its also a very retro-sounding CD that give a 70's TV show sorta feel to it and so he deserves credit for being able to create a full album with such awesome continuity in this fashion. This is an album that will CERTAINLY stand the test of time... epic. (just my opinion). Obergs album is incredible also, pretty much playing on electric and his stand-out performance on "My Kind Of Bebop" shows that he is able to completely depart from gypsy jazz and is able to still appeal to us gypsy jazz fanatics. I am impressed with this album given his pure gypsy style performance on his previous gypsy jazz collaborations. I can say this is the first truly non-gypsy jazz album that I have ever enjoyed enough to keep it in my player for more than a few days. Good job Andreas. The Romane & Stochelo album is a complete departure to modern jazz, but played on gypsy guitars. Its an album made more for the hard-core jazz enthusiast and is not nearly gypsy style as Elegance was. Finally, Birelis Move lacks a certain entertainment value that I think the Gypsy Project CDs had. Is he getting tired of playing this stuff? That is the impression that I get but if I listen to it a few more times then maybe it will grow on me.

    (Dennis has some very good points above)
    ---
    "I want to party like its 1939!"
  • CuimeanCuimean Los AngelesProdigy
    Posts: 265
    The liner notes to the "Gipsy Jazz School" make an interesting point about this style of music. They feel that it continued a "guitaristic" approach to the instrument, as opposed to the more horn-like style adopted by Charlie Christian and his followers. I don't have the notes in front of me, but if I remember correctly, they defined "guitaristic" as a more complete approach to the instrument - chordal work, single note lines, tremolo picking, continuing of traditional techniques, etc. It's a definition that's full of holes and inconsistencies, but still something to consider.
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    Posts: 611
    Hey Rod,
    Cuimean wrote:
    The liner notes to the "Gipsy Jazz School" make an interesting point about this style of music. They feel that it continued a "guitaristic" approach to the instrument, as opposed to the more horn-like style adopted by Charlie Christian and his followers. I don't have the notes in front of me, but if I remember correctly, they defined "guitaristic" as a more complete approach to the instrument - chordal work, single note lines, tremolo picking, continuing of traditional techniques, etc. It's a definition that's full of holes and inconsistencies, but still something to consider.

    Yeah, that is interesting. Now, can anyone think of an improvisational style of music in which the guitar is used in a similar fashion? Could this be part of the "gypsy" element?

    Best,

    Ted
  • djangologydjangology Portland, OregonModerator Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 887
    Yeah.... surf rock . Many surf rock tunes would be good when translated to "guitaristic jazz" I think. :-)
    ---
    "I want to party like its 1939!"
  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 557
    Ted great Topic I'll try and add something usefull. Being as I listen to "gypsy Jazz" most of the time but because of geographic and academic situation I play much more "Straight ahead" Jazz I have for a long time looked into reconciling the two. I have found that this is not as hard as it sounds. I think Cuimean had a point when he mentioned the term Guitaristic. The thing I notice the most about my playing as oppossed my fellow guitarists at school is just that Guitaristic. I honestly don't do much in the way of transcribing horn players (although there is some Miles Trane Sonny Rollins Bird) for the most part most of the playing I sit down with and drop the needle on to learn from are guitarists whether it be Django, Ninine Garcia (my current project) Bireli or Wes Kenny Burrell and Grant Green. I take a much more Guitaristic approach to improvising (using long arpeggios that span the entire neck in a short period of time for instance) and European guitarists for my money have really done this well. I think that American guitarists have been hung up in trying to sound like horn players while European cats have had a strong tradition on the guitar.

    I think that even when a "Gypsy" guitarist or European Guitarist plays straight ahead Jazz this can be heard.
    I think both the American and european styles have there place (obviously) I like the European style as well the American style but as a guitarist I find the Europeans have a stronger tradition on the guitar.
    my thoughts on the issue. Lets keep this one going!
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,769
    The "guitaristic" element of Gypsy jazz is something that really attracted to me to the genre. I played straight ahead jazz for years. Studied Bird, Miles, Oscar Peterson. It's funny, in the straight ahead world guitar players are sort of embarrassed to be guitarists. They all try to emulate horn players and pianists. My guess is that the standard "clean" jazz guitar tone is actually an attempt to make a guitar sound like a horn. But don't get me wrong, I think everyone should spend a few years seriously studying the vocabulary of other jazz instrumentalists. It really helps you get away from the guitar and just think about music. And it forces you to do things with the guitar that you otherwise wouldn't think of doing.

    However, it's so nice to play a genre where the guitar is king. The standard vocabulary uses ideas that fit perfectly on the guitar....really makes learning technique so much easier. And you really get to take advantage of what the guitar is good at. Of course, the problem is that for many players their playing gets too guitaristic and ends up sounding gimmicky. Even Django was criticized as using too many "tricks."

    When you think about it, there aren't too many genre's where the music actually developed on the guitar. Usually the guitar came later. INMO, the most guitaristic genres are Rock, Blues, Flamenco, and slack key. There are probably some more...

    In most others genres the guitar seems to be imitating something else. Bluegrass Guitar draws from the fiddle and banjo, Classical Guitar is often very pianistic, Brazilian guitar imitates traditional percussion, etc.

    -Michael
  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 557
    Good point there Michael. I do think we as Jazz musicians should really study all the great players. Thats what I'm in school for :wink:

    I like that you mentioned that in Jazz a lot of guitarists feel almost embarassed to be that (guitar players). I recently have been loaning another guitarist here at FSU some of my stuff and he is really getting a kick out of it. He loves the idea of the Guitar being the main istrument and not just a background thing.
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,911
    dennis wrote:
    ...gypsy jazz to me is when people started making the gypsy influence more obvious by playing traditional folk tunes and combining it with django style phrasing- Schnukenak for starters , or the Sinti scene from Latcho Drom....

    Yes! That stuff, for me, has become the real hallmark of what I think of as 'gypsy jazz'. If I can extend the Latcho Drom reference, 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 agressive. 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).

    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.

    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. The first one I think I've got a better handle on-the blues is a lot more prevalent in straightahead-but the second I'm just starting to really think about in this context. Does a Stimerized Selmer 'count' as electric? How does playing an amplified archtop affect someone's playing compared to a Selmer style? I wonder because it seems like American jazz guitar took it's biggest turn once amplification became the norm. 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.

    Apologies for the ramble,
    Jack.
  • pallopennapallopenna Rhode IslandNew
    Posts: 245
    As a (perhaps) token horn player who happens to play guitar as well, I'm not sure that there is a "horn-like" approach when we're talking about players from Django's era. If you listen to the differences between Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, for example, I think you'll hear two radically different ways of creating solos on the horn. It's no wonder that Django recorded with Hawkins, as their approach to improvisation sounds much closer in spirit than had he chosen (had the opportunity?) to play with Young. Also, listen to Chu Berry to hear someone I think would have been a nice partner for Django. My guess is that, once you start talking about players coming up at the end Django's life (i.e. the second generation of bop players, most notably early Coltrane and early Sonny Rollins), there is similar, but not as radical a difference. I would bet that Django would have felt much more comfortable with Rollins (okay, this is streching things, I know).

    For me, this doesn't discount any of the earlier statements about the guitaristic sound of Django-inspired jazz, nor does it contradict other statements about the increasing "gypsiness" of what we call gypsy jazz (I agree with Dennis about the term). It's just an observation that not all horn players play alike (ah, the obvious...)! At a slightly deeper level, I think many of the most captivating players, regardless of their instrument, use that instrument as a means of interpretation. That is, they exploit the peculiar properties of the instrument to add to their improvisational vocabulary (or syntax, or semantics -- I'm not sure what's the right metaphor). This is opposed to players who are completely constrained by their instrument. One of the things that makes Django's playing so compelling for me is his ability to combine playing the guitar and jazz at the same time (if that makes sense).

    Enough babbling; insomnia breeds sophmorism, I suspect.

    -Paul
    Reject the null hypothesis.
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