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The Two Minute Practice Method

By Davorin Cavar-Buco

2 minutes at a time. Sounds like snake oil or click bait. It is not. I’ve been using it in my practice and it is very helpful. Initially, it was a way to get myself onto the chair with a guitar in hand every day and it evolved into the tool I now use to shape my practice almost entirely.

Of course I’m not alone in doing this.

The Practice of Practice, a book written by my friend Jon Harnum, is well written and researched and has influenced how I think about practice. In it, there’s a part that explains how a famous classical teacher designed a two minutes-a-day practice routine for his student to learn an intricate piece of classical music.

The book “Atomic Habits” is currently a best-selling book on Amazon. It’s about forming new good habits and breaking old bad ones. It lists a two minutes rule as one of the ways to do that.

When forming a new habit, do it for two minutes at a time daily until it sticks. I can certainly attest to the effectiveness of this rule.

Why and How

It first started because I knew that I didn’t practice enough.  I thought I didn’t have enough time in a day to practice or I was too tired. But these were excuses I made for not playing. Days or weeks would go by without picking up the guitar. Some of this behavior was in part created by some music educators. I was told on numerous occasions the minimum amount of time for effective practice is from 20 minutes to 2 or more hours. Up to that point, I never really had practice habits. I played when I felt like playing. It served me well in my adolescence. Whenever I thought of guitar I could either reach for it or wait until I got home. Not so much in my adulthood.

Make it a Habit

At some point it became clear I needed to change. I made a goal for myself to practice every single day. If it was very late at night and I was tired but didn’t practice that day, I’d set the timer on my phone to 2 min 10 sec (10 seconds to prepare for 2 minutes of playing). Or I’d do it before I left home for work. If I couldn’t plan for a longer practice, I’d use these 2 min 10 sec quick sessions to jump in whenever I could.

This did several positive things. Consistency and the desire to play every day is most important. Picking up my instrument daily mattered more than the length of time. Sometimes, after two minutes I would put the guitar down and finish. But other times, 2 minutes turned into 20 minutes or an hour. Dedicating an hour and more each day is a good intention and every musician should always strive for it. But, having music in your life is better than not, even if it is only 2 minutes.

Effective Practice Tool

What started as a musical self esteem fix, wonderful in itself, turned out to be an extremely effective practice tool. After some time I thought of ways to make the two minutes count. To make the best of it, I decided to isolate small challenging sections of music. I’d slow it down to about half of my target speed and repeat for 2 minutes. I was amazed to realize how many repetitions you end up playing in 2 minutes of time when you repeat a small chunk of music over and over. Many times I’d check to make sure I pushed the start button. I’d look and there would still be some time left. After a few months of doing this I saw it working and making a real change.

Problem Fixer

There were parts of music I tried to improve for years. Then I felt and heard improvements by practicing them only 2 minutes at a time. I thought I did this already, practice by repeating, Once I started timing myself, I realized that my repetitions were almost always shorter than two minutes.

Musicians at any level can use this tool. I didn’t talk to any highest level advanced musicians about it, but I suspect they do something similar already. This is pretty much what woodshedding is to a musician. Doing something over and over until it happens automatically, without thinking, like driving a car. A beginner may practice a single chord in the open position; play a chord, lift the hand off the guitar, then play it again. A novice in Gypsy jazz genre may practice a two chord change that might be tricky to land. A few things I improved practicing this way were the first 8 bars of La Gitane waltz with a blistering run of alternate picking, a diminished arpeggio on the B section of Bossa Dorado and a Cm6 arpeggio in Minor Blues.

Something you hear a lot is not to practice things you know, instead practice things you don’t know. It’s good advice. I’ll give a bit more detail and explain how I go about in the context of the “problem fixer”. If I’m practicing a phrase or anything else, it’s usually at certain spots where I hear kinks and wrinkles before I have it down completely. So instead of starting the whole thing from the beginning, I isolate and practice only the part I need to smooth out. Just a few notes where this happens. Maybe 3-4, maybe 6 notes. I’ll do that with each little bit where my playing is not where I want it to be. More on this process further down.

Timing Your Sessions

It is very important to use an actual timer, not just watch the clock. What the timer does is make you accountable for that time. So you’re far less likely to wander off in the middle of your practice. Since I’ve been using the timer I never wander off during this period of time. Before using this technique it used to happen all the time. It acts like a good cop or teacher in the classroom watching over your shoulder. It makes you focus, keeps you committed to the task. The timer on my phone is always set for 2 minutes, 10 seconds and ready to start. Once the timer starts, you immediately go to your productive zone.

Importance of Focus

Being and staying focused is extremely important for success of a musician; the timer helps you focus. When you perform in public, away from your practice space, things happen out of your control taking away your focus. Isolated in your practice space, nothing takes your attention away and it’s easier to stay focused. When you are performing outside, where you are not very familiar, there are all kinds of things distracting you. These break your focus and the performance suffers. I was in the workshop with one of the best guitar players of today, Kurt Rosenwinkel. He said on a good night he’s at best 70 percent as good in concert as he is in his practice space. Mental toughness is what makes good players great. It is what differentiates two players with otherwise the same or very similar skill sets. That’s especially true in sports. It is what separates champions from the runner ups.

How to Get the Most from My Practice Time

As I talk to people about practice this question comes up often. In other words, how do I get better faster? First, your practice may be of little value, if you don’t have a clear path and stay on it.One of the best things for your practice is to know what to work on before you sit down, so when you do, you pick up your instrument and get to work immediately without any idle time. But my immediate answer is that first and foremost it all boils down to the amount of time put in. I sometimes answer in a challenging way: show me somebody that played 6 hours a day for several years that stayed an average player. I don’t think this person exists. And if you’re spending this much time with your instrument, I doubt that you’re mindlessly noodling a majority of the time. If you stay in it for longer than 2 hours or so, it means you’re in a productive zone intently focused on something. I’ve been in the classroom with many of the world class guitar players. They all say pretty much the same thing: I never had a specific practice regiment, I just played a lot, 10 hours a day or even more. Maybe they weren’t aware of it, but this time had to be structured in some way. They were young when they were developing and did a lot of the right things intuitively but saw it as just playing a lot. For anyone who spends so much time with their instrument, there will be some kind of structure that emerges and you will spend a lot of this time working out specific problems and tackling particular points.

For the rest of us that don’t practice 10 hours a day, it’s then important to get to that productive zone as fast as we can. Using a timer is a practical way to get you in this zone quickly and keep you there. It limits empty rambling and keeps you on the point. Keeping your practice focused this way also helps to build a catalog of things you should be working on. They emerge by themselves once you start zeroing in. Once I had 3-4 of small specific things I knew I could work on I made a list of those and kept adding to it. So I always knew what to start with immediately as I sat down. And I’ve heard that advice over the years, keep a list of things to practice. I came into it in a roundabout way, assembling a list of small chunks of music that I can practice in 2 minutes.

Every musician knows about the noodling. It’s necessary to relax sometimes, unplug and mindlessly meander about your instrument. It can get you some creative ideas for your next practice, too. But if you end up noodling after you started your practice with another intention, a lot of time is wasted. A fruitful practice is a lot about making every moment a learning experience.

Target Tempo

When choosing to learn to play something don’t get hung up at a tempo that you normally hear advanced or top musicians perform at. It’s really irrelevant. Good music can be enjoyed at any tempo. If you perform a piece or play well at the tempo where you’re relaxed and sound good, you and your audience will enjoy it just as well. Always put the overall quality of sound ahead of the bpm number. You need to lay a good foundation for what’s to come: this means know where the notes are with the comfortable fingering and a good picking pattern. More on this topic below. But do choose a tempo that is a goal you need to achieve and is something at the top of or better yet, a touch above your current ability. Then start practicing at half that tempo and work your way to the full tempo. More about that to follow.

Breaking the “Speed of Sound” Ceiling

Another question that occurs regularly is: how do I get faster? First it’s important to realize that speed is a lower priority goal when it comes to playing music. More important is the tone and clarity of notes. Unfortunately this becomes switched around a lot and sometimes people are able to play fast, but with poor tone. And inevitably not clean, with a lot of smudged, poorly articulated notes. That’s unfortunate because a lot of these players are capable musicians and could achieve both but they don’t focus on important details. And I always say music can be just as enjoyable at slower tempos. But eventually there comes a time when you really want to go to the next level. It may be a practical need that comes up: a gig with a certain tempo requirement. Or a recording date. It may be the desire to play jams at professional musician speed. Or you just want to test and challenge yourself, I know I do. And it’s often said that if you want to play fast, you need to start slow. This is absolutely true.

Common drill is you start at a comfortable tempo where you can play cleanly and move up in 5-10 bpm increments until you reach your target. I go about it differently. I choose my target tempo, go to half that tempo and practice there. When I feel comfortable at this tempo it means I know the notes, the fingering is memorized, notes are clear. I use this time to pay close attention to my tone. It’s slow enough where you can be aware of a few things at one time. Then I’ll go to my target tempo and see how I do: usually not great. Then I’ll cut my practice to smaller chunks. Practice each chunk for two minutes at target tempo and then start connecting the parts together. If I’m still having trouble even with smaller chunks then I’ll go back to half tempo with those or cut them to yet smaller chunks to practice at full tempo. It could be as short as two notes at the time. Then stitch those back up to longer pieces. Sometimes in order to practice the transition between the small chunks, I’ll take a few last notes from the preceding part and first few notes from the upcoming part and just practice that. All with the goal of methodically removing errors. I was very pleased to hear that Tcha Limberger does something similar. I watched a video recently from Christiaan van Hemert with the special guest Alexandre Tripodi. Alexandre mentions it starting around 26:10 in the video linked below (but watch the whole thing).

Practicing something very fast in small chunks makes it possible to eventually play the whole thing at a fast tempo. The only exception I’ll make from this half-full approach is once I’m at full tempo but things aren’t clear and well articulated then I’ll go down to 90% of full tempo. This is usually slowed down enough to where I can practice at a higher tempo but making sure all the notes are there, clean and clear. About the question of how long to practice one or the other, it’s a moving target. It depends on the current level and how fast you can move from half to full. Recently I was practicing soloing over a high tempo song and I guesstimate I spent well over half of my practice time at slow, 50% tempo, before going full tempo with a small part of that time at 90% tempo. Also don’t be afraid to go to 25% of full tempo when starting. Sometimes I have to do this and it is the best I can play at first.

When it comes to playing very fast, my theory is that any guitar player at higher intermediate level or lower advanced level is able to play 2 or 3 consecutive notes of any very advanced solo or lick or phrase at it’s full tempo. For musicians who are trying to step up to that next level, it’s about taking very short steps at a time, being consistent in pushing forward, and chipping away continuously in small doses.

Tone

I already mentioned that tone is far more important than the speed of playing. But the tone is a far more elusive goose to hunt down. Few things that might help: first you need to have a clear audio picture of what kind of tone is your ideal. This is usually the tone of your favorite or a few favorite players. Then you need to be able to describe it in words. Then you go about getting it into your fingers. These days it’s easier because we have so many videos of our favorite players and are able to study and copy their picking hand position. We can pay attention to their pick attack and watch and listen to the left hand deciding if the tone is more staccato or leans more on legato. Both hands matter in getting a good tone and ultimately it’s up to you to find what works and sounds good.You need to be honest with yourself and be critical of what you hear. Experiment: pick position, pick grip, hand position and angle. See what kind of changes give you satisfying results and try to make a note of that, mental or otherwise and stick with it for a while. One time I asked a friend, Koran Agan, whose tone is pretty much supreme to my ear: how did you get your tone? Did he do anything to develop it and such? He told me that he doesn’t remember doing anything specifically about it other than in college (he graduated from Berkeley) when he’d practice late at night, often he would play a single note at a time and just let it ring out and listen. And he said he did that a lot during this period. He also said: change strings, dust off the guitar, water your plants and listen. So there’s that too. Pick up your guitar, set the timer and play any random note. Listen carefully and repeat, go up and down the fretboard, explore different positions on the guitar neck, for two minutes. Try to assess what you heard. To truly be able to critique, record yourself, this is very important. Oftentimes when I thought my tone was getting there, I recorded myself and would realize it’s not what I want to hear and it needs more work. And yes this can be discouraging, practicing something for a long time and not seeing and hearing the results. It’s about having goals and expectations and how to set them and differentiate between them. But more on that later. Another thing that might happen is you might start thinking this is something that simply isn’t possible within the limits of your ability or talent…or which is it?

I’ll Never be as Good as… Plus I’m too Old to get Better

One sentiment I hear often (that usually has to do with being technically proficient which again usually means being able to play a lot of notes) goes something like “let’s be realistic, I’ll never be insert name. That’s unfortunate. Well, not if the person truly never had any ambition to reach the higher level of performance. But to a lot of people this kind of thinking will automatically disqualify you from becoming better before you even tried to put in a real effort. It is a very dispiriting way to think and go about your musical life. If you tell yourself “I won’t be able to do this” then what outcome can you possibly expect? And it’s regrettable when some people who say and believe this, actually had dreams of achieving a higher level as a musician.   

While it’s beyond the scope of this article to talk about natural talent, it’s been mostly proven that even if this ingredient is taken into the account, it’s mostly the hard work of an individual that makes them a virtuoso. The vast majority of the reason they are so good is the time they put in. Then you also hear that they started very early in life, as if to say they had this huge head start. A lot of time they did, but the silver lining for the rest of us, the way I see it, is that most of their technical proficiency was developed in a relatively short span of those early years. From my very unscientific observations 4-5 years at the most. Then you have Wes Montgomery who started at 19 or 20 years old, depending on a source, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone of his legend in the music world and wide reaching influence.

So none of us will be Wes or any of the virtuosos we admire. Well, so what? Seriously. You’ll never be them and they’ll never be you. But why give up on being the best version of yourself?

I just recently saw Julian Lage say in an interview that when he was younger he wanted and tried to play like John Mclaughlin (about 55 minutes of the video linked below, but watch the whole thing) and Jim Hall. And he couldn’t. But instead of saying let’s be realistic and putting limits to himself, he said that’s OK, let me see what I can do. He wouldn’t let it define his ability. 

All of this almost always happens at the same time with another sentiment: “I’m too old to get better”. This usually originates from accepted assumptions that once we step into the second half of our life, our ability to learn a new skill has greatly declined. While there is enough recent research to challenge that belief, simple search (by today’s standards) will reveal many names who found success later in life than established norms would have you think doable. I already mentioned Wes Montogomery. How about my fellow townsman, Aleksandar Hemon? He came to the US and settled in Chicago in 1992 at the age of 27, with the limited knowledge of English language and became one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation, receiving MacArthur Foundation Genius Award in 2004. Next to numerous other published works and awards, he wrote a script for the 4th Matrix movie. While it’s questionable to call Albert Einstein a late bloomer, perhaps he saw himself as one by his own admission when he said: But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Grandma Moses (started painting in her 70s), Colonel Sanders (started his franchise in his 60s), Charles Bukowski (first published at the age of 51), even Silverster Stalone (he was 30 when he wrote Rocky), our world is full of people who became the best versions of themselves later in life. Albert Einstein, besides his work being a pillar of modern physics, is also known for having a childlike sense of wonder and that perhaps is just as important a lesson to learn from him.

To get back to music, really the biggest challenge is finding time to practice in an adult busy life. Coupled with the thought of putting a significant portion of your daily life into the endeavor with potentially questionable outcome, it’s easy to see how likely it is for someone to resign. That’s why you need to look for joy in this activity for its own sake.

Practicing to Improvise

This method also applies to improvisation practice. Yes, improvising is spontaneously composing new music on the spot but these compositional elements have to come from somewhere within your musical knowledge. Even some experienced musicians I talked to said that they want to surprise themselves when improvising. They want to be able to come up with great sounding lines they composed spontaneously on the spot, lines they personally never played before.

For the most part it’s just not the case. You hear the analogy of looking at improvisation as a language. First you learn words, then you learn the grammar and then using both you start putting sentences together that are increasingly complex and eloquent. That is absolutely true yet for some reason it never clicked as an aha moment for me.

I really liked the analogy I heard from Pat Martino. He said something like the song is like this giant house that has many rooms. And improvising is like finding many different ways to connect these rooms and get between them. That discovery happens in the woodshed, not on the band stand. There may be times when you’re on the band stand and you find a new way, a path that you never thought of or discovered before. But even so, the reason you were able to do that is because you’re already so familiar with the layout of the house and already know so many other ways.

So what you do is you play a song in the woodshed and take things very slow. You survey one section at the time. You do a careful exploration, examining this space, not rushing and hitting your head against the walls. At first you’re in complete darkness and have a hard time to get anywhere, almost tapping in one spot. Then your eyes get acclimated and you start seeing further down the hallway and eventually make it into some rooms and you can hit the light switch. In practical terms, you’ve probably heard about 2-5-1s and similar sets of numbers. 2-5-1 isn’t a whole house but it’s one wing of this big place that needs its own investigation. So you repeat things over and over for two minutes at a time in this particular section. Then do the same with other sections.

You explore different routes between the rooms and expand your knowledge of the architecture of this house. Although the melody and phrasing may be unique for this tune, you’ve probably seen something like this before. There’s always the aha moment “I’ve been here before, I know where to go”. Eventually after many of these slow moving expeditions, you walk into one of these spaces and everything is so recognizable that you just start running if you feel like it, or do a brisk walking, or stop to take a breather and look out the window or anything in between. There is excitement of being in this beautiful house but no anxiety of being in such a big, intimidating and unfamiliar space. Every moment spent here is so gratifying and from the moment you enter until you exit is a treat. Isn’t that worth spending time in the woodshed?

The Woodshed

All this is the practice known in the jazz world as woodshedding. You’ve decided, you want to woodshed. Now what? Go there with an open mind and a willingness to be fluid and malleable. Know that if you’re going to the shed or returning to it, that means something sucks. You need to be able to admit that to yourself. But if you recognized something needs more practice then it already means you’re humble enough to accept that fact. Humility is an important ingredient of the learning process. 

Set goals, goals are very important. Start with small, clear and reasonable goals. But also put something big and unreasonable there as your ultimate or a long term goal. It’s fun to think about and it will motivate you. Back when my practice was on and off again, at the same time, I had no set goals to drive my progress. I had a very open-ended goal of getting better. Once my practice became regular, my aspirations turned into clear targets. That was when I started getting better.

However, make sure not to mix goals with expectations. Best would be to remove expectations but we are wired for both so it’s probably not possible. What is possible, is to make expectations something easily manageable. Goals are something you’re trying to achieve, something you will be working towards.

A goal can be to improvise over After You’ve Gone at 240bpm with no mistakes. Expectation can be that you will practice every day in order to achieve that. But if you confuse these two for example, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment. Or, a goal can be to develop a good tone which you and others will enjoy listening to. Expectation might be that your guitar is a well set up instrument, one you’ll enjoy picking up every day while working towards your goal of getting a good tone.

Be careful which goals you put time stamps on. You can do that with small, easily achievable goals. Like learn the chords to After You’ve Gone today. But not the goal mentioned earlier of improvising over it at 240bpm with no mistakes. If you do, that’s another potential disappointment. Disappointments will happen when not meeting your goals, it’s unavoidable. Don’t beat yourself up over it and persist until you achieve them. If you gave it your best you have still learned a lot in the process.

Remember it’s a journey, not a trip. It is really true when they say just enjoy the journey. You need to be able to enjoy the process. It should be rewarding enough in itself. If it’s not then you need to ask yourself some tough questions as to why not. Stay in it, patiently work towards your goals and you will undoubtedly be rewarded along the way, sometimes faster and sometimes slower.

Is this a Proven Method that Works?

I was very glad to hear Dennis Chang say something I believed in for some time. You can and should look at lots of different methods but in the end you need to establish the method that works for you. After buying several music manuals, you need to write your own and follow it faithfully. This method isn’t even proven for me yet in a sense that it helped me achieve most or all of my immediate and intermediate goals. It’s a work in progress. I’m comfortable with it, it is very low stress and I am enjoying the process. It can be very meditative when you get lost in the repetitions. It’s very rewarding when you work on something this way, chipping away small pieces and then one day you surprise yourself to hear that you can play it. I’m continually learning about what I think works for me more and what less. The single biggest takeaway from this two minutes practice is that it taught me to put in the time. And that’s by far the most crucial element. With close second being the value of time efficiency. It’s important to point out though that I was very motivated to make that change at the time. I felt *now* is the time. So this isn’t an instant remedy. Its purpose was to say, in my opinion, to never pass up an opportunity to play your instrument. Any amount of time is valuable, no matter how small. And to try to put some light on how I personally think about certain aspects of practice and some of the puzzle pieces that make up playing music. These are the subjects and questions that come up often in talking to other musicians. I had and still have all of those questions. These are my current answers. Maybe something you read here will help you start formulating your own answers and start writing your own method manual. Do what demonstrates success to you.

I was in the workshop with Stephane Wrebel when he said for a long time he was resisting the pressures of writing his own method book. Because as he put it “you don’t need a method book, you just need to sit down and do it man”.

Davorin Cavar-Buco (photo: Jeff MacMillan)

References:

The Practice of Practice by Jonatan Harnum:

https://thepracticeofpractice.com/

Atomic Habits by James Clear:

Paul Tchan-Tchou Vidal, La Gitane:

Rosenberg Trio, Bossa Dorado:

Django Reinhardt, Minor Blues:

Kurt Rosenwinkel

https://kurtrosenwinkel.com/

Koran Agan

Wes Montgomery

Julian Lage interview by Josh Smith

Aleksandar Hemon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandar_Hemon

Albert Einstein’s quote

https://time.com/5027069/what-makes-a-genius/

Late Bloomers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_bloomer

Pat Martino

Christiaan van Hemert with Alexandre Tripodi

Dennis Chang on being self-taught:

Stephane Wrembel:

https://www.stephanewrembel.com

5 Great European Venues to Hear Gypsy Jazz

By Dario Napoli

As the guitarist and bandleader, it often falls to me to arrange the tours for our group, the Modern Manouche Project!

Over the last few years we’ve played in some great venues and festivals all over the world and met many beautiful gypsy jazz fans along the way.

For this article, I’d just like to highlight 5 of these, from around Europe. Whether you’re a fan looking to listen or a musician looking to get booked… check these places out!

1) Frodsham Guitar Club

This venue is in the UK area of Liverpool – and doesn’t make these types of articles as often as it should! It’s run by my friend Conor French who invites the best players from everywhere, is super friendly and a great promoter.

He was also involved with organising the “Django Legacy”series  at the Liverpool Philharmonic, where he invited us too. The level of respect for the musicians performing and for the music of Django in particular is really unmatched and is a dream both for musicians and audiences alike, who hang on to every note, from the beginning to the end of the concert!

Find out more: https://twitter.com/frodshamguitar

2) Cafe de Stam, Gerwen, NL


I played here a few times with Stochelo Rosenberg and Paulus Schafer. It has an amazing energy and passion and is right in the hub of where some of the best Dutch gypsy musicians live. The venue is not a large one but you feel like you are playing in a stadium as the participation from the crowd is incredibly intense and everyone is very close to the stage. It’s always a huge honor to perform for a lot of the gypsies who do come out and support their own music

Find out more: http://www.cafedestam.nl/

3) La Chopes des Puces, Paris

This is such an historical venue: Django himself played there and still, to this day, all the best players meet and jam there. If you’re in Paris, it’s a must-visit. No other venue expresses the spirit of this music more faithfully, as it developed in Paris during Django’s years. Formally or informally, it seems like someone is performing there always, at any time of the night or day. Gypsies and non-gypsies congregate, and play endless hours, Django’s music in its rawest and most unfiltered form.

Find out more: https://www.lachopedespuces.fr/

4) Victoria Teatern, Malmo

One of my best experiences ever, Victoria Teatern in Malmo, Sweden, is a cozy theatre with outstanding sound technicians and an even better audience. The theater hosts all kinds of music year round but the programmer, Edin Bahtijargic is an accomplished accordion player and huge fan of Django’s music; besides inviting gypsy jazz acts year round, he also organizes a Django fest in January (Victoria Hyllar Django!).

https://www.victoria.se/en

5) Cosmopolite, Oslo

Thanks to guitarist and producer Jon Larsen, who with his project ‘Hot Club de Norvege’ as well as with his label ‘Hot Club Records’, has done an incredible job in promoting the music of Django for over 30 years, this venue hosts every year in January (and throughout the year individual concerts as well) one of the oldest Django Festivals in existence. Oslo has a small but very prolific scene of musicians who adore the music of Django and are always up for great jams after the concerts, super friendly and welcoming.

About Dario

Dario Napoli’s ‘Modern Manouche’ project brings a passion for sinti guitarist Django Reinhardt firmly into the 21st century. Aside from the obvious gypsy swing influences, original and standard compositions mix elements from bebop and modern jazz through to funk and groove. His latest release, Joie de Vivre, came out in early 2020.

With fellow guitarist Tommaso Papini holding down the rhythmic framework and bassist Tonino De Sensi completing the trio, the music was captured live at Energy Studio in Eindhoven – where some of the most famous gypsy musicians of recent times have recorded.

The result is an unpredictable and exuberant sound, which steals from various musical eras and leads you through a rich and vibrant sonic experience… without ever totally abandoning the gypsy imprint of Django.

 “the privilege of touring the world and meeting new people and, at the same time, creating music… That, in a nutshell, is ‘Joie De Vivre’” – Dario Napoli (http://darionapoli.com/ / https://youtu.be/vyup6bTU2N8)

The Django Reinhardt Festival Samois-Sur Seine – Tradition and Change

By Barry Wahrhaftig

Far left- Irene Ypenberg, Menno Van Der Reijden. Thanks to Menno for photo

The Django Reinhardt Festival de Samois is the annual celebration to honor the legacy and memory of the guitarist/composer Django Reinhardt. As I’m sure that most of you know, Samois-Sur-Seine was where Django spent his last days. It is the most well-known of the Django festivals. It has run continuously since 1983, usually on the last week of June, Wednesday to Sunday.It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for me and many of my fellow Djangologists that Samois-Sur-Seine is a near mythical place, a sort of Avalon of our collective hearts, where we can see Django’s final resting place, and to walk the streets that he walked, etc. It was in the Fall of 1951 that Django left Paris for Samois.  He wanted to relax away from the hub-bub of Paris, a place where he could indulge his passion for painting and he loved to fish in the Seine. [1] It was a transitional time for Django; Be-Bop was becoming popular and Django was a bit bored with the scene and he had visited Samois a few years before and fell in love with it. He moved into 5 rue du Bas-Samois with wife Naguine and young son Babik. On May 16, 1953 Reinhardt passed out and fell while having a morning cup of tea at a café called Auberge de I’Île, (Chez Fernand)[2]. He was taken to the hospital at nearby Fontainebleau. He died, having never regained consciousness. The cause was listed a cerebral hemorrhage, he was just 43 years old. 

The author having a bit of a jam at Chez Django, 2014. Thanks to Andrea Carlson for lending me her guitar.

I have been going to the annual Festival there since around 2006. A professional musician all of my life, I had been bitten by the Django bug, and had been studying Gyspy Jazz with Stephane Wrembel and Fapy Lafertin. I fell in love with the bucolic old town immediately. I made the pilgrimage to Django’s grave in the church cemetery, jammed and drank beers in the town square, etc. Hanging with my fellow Django-nerds I felt that I had found my ‘tribe,’ if you will. I recall one year hearing two fellows jamming in the town square. They turned out to be Titi Bamberger and Lollo Meier!  Irene Ypenberg, guitarist and artist was jamming too, and I got to know her and Titi. Later on they came to the states. Titi played a show with us, and played on our last CD, called ‘Gypsy Routes’. Irene did the cover art. The festival itself was on the I’Île de Berceau, a little island very near the house that Django had rented. In 2016 severe flooding of the Seine necessitated a last-minute move to Fontainebleau, and the 2017 festival will be in Fontainebleau also.[3]
Here’s a little interview with my good friend Menno Van Der Reijden.  [Note, the festival always had a dual nature; the Festival de Samois concerts and luthier booths, food stands, etc., and  also the scene at the campgrounds, Samoreau and Petite Barbeau.  Even though the campgrounds are near the island, there are many people who go to the Festival and not to the scene at the campground, and vice versa.] Barry; I usually say that you are the unofficial Mayor of Samoreau campground. The frindly pipe-smoking bloke who welcomes all to Samoreau. So how long have you been going to Samois-Samoreau? I’ve been coming there since 2001. What are some of your memories that stand out the most? Seeing the rising stars of guitarists Adrien Moignard and Sebastien Giniaux and singer Cyrille Aimée- Daudel. They were mere teenagers when I joined the ranks at Samoreau. Gifted kids for sure! Next to rhythmic bedrock Mathieu Chatelain they evolved so fast over the ensuing years. I still see Ricardo Weiss and his family scooping young Adrien off from his 3AM jam to the gypsy camp to show his skills in front of the real gypsies. Adrien returned around 9AM totally wasted from the German beers, but also knowing he showed them something worthwhile. And I remember fondly a 2003 a jam contest between Adrien Moignard and Alfonso Ponticelli at 5 AM where both knew how to play their tunes and deviate from them enough to interpose another tune and come right back to the original. I kept providing D and G strings!. The early years had a Friday till Sunday festival and what really drew us out was the Friday night concert, for after that finished we could use the same stage and equipment. The sound people would stay behind to plug us in. One group in particular stands out, and besides Adrien Sebastien Mathieu there was violinist Alexandre Cavaliere and double bass player Jarrod Coombes. They rocked da house! And in 2008, a very famous Gypsy Jazz guitarist got a bit too inebrieted before his performance. So WauWau Adler and rhythm guitarist Ted Gottsegan filled in for a bit, until the late Patrick Saussois basically chastised the performer and got him and Hono Winterstein onstage. They proceeded to play ‘Blue Suede Shoes[!] Leo Eimers, guitar builder for many GJ greats then asked me to watch his guitar booth. He then went and found Stochelo Rosenberg, who he then persuaded to go to the island and get onstage to save the day! [4]
From that time on my rhythm skills improved and by learning from the best at the campsite I was able to hold my own in any jam. We have seen changes over the years. Chez Fernand is gone, [though the site is still there of course]. I’ve never known Fernand but he is buried near Django, but on the other side near the wall in unhallowed ground. Babik owned it for awhile, then when the next owner passed away a foundation was formed in part to save all of the Gypsy Jazz memoribilia that was there. Angelo Debarre took over and things looked good OK for a bit. Unfortunately he too lost too much capital and the place became a Wine-bar/Pizzeria with tube lights and a cold impersonal atmosphere. All of the Django memoribillia is gone.[5]
Yes, that was a real shock to me when I saw that Chez Fernand was gone. So, as you know it looks like the festival de Samois will henceforth be at Fontainebleau. [Last year because of the flooding in Samois, and now because of security concerns about the island].  The officials in Fontainebleau stepped in last year and they really saved the day with very short notice, and of course we all really appreciate it, but it is a change now that we have to adapt to it. And this year it looks like the Festival is scheduled for the 2nd week in July, while the camping at Samoreau is last week of June into July. I’m not at all comfortable with this decision. Of course in 2016 it saving the day as cancelling was an option nobody was keen on. But now the new anti-terror laws are responsible, and perhaps the people in charge at Fountainebleau are able to get some big sponsors involved. What better place to hold the festival than that secluded bit of castle ground between walls and moats? More people fit in, so it can be more proftable as well. To please the masses the program switches graduallly toward that of any festival around the globe, mainstream jazz, hip hop, whatever, but I sometimes feel that the gypsy jazz feel that it once has is rapidly diminishing.[6]
Your thoughts on that?  To give some Samois feel back to the gypsy jazz lovers there will be a 12h concert in Samois square on Sat July 1st from midday till midnight. The program is one the Festival website and is almost entirely Jazz Manouche. Alas no spontaneous jamming that day. Following Eddy Archtop Parson’s lead I try to welcome musicians to Samois by hosting the Facebook page ‘Samois Going Djangofiles.’ I put intel from the Samois festival site and some more for the people that go camping. Every year I organise an afternooon jam at the city square in Samois. Since 2013 that also serves to give people the opportunity to buy tickets at the nearby Django-office and pay their respects to Django at the nearby cemetery. The jam started with just four of me and my mates but last year grew to two large tables at one restaurant and three round tables at the other. Nice to meet guys that camp elsewhere and play a few tunes together. Please feel free to add any other thoughts and musings. What thrilled me enormously was meeting some guys and girls I only knew from the Yahoo! GJ Group in the flesh. Papi Alain Cola peddling his Del Artes, Pat Phillips popping by scouting, Jacques Mazzoleni Looking for ancient GJ guitars, and also meeting you Barry! If you go;   check out the festival website for info. There will be many amazing luthiers as always; AJL Guitars, Maurice DuPont, Leo Eimers, etc. You’ll have a chance to meet your fellow Djangophiles. And, I am very happy to say that my good friend and ‘brother from another Mother’ Stephane Wrembel will finally be perfoming with his group, so go! There will be some concerts in Samois before the festival in Fontainebleau, and of course visting Django’s resting place is a must. Festival link: http://www.festivaldjangoreinhardt.com/en/
I especially want to thanks Mme Muriel Vandenbosse, press liason for the festival for her help and for her tireless work for the festival. And many thanks to mon frerre Olivier Colson, for renting to me, lending me his bike, being a great guide and friend! Lastly, Menno’s opinions are his own of course. He doesn’t pull punches. He has been dedicated to helping everyone at Samoreau and Samois. Barry is the founder of the Hot Club of Philadelphia;  www.HotClubPhilly.com He can be reached at HotClubPhilly@gmail.com and also has a blog; www.GypsyJazzGuitarOnline.com   [1] Samois is 35 miles, [56.32 Kilometers], S.E. of Paris, ‘as the crow flies.’ [2] Chez Fernand was on the main road that runs along the Seine, close to the entrance to the island where the festival was held until 2016. The address was 21 Quai De a Republique [3]  Thank a terrorist for the move, basically. Since the original site is a small island,  too hard to secure in the aftermath of the terrible attacks in France. [4]  I’m omitting the player’s name out of respect. Many know anyway, but he’s the real deal, so respect is in order. [5]  I had heard that Angelo was maybe a partner, or was hired to help promote business, not sure. Unfortunately, it’s a sleepy town just a few weeks out of the year, so running a Restaurant-bar there is a tough deal.  I hope to do a piece on the story of Chez Fernand at some point, when I can gather some more info. [6]  Unfortunately, the reality of it is that the festival wouldn’t be financially viable if it only featured Gypsy Jazz. I recall my surprise the 1st year that I went. I heard an R & B cover band doing some of the same material that my Cover band at the time played. I have heard some fantastic non-Gypsy Jazz acts, Pat Metheny, Cecile McLorin-Salvant, and my friend John Pizzzarelli, and others. And again, without some main-stream jazz or crossover artists there wouldn’t be a festival.

Interview with Jason Anick and the Rhythm Future Quartet

By Dwight Deason Band_edit_small.jpg Since their founding, the Rhythm Future Quartet has become one most exciting new Gypsy Jazz bands in America and around the world. Led by Boston based violinist Jason Anick, and Finnish born guitarist, Olli Soikelli (now living in New York City), the band’s new CD Travels takes a big leap from their eponymous self-titled first release. The band has changed personnel from the first release with Max O’Rouke taking over rhythm duties from Vinny Raniolo. There is no doubting the incredible chemistry between Anick and Soikelli, along with O’Rourke and stalwart bassist Greg Loughman. One glance at Travels and what immediately sticks out is the difference between it and their first CD. The first is primarily the band’s arrangements of classic Gypsy Jazz tunes, while the new one is predominantly highly creative originals peppered with some very interesting covers. With a new critically acclaimed album, over a million views on a recent video, and a packed tour schedule, the Rhythm Future Quartet is definitely a group to keep a close eye on! Here’s the interview with Jason and the band about the past, present, and future, and of course the new CD. [Dwight]: Do you remember the first time you jammed with Olli? [Jason]: The first time Olli and I met/jammed was at Django in June back in 2012.  We were both instructors at the camp that year.  We hit it off right away and discussed collaborating more. Only problem was Olli lived in Finland at the time! Luckily he moved to New York City a year and a half after our initial meeting, which helped pave the way for the Rhythm Future Quartet to be born. [D]: When was the first time you and Olli shared the stage? [J]: I believe our first official show together was a pick-up band we assembled for the Brooklyn Gypsy Fest at Shapeshifter Lab in 2012. We did a few more shows together as sidemen with various musicians (Frank Vignola and Nicky Perrot) before we decided to form the RFQ. [D]: Give us the history of how the actual band was formed. ::2015:Pictures:Finland:11072199_1567736616829872_8268182045823876056_n.jpg [J]: After Olli and I started playing more and more together, I got a call from Peter Parcek, a Boston based blues guitarist and Django enthusiast, who wanted to put together a Gypsy jazz night at Red Star Union in Cambridge, MA and feature me and Olli. Part of the deal was they did a professional multi-camera shoot of the performance and gave you a copy to use at your own discretion (our version of “Minor Swing” on YouTube was from this show). Olli and I decided that this could be a great way to jump-start a project together, so we assembled a great rhythm section (Vinny Raniolo on guitar and Greg Loughman on bass) and named it the Rhythm Future Quartet. We booked a 5-day tour around the Red Star Union show and it was a huge success. We knew we had something special, the chemistry was there and we had a unique collective vision of where we wanted to take this music. We hit the ground running and haven’t stopped since! [D]: Give us an idea how you juggle your schedule between your teaching duties at Berklee, playing with John, and of course Rhythm Future. [J]: It certainly hasn’t been easy juggling everything, but I feel so lucky to have all these great opportunities. It certainly takes good time management and work ethic though.  [D]: As stated, the new CD is quite a departure from the band’s first one.  Was this a conscious effort to go for more originals? [J]: Yes. We released our first album pretty soon after forming the group so that we would have something to sell at shows and start to get our name our there. We were still trying to find our identity as a group, so playing standards with our own arrangements was a way to build a repertoire and start to put our unique stamp on this music. As an avid composer though, I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted our next CD to be mostly centered around original material. As the group continued to tour and grow, we slowly began composing more and more material and eventually headed into the studio to record Travels, which was officially released this past February 2016. Front_Cover.jpg[D]: How did you decide which original tunes to include? [J]: The most important thing for us was to feature compositions from each band member. Throughout our travels, each band member started to bring in more and more original material to try out with the group. The ones that ended up on the CD where the “best of”, and each piece added something special to the CD as a whole.  Another important aspect was diversity, so we picked songs that had different rhythmic grooves, tempos, vibes, etc. [D]: Come Together is quite the surprise- how did that come about including the arrangement? [J]: I have always been a big Beatles fan, even recorded an arrangement of “You Never Give Me Your Money” on my debut CD, Sleepless. I had been working on a funky arrangement of “Come Together” and showed it to the guys. They really liked it and came up with some additional arrangement ideas. It’s always a big hit when we perform it live, so we decided to include it with Travels. [Next few questions are for Olli Soikkeli] [D]: Tell us how you got into Gypsy jazz in Finland. [Olli]: I grew up in a small town in Finland called Nurmes. After my first guitar teacher moved away, I started studying with Kari Pääkkönen, who introduced me to bunch of different styles of music including gypsy jazz. [D]: What other music did you listen to growing up, and did you play other music. [O]: I started playing the guitar because of the Metallica and other rock groups. I learned a bunch of their songs and played those with my friends, but other than that I really didn’t get that deep into playing music outside of Gypsy jazz. Olli_Andy_Cambria.jpg[D]:  Tell us about your move to New York- what prompted it and how do you feel it has gone. [O]: I visited NYC the first time in 2011 when a musician friend of mine who I met at the Pori Jazz festival in Finland, encouraged me to come to NYC and check it out. I fell in love with the city and started to come here at least twice a year doing small gigs in town and performances with guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo. During 2012 and 2013 I was invited to perform at a number of the Django festivals here in US like Django in June, DjangoFest Northwest, and DjangoFest Mill Valley. It was at Django in June that I met Jason and we discussed started a group together. Between starting the Rhythm Future Quartet and all the other musical connections I was making in NYC, I decided to apply for a 3-year artist visa. In 2014 I moved to NYC and already had plenty of work lined up between RFQ and all of the musicians I met from my previous trips to the city.  [D]: What have been some of your more memorable gigs in NYC. [O]: I did the Django Festival at Birdland with the Schmitt family twice, such an amazing experience playing at the one of the best jazz venues in the world with Gypsy jazz icons. I also got to play at the Lincoln Center with 8-piece jazz band as well as a few times at the Rainbow Room, which is at the top of the Rockefeller Center.   [D]: Tell us what you think the future of gypsy jazz, and where is it going? [O]: I think Gypsy Jazz has a bright future. A lot of new interesting music is been made and people from other genres are incorporating gypsy jazz in their music. And now especially in NYC there’s a huge boom for hot jazz/swing music and gypsy jazz is right there in the center of that. I feel that even if the Hot Jazz thing doesn’t last forever there’ll always be an audience for Gypsy Jazz because of the virtuosity and the energy the music has. [Next few questions are for Max O’Rourke] [D]: Give us a history of your musical development, and how did you get into gypsy jazz. [Max O’Rourke]: I started taking guitar lessons when I was six, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about fourteen. When I was around fifteen or sixteen, my teacher at the time showed me Minor Swing and explained a little bit about Django and the way he played. From that point on I was obsessed. That year I enrolled in Django in June, which is where I really learned how to play. Then in 2014 I played my first gig with Gonzalo Bergara and everything just kind of took off after. [D]: Give us your thoughts on being at Berklee. [M]: Berklee is one of the most accepting music schools when it comes to stylistic diversity. On any given day at campus you see people playing jazz, metal, bluegrass, folk, etc., so it’s a very encouraging place. I’ve had a few phenomenal teachers there that have really pushed my development as a musician on all fronts, and I owe them a great deal. Max_live.jpg  [D]: Who are your influences on the guitar? [M]: As far as Gypsy jazz players, no list would be complete without starting with Django. Then there’s Biréli Lagrène, Adrien Moignard, and Rocky Gresset. I also really like the way Benoit Convert writes. Gonzalo Bergara has been a tremendous influence and mentor to me as well. Then there are the wonderful rhythm players like Mathieu Chatelain, Hono Winterstein, and Nous’che Rosenberg that are very important to me. Outside of the style, the guitarists I listen to are usually Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Lenny Breau, and Julian Lage.  Lately, I also have been listening to a lot of piano players like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Brad Mehldau. [D]: What are your plans for the future? [M]: On top of continuing my work with the RFQ and the GBQ, I have a few things in mind. I was just a part of Daisy Castro’s new album with Quinn Bachand and Brian Netzley, and I’m really looking forward to start touring with them soon. At some point, I’d also like to do an album of my own. I’ve been writing a lot of music lately, and it’d be nice to have something out under my own name.   [Next few questions are for Greg Loughman] [D]: Give us a history of your musical development. [Greg Loughman]: I grew up in a small town called Zanesville, OH, where there weren’t a lot of playing opportunities, so I didn’t really start to develop, musically, until I went to college at Capital University in Columbus, OH. After I graduated, I was working enough around Columbus to make a living as a bassist, and have been doing so ever since, most recently in the Boston area. I’ve never stopped learning about different styles of music, mostly jazz and other genres featuring improvisation, but with a lot of interest in music from around the world. [D]: How did you get into gypsy jazz? [G]: I met Jason Anick at a jam session in the Boston area, and we started working together on his modern jazz projects. I had always liked gypsy jazz in a general way, but when Jason called me to play with him and Olli Soikkeli on a few gigs around New England, I was instantly hooked and immediately started digging as deeply as I could into the genre. It’s been a great addition to my list of musical interests. Greg_live.jpg[D]: Who are your influences on the bass? [G]: In the gypsy jazz genre, I’ve been digging Jérémie Arranger, William Brunard, Diego Imbert a lot lately. They each have their own unique way of playing gypsy jazz in a modern way that still respects the history of the music. That appeals to me as someone who is coming from more of a modern jazz background, and I think it also works well with the more modern gypsy jazz style Rhythm Future leans toward. Outside of the gypsy jazz genre, I’ve checked out a lot of Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, as well as more modern players like Dave Holland, Scott Colley, Christian McBride, and many others.  [D]: I really enjoy Iberian Sunrise on the new CD- do you write a lot? [G]: Thanks! I do a fair amount of writing; lately I’ve been writing specifically for the various ensembles I play with, whether it’s the balkan/klezmer band I play with Klezwoods, or my indie rock group Lowman, or the world jazz trio Roving Soul, etc. I knew that Jason, Olli, and Max would be able to take what I wrote into the stratosphere, and they did! One of the thing I love about Rhythm Future is how we all work together to arrange each song; we all have lots of freedom to put our ideas and personal styles into each song, which elevates the band as a whole and makes it more than the sum of it’s parts. [D]: Ok, final question – tell us what is up for the future of Rhythm Future?  Gigs? New Recordings? Collaborations? [J]: It’s hard to tell what the future will hold, but we are certainly excited and believe there are lots of unique opportunities still ahead of us. We plan on making another record down the road of all original material as well as a doing a live recording/DVD project with some of our friends and fellow musicians from the U.S. and Europe. As for other collaborations, we are open-minded so anything can happen!    

Interview with Joscho Stephan

By Barry Wahrhaftig In a perfect world every school kid would know who Django Reinhardt is. Gypsy Jazz, instead of being a sub-genre of a sub-genre, would be as popular as Top-40 artists like Adele. [If you say mention Django to the average Millennial, they will think you are referring to the Tarantino movie ‘Django Unchained’.] Of course we live in an imperfect world, dominated by Pop-Culture, mass market sensibilities. But the true aficionados always seek out the path less taken. So Gypsy Jazz fans, know that Joscho Stephan is ‘sui generis’, in a class by himself. The 37 year old guitarist from Germany can count G.J. Guitar Gods like Tommy Emmanuel, Martin Taylor, Bireli and Stochelo as his fans. His praises have been sung by Jazz giants like Paquito D’Rivera and James Carter. Robin Nolan said “Joscho Stephan is a true rising star of Gypsy Jazz and one of the most ferocious players on the scene.” He has the chops of seminal players like Chet Atkins, and he has taken Django’s original sound and infused it with his own personal style. He can go from burning up a song like ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ or ‘Django’s Tiger,’ to a lyrical take on a Beatles classic like ‘Something.’ He has astounding technique, along with a wonderful sense of melody, and lots of soul. If you aren’t one of his ardent fans yet, one listen should do the trick! [Barry]. You are from Mönchengladbach Germany, [where you still live], and you were born in 1979? [Joscho]. That’s correct. I am still living there, and it’s not far away from Cologne or Dusseldorf. B. How did you get started on the guitar? J. At the age of 6 I started to play guitar. My father showed me some basic chords. Mostly Beatles stuff, (I am still a big Beatles fan). Then he went with me to the local music school, because he wanted to help me to get a good [musical], education. The lessons were in the style of Classical Guitar, [and to be honest that was not really my idea of what I wanted], but anyway I had classical guitar lessons until I was 12 years old. B. And you discovered Django Reinhardt at age 14? J. That’s true. After my classical lessons, I started to play rock music (Santana, Gary Moore etc.), and found out that these players improvised their solos (because the live recordings were different then their studio work), so I got more interested in improvised music. At the same time I discovered people like George Benson and Wes Montgomery. Then I found a cassette mix tape, at my Uncle’s house that had mostly Pop Music (Earth Wind & Fire, Chris Rea etc.), but suddenly I heard the Intro of ‘Minor Swing,’ and was blown away. B. How were you able to learn the picking techniques and other aspects of Gypsy Jazz? Gypsy Players like Samson Schmitt learned by watching their relatives and players in their community, [not in formal training of course]. J. Even though I have some Gypsy Roots, (my grandfather was a Hungarian Roma), I didn’t had the chance to learn this Style from my father or other family members, because they never played Gypsy Swing. So I started to listen to Django´s Records, and tried to find every Video that was available at that time (1994) I found ‘Django’s Legacy’, and a Bireli Lagrene Video (together with Babik Reinhardt  in a small café), and also a documentary about the Rosenberg Trio on German television. So seeing these Videos helped me a lot in learning the technique. B. That’s pretty amazing, that you could figure out the right hand picking from seeing videos of performances.  B. Your debut 2000 recording ‘Swinging Strings,’ made quite a stir. It was named CD of the month by Guitar Player Magazine, and you were just 20 years old when you recorded it. That’s quite an accomplishment. J. I think the funny thing back then was that I always wanted to play and sound like the other players, but the success of the album was due in large part because I sounded so different. As soon as I noticed that, I changed my mind and tried to sound more like Joscho Stephan, and I think this was the best result of that album. B. Quite amazing in sound, concept and technique. Built on Django’s 30’s & 40’s QHCF style, but clearly your own take on it. And with perhaps a bit of Les Paul’s retro style along the way. J. It’s funny, a German magazine wrote the same (that you can hear the Les Paul Influence), but to be honest: I never really listened to Les Paul before I recorded that album, but I think the description is not bad. B. Hmm, interesting. I guess ‘great minds think alike,’ as the saying goes[!] [I think I hear a bit Of Les and also Chet Atkins in your approach and choice of songs.Your version of ‘The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,’ is brilliant. Of course pieces like ‘Bye Bye Blues were associated with Paul, of course, but they came later in your recordings]. You appeared at Lincoln Center in 2005, at the ‘Django All-Stars,’ show, the series organized by my friends Pat Phillips and the late Ettore Stratta. Dorado and Samson Schmitt, Florin Niculescu violin, played and you were with your trio, which included your Dad Gunter on rhythm guitar.  I was in the audience, and I can say that you really tore the place up! J. My first appearance in the US was already in 2002. I played in Nashville at the Chet Atkins Convention (that was a huge success), and then in 2003 at the Birdland Django Festival in New York. But I remember also the Lincoln Center gig; it was a great line up that night. JoschoStephanFather B. I think that it’s fair to say that probably stole the show a bit, not easy to do with that line-up! Also, I was amazed to see your Dad playing such great rhythm guitar with his thumb on metal strings! J. It took me also some time to understand that my father sounds unique on rhythm guitar because of his technique. I think we got a warmer sound because he is playing with his thumb. To be honest: I think my father is an underrated rhythm guitar player. I played with a lot of great players, but I never feel that safe with other players, because my father and I have played together more than 20 years. B. I agree, he sounded great, and you both really ‘locked it in.’ So let’s talk a bit about your new recording ‘Guitar Heroes.’ Great concept, BTW. I grew up on Hendrix and the Beatles, so it was cool to hear you do songs like ‘Hey Joe,’ and ‘Something,’ in addition to more traditional Gypsy Jazz pieces. The CD is in heavy rotation in my car’s CD player! J. Thank you very much for your kind words. I think the CD “Guitar Heroes” is still a dream that came true. It´s not just the guest list, it’s the result. If you plan a record with guests and a concept (famous guitar Tunes), it can be hard to realize all the ideas. If I listen to this record now I always have the same thoughts: “I wouldn’t change a single note or song on this album”, so I think that this is the best thing that can happen to a musician. B. You’re welcome. Very interesting points. It’s not so easy to capture the magic of playing live in front of an audience, especially for Jazz. The CD has a very honest and organic feel, and again, it sounds like you all had great fun doing it! Can you talk a little about how having heavy-weights like Bireli, Stochelo and Tommy Emmanuel there with you? J. I will start with Tommy, because we have a relationship for many. When he first heard my playing he invited me to a lot of concerts all over the world, and I am proud that Tommy is not just a guitar player that I had the chance to play with, he is really a friend. So it was always a dream to have him on one of my records. He was the first guest that I asked, and when he was in Germany we found a spot to record 5 songs in 4 hours (I think that’s not bad). The next guest was Stochelo; I met him at the DjangoFest NorthWest, and asked him if he’d like to be also a guest on my album. With him I recorded in Dusseldorf, (very close to my hometown). We recorded 6 songs, and finally we used 4 for the record. Bireli contacted me a few months before the recordings via Facebook, so I was not sure if he is really Bireli, but then we skyped together, and he told me that he found out about me some years ago on YouTube and that he followed my playing. That was a big honor, and since that time we chatted every now and then by mail. So after I had already Tommy and Stochelo on the record I thought it would be great to involve also Bireli into this project. He said directly yes, and we recorded also 6 songs, (we also chose 4 for the album). I just want to say to record with them was great: not just because of their great playing, all 3 were relaxed, friendly and absolutely humble in the time that we spent together. B. Ha, so once again, we can thank Facebook! BTW, I like how you can hear exclamations of encouragement from you guys. It just sounds like a bunch of mates having a blast jamming. Virtuoso playing and yet very soulful. Some friendly competition, and very natural. J. That´s the greatest thing about the album. It’s risky to invite people into the studio, because you never know how they’ll react. Sometimes a recording could be sterile sounding (because you don’t get the right mood in the Studio), or the opposite: too many notes without meaning. I really love to listen to all my guests on the album, and the best thing is: I am part of this beautiful CD.  B. Can you talk about how you picked the songs? J. I always thought to do an album with songs that are related to great guitar players. But to be honest when I first was in the Studio with Tommy, I just had the Idea for ‘Blues for Tommy,’ and ‘Blue Drag.’ Tommy asked me to play ‘Seven Come Eleven,’ and ‘Something,’ at the end we chose Django’s ‘Swing 42.’ After that I thought that all these songs are related to great guitar players, so that I thought it would be great to use this as a concept. With Bireli and Stochelo it was the same, there was always the idea for 1 or 2 songs. Stochelo asked me to record Django’s ‘Love’s Melody,’ Mélodie au Crépuscule (a beautiful song), and with Bireli I recorded ‘Breezin’. For my Trio I chose ‘Bye Bye’ Blues as Tribute to Les Paul, and of course ‘Hey Joe,’ and ‘Samba Pa Ti,’ to pay tribute to Rock Legends Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. B. What are your top 5-7 ‘Desert Island CDs,’ any style? 1. Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli: ‘Souvenirs’ 2. Santana: ‘Moonflower’ 3. Beatles: ‘Revolver’ 4. George Benson: ‘Breezin’ 5. Wes Montgomery: ‘The incredible Jazz Guitar, of’ B. Your playing is so expressive and amazing technically. How much of it is worked out? [The style seems to demand some worked out bits, especially because of tempos etc., yet your playing always really pops and swings, which isn’t easy. It sounds almost effortless. J. To be honest: I think every guitar player has some special Licks, Ideas etc. that he likes and that he uses a lot of the time. Technique is not a big problem for me, I worked on that when I was younger (between 14 – 20), but I think the most important thing is; never stop learning new stuff. So I don’t work really on solos at the moment, I am working on new chord ideas, licks, different techniques (it could be a metal riff, a classical thing, or an outside jazz lick). To try to bring all these things together is the most important thing, and also to work on new ideas. But the most important thing is using your ears. Without a good ear it’s really hard to play a good improvisation. Beside all the technique you need the creativity to use the technic, and I think that makes the difference. B. Great points, well said! I’m sure that you are looking forward to your upcoming February shows in the US, including Feb 12, in Philly, with me and the Hot Club of Philadelphia, and also Feb 13, with my pals from Harmonious Wail in Madison WI. [Make sure you and your wife have warm clothes for the Mid-West [!] J. Of course! I always love to play in the US, and it’s great to play at new places. And I’ve never played in Philadelphia yet, and I really look forward to it. B. Guitar nerd question; what kind of strings and picks do you use, and what guitar do you usually play? J. My regular Guitar in Germany is a Jürgen Volkert D-Hole. He is a German luthier, and he builds wonderful guitars. I use D’Addario Gypsy Strings (0.11) and Big City Picks by Michel Wegen. B. And who are some of your favorite musicians, [including non-guitarists]? J. I am really interested in a lot of different styles and players. Just as an example (beside all the great guitar players that we all love): I am collecting Vinyl. So this week I listened to the following Albums: Chick Corea: Return to Forever Prince: Controversy Schnuckenack Reinhardt Quintet James Brown: Live at the Apollo David Bowie: Let´s Dance Django Reinhardt: Best of Paul McCartney: Tripping the Live Fantastic Hank Mobley: Reach Out As you see: Different Artists, Different Periods (60s, 70s, 80s, 90s), different Styles, different instruments. As long as its good music I love it. B. What are your favorite films?  [Hey, I’m trying to keep it interesting]! J. I just watched the both True Detective Seasons (I think they are really popular in the states), and the Movie about James Brown (Get on up). But [some], all-time favorites are; ‘Some like it Hot,’ ‘Westworld,’ of course ‘Sweet and Lowdown,’ and a lot of others, can’t name them all.  B. Ha, cool. Good choices! What advice can you give to mere mortal experienced players like me and budding Gypsy Jazz players? I recall on the old G.J. forums they would joke and say that ‘the 1st 50 years are the hardest [!] J. I think practicing is the most important thing, but it’s not just practicing technique. Work on your vibrato, work on a nice intro to a song, even listen to different music is very important (to get new motivation). I also think that it should be more motivation, then frustration to listen to great players. I think music is one the best things that we have in life, so it’s better to enjoy music then to struggle with technical problems etc. I can do a lot of things on the guitar, but: there are even more things that I am not able to do, so I am not frustrated about that, I just try to learn new stuff all the time, and after I have practiced new things (and I am able to play them), I feel really happy. Check out this great teaser video of the making of ‘Guitar Heroes’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yIF0mJB9Wo You can order Joscho’s new CD ‘Guitar Heroes’ here: Guitar Heros
Barry Wahrhaftig is the founder and lead guitarist with the Hot Club of Philadelphia. He can be reached at HotClubPhilly@gmail.com for bookings and workshops. The band’s new CD ‘Gypsy Routes, features players like Titi Bamberger and Howard Alden. It’s available through CD Baby, iTunes, etc. For info on Joscho Stephan’s Feb 12 show and workshop in Philadelphia, with the HCPhilly go to http://www.hotclubphilly.com/schedule.asp
 Note; We did the interview via email around Jan 25, 2016. Although Joscho’s English is quite good, I did edit a few words in Joscho’s answers from time to time, but only for the sake of clarity, being careful to try to preserve his intent. 
 
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