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Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz

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  • stublastubla Prodigy Godefroy Maruejouls
    Posts: 386
    Ando wrote:
    Jack, yes, I'm playing devil's advocate mainly to keep the pot stirred up.

    Ted, you're right that my suggested labels still refer to ethnicity. Clearly, I'm still undecided about the extent to which I think ethnicity determines things. 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.

    An entertaining and useful exercise might be to have blind listening tests. Someone could post pairs of improvised choruses on the same tune: one by an ethnic gypsy, and the other by a non-gypsy. No labels, no identifying data whatsoever. The goal would be to guess which is the gypsy, and which the gadjo, and to explain the reason for the choice.

    Some people with massive collections and long listening experience should probably refrain from commenting until we have a winner. This might make for some interesting threads, if nothing else.

    Cheers,
    Ando


    Ando
    I think blindfold tests are a great idea!--they cut thru all the bullshit!!!
    Perhaps we can get Fapy to take part!--that quote in Michaels book about him being able to "recognise the 'gypsy' every time" has always irritated me!:-)
    I'm with Bireli on the subject of ethnicity--i think anyone can play this music BUT!!!!...
    it IS a LOT harder not being brought up in the traditional gypsy schooling --they place real importance on starting very young and thats with good reason.
    Yorgui Loeffler,in London last week (.... and a great 'technician'... but......) was explaining to my rhythm guy Ducato that he was almost written off because he started SO late....at 12!!!
    As Michael has said the gypsies almost approach the 'physical' side of playing as a sport--which is great from the technical side but not necessarily from the musical side.
    Starting young helps them develop the correct muscles in the wrist and forearm--kids like the young Bireli and Jimmy R and Samson Reinhardt developed the strength and techniques completely naturally(and loads of practice).
    I'm sure that the young Django was the same--i suspect he started even earlier than is mooted--and by all accounts he played hours and hours a day.
    I don't think you can overstate that so much of the technical side of this music is about strength;not strength in the'aggressive' sense;strength in terms of flexibility and relaxed control.
    The problem for all us non gypsy guitarists is that,unlike the gypsies there is NO dominant school to give us the discipline required at an early age-with the possible exception of classical guitar.
    The Guitar in our culture has always been a traditionally self taught instrument.Of course,thats not necessarily a bad thing;the lack of 'one' school has led to tremendous variety in approaches which is great.
    The gypsy technical approach reminds me a little of the classical violin school where certain rules(e.g bowing) are 'given' without challenge.

    Cheers
    Stu
  • Posts: 101
    So... what we're talking about here is musical tradition and values.

    Well, let me stir the pot further by adding two more essential ingredients:

    hunger & heart.

    that can't be taught & can't be passed on via your genes - the set & setting and your genes can get you a spot on the starting line, but after that you have to run the race- you either play as if your life depends on it, or you don't.

    there's no denying that much of the good music in the world (at least the "hot" music) comes from cultures where people just don't have all that much money.

    Music, minus the entry-level cost of an instrument (but in Cuba they played rum barrels and all sorts of stuff), is a free past time, and people play it for what I would call "pure" reasons - they are playing for the love of playing, not for material rewards. It's not a coincidence that the material rewards often come to the people who aren't looking for them, at least as a primary motivation. I can't think of a single musician I listen to who has ever been quoted as "Well, I got into music to get rich". Sex & drugs maybe.

    Furthermore, when you're competing for limited work with other hungry musicians, you just have to work harder.

    IMO, this is a big part of why jazz seems to have fallen off the public radar, because it sounds too safe, too polished, too much like a product of a computer program and not enough of an art & a larger shared experience - it doesn't belong on a pedestal, it ain't "fancy pants" music.

    I have tons of respect for blacksmiths & engineers, but I'm not going to go pay money to watch someone pound an anvil or draw up blueprints for a suspension bridge.

    Historically you got your chops out on the street. Having your playing shaped in a public forum, where expectations are high but rewards are low, is kind of the atmosphere that I think the gypsies have really done a wonderful job preserving, and it's the atmosphere that jazz was born in, the Congo Square where the slaves were allowed to gather and play.

    A good solo doesn't have anything to do with pasting together various techniques & phrases, it's about communicating emotions, be it joy, frustration, excitement, etc. it has to be honest, and you combine that with an ability to live up the moment, and to take an audience with you as you struggle & rise. If people want perfection they'll listen to the jukebox or classical music. People go see live musicians for the excitement, for the "X factor" that is the intangible bond the musicians can form with the audience.

    So to bring that full circle, it's not simply gypsy traditions that are likely responsible, it's their socio-economic status in society. Here in America music has proven to be less appealing than professional sports, which offers the hope of the million -dollar signing bonus.

    And this also ties in to what makes this music gypsy - because guitars are cheap & available. A grand piano or woodwind or brass instrument is just f'n expensive, relatively speaking, and most middle class folks I know are hesitant to purchase something like for their kids unless they're serious, so I can't imagine that gypsies have had that luxury (plus, if you were traveling in a caravan, a guitar is a lot easier to transport than a piano!) .

    But sports and music do have one thing in common - you generally (there are exceptions, although the kids usually develop massive psychological problems) can't force a kid to be successful in those fields.

    I've heard stories of parents trying to force their kids to be the next Django Reinhardt by playing 12 hours a day. Well, that just ain't gonna work - you're gonna get a musician whose underlying vibe is "I had to be forced to do this", and that sucks & isn't something anyone wants to go share in.

    Anyhoo, just the demented ramblings of someone with 4 hours of sleep, we had a crazy night at the Green Mill last night, it's one of those places where the expectation gives you a boost of energy, and the band & audience just keep throwing more energy back at each other!

    Carter
  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator
    Posts: 319
    Excellent post, Carter. I enjoyed reading that.

    Tony Green and I got to talking yesterday, and he described something about musicians that was consistent with my experience: that is, many musicians (and especially jazzers) don't "project" positive, radiant, inclusive energy. Instead, they're withdrawn, serious, brow-furrowed, and really moody-looking. All their energy is directed inward. They're focused on their instruments. They don't look at the audience. It's almost like they've formed a closed circle that the audience is just there to "observe," like birds in a cage.

    Tony contrasted this with some Indian musicians he saw "perform" (if that's the right word, which it probably isn't). They formed a half-circle, made a kind of ritual space, and then completely engaged, i.e., made eye contact with, smiled, looked very inviting, with the audience. The singer in particular opened his arms like he wanted to invite everybody to a banquet. All the energy was directed outward, very much like spreading a banquet, or making a beautiful place for people to enter. The songs may have been in Hindi, but the experience transcended language. Remember the groom-serenade sequence in "Latcho Drom"? We don't speak the language, but I bet money we could infer a large part of what he was saying ("I will spread a banquet before you, all that I have I will give to you, my beautiful, my lovely, come and I will make a bridal room for you...").

    Tchavolo Schmitt seems to have a similar approach.

    All this talk about "energy" may sound a bit flakey, but I think the phenomenon is real. Certainly for me, you've identified a large part of what's attractive about this music, at its best.

    Cheers,
    Ando
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,777
    I usually find my views are very much at variance with the current perceptions of Django's inspirations/influence and the origins of gypsy jazz but I am 100% with Michael here.

    Thanks Roger....I agree that Django's Gypsy heritage often gets more attention then it deserves. It's funny how it was only mentioned in passing when he was alive...but today it's Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy!

    However, I will say that I think his Gypsy heritage definitely affected his sense of musical aesthetics. But it's much more subtle then most folks want to believe. I think when people analyze a player for Gypsy "influences" they look to see if he played any "Gypsy" songs. So someone hears a Django rendition of Dark Eyes and goes "ah ha! There's the Gypsy influence." Well, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, tons of classical players, pop singers, etc. have all done "Dark Eyes." It's a really popular Russian song! Gypsies originally started playing Dark Eyes because it was a favorite request of one of their biggest employers: The Russian expatriate community in Paris.

    Django's solos on Dark Eyes are much more jazz oriented then "Gypsy." BTW, Another thing people want to label as "Gypsy" is any sort of exotic scale that is common to Flamenco or Hunagarian/Romanian music. Sure Gypsies in those countries play music with exotic scales...but so does everyone else!

    I think there are elements of Django's phrasing, approach to chords, rhythm, and embellishment which are at least partially a product of his Gypsy heritage. But these things a very difficult to talk to about...it would take a very involved study to come to some real conclusions. I'm not up for doing that anytime soon...but my gut instinct tells me that his music definitely projects some Gypsy musical aesthetics....which is probably why nearly every Gypsy in Western quit playing Hungarian style violin and started playing Django style jazz guitar. There's something about his approach that really speaks to Gypsies.

    'm
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,777
    stubla wrote:
    Whether its actually Gypsy of origin is debatable, alot of the Russian stuff IS gypsy music by origin in my experience.
    Anyway-all this stuff is most associated with gypsy musicians, certainly in Europe.

    Hi Stu....the confusion over what is or isn't Gypsy music nothing new. It goes way back to at least mid 19th Century. The great Hungarian Compsoer Franz Liszt, who wrote the "Gypsy" influenced Hungarian Rhapsody, proposed a theory that Hungarian music is Gypsy music. Like today, early 19th century Hungary was full of virutosic Gypsy bands. They were the popular music of that era..."Gypsy" music was the top 40 pop music of Hungary. No one was entirely sure where this music came from, but Liszt believed it was a unique Gypsy creation. To read more about his ideas on Gypsy music see:

    Liszt, Franz
    1910 The Gipsy in Music. Edwin Evans, transl. London: William Reeves.

    The great Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Bela Bartok came along almost a hundred years later. Unlike Liszt, he actually did intensive historical and field research. What he found was that Liszt's claim that Hungarian music was entirely the product of Gypsy culture was completely false. What happened it Hungary over the past 300 years was that in became fashionable for wealthy land owners to have their own Gypsy bands. The land owners became quite compettitve...sort of "My Gypsy band is better then your Gypsy band" sort of thing. So they started taking in Gypsies and training them on the violin at a very young age. This insured they would have some absolutely devastating musicians at their disposal. The interesting thing is that the music itself was mostly composed by the aristocrats who were amateur composers and musicians. They would write tunes and hand them to their Gypsy band to play. Much of the popular Hungarian repertoire was formed in this way.

    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 traditions....in 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!


    For more on Bartok's research see:

    Bartók, Béla
    1976 Gipsy Music or Hungarian Music? In Béla Bartók Essays. B. Suchoff, ed. New York: St. Martin's Press.


    'm
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    Many great jazz musicians came from comfortable middle-class homes - Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Bill Evans come to mind. The smug suggestion that the middle-class somehow has a poorer quality of "feeling" has been making poseurs in Hollywood and elsewhere plenty of money for the last 50 or so years. On the other hand, the concept of "artist as outsider" is something thought up by 19th century middle-class arts patrons who probably felt guilty about their own prosperity. Coming from an impoverished background or being a tormented existentialist is no more guarantee that you can be a great artist than being happy and prosperous guarantees that you can't. I don't see it having anything to do with it at all.

    The same with ethnicity. We don't suggest that Yo Yo Ma is somehow less of a cellist becaust he's Chinese and not European - or that Kiri Te Kanawa is less of an opera singer because she is Maori and not European. I am with Birili - anyone can play this music. Anyone can play any type of music.

    Greatness in difficult endeavors always requires a lot of work. The early encouragement and support in the gypsy community helps talented guitarists achieve their potential. But it's the same here too. Guys like Mark O'Connor and Frank Vignola who are masters of their instruments started very early with the total and continued support of their families. Great pianists always start very early and have to toil like dogs. Even Fapy says that people don't always realize how hard he had to work. You can't be great without talent, but it won't happen by itself, either.

    I always kind of thought that really great musicians like Django had some kind of superhuman ability to concentrate on the task at hand, like a great tennis player or racing driver...
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,163
    Thanks Roger....I agree that Django's Gypsy heritage often gets more attention then it deserves. It's funny how it was only mentioned in passing when he was alive...but today it's Gypsy, Gypsy, Gypsy!
    The changing fashions and fads are very entertaining.
    However, I will say that I think his Gypsy heritage definitely affected his sense of musical aesthetics. But it's much more subtle then most folks want to believe.
    I agree completely. I have never said Django was not influenced at all by his gypsy heritage only that it is currently grossly over-emphasised. If he had not been reared in a gypsy environment in Europe, he would not have played exactly as he did. Every jazz musician is, to some degree, affected by his place of origin. However, I believe it influenced the way he approached the guitar rather than the music he actually produced.

    Nothing of what he played when he was in charge of his own destiny indicated he had any interest whatsoever in the music that many people consider to be "gypsy". As you say, he played "Dark Eyes" simply because it was a popular tune of the time like much of his repertoire. From the early 40's, his playing was far more influenced by European classical music.

    I am absolutely sure Django would have agreed with everything you have said and would have been quite upset if his playing was spoken of in terms of gypsy (or musette for that matter).
    There's something about his approach that really speaks to Gypsies.
    And me!
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 508
    I think there are elements of Django's phrasing, approach to chords, rhythm, and embellishment which are at least partially a product of his Gypsy heritage. But these things a very difficult to talk to about...it would take a very involved study to come to some real conclusions. I'm not up for doing that anytime soon...but my gut instinct tells me that his music definitely projects some Gypsy musical aesthetics....which is probably why nearly every Gypsy in Western quit playing Hungarian style violin and started playing Django style jazz guitar. There's something about his approach that really speaks to Gypsies.

    Django first learned to play in the family caravan as it travelled in France and Belgium, mostly up and down the Rhone valley. And we know what kind of music was popular in the villages and small towns of eastern France - Parisian songs and light classical. Later he learned technique among the accordeonists, whose own highly arpeggiated style was partly developed by the keyboard layout used on French accordeons. He learned from them, not the other way around. Django never named any of his own compositions with "gypsy"names, and once he moved out of the caravan into a house, he never went back. There isn't a shred of evidence that he ever played any "gypsy music" at all. People focus so much on his being a gypsy, that the fact that he was also French seems to be about forgotten. Django's irresponsibility etc isn't really much different that of any pampered celebrity today

    Compare this to Matelot, who had older musicians in his family who were schooled in the eastern styles of music. He grew up on this stuff - he started out on the violin, and as a youngster played guitar with "the czar's violinist" Jean Goulesco. Matelot's style is more of a "gypsy" style - if there even is any such thing.

    Let's not forget - there is something in Django's approach that really speaks to non-gypsies, too!
  • Ted GottsegenTed Gottsegen Rowayton, CTModerator
    edited March 2005 Posts: 612
    scot wrote:
    Django first learned to play in the family caravan as it travelled in France and Belgium, mostly up and down the Rhone valley. And we know what kind of music was popular in the villages and small towns of eastern France - Parisian songs and light classical. Later he learned technique among the accordeonists, whose own highly arpeggiated style was partly developed by the keyboard layout used on French accordeons. He learned from them, not the other way around. Django never named any of his own compositions with "gypsy"names, and once he moved out of the caravan into a house, he never went back. There isn't a shred of evidence that he ever played any "gypsy music" at all. People focus so much on his being a gypsy, that the fact that he was also French seems to be about forgotten. Django's irresponsibility etc isn't really much different that of any pampered celebrity today

    I agree with all of this, but there is definitely a trend that we see today, which probably hasn't changed in hundreds of years. The trend is that Gypsies tend to play three types of music:

    1. Popular music to make their living by (in this case, Jazz Manouche)
    2. Music that they have adapted as their own and people tend to perceive as Gypsy music (Eastern European)
    3. The music that they perform for themselves (folk tunes sung in traditional language, perhaps a mixture of all the above)

    While there is no audio proof that Django ever played Gypsy music, the reality is that the chances that he did player more of a traditional music inside his camps and caravans than he didn't. Simply because all gypsies do that, even more so back in the early 20th century and there is certainly no reason to suspect that was exposed to and treated any differently than any other gypsy in this regard.
    scot wrote:
    Let's not forget - there is something in Django's approach that really speaks to non-gypsies, too!

    Most definitley, I think what we're elluding to is that Django's melodic and harmonic characteristics; which are so far removed from what any other jazzman of his day possessed, came from his unique childhood and spending his formative years inside a very insular community. That uniqueness is what attracts other people who are tired of the same, bluesy approach to jazz.
    scot wrote:
    Compare this to Matelot, who had older musicians in his family who were schooled in the eastern styles of music. He grew up on this stuff - he started out on the violin, and as a youngster played guitar with "the czar's violinist" Jean Goulesco. Matelot's style is more of a "gypsy" style - if there even is any such thing.

    He definitely does. Again, I don't think anyone is saying that Django has a gypsy style, and that the gypsy effect on his playing was negligable, but it still has to be there. As for Matelo, I think he simply played the music that he loved playing, much the same way Django did.

    Best,

    Ted
  • Posts: 101
    >>Many great jazz musicians came from comfortable middle-class homes... <<<

    Scot, I nowhere said you can't come from a comfortable background and be a great artist or musician, just that there is nothing conducive to the atmosphere that has anything to do with incubating jazz. Those artists didn't become great jazz musicians sitting around the house. Whereas with gypsies, they seem to have a more community-oriented approach to music that also includes the homestead, and it's often their national past time, not baseball or whatever. Plus, it of course helps when everyone lives in the same area.

    Is that not the magic of Samois? To be completely inundated with live music in the air, almost 24/7?

    It's very hard to have an atmosphere like that today. When a neighborhood in Chicago gets any kind of rep as being an artist/ musician community, it's just a matter of time before those folks get priced out & become victims of their own success. We try and create these favorable atmospheres for our children by offering music classes, but these are often the first programs to be cut, which says a lot, quite frankly.

    >>> Coming from an impoverished background or being a tormented existentialist is no more guarantee that you can be a great artist than being happy and prosperous guarantees that you can't. I don't see it having anything to do with it at all.<<<<

    That's your opinion and you are of course welcome to it, but I don't agree.

    West African drumming virtuoso Mamady Keita put it best for me - at a workshop in Chicago he was asked - "how did you get so good?". He said simply, "I have only my drum. You Americans, have too many things. big TV, car, (I forget the rest) etc.".

    It's just a simple question of resources & opportunities, IMO. If your only resource is an instrument, you're just more likely to play it a lot. If competing with that drive is a swimming pool down the street, a big screen TV and a GameBoy, I think a lot of people (I am certainly guilty as well) end up going with the easier route of entertainment.

    That doesn't preclude anyone from becoming a great artist, it does still come down to the individual.

    I find the parallel to pro sports useful - pretty much every historian will tell you that it was the newst wave of immigrants to America that succeeded in various sports - part of it was often due to discrimination, part of it was simply sports were accessible even if you were poor. All it takes is one basketball and a hoop for a game, whereas the resources to have a big band going are considerably higher.

    >>>I am with Birili - anyone can play this music. Anyone can play any type of music<<<

    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. While I share the opinion that some of what passes for gypsy "jazz" isn't jazz at all, I don't believe I'd be playing this music had it not been kept alive by real people - there may be the occasional kid like Sammo Miltich who is so moved by a recording that he dedicates his life to playing like Django, but most people need more of an all-inclusive atmosphere where you have role models, mentors, teachers, people to play with, etc.

    I'm certainly not trying to demean anyone, but perhaps we should ask if part of why gypsies get defensive about being able to play this music better than non-gypsies is because they feel their culture slipping out of their grasp & being commercialized. In the end music knows no boundaries, but why not give them their due?

    And thanks for the good words Ando, much appreciated.

    [/b]
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