Gypsy Jazz -- or -- Gypsies Playing Jazz



  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,174
    dennis wrote: »
    Wow everything scot and teddy wrotr, i wrote in my article for my next month!
    Ah but Scot did not have the Matelo quote in French like you do now. ;)
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 543

    Roger and I have discussed the question “would gypsy jazz have existed without Django” a couple of times over the years. He always insisted that it wouldn't exist and I typically disagreed – I'm disagreeable like that. But I was mostly wrong.

    Roger's focus is always on Django. Dennis is interested in gypsy jazz/Sinti culture. I am interested in the music of Paris, and France in general, and I have a broad view of things from having played many styles of music that are not related in any way to this music. So we are each seeing the history from a different perspective, we're all looking for different clues. So sure, without Django, we would not have the music we call gypsy jazz, which along with being a catchy kind of guitar music is also an important signifier of Sinti identity. Cajun music, Hawaiian music and bluegrass serve similar social functions, and that's always proved to be a good thing. Once again I refer back to “Un Heritage sans Transmission” by Patrick Williams which explains the evolution of this gypsy jazz far better than I could in this short space. I'm not an ethnologist and I don't know any of the gypsies who play it.

    Back to the question at hand. If Django had never existed we wouldn't have the music called gypsy jazz. Correct. But we'd have something; we'd still have the rest of the Paris guitar history. A bright star can dim the lesser stars, and it was just so in Paris. Who can say what other guitarists might have accomplished without the overwhelming presence of Django and the demands of gypsy etiquette? The Ferrets did not play like Django. Baro's musical vision was too dark and mysterious to ever gain any popular appeal. Matelot was too busy trying to support his family to worry about being a star. Sarrane's playing lacked Django's je ne sais quoi. Henri Crolla, Didi Duprat and Marcel Bianchi moved on to other things. And though American jazzmen played in Paris and all over France all through the 50s and 60s, for some reason these guitarists apparently rarely played with them. I'm still not sure why that was the case. It seems that while French piano and horn players adopted bebop with little problem, by and large the guitarists either couldn't adapt or simply did not want to play that music.

    If Django was somewhat marginalized after the war by jazz critics and bebop musicians, it wasn't necessarily so for the record buying public. American guitarists from Jerry Reed to Jerry Garcia have always declared him to be the greatest – see Guitar Player, Nov 1976, nearly the entire magazine is dedicated to Django, or Frets Oct '84 or countless other magazines. Sometimes I think that a lot of musicians just like to think their heros are marginalized characters. That wasn't Django – during the war he was a celebrity. Anyone interested in this subject should read Mike Zwerin's book "La tristesse de St Louis - Jazz under the nazis".

    The music Django and Grapelly created was romantic and French and those records never went out of print or stopped selling. Maybe jazz critics and bebop musicians were not especially interested in it, but lots of people liked it enough to buy the records. I think that for quite a lot of people that music evokes the romance of Paris in the same way Edith Piaf and certain kinds of accordion music does. I know it did for me even before I ever went to Paris. I had read about Django in a novel called “From Here to Eternity” (the description of his playing in this book is pretty good) and the first time I heard his music I knew who it was instantly. People who feel that will continue to buy those records just as they have for over 70 years. The music Django and Grapelly created was something quite special and I don't think it will ever lose it's appeal. Gypsy jazz? Here in N America, it mostly appeals to young men who are interested in technical guitar playing. Gypsy jazz is player's music and player's music rarely has very much long-term appeal for those unfortunate people who don't play it – that's the voice of experience speaking there! Whatever charms the music of guitarists like Jimmy Rosenberg may have, it's no more romantic that Jimmy Raney, that's to say not romantic at all. Most people, even guitarists, tire of it after only a few minutes, once the novelty of the astonishing speed and technique wears off. This also happens with Cajun music or bluegrass, and nearly all other types of player's music.

    Of course there are gypsy jazz players like Fapy and Mandino Reinhardt who can and do play romantic music with great skill – I wouldn't deny that.

    After Django died, except for his brother Joseph and Eugene Vees, the guitarists in Paris were either gitane gypsies or ethnic French. The great musical families - Ferret, Garcia, Sollero, Malha/Malla/Mailhes, Castro – they were all gitane and not sinti, and all of them played wide varieties of music. Francis always insisted that Matelot and Sarrane could play any kind of music. I have a couple of rare folios of classical pieces supposedly arranged by Baro and Sarrane, and I have a recording of Sarrane playing the Adagio d'Albinoni in 1962. I think that in order to survive as a professional guitarist in Paris after the war, you had to have a pro's work ethic and be able to play whatever came along, and this was probably easier for the long-sedentary gitane gypsies and French guitarists, and just not possible for restless men like Joseph Reinhardt. Maurice Ferre told me that when he was playing at the Clarion de Chausseur (he played there 6 nights a week for 30 years!) he could play over 1000 tunes from memory. What a character! He called “Take Five” “Steack Frites” because everyone liked it so much. He had to be reliable and professional in ways that Django wasn't and Joseph likely would also have found impossible. Francis said that Matelot and Sarrane were pros, too. They showed up on time and played the gig.

    This was not the pastoral milieu of gypsy camps and roulottes. The “zone” was destroyed after the war. It was a competitive world where everyone had to work hard and hustle to survive, and the music developed differently here. Audiences were interested in what was popular and to make a living you had to stay on top of things. Francis told me that in the 60s he took jobs to play music that he did not know how to play and would have to go to Matelot to learn it – Matelot knew every style of music.

    So without Django, we'd still have the Ferret family, Ninine and Mondine, Christian Escoude, Henri Crolla, Didi Duprat, Patrick Saussois and so on. The post-war world was one of new technology, new music, and new things in general. The Paris music world was no different and it has always taken advantage of the Westerner's love of new and different things and ideas. But without Django, the music of Paris, however different it might be from what we call gypsy jazz – it would never have become the great and sophisticated music it is today, either. And what with all the terrific players there today, it's still developing in ways that we can't predict.

    I have been really lucky. All the guitarists in Paris I talked to were very generous with their stories and anecdotes. One of my fondest memories is of walking around Paris on a sunny fall afternoon with Francis Moerman while he pointed out this cafe and that brasserie where he had played with this guitarist, that violin player. Francis was an emotional man and it was quite a moving experience to share these evocative memories with him.

  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 543
    That quote in French is "On dit que Django joue style gitane. Il ne joue pas style gitane. Il joue un style qui lui est propre. La musique du django commence avec lui meme. Il joue certes de la guitare, instrument traditionnel, mais il a fait lui-meme son ecole de guitare. Il a cree un style. Cette ecole part de lui". From "Django et L'Ecole Tsigane du Jazz" by Michel Claude Jalard in Cahiers de Jazz #1 in 1959. Essential reading if you are interested in this sort of thing.
  • I'm glad this thread was updated as I probably wouldn't have stumbled across it since it was buried sometime ago.
    Scot, since we've been in contact recently, I can affirm you certainly know your stuff and am glad to hear your comments on anything. I'm still trying to find time for us to get together.
    It's funny that I was thinking only yesterday how American the later Django sounds and while I like it, it doesn't have the attraction for me that the early stuff has. My thoughts, and I'm clearly no authority on jazz (rockabilly, bluegrass, and country being the genres I have more knowledge of) were initially that the reason I like Django and "GJ" in general is exactly because it doesn't sound American. Most baby boomers in the US have heard all the American songs or the tunes are at least embedded in their collective unconscious so that there is an endearingly nostalgic familiarity. What makes it even more attractive is that with the familiarity there is an element of the exotic, thus a bit more accessible than strict gypsy, musette, sinti, etc.
    It's analogous to Bill Monroe speaking of the "ancient tones" of Celtic music present in his and others' sound. For many of us with that heritage it was probably less surprising a sound but there was still an element of the exotic of at least an unknown past. GJ music for me is also hybrid that relies upon the ancient tones of so many other genres mentioned in the posts above, blended with modern American songs.
    This is my attraction to the style.

  • And then there are a few horn players who are using GJ guitar licks. I really enjoy being able to play both. I think having a horn in the combo adds the ability to create some different colours into the mix. We are still looking for a lead/rhythm guitarist so I can play sax in the tunes where we want to use that sound.

    It's more like Django envisualized IMO rather than the current trend in GJ.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,111
    i don't want to post my full article here, but i also talk about the fact, that with or without django, i have no doubt that gypsies (of all kinds) would have discovered jazz anyway. as someone said, gypsies played what people wanted to hear, and some of the more musically ambitious also had an appetite for new sounds. What the Sinti brought to the table after django's death, was a folklorized form of what django did, and eventually it became so codified (unintentionally) that it became the Gypsy Jazz that we know today... and that's not a criticism, but an observation...

    when i was struggling with my article last summer, teddy dupont was not in full agreement that gypsies would have discovered jazz (or if i misquoted him i apologie in advance), but the more that i think about it and the more that i talk to other musician's/experts , the more i think they would have.

    my reasoning for this is through the Roma (non Sinti); hungarian roma for example, who eventually discovered jazz and fell so in love with it , but they discovered jazz through bebop... they only have a very superficial knowledge of django reinhardt whom they respect, but that's it. I admit that i dont have as much contact with the roma as i do with the sinti, but based on my experiences and those who have had more contact that i did, this seems to be true...

    in my article, i also talk about the current generation of players, where most of the top players are NOT gypsies at all and who have a much deeper musicial ambition than gypsies do in general... a vision that isn't always so far from django's (ie the constant search for new sounds)... should we consider these players GYPSY Jazz players? the term becomes more and more ambiguous as there are gypsies such as bireli and fapy lafertin that are certainly not folkloric players, how should they be categorized then?

    in the end i do memntion that categorization is not important, and that's not the focus of my article, i only mention all this in passing because it's interesting... the whole focus of my article is on misconceptions and myths perpetuated by conventional wsidom
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,174
    dennis wrote: »
    when i was struggling with my article last summer, teddy dupont was not in full agreement that gypsies would have discovered jazz (or if i misquoted him i apologie in advance), but the more that i think about it and the more that i talk to other musician's/experts , the more i think they would have.

    I think gypsies would have discovered jazz. That was almost inevitable simply because jazz was the popular music of the day for a time. What I question is whether it would have become a significant part of their musical repertoire without Django Reinhardt. As far as I am aware, it is in Paris in the 30's that gypsies first became involved in jazz and that was because of Django Reinhardt. It didn't happen anywhere else in the gypsy community until Django's fame spread. The Ferret's became involved in jazz because of Django. We hear the story of Matelo going round to Django's caravan and Naguine teaching him some basic jazz chords. It is important not to underestimate what a significant musical figure Django was in France in the late 30's and early 40's. He was not only considered to be the leading guitarist but also the foremost jazz musician. It needed someone as influencial as that for the music to permeate through the gypsy community. If a lesser gypsy musician had championed jazz, it would have had no significant impact on the music played by other gypsies.

    Jazz has not been commonly embraced by gypsies. It is only in continental Europe where it has happened. If it was inevitably going to happen, why has it not happen elsewhere?

    We will never know, of course, what the situation would have been had Django never existed but I don't think there is anything to suggest that jazz would have inevitably played a significant role in gypsy music without him.

    I know I am going to upset Scot now but I also doubt musicians like the Ferrets would have been heard of outside of France or perhaps even Paris had it not been for Django. The only place we hear of gypsy guitarists in the 30's and 40's is France. Why do we not hear of them elsewhere? France can't be the only place in the world where there were talented gypsy guitarists? Logic says there must have been the equivalent of Baro and Matelo Ferret elsewhere. There must have been others with the ability of Joseph Reinhardt. Spreading the net further, would we have heard of Hubert Rostaing or Alix Combelle without Django? In fact, would there have been any general interest in the Paris jazz scene without Django? How many people know or care about the jazz scene in London or Rome or Madrid or anywhere else other than America in the 30's and 40's. To me the big difference and defining factor is the presence and fame of Django Reinhardt focussing attention on the place and the musicians who played there particularly those who performed with him.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,111
    Well i have not investigated this but perhaps some ethnomusicologist has.. I have no idea to what extent other gypsies were exposed to jazz

    But it must be said that paris was a one of thriving musical centers of europe in those days, the proof is in all the passing american jazz musicians.. If django had been living far away from paris, history would have been different
  • Posts: 2,783
    It's a responsibility of us in this community to take Django outside of Gypsy jazz box whenever possible. I've been avoiding lately to answer "we play gypsy jazz" when people come up after a show who aren't familiar with the style but like the feeling of music. Well for one they aren't going to have a clue what that means if I say Gypsy jazz first of all.
    So I just go on to say it's American swing jazz from 30's and 40's played on acoustic instruments these guys in France had available to them when they started also back in 30's, and combination of all these elements infused with their own regional musical influences ended up with what you hear.

    We all love playing this music but I have a feeling Django would give us all a smirking look if he visited today, though I'm sure he'd be extremely proud inside. Like pioneers and explores in every other field of life, he was the one always forging ahead without much looking back.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 543
    If Django had not been on the scene in Paris, it wouldn't have been the same - of course. Only an fool would deny this. But France and and Paris in particular embraced jazz from the very beginning, plus there were always currents of music there that did not involve Django, the cabarets russes, for example. You can find any number of books on the subject of jazz in France and if they were not written by guitar-oriented scholars, Django will merit part of a chapter and that'll be about it. He was an important figure in parts of the jazz world for about 15 years and then dropped of the map for 20+ years.

    Here in our closed-off corner of the music world, Django is the central figure, a guitar giant, and I agree 100% with this. To me he's the still greatest guitar player ever. But I never had a circonflex moustache or wore a pair of spectators, either. To the larger world of jazz scholarship, he's simply one figure among many other important jazz giants, and a foreign one at that. And just as Dennis and I have both said many times here, the style of music called "gypsy jazz" is basically a folklorish sort of codified jazz, and among many modern jazz writers and listeners it is seen as just that - a tiny idiosyncratic subset of the larger jazz world, only marginally jazz at all. That's not a criticism from me either, it's just an observation. No other jazz figure has festivals, guitars and all the rest named after him? All that is great I suppose, but to many people, all that cult of personality stuff is weird and even kind of creepy. I have seen more than a few things that I would call blackface.

    People do want the guitars their favorites played, that's not unusual in any kind of music; I've seen it a lot. When I was a horn repairman, I was always looking for a cheap Buescher Aristocrat alto sax - it was the horn Charlie Parker was supposed to have played and sax players wanted these horns and would pay well for them.

    Back to the Ferret brothers. France values it's artistic patrimonie and intellectuals like Alain Antoinetto ( a professor of Asian art) had been working to preserve the legacy of these guitarists since the early 60s; guitarists like Francis Moerman had been doing the same thing, putting on performances and giving lectures in public schools everywhere in France since the 60s. I think that much of this patrimonial music from France would never have attained even the tiny bit of international popularity it has today with out the rise of "gypsy jazz" and people like Patrick Saussois and Jon Larsen (both students of Matelot) and others like Patrick Fremeaux and Daniel Nevers, not to mention Alain Antoinetto, who all worked so hard to promote gypsy jazz in the 80s and 90s. Without their efforts a lot of music would never have been heard by modern audiences - people like Gus Viseur and Jo Privat, Henri Crolla, Marcel Bianchi and so on. Experimental groups like Les Primitifs du Futur might never have even come into existence. Maybe we'd never have heard of the Ferret brothers either. But Charles Delauney and Vogue thought enough of their music to allow them to make a few discs. Matelot was the leading pro guitarist in 60s Paris and played on hundreds if not thousands of recordings by all sorts of people including some ye-ye and "rock" sessions. I have many private recordings of him playing up into the 80s and he was a fine jazz guitarist, not the equal of Django of course but then who ever was?

    I won't argue Roger's point. Without Django, maybe we wouldn't have heard of any of these other guitarists or accordionists or violinists. I think we probably would have but that's just speculation, like all of this. Mechanics, in the course of their daily work, often talk about a "zero part" - it's that part that is so difficult to reach, it seems that the entire assembly must have been built around it. Django has always been the zero part, the deux ex machina here in this corner of the musical word, and the machine won't work without that zero part.
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