Paulus Schäfer, born March 31, 1978, is based in the Gerwen/ Nunen area of the Netherlands. Paulus is one of the top young Gypsy talents in The Netherlands. He grew up in the same camp as Stochelo Rosenberg, Jimmy Rosenberg, and the legendary Waso Grunholz.
B. At what age did you begin to play the guitar? Also, I read that you learned from the legendary Wasso Grünholz, and his nephew Stochelo Rosenberg. Can you talk a little bit about that?
P. I was five years old when I started playing the guitar. Stochelo Rosenberg lived at the same camp as me, and he is ten years older than me. We grew up together. Nobody was ever really teaching anybody else. Of course, I learned a lot from him, but he never taught me, [in a formal way]. Wasso was older, Stochelo learned a lot from him, but in the same way. You just played along and now and then they told you to do things slightly different, and that’s how you learned. Of course, when I was little I also asked Wasso Grünholz every now and then how to play something, but nine times out of ten I already had learned it myself and he just helped me improve it a little bit.
In such cases it was about a few notes that I did wrong. He showed me a few times and then I heard the difference. That went on until I was thirteen years old and then he told me ‘Now you need to develop your own style’.
B. I have heard that many players and teachers of Gypsy Jazz advocate mastering the art of playing rhythm before learning to solo. What would you say to that?
P. If people want to learn guitar from scratch, then usually you start by learning a few chords. Just that is the most practical thing to do. Not so much having to do with tradition.
B. Do you think that is the best way, rhythm before lead, and why?
P. For me it was like this: I first learned chords and then I learned the rhythm. I mastered that, I had already tried to improvise and I it turned out that I had a knack for that as well. When you are a little boy you don’t start [your], schooling right away. That’s the way it went in my life, but that can be different for everyone. It is best to first learn chords and [get a good] feel for rhythm, and then start to learn to solo. If you get the hang of it and you love to do it, then your solo playing will sound ten times better.
B. How important is expression and feeling in Jazz and Gypsy Jazz? And, how important is the right hand?
P. The feeling is very important because we love the music we grew up with. When you play a song you have to be able to express that feeling. The right hand is very important because if your left hand is fast, but your right hand can’t follow it, you will sound very sloppy.
B. You played for a while in the famous ‘Gipsy Kids’ group after Jimmy Rosenberg left. What was that like?
P. I grew up with Jimmy. He formed the band The Gypsy Kids. When he left that band, I started playing with them, for me it was a truly wonderful time. We were all still teenagers.
B. Do you think that it is important to work out a lot of things ahead of time, as both a way to study, and for parts of solos?
P. When you are playing a new tune, it is important to study it; you really have to know the song well. I often study a small solo beforehand, but once I’m on stage there is no telling what I will be playing, I improvise most of the time.
B. What performers do you like to listen to yourself?
P. I love to listen to George Benson, Birelli, Eric Clapton and a few other top players, and obviously to Django.
Photo by Irene Ypenberg
B. I know that you have done projects with players like Tim Kliphuis and Olli Soikkeli, who are also friends of mine. Can you talk a little bit about those projects?
P. Tim and I recorded the CD ‘Rock Django.’ We picked songs that we thought Django might play if he were alive. Then we performed them in gypsy style. It is a very successful CD.
With Olli I performed everywhere, we don’t really have a new project now, but the two of us are so super attuned everything goes almost without saying. We recorded a CD in one day in the studio, which has already sold out. In September of this year we will record a new CD. We understand each other so well it just goes very smoothly. I grew up among the best guitarists, but Olli was born in Finland, he learned mainly from YouTube videos. I have enormous respect for him, and how he has become such a tremendous musician.
B. What is your current project?
P. Right now I am recording a new CD with 14 original compositions. It is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh.
B. Cool, I will be looking forward to hearing that!
B. What guitars do you use, and what type of strings and picks, pickup or microphone etc.?
P. I play an AJL guitar, use a Rhoads plectrum, and a Fishman amplifier.
B. What advice can you give to guitarists that are learning the style?
P. If you want to learn gypsy jazz guitar playing as soloist or accompanist, you must practice a lot. You should listen to Django a lot, and make the strings to sound clear and play with feeling!
B. Thanks you for your time, see you at Samois next year, if not sooner!
P. OK my friend, see you soon, Latcho Drom!
This is pretty typical for Gypsies. Tchavolo Schmitt told me that the idea of going somewhere outside the home to study music was quite strange to most Gypsies. He said they were bathed or immersed in music from day one. Wasso Grünholz was a huge influence on many of the Sinti players of the Netherlands, who are many of the top players of Gypsy Jazz.
Note; Because the questions and answers for the interview were translated from English to Dutch and vice versa, I tried to make slight changes to Paulus’ answers in a way that would preserve and clarify what he was saying, as best as minimally as possible..
Barry Wahrhaftig is the founder and lead guitarist for the Hot Club of Philadelphia Their new release ‘Gypsy Routes,’ features guest spots by Titi Bamberger, Howard Alden, vocalist Phyllis Chapell, and Philly sax great Larry McKenna, and others. It is available it the usual formats from Cd Baby, Amazon, etc.http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thehotclubofphiladelphia and also can be purchased directly from the band’s website; www.HotClubPhilly.com Check out their Facebook page here; www.facebook.com/HCPhilly?ref=hl
Major thanks to Irene Ypenburg for her help with translation. Irene is a Gypsy Jazz guitarist, and her caravan is a fixture at Samoreau each year. And she is also an amazing artist; she did the painting that we used for the cover of ‘Gypsy Routes.’ Her website is; http://www.ireneypenburg.com/ Paulus’ website is http://paulusschafer.com/
Every year, without fail, I get emails from people all around the world telling me that they’re going to Samois for the first time. So they ask me for help/advice. So here’s an article that will save me lots of time! Before I start, since information and sites may change over time, I will not give away any kind of internet links or phone numbers; instead, I invite you to simply search the internet. I hope to update this article every now and then. You’ll see above the date of the last revision; all information is accurate until the last date of revision, so make sure to always confirm.
I have been going to Samois for over 10 years now, so I have a very clear idea of how things work. I also speak French, which is a tremendous help; I sometimes wonder how non-French speakers manage in such a tiny town where service is extremely limited!
First things first: if you are planning to go to Samois, the earlier you start your planning, the better. The festival has seen tremendous growth in attendance over the past 10 years. Even though I started going in the early 2000s, at that time, it was still a smallish festival. People who have been going for much longer have told me of a time when it was even smaller than that. Today? Forget about it! I’m not going to talk about the pros and cons of this, as I’m sure you can imagine it yourself.
What this means, however, is that hotels / campsites get fully booked earlier and earlier. Some people reserve a year in advance, if not more! The longer you wait, the harder it is, especially if you are a foreigner and it’s your first time.
Figure out as soon as you can, whether you want to stay indoors, or camp. The two main campsites that exist are Le Petit Barbeau and Samoreau.
Le Petit Barbeau campsite is the closest to the festival, but it is still a 15-25 minute walk (approximately 2 km). Note, that in 2015, there were talks about the campsite being closed, but then it was announced that it would open for the festival. Hence, the importance of making sure all information is up to date by confirming with the appropriate parties.
Samoreau is a 40 to 60 minute walk (approximately 4 km) from the festival site. When searching on Google, remember that the Samoreau campsite is located in the actual town of Samoreau, so be sure to specify. I’ve put it here in italics, just to differentiate between the two.
Traditionally, Samoreau is considered the “happening” place, where a lot of the well-known players either camp or hang out. Over the years, many people have boycotted the actual festival entirely and stayed at the campsite! I say “traditionally” because as this knowledge became more and more popular, more and more people are now hanging out in Samoreau. As a result of this, like the gold rush, a lot of the intimacy from the earlier years has gradually disappeared. Please don’t misconstrue my words, I am not saying that it’s no longer any good; what I am saying is that there is no one single, definitive magic spot anymore. Great jams now happen everywhere and there’s just no way to know in advance. If you have a car, you can easily hop from place to place, if not, you are basically playing the lottery.
As Samoreau has gotten more and more crowded, some people have decided to hang out at Le Petit Barbeau instead. In past years, many top players have been hanging out there instead of Samoreau!
Some Gypsies also have their own camping area between the festival and Le Petit Barbeau, but they tend to be more private. It’s not that non-Gypsies are not allowed to visit, but it’s generally been exclusively Gypsies hanging around that area.
Are the campsites safe? Well, I would not recommend them if you were a naïve trusting person! Any valuables left unattended are likely to be stolen, and that’s all that I will say about it!
If the campsite life is not for you, then you have to look for a hotel or alternative accommodation. Hotels can be found by searching the internet with keywords such as Samois, Fontainebleau, Bois-le-Roi, etc. The village of Samois-sur-Seine only has one hotel that tends to be fully booked very quickly. It is also on the more expensive side during festival season. If you don’t have a car, and only plan on hanging out at the festival site and/or Le Petit Barbeau, it can be a decent choice.
Otherwise, you have to look for hotels in better-populated areas. The main one is Fontainebleau. From the train station to the festival, it is about 4.5 km. There are a few hotels close to the train station, but most are found in the downtown area, which is another 3 km away in the opposite direction! If you are the kind of person that is in need of convenience and amenities, Fontainebleau might be the best choice, as you’ll find the usual stores that one would expect from major cities. However, keep in mind that this is France, not the USA or Canada. I will talk about this later.
Bois-le-Roi is another city that might have accommodation, though it is not as popular as Fontainebleau.
There are also alternative housing options such as AirBnB, or French equivalents such as Gîtes de France, or local BnB businesses. These are much cheaper, but with AirBnB, for example, owners may cancel your reservation at the last minute. Actually, in France, hotels may cancel your reservation at any moment as well, and there’s not much you can do about it! Though rare, this has happened before to people, so be aware! Generally, reputable chain hotels are less likely to do this, but don’t quote me on that! Another thing is that some of these businesses only speak French, or have websites in French only. Good luck!
Once you have figured out accommodations, you have to figure out how to get there. If you are from Europe and have the possibility of driving to Samois, then that is great! Things will definitely be easier for you! You can drive to any city in proximity to find accommodations, and you can easily go from place to place. Congratulations! The article ends here for you! A warning for those who are unaware: they have speed radars that clock your speed, so drive within the limit, or you will be hit with a speeding ticket. If you rent a car, the rental company will send you the bill. It also goes without saying that if you do have a car, you should rent or buy a GPS, it’ll make things a whole lot easier!
If you are flying in or taking the train there, you still have the option of renting a car. Just remember that in Europe, the vast majority of rental cars are standard transmission. If you need automatic transmission, you’re generally only likely to be able to find this at major car rental locations (ie airport). Whether you take the train or plane to get to Samois, your major arrival destination is likely to be Paris. Any of the major train stations in Paris (Gare du Nord, Gare de L’Est, Gare d’Austerlitz, etc.) link the city to other parts of France and/or the rest of Europe.
If you fly in to Paris, you will arrive at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) or Orly (ORY) airports. Luckily, public transportation is very easy from either airport. The RER is the high-speed metro system that connects Paris with the suburbs. It can be used interchangeably with the slower metro system in Paris, as well.
CDG is located on the blue line, RER B, and ORY is on the yellow line, RER C. I suggest that you bring lots of coins with you because the machines may not accept certain credit cards. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that the machines don’t accept bills (at least at the time of this article). Luckily, in major areas, you will always find man-held ticket booths. Since the RER covers many regions (known as zones), the fare changes as you travel from zone to zone, which you will be doing if going to Paris. The machines do have instructions in English, so make sure that you choose the correct destination. At the ticket booth, you can tell the ticket person that you are going to Paris; you can even tell him/her that you want to go to Paris, Gare de Lyon station.
You will be given an RER ticket, which is interchangeable with the metro in Paris. However, if your destination is Samois, you will only be taking the RER. Do not throw away your RER ticket until you’ve left the station, as you will need it to exit. If you have bought a ticket that does not cover your zone (Paris), you will not be allowed to exit either! So do make sure to specify the zone, when purchasing!
From the airport, you want to get to the red line, RER A. If you look at a a map of the RER, you may notice that each RER line branches out into other lines, in the outer zones, but you don’t have to worry about that, because from both airports, all lines will lead to Paris (provided you took the right direction!).
From CDG, you take the RER B until Châtelet Les Halles. From there, you switch to the RER A, and go one stop east to Gare de Lyon. Again, don’t worry which train you take, as long as it’s the RER A and it is going east.
From ORY, take RER C until St-Michel Notre Dame, switch to RER B northbound (again, any of the trains) until Châtelet Les Halles. From there it’s the same directions as before.
Once you have reached the Gare de Lyon RER station, you want to go to the actual Gare De Lyon train station. You won’t have to go outside the building for this, look around for signs.
The train station itself is quite huge, and can be confusing, even for French speakers! There are all sorts of ticket booths around, but the one you are specifically looking for is the ticket booth for Ile-de-France, which is the region where Samois is located. The location of this booth actually changed in recent years, so I won’t tell you exactly where it is. In the past, it was the most discrete and smallest booth in a little corner, which certainly didn’t help! Look around, or ask someone. If it’s the same as 2014, it should be on floor 0 (Niveau 0). The RER station is on floor -2 (Niveau -2), and you will have to go through floor -1 (Niveau -1). Once you find the ticket counter (there are also machines), ask for a train to Fontainebleau, and ask what the final destination is; Fontainebleau will not show up on the big information board, as it is not the last destination. Final destinations may be Laroche-Migennes, Montereau, Montargis, or Sens.Again, things may change, so be sure to just ask.
The train tracks to Fontainebleau are in an outdoor area, where in the middle, against the wall, there is a fancy looking double staircase. At the top is a restaurant (Le Train Bleu) facing the tracks. This should be the blue platform (plateforme bleue). There is also an information booth close by, so you can also double check.
Now you play the waiting game; I suggest Candy Crush Saga (be sure to send facebook game invites to everyone). Once it is possible to board the train, make sure to validate the ticket at the machine where the train is located. If for some reason it doesn’t work (which has happened before), just explain it to the ticket person (if he/she even passes by). If for some reason, you didn’t buy a ticket and were hoping for a free ride, the penalty for getting caught is a bigger fee (or you can tell them the secret password: I know Cosmo Kramer).
It’s roughly 40 minutes from Gare de Lyon to the Fontainebleau train station. Once you arrive in Fontainebleau, you will probably want to head to your accommodation. Like I said, Fontainebleau is the biggest city close to Samois, so if your base of operations is in another city hub such as Bois-le-Roi, you’ll have to make the necessary adjustments. Nonetheless, Fontainebleau covers a fairly large radius of Samois’ vicinities. If you have a mobile phone, it’s good to get the numbers of some taxi companies in Fontainebleau; otherwise, they can be very difficult to come by. Even designated taxi stands can be empty for hours. With a mobile phone, you’ll be able to call up a cab. In Paris, you can easily get a prepaid sim card with data plan for very cheap. There is also a bus that takes you downtown if that’s where you want to go. Again, this information is always subject to change, so be sure to confirm on the Internet.
When the actual festival starts, they have designated shuttle buses from the festival site to the Fontainebleau train station, but that is ONLY during festival hours. In other words, if you arrive on Wednesday morning, the shuttle bus will not be there until the evening when the festival officially starts. If you’re not carrying much, you can also go to downtown Fontainebleau and look for a bike rental place. It is quite affordable, and you can rent a bike for the entire duration of the festival. Keep in mind that stores are not necessarily open on Sundays, and therefore, you would have to return the bike on Monday. If you have a flight to catch, you have to plan around this. It is also possible to rent a car in Fontainebleau, but the same rule applies, you might only be able to return the car on a Monday morning!
The great thing about the bicycle is that it forms a triangle of equal distance between Samois, Samoreau, and downtown Fontainebleau. It’s about a 15-20 minute ride from one location to the other. Be warned, however, there are lots of brutal slopes in Fontainebleau (whether leaving, or entering the city!).
Now remember that thing I said about convenience, and the American/Canadian lifestyle? Those of you from Canada and America are used to a life of incredible luxury whether you know it or not. In most places in Canada or USA, it is very easy to find service when you expect to find it. Not so in France, especially in these tiny remote areas. Businesses may take breaks at unexpected moments, buses might not follow the official schedule, and many businesses are closed on Sundays. You can wait all you want at a designated taxi stand, but a taxi may never even show up. It’s best to have a mobile phone with you to call a taxi. Even then, if it’s too late, and the taxi driver doesn’t feel like working, well then, you have to find an alternative solution. This is relevant as sometimes you might feel like hanging out at the festival site or campsite until the wee hours of the night. If you end up without a way to get back to your safe house, you better make friends quickly, or sleep in the open. That’s how things work over there; so don’t expect the easy American life to which you maybe accustomed. It goes without saying, but don’t expect everyone to speak English. It seems like a dumb thing for me to say all this, but I’ve literally heard this a few times “What do you mean they don’t speak English? It’s the 21st century, everyone should speak English”. I’ve also heard stories of people walking into a business and exclaiming at the top of their lungs “EXCUSE ME! I’M AMERICAN, I NEED HELP!”. Sorry American friends, I don’t mean to embarrass you, but these things have happened before, and I just want to explain everything clearly.
The more prepared you are, and the more you understand this, the easier it will be for you. The good news is that there are usually lots of nice people that go to this festival and that might take care of you if you’re not an obnoxious idiot. You might even run into me! I usually don’t like to see people in distress, so if I can help you in anyway, I probably will (and have in the past).
That covers a lot of the questions that most people have about the festival. Let us now tie up the loose ends.
Tickets to the festival: should you buy them in advance? You can if you want, you can order them online and pick them up at designated areas. In the past, I was able to buy tickets in advance and pick them up at the FNAC (major retail chain) close to the Châtelet Les Halles RER station in Paris, but again, don’t quote me on that. You can also pick them up during the festival at the ticket counter, which is located at the entrance to the festival. I’ve personally never heard of tickets being sold out.
The festival itself is located on a tiny island on the Seine river. This island is connected to the village by 3 bridges. The southern bridge is exclusively for artists/merchants, and the northern bridge is generally for exiting, though in the past, people with special passes were able to get in. I doubt that’s you, so you have to enter the festival through the bridge where the ticket counter is located. The name of the island does not appear on Google Maps. It is called L’Ile Du Berceau; it is the tiny island just to the southwest of the bigger island L’Ile aux Barbiers. Yes, that’s right! The official festival happens on that tiny island!
Here’s the catch: traditionally, on weekdays (Wednesday until Friday), the general public can only enter the festival site once. If you choose to leave, you cannot get back in without buying another ticket. If there are things you think you need to do, do it beforehand. Definitely go the bathroom before, or face the filthy, overcrowded porta potties. Remember how I said that the festival has seen tremendous growth in attendance? Well you can imagine how it must be on a busy Friday night with 5000 people on a tiny island.
You might want to bring food or snacks as well. Otherwise, you are forced to buy from the festival merchants. It’s not so bad, the selection is somewhat varied (and never the same every year), but the prices are expensive.
On weekdays, the festival starts in the evening, before the first concert starts. When the festival ends many hours later the security guards will kick everyone out (it wasn’t like this in the past). If you rely on the shuttle bus, make sure to check the schedule so you can catch the last one, and always plan ahead, unless you like adventure.
On weekends, the festival starts earlier; check the schedule of the first concert and arrive earlier if you want to be one of the first on the island. You will given a bracelet that allows you to enter and leave the island as you please.
This is a matter of preference, but for me, the cool thing about the festival has always been the jams, not the actual official concerts. On the northern side of the island is the big stage where the concerts happen. Behind the stage, all along the island is where luthiers display their instruments. You can catch lots of cool jams here, and you can also try guitars. Some people bring their own instruments, and set up their own jams as well. On one side of the island, are the luthiers / gear vendors, and on the other side, are the food vendors. In between, you will find chairs and tables. On the southern side of the island, are the filthy porta potties. In recent years, they have also set up a tiny stage on the southern end for various musicians to do mini performances. You might end up on that stage, if you are politically connected to the right people.
That, my friends is the actual Samois-sur-Seine Django Reinhardt festival. It takes place on a very tiny island. It has become more and more commercial as the years have gone by, and more and more casual tourists are showing up. This is not a criticism of any kind, but it is what it is. For that reason, many people choose not to go to the island, and instead, hang around the campsites to create their own festival.
In the town of Samois, you can also find jams in the town square during the day. You can go visit Django’s grave in the cemetery, but it will be a bit of an uphill journey. You can find his tomb in one of the corners of the cemetery. You can check out his house, which is close to the festival island. During day, they sometimes organize little activities in the town square: little performances, art exhibitions, etc. Unfortunately, the legendary restaurant/bar Chez Fernand no longer exists. People still hang out there sometimes, but in the past, it was one of the major locations for impromptu jam sessions with the cream of the crop.
Again, in recent years, the festival has seen tremendous change. If you’re into checking out jam sessions with some of the top players, it can happen anywhere. It still happens in Samoreau, but it can just as easily happen anywhere else! A car really comes in handy!
The festival is still the Mecca of all things Django Reinhardt, but a lot of the top players have also been avoiding the festival unless officially invited, so don’t assume that EVERYONE goes to the festival every year just to hang out. I’ve noticed less and less Gypsy attendance in recent years because of this. In the past, it was their tribute to Django Reinhardt. Now, it’s attended by Djangophiles from all over the world, and many casual tourists; they’ve really taken over the festival. This is NOT a criticism, merely a factual observation. There is nothing wrong with these Djangophiles (I’m one of them!), but a lot of the recent converts to Gypsy Jazz are into a very experimental/progressive approach to the style. All that is totally fine, it is like what newgrass is to bluegrass. However, if you like the old charm of the 60s/70s/80s/90s Gypsy Jazz, I have to admit it’s harder and harder to find, as the new wave players have really taken over! Gypsies and older players were generally the keepers of the this style, and if recent years are any indication, there will be less and less Gypsy musicians going to Samois. Partially as a result of this, in 2012, the Gypsies in Alsace created their own festival called Festival Jazz Manouche in Zillisheim. It happens just before Samois. I have never been as it constantly conflicts with my favourite festival, Django in June, in Northampton, MA, USA. Who knows what the future yields for Samois? I personally would like to see room for everyone!
That, my friends, is Samois; it’s a big jungle, you have to create your own schedule. It’s like going to New York, you have practically everything at your fingertips but where do you go every night?
One final word of advice, if you are flying out of Paris, plan your flight departure accordingly. Remember, you are in a remote part of France, and service might not be easy to find. Make sure you have a way to easily get to the Fontainebleau train station. If taking the RER to get to CDG or ORY, this time you have to make sure that you take the right train, as they will branch out into different directions. You will have to pay attention to the little screen to know which one to take. It’s a good idea to have a map of the RER; the screen capture function on your smartphone is very handy in situations like this!
Keep in mind, things change, so always make sure that the above information is still relevant.
As always, if you enjoyed this article, please check out my site DC Music School www.dc-musicschool.com for lots of cool Gypsy Jazz lessons! Your support allows me to write these articles and produce more cool lessons.
Reinhardt’s virtuosity and prolific body of work with the Quintette du Hot Club de France is held as the pinnacle of Gypsy Jazz. As a result, Reinhardt is portrayed as the innovator and common denominator in the practice of Gypsy Jazz guitar. This first chapter will outline musical elements synonymous with the ‘classical’ (i.e. traditional) style of Gypsy Jazz guitar. The study will mention Reinhardt’s European contemporaries, also held to be innovators of the classical style of Gypsy Jazz. In particular, Pierre Joseph ‘Baro’ Ferret. My findings will demonstrate the technical specifications that define Gypsy Jazz guitar.
The second chapter will discuss guitarists of the 1970s who brought about a crisis in tradition, and a modernisation of the Gypsy Jazz style. This study will demonstrate the music’s correlation with American Jazz of the 1970s, where a similar subservience and reverence to the music occurs. I will include transcriptions and analyses of performances, demonstrating similarities (i.e. conservation) and differences (i.e. innovations) in comparison to the work of the ‘classical’ pioneers such as Django Reinhardt and Baro Ferret. I will reiterate points made in the first chapter concerning the traditional approach to technique, repertoire and instrumentation. I hope to find similarities in both the classical style and modernisation throughout the 1970s (i.e. Jazz Fusion), in order to more accurately define the genre in terms of its musical components, and its processual evolution.
The final chapter will collate my findings concerning the part played by ethnic, cultural and musical characteristics in the evolving genre, and to establish a definition of Gypsy Jazz up to the 1970s. At that time, the art of the authentic ‘Gypsy’ sound was considered to be relayed by a certain circle of performers; in effect a synonym of Reinhardt’s style. However, this is problematic since it creates a deceptive conflation between musical character and ethnicity. Therefore, this classification of the ‘Gypsy’ genre is not merely reductive, but inherently confused. This chapter will focus on the theoretical thinking of Paul Gilroy in ‘The Black Atlantic’ and ideas of Cosmopolitanism within the genre.
Since the 1970s further generations of Gypsy Jazz musicians have based their musical style on fundamental characteristics of Reinhardt’s music, thus conserving a canon of musical characteristics that have defined the music as Gypsy Jazz. However, I will argue that Gypsy Jazz, as with other genres, involves complex and interconnected evolutionary processes concerning repertoire, technique, instrumentation and other musical characteristics across time.
The classical style of Gypsy Jazz
Public Domain Image of Django Reinhardt in New York (November 1946)
This is by no means a comprehensive study of Gypsy Jazz technique, but constitutes a list of musical characteristics that are incorporated in both classical and modern Gypsy Jazz. It seems that certain elements of Gypsy Jazz music have been defined solely through technical and performance aspects. These techniques are often exclusive to the genre, and are universally practiced amongst established Gypsy Jazz musicians. Therefore, I will assert that they can be seen as a common denominator as they are still practiced almost exclusively by guitarists of the style, offering strong evidence of conservation within the genre and of Reinhardt’s legacy and personal technique.
The music, which I shall refer to as ‘classical’ Gypsy Jazz, was a radical innovation at the time the Quintette du Hot Club de France was born in 1934. Despite many similarities to American Swing music, it was still considered too ‘Modern’ to be commercially successful. Jeffrey H. Jackson states that the Hot Club musicians, “initially doubted their marketability as a band, and their long efforts to gain a recording contract demonstrated ongoing reluctance on the part of the music industry to accept them.” Even Reinhardt considered the movement towards American Jazz as a modernisation: “By 1926 Django had heard the first rumblings of American jazz in France, when he heard Billy Arnold’s Novelty Jazz Band at the l’Abbaye de Theleme restaurant in Pigalle. To Django, this music was modern, wild and free.”
Boulou Ferre pictured using the rest-stroke picking technique on a ‘Grand Bouche’ Selmer replica.
Despite Reinhardt’s disability in his left hand, it was more his right hand technique that became synonymous with the classical Gypsy Jazz technique. The techniques apparent in Reinhardt’s style are considered to be unsurpassed in terms of their suitability to the music. In an interview with (non-Roma) Gypsy Jazz guitarist, Jonny Hepbir said: “Personally, I take all my technical lessons from Django and the Roma. For Gypsy Jazz, they tick all the boxes for me.” Rest-stroke picking has been used throughout the history of the genre, but the technique stemmed from an archaic practice, and although seemingly affiliated with Reinhardt’s own style, was by no means conceived by him.
Rest-stroke picking involves the use of down strokes, immediately anchoring the plectrum on the string directly underneath. This motion is employed with every note, however it has two exceptions. The first exception is when playing the 1st string (top E), which has no neighboring string below it. In this case, the wrist must swing back up, instead of ‘bouncing’ from another. The second is up-strokes, often related to ‘Alternative’ picking. This is employed for faster passages where it is seemingly ‘unnatural’, and often impossible, to down pick every note. However, a new string is always executed with a down-stroke. These exceptions are unavoidable as one of the constraints of the instrument, and work well idiomatically.
This plectrum technique facilitates often-powerful down-strokes on stringed instruments and has been applied to Lute instruments such as the Oud and Bouzouki. In addition it has also played an important role in Italian classical Mandolin. The technique produces a greater volume, audible above other musicians when needed, most obviously whilst soloing. As I have stated, the technique is an archaic practice, but later chapters will further demonstrate its relevance to modern performance.
Relaxation of the wrist is key to rest-stroke picking. The picking hand, levitates above the body of the guitar, so that the palm is not in contact with the bridge or strings. The wrist is usually near to a 45-degree angle with the forearm. The middle, ring and little finger often used to gently anchor the hand to the body of the instrument. This technique is sometimes referred to as ‘broken wrist’, first termed by Biréli Lagrène, due to the inclination of his own wrist. The introduction of electric guitars and amplification did not deter Reinhardt, nor generations after him, from using this technique despite the volume of the acoustic instrument no longer being a constraint. Refer to Track 1 to hear Reinhardt performing on an electric guitar, with rest-stroke picking (Anouman, Django Reinhardt).
The tone produced is heard in Reinhardt’s solo section, from 1:29-2:12 and most noticeable during the diminished phrase at 1:58; notice the fluidity and strong attack. Lagrène states that:
“The secret of this music is not that much the left hand, it’s more the right hand. The pick is very important, too. You have to have those thick picks to have the round sound. When I play that music, my wrist automatically inclines, like a broken wrist. But if I play on an electric guitar, my wrist lays right on the bridge. Because if I do it while playing the Gypsy music, I don’t have enough strength when I play with my wrist on the bridge. It has to be floating, sort of. And this is where the sound comes from. [He plays the same lick with the wrist floating and then resting on the bridge.] With the wrist on the bridge, it doesn’t sound as powerful. It’s a little different approach.”
The technique could be compared to the motion of shaking out a lighted match. Examples 1 and 2 below, illustrate how the picking hand should look. Example 3 demonstrates the wrist fully relaxed after executing a down-stroke across all of the strings. Example 4 demonstrates the inclination of the wrist when returning to a neighboring string above. The middle, ring and little finger are as relaxed as possible, to avoid any tension in the hand.
Relaxation of the wrist after down-stroke.
Inclination of the wrist, returning to a neighboring string.
The traditional picking technique for American Jazz Guitar involves the hand resting on the bridge, and alternate picking or finger-style picking is habitual. Refer to Track 2 (Cherokee, Angelo Debarre) on the included CD for an example of how rest-stroke picking from a modern Gypsy guitarist sounds in comparison to alternate picking on Track 3 (Cherokee, Joe Pass).
Both pieces are performed on acoustic instruments.
Traditional American style alternate-picking (Track 3), although arguably as dynamic in certain situations such as on an electric guitar, is less focused on dynamic force for louder acoustic performances. As mentioned earlier, rest-stroke picking was initially intended for acoustic instruments. Such a potentially powerful technique is not required when amplification easily resolves problems regarding balance and projection in an ensemble. However rest-stroke picking is still used in classical Gypsy Jazz, regardless of what instrument is being played, whether acoustic or electric. Alternate-picking gives a more balanced level between attack and decay, mainly due to less ‘plectrum-noise’ – the sound made when the plectrum comes in contact with the string.
The type of plectrum used in Gypsy Jazz is very important in itself; it is traditionally very thick, ranging from around 2.5mm to 5mm. A Gypsy Jazz plectrum delivers a softer attack, due to a smoother, and rounder, resistance in contact with a string. However, a greater volume is produced as a result of the plectrum’s weight. The sound of the thicker plectrum combined with rest-stroke picking delivers a tone with very strong attack and fast decay depending on the set-up and specifications of the guitar. The plectrum and it’s relation to rest-stroke picking is a vital feature of the classical style, my second chapter will demonstrate that this remained a constant during the process of modernisation of the 1970s.
The Quintette du Hot Club de France. Reinhardt and Baro Ferret both using Selmer ‘Grand Bouche’ instruments.
The majority of Gypsy Jazz guitarists use instruments based on the designs by Mario Maccaferri for the Selmer instrument company of Paris (1930-33). They are categorised into two different styles: ‘Grand Bouche’ (large mouth) and ‘Petit Bouche’ (small mouth). These guitars, primarily replicas, are still used almost exclusively for the style and have remained a constant throughout the 1970s until the present day. All one has to do is look at the promotional poster for the 2013 ‘Samois sur Seine’ (Django Reinhardt) festival which portrays a Selmer Macaferri style guitar in silhouette, complete with a ‘moustache’ bridge piece – a feature of the instrument which has become associated with the personality of Reinhardt himself (Example 6). This evidences the way in which the personality ‘cult’ of Reinhardt is significant in the popularity and tradition of the genre; an element that is not directly involved with aspects of the music itself. Indeed, there is a Selmer hybrid brand of ‘Moustache Guitars’ named after Reinhardt’s ‘trademark’ moustache.
Festival Django Reinhardt 2013 poster with ‘Moustache’ Bridge piece.
The Quintette du Hot Club de France set the example of how it was considered that a Gypsy Jazz quintet should be orchestrated. This involved a double bass (Louis Vola) and two rhythm guitars (Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput and Baro Ferret) as the foundation for rhythm accompaniment. In addition there were two soloists on violin and guitar, namely Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. Grappelli performed with the quintet until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1940, and was later replaced by clarinetist and tenor saxophonist, Hubert Rostaing. In 1946, Reinhardt toured in England and Switzerland (a reunion with Grappelli), and joined Duke Ellington’s band in America as a soloist. Grappelli would later return to the quintet in 1947, occasionally performing with Reinhardt.
This fundamental picking technique crosses the barrier between rhythm and lead performance but they both share the same inclination of the wrist. This rhythm technique is called La Pompe (‘The Pump’) and constitutes a fundamental characteristic of the music. Dregni describes La Pompe as being, “The fierce boom-chick, boom-chick rhythm that would become the trademark of Gypsy jazz”. According to my interviews with both Jonny Hepbir and Denis Chang, a respect and understanding of Reinhardt’s music is vital to perform the music appropriately. La Pompe is a strong indication of conservation within the style; it is almost always used, with a few exceptions, which I will discuss later. Jackson writes:
“Despite the confusion [of genre] during these early days, there was at least one common musical meaning when people in France invoked the term jazz: it meant rhythm and the instruments used to make it. Above all, the drums—la batterie—were not only the most prominent instrument but their mere presence, many believed, made any band into a jazz band.”
La Pompe is apparent in Reinhardt’s first recording with the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Listen to Track 4 to hear Reinhardt’s version of ‘Dinah’.
In this version we hear the vital La Pompe throughout its entirety, further embellished during Grappelli’s solo at 1:13-1:35, with Reinhardt joining the rhythm section and playing swung quaver rhythms over straight crotchet rhythms supplied by Joseph Reinhardt and Roger Chaput. Reinhardt is often heard supplementing the rhythm section whilst other instrumentalists are taking a solo. Reinhardt provides a rhythm similar to ‘shuffle’, associated with American Big Bands of the 1930s. This style of rhythm can be heard on ‘Mushmouth Shuffle’ (Track 5), recorded in 1930 by Jelly Roll Morton & The Red Hot Peppers.
The shuffle rhythm is most noticeable on the hi-hat from 0:11 onwards as a rhythmical foundation. Similarly to this, the rhythmic features of La Pompe are extremely similar to Swing Band associated rhythmic styles such as ‘Stomp’. When referring to ‘Kansas City Stomps’, also by Jelly Roll Morton (Track 6), you can hear the blatant rhythmic similarities to La Pompe in ‘Dinah’ (Reinhardt).
I shall assert that the only dramatic musical differentiation to American Swing Jazz rhythm is instrumentation and consequently idioms of the guitar itself: techniques such as La Pompe, and of course, the absence of drums.
Nolan believes that this rhythmic pattern (La Pompe) is an example of conservation in the style: “The rhythm is the other defining technique which absolutely defines this music. It replaces the drums and gives it that recognisable swing not seen in other music.” Dregni states that La Pompe was a way of creating “a full band’s sound with a minimum of instrumentation.” Both Nolan and Dregni have stated it is not the importance of the rhythm (i.e straight crotchets) itself that defines the music as Gypsy Jazz, but the rhythmic instrumentation. This is what separates Gypsy Jazz from Swing Band Jazz. Moon writes: “There was no drummer, and this gave the group an agile, reeling, free-spirited sound.” Therefore, this choice of instrumentation is a key element of the classical style that has remained a constant throughout the modernisation of the 1970s.
For Gypsy Waltzes, a similar technique to La Pompe is applied. A chord is played every beat of the bar (in 3 / 4 time signature) with accents often placed on beats 2 and 3. Otherwise it is common to play this rhythm ‘straight’ without accents. Also, there is very often a ‘fill’ on the second division of beat 3, leading into the beginning of every bar. This embellishment is used sparingly, not to distract from solo performers. Gypsy Waltzes stem from French Musette, and although it is not strictly ‘La Pompe’, it is extremely common in classical Gypsy Jazz music offering further evidence that the Gypsy Jazz genre has evolved from diverse influences. According to Alain Antonietto, Baro Ferret was: “the brilliant soloist in groups that all bear his stamp: the swing musettes”. Musette was also a combination of musical traditions, including the laments of the Auvergnat bagpipe and Italian accordion melodies.
For an example of the very straightforward approach to Gypsy (swing) Waltz rhythm, refer to Track 7 which is Baro Ferret’s composition, ‘Panique’ – a recording from 1949.
Baro Ferret was perhaps more known for his waltz compositions than Reinhardt, and he released an album of Gypsy Waltzes, entitled ‘Swing Valses’ in 1965/6 (re-released in 1988 on Hot Club Records). Although a practitioner of classical Gypsy Jazz, Baro Ferret became more influenced by modern American jazz when ‘Swing Valses’ was released. I will talk more about this in the following chapter. Ferret’s ‘Panique’ is predominantly a traditional Gypsy Waltz, but with some strong Swing influences. This can be heard from 0:31-0:35 with emphasis on syncopated rhythms, not dissimilar to rhythmic arrangements of American Swing Bands. Within this particular recording, beats 2 and 3 are near identical to 1, without noticeable accents in a similar way to traditional La Pompe, spreading dynamics evenly across every beat.
As far as musical form is concerned, classical Gypsy Jazz is structured; in it’s most basic form, ABA. This is with the exception of through-composed pieces. What I mean by this is the classical Gypsy Jazz repertoire often demonstrates a ‘head’ section (A), followed by instrumental solo/s (B), ending with a recapitulation to the opening ‘head’ section (A). This also demonstrates similarities to American Swing Jazz. In Reinhardt’s version of Dinah (1934) (Track 4), the structure follows much the same pattern. The song is introduced with a 4 bar turnaround supplied by Reinhardt. The head section then follows, which consists of a A,A,B,A structure, whereby each A/B lasts 8 bars. Therefore the overall length of the melody or head section, played by Reinhardt, is 32 bars. This adheres to Adorno’s theory of standardization of chorus structure in popular music, further demonstrating it’s relation to the popular genre of American Jazz. This 32 bar structure is then repeated throughout, as a basis for instrumental improvisation. The first solo section can be heard from 0:40- 1:14, played by Reinhardt. The second instrumental solo, from 1:14-1:51, is taken by Grappelli. The final instrumental solo predominantly focuses on Grappelli, with embellishments and a call-and-response style melodic interest supplied by Reinhardt (1:51-2:24). Although the head section does not return in its entirety, the songs abrupt ending echoes the turnaround from the last A section of the melody.
This structure, by comparison to one of Reinhardt’s American contemporaries, Charlie Christian, follows much the same pattern. Although recorded later, specifically in 1939, Christian’s more ‘American’ approach to instrumentation and perhaps soloing do not distract from its very similar approach to structure and form. In this particular recording (Track 8), there is also a 4 bar introduction leading into the head section, this time played by vibraphone.
The head section or chorus is also 32 bars in length, and instrumental solos last for the same duration, over the same harmonic structure. The first solo, performed on vibraphone starts from 0:39. Christian takes the next chorus from 1:14. The next instrumental solo is taken by Benny Goodman on clarinet from 1:49, interrupted by a vibraphone solo in the B section, and returning to clarinet on the final A. The final solo section echoes that of Reinhardt and Grappelli’s recording, whereby, Goodman and Lionel Hampton (vibraphone) exchange melodic ideas in a call-and-response style. This can be heard from 2:24. Similarly to the version recorded by Reinhardt, the song ends abruptly with a final turnaround of the A section.
Musical Examples and Devices
This section will discuss certain idioms and consequently devices associated with the guitar. For example, subtleties such as vibrato can be used differently depending on the style/tempi of the tune being performed. More vibratos are employed when playing a ballad (Such as Reinhardt’s composition Nuages), and less for faster tunes especially in Reinhardt’s version of Les Yeux Noirs (1947). Similarly, this recording of Les Yeux Noirs (Track 9)demonstrates Reinhardt’s innovative, and extensively used tremolo technique achieved by fast strumming of chords with the picking hand, and normally deployed on the top 3 or 4 strings.
This technique is also similar to shaking out a lighted match, but considerably faster. It gives the impression of a timbre similar to a “string or brass section, especially when certain notes are sharpened or flattened or where extra notes are added, creating movements within the chord.” Again, this relation to brass sections is an acknowledgement of Swing Band movements in America. This can be heard in Reinhardt’s recording of Les Yeux Noirs, Track 9 from 1:50 to 1:58.
A relatively common trait of this style involves devices used to connect and approach melodic phrases. One of these devices is a semi-chromatic run designed to be played very fast (usually quavers/semiquavers depending on the tempo of the song). This run is performed starting on an open string, followed by fretting the 1st, 2nd and 3rd frets consecutively. This is then repeated on the string below, until the desired note is reached. It is important to note that doing this is not strictly a chromatic scale because in order for it to work more efficiently, it is necessary to miss certain notes of the chromatic scale. This method is much easier to use than a purely chromatic run, which requires a more cumbersome picking pattern at fast tempi. The following (Example 7) is a notated example, with an indication for down/up picking and fingerings.
Descending semi-chromatic scale as used in Minor Swing (Reinhardt).
This devise involves strict alternative picking combined with rest-stroke technique. This semi-chromatic scale can be heard as a descending connective phrase in Reinhardt’s ‘Minor Swing’ 1937 (Track 10) at 1:20.
This device is designed to work idiomatically for the instrument, hence it’s association and distinct relation to Gypsy Jazz guitar and not other styles and instruments. There are exceptions for this, where a full chromatic scale is used, usually when the range of the phrase is less than an octave. This can be heard in Reinhardt’s recording of ‘When Day Is Done’ (1937) at 0:47 on Track. 11.
Nuages is one of Reinhardt’s most celebrated compositions, which has now become of key importance within the Gypsy Jazz repertoire (Track 12).
This composition in particular demonstrates minor II-V-I turnaround, which again adds subtle changes to the harmony and creates the illusion of static chord movements. This can be heard from the transition of chord II (A-7b5) to chord V (D7b9), where the only movement between chords is G, the seventh of A-7b5 to F#, the 3rd of D7b9. This minor II-V progression naturally leads into G minor, however Reinhardt prefers in this case to lead into the tonic major. Also within the harmonic progression, the root notes between Eb9, and A-7b5 present an interval of a tritone. Similarly, the chromaticism in the melody is followed by parallel (semitone) chord movements within the harmonic progression: A7-Ab7-A7 (0:40-0:44).
Ettiene ‘Patotte’ Bosquet
Many guitarists have copied Reinhardt’s improvisations to popular recordings, and have continued to perform them throughout history. A famous example of this dedication can be heard in Ettiene ‘Patotte’ Bosquet’s recording of Les Yeux Noirs (Dark Eyes) on Track 13.
This recording starts with Bosquet’s own arrangement of Les Yeux Noirs head section, leading into a note-for-note copy of Reinhardt’s own improvisation such as in Track 9. Both recordings are played on electric guitar, and demonstrate Bosquet’s loyalty to Reinhardt. This recording was produced at some point in the 1950s, although I am unable to find an exact date for this performance. Bosquet’s own improvisation starts from 0:58 on Track 13, and continues in a similar vein but, according to John Etheridge, arguably without the driving force, speed and technical precision executed by Reinhardt’s improvisation. Clearly, Reinhardt is still considered to be the ‘bench-mark’ by which other guitarists are judged. This demonstrates that around the 50s, there was still a focus on purely replicating the style of Reinhardt, to the point of reproducing Reinhardt’s own improvisations entirely. It also shows that Reinhardt’s work was still considered important even during the beginning of the styles reinvention. In the next chapter, I shall discuss the reinvention of style inflected by American influences of the time.
Django Reinhardt with Duke Ellington. November 1946.
Gypsy Jazz in the 1970s
Crisis in Tradition
“On the notion of modernity. It is a vexed question. Is not every era ‘modern’ in relation to the preceding one? It seems that at least one of the components of ‘our’ modernity is the spread of the awareness we have of it. The awareness of our awareness (the double, the second degree) is our source of strength and or torment.”
In an interview that I undertook with Robin Nolan, he stated the importance of remaining open to modernisation and invention, and argued that Reinhardt himself was keen on this ideology:
“Tradition is a great place to start but you must always remember that Django was an innovator and was constantly looking for new ideas and music. He was ahead of his time. I’m not so into preserving the tradition but many are.”
This crisis in tradition is a common reoccurrence seemingly throughout the history of Gypsy Jazz, even with classical pioneers such as Baro Ferret. In the words of Antonietto, his swing musettes were, “long scorned by purists. Together with Gus Viseur and Jo Privat he explored the swing waltz, a new and rather controversial concept: how could a waltz (3/4) swing (4/4)?” This quotation further proves that these crises in tradition are evident throughout the history of the music, and the 1970s were no exception.
The 1970s presented new ways of thinking about Jazz music, and this undoubtedly effected the way in which Gypsy Jazz was performed around the same time. However, this is not to say that there were not traditionalists. Many Gypsy Jazz musicians at least thought they remained faithful to the classical style, although this interpretation of faithfulness was often interpreted in different ways. However I will argue that this definition of ‘traditional’ is an evolutionary process, much like the music itself. According to Yurochko:
“The ‘60s represented one of the most diverse periods of jazz history, with several styles carried over from the ‘50s, those developed during the ‘60s, and new influences that would become an important part of the ‘70s. Early European classical music influenced an important style in the ‘50s that developed into third stream music and free jazz … This music provided little harmonic base, in an attempt to free melody and rhythm with improvisational spontaneity.”
This freer approach to the music is apparent in many Gypsy Jazz recordings around the 1970s when Free Jazz, as stated by Wilson, was considered to be `the new style’ while, as he states: “traditionalists stuck to previous styles from the ‘50s.” Indeed, Wilson argues that “The History of jazz from the time of it’s emergence from the blues (and elsewhere) through at least until the sixties is, on the contrary, a history of expanding freedom, as the music progressively distances itself from standardized musical forms in a series of shocks and ruptures.” This closely links to what Paul Gilroy defines as the complex “contingent loops and fractal trajectories” involved in the evolution of black music that I will discuss in depth in my third chapter.
American Jazz music of the 1970s was seemingly influenced by Rock music of the time, and Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, released in 1970, is considered to be the first commercially successful Jazz Fusion recording. ‘The Penguin Guide to Jazz’ stated that Bitches Brew was, “one of the most remarkable creative statements of the last half-century, in any artistic form. It is also profoundly flawed, a gigantic torso of burstingly noisy music that absolutely refuses to resolve itself under any recognized guise.” The recording was also extremely commercially successful, which led on to Miles Davis performing at ‘Rock’ music festivals such as the Isle of White Festival (29/08/1970).
According to the ‘Oxford Companion to Music’, Jazz Fusion was:
“A style from the late 1960s and early 70s that combined modern jazz techniques with the then current style of soul and rock; it thus brought jazz for a time nearer to the commercial tastes of the day, including the use of electronic instruments.”
However, Gypsy Jazz remained seemingly uninfluenced by Rock inflections until artists such as Boulou and Elios Ferre followed Jazz Fusion conventions and studio techniques to enhance their music (although only Boulou Ferre in the 1970s). Other than this there is little evidence to suggest that Gypsy Jazz instantaneously correlated with the Jazz Fusion movement. This is not to say that other traditional (early 20th century) guitar styles remained autonomous of this movement. In fact, Paco de Lucia (1947-2014), the well-known Flamenco guitarist, was drawn into the Jazz Fusion movement, and featured on Al Di Meola’s album, ‘Elegant Gypsy’ (1977). Paco de Lucia’s influence on Jazz Fusion also spawned a new genre: ‘New Flamenco. ‘ This demonstrates the further global amalgamation of commercial Rock music of the 1970s as a primed canvas from which musicians took their influence. I will consider a range of musical examples to demonstrate the correlation between Gypsy Jazz and Jazz Fusion/ Free Jazz in the 70s and 80s.
Plectrum technique, rhythm and repertoire alone constitute evidence of conservation in Gypsy Jazz guitar style. However, the fact of Reinhardt’s quasi deification in the genre, and that he standardised this style of performance on the guitar, is the reason why it is still apparent in modern performers. Denis Chang states that there is:
“Nothing wrong with the modern scene, but people should dig much, much deeper [the roots of the music should not be ignored] if they are really passionate about this style. In fact, the pioneers of the modern style have done just that, Adrien Moignard comes to mind; that is what sets them apart from the other modern players who have ignored the roots of the style. My opinion of course!”
Chang’s assertion that one must explore ‘deeper’ into the roots of the music could be considered a partial view of what might constitute the roots of Gypsy Jazz since his stance suggests that this genre was spawned by Reinhardt himself. Clearly its origins go back much further, and whilst I believe that Chang was acknowledging the importance of the history of the genre pre-dating Reinhardt, it is arguable that too much concentration on the past is an overly reverent and conservative view point, especially considering that modernisation was at the heart of the inception of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. I will now look into particular recordings of the 1970s, demonstrating this crisis of tradition.
Ironically, Django Reinhardt’s son, Babik Reinhardt was also known to have shown a strong interest in Jazz Fusion. Although he never recorded commercially until the late 1980s there is video evidence of Babik experimenting with a MIDI guitar and electronic backing tracks. Furthermore, Babik Reinhardt released a Jazz Fusion album entitled, ‘Live’ (1989), where he was largely accompanied by programmed backing tracks arranged by Reinhardt himself. The move towards electronic instruments undoubtedly raised questions of authenticity, not only in Gypsy Jazz music but other jazz genres. This development of music technology proves to be a key factor for these crises in tradition throughout history. The fact that ‘classical’ instrumentation, as mentioned earlier, is a defining factor of Gypsy Jazz music, it is difficult to define such evolutionary style and technology as following the original concepts of the genre. According to Pinch and Bijsterveld in ‘Should One Applaud?’:
“The impact of technology upon music is not solely a twentieth-century phenomenon. Throughout history, new instruments and instrument components drawing upon technical possibilities of the day have often incited debates as to their legitimacy and place within musical culture. The arrival of the pianoforte into a culture that revered the harpsichord was for some an unwarranted intrusion by a mechanical device.”
What Pinch and Bijsterveld argue here is that newer technologies will always bring about a crisis in tradition and even if at first seemingly controversial, it is perhaps an element of the evolutionary nature of music. The inevitability of technological advancement may present a crisis in genre, but it could be argued that Babik Reinhardt’s close relation to Django Reinhardt is reason enough to assume its validity within the genre. Despite this, Babik was also a performer of the ‘classical’ style, in many cases as a way of paying homage to his father. This can be heard on the album, ‘New Quintette du Hot Club de France’, (1999). Although Babik Reinhardt was not recording music commercially during the 1970s, it is clear from these examples where his influence came from and evidences an acceptance of technological advancements as a way of ‘enhancing’ his music.
Boulou and Elios Ferre
The Album cover for Boulou & Elios Ferre’s ‘Pour Django’.
Within the sleeve notes for ‘Gypsy Jazz’, “His sons [Matelot Ferre] Boulou and Elios carried their father’s music into the future in a fitting contemporary style.” It is arguable that if the music hadn’t moved into a more contemporary style, Gypsy Jazz would have remained a historic performance practice, rather than a living genre.
It is possible that Boulou and Elios Ferre were the main exponents of the ‘modern’ style of Gypsy Jazz. Despite their often-radical negligence towards certain classical features mentioned within the first chapter, they are still firmly bracketed under the Gypsy Jazz label. Whether this is due to their inherent relation to Baro Ferret and Gypsy ethnicity, or musical character is debatable. Here I shall outline features of musical examples of the 1970s and 1980s: whereby Boulou and Elios Ferre arguably step back to more classically inspired works.
Boulou Ferre (Nephew of Joseph ‘Baro’ Ferret), a famed Gypsy Jazz guitarist in his own right, followed the direction of Free Jazz, on an album entitled ‘Homage to Peace’ (1973), alongside the band, ‘Emergency’. The musicality itself is far from Swing-influenced, Gypsy Jazz music presented by Reinhardt. There is no noticeable homage to Reinhardt’s work within these recordings. I am even unsure as to whether traditional rest-stroke picking was used, as the guitars tone is often effected and characteristic of American Jazz Fusion guitarists. Much like Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, Boulou Ferre demonstrates many stylistic traits of Rock music of the 1970s, such as distorted guitars and Wah-Wah filtering effects. This can be heard on ‘Infidels’ (Track 14) from 6:52- 7:03 on the album ‘Homage to Peace’.
This use of Wah-Wah can be heard on every track of the album minus ‘Kako Tune’, and it’s association to Rock music, (i.e Jimi Hendrix’s, ‘Electric Lady Land’ 1968) further grounds the assumption that Boulou Ferre was not trying to sound like a Gypsy Jazz guitarist. On a similar note, Boulou Ferre deliberately employs a distorted guitar tone. This can be heard from 2:42- 3:05, also on ‘Infidels’ (Track 14). Ironically, this distorted guitar tone, although not quite as explicit, can be heard in much of Django Reinhardt’s electric guitar work, including Les Yeux Noirs (Track 9). Although this was not specifically intentional, the distortion that can be heard here was the nature of pushing a valve-powered amplifier to a high volume, resulting in a lack of tonal clarity. This distortion can be heard throughout, but most noticeably from 1:28-1:39 why Reinhardt forcefully plays in octaves. It can also be heard when forceful chords with tremolo are deployed from 1:50-1:58. Therefore, although this guitar tone is at first very different to Reinhardt’s own, it is not dissimilar to the tone of Reinhardt’s later work with electric guitar.
The introduction of the Long Play record by Columbia (1948) was another key factor for musical reinvention. By the 1960s, the LP would sell out both 78s and 45s and hold 80% of the market share in comparison to other formats. The fact that musicians in the 1970s were presented with the ability to record more music per side of disc was detrimental to music production of the time. The introduction of the LP was undoubtedly an enabling factor to the modernization of Rock and Jazz Fusion. On Boulu Ferre’s album with the band ‘Emergence’, individual tracks last far more than classical Gypsy Jazz recordings. The opening track, ‘Emergence Theme’, lasts for 15:22. This was a feature of much Jazz Fusion music of the time, similarly to Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, with its title track, ‘Bitches Brew’, lasting 27:00.
The harmony within the recordings by the band ‘Emergence’ function extremely modally, leaving an unrestrained approach to improvisation, which shares similarities to the nature of Free Jazz. With this particular example, there is hardly any noticeable evidence of Reinhardt’s musical influence. However, I would argue that the music in this case is not trying to be, or fit into the label of Gypsy Jazz. Indeed, the band name itself suggests an evolution or transformative process moving away from previous incarnations. It is explicitly a Jazz Fusion recording, incorporating instrumentation used in Rock music of the 1970s. This evidence suggests that the only defining feature of Gypsy Jazz is the performer, Boulou Ferre, himself. This is much the same way in which Babik Reinhardt takes a musical step away from the Classical Gypsy Jazz style. In which case, it is not musical style, but ethnicity and relation to the classical masters that places them firmly within the Gypsy Jazz label. I shall talk more in depth about this conflicting debate between musical style and ethnicity in my third chapter.
A modern example of ‘Panique’, recorded by Boulou and Elios Ferre can be heard on Track 15 (Nephews of Joseph ‘Baro’ Ferret).
The recording is taken from the album ‘Gypsy Dreams’ (1980). It seems that their version of the piece utilizes a softer rhythm, with an often less abrasive timbre (with grace-notes) at 0:35. This performance is more representative of Modern Jazz than of a Gypsy Waltz, and is characterized by a freer interpretation of classical Gypsy Waltz rhythm, heard at 0:18-0:34. This is one of the rare cases where the rhythm guitar begins by arpeggiating the chords as opposed to playing La Pompe. The opening head section is almost entirely performed this way, resulting in a very modernistic take on the original composition. Their arrangement draws attention to accents in the music with more dynamic contrast creating a modernistic approach to this performance (1:40-1:46). These more aggressive statements give a fresh interpretation to the music that was previously written with more leniencies in tempo, and a generally more free and novel approach to lead performance. This style echoes the concept of this album, namely, as the album title suggests, a surreal or dream-like impression of classical Gypsy Jazz. Although a more recent recording from Boulou Ferre, this is deliberately a conscious move back to the style of Reinhardt. This recording and album, although sharing musical similarities to the modern American Jazz music of the time, is perhaps a step back to a more classically inspired work. I would argue this is due to a returning focus on the acoustic guitar as key instrumentation. Consequently, the idioms of Gypsy Jazz guitar, such as rest-stroke picking, and musical devices (i.e. embellishments such as semi-chromaticism and mordents) are apparent again. Whereas these classical Gypsy Jazz guitar idioms were not in Boulou Ferre’s work with the band ‘Emergence’.
This reinvention is typical of Boulou and Elios’ style, and other example of their modernistic interpretations can be heard on the album ‘Pour Django’ (dedicated to Reinhardt) from 1979. This implies that their stance is one that acknowledges Reinhardt’s legacy, not only in terms of what he left behind, but also in the way that he sought innovation too. I feel that one recording/arrangement in particular encapsulates their modernistic impression on Gypsy Jazz: Rhythm Futur (Track 16), based upon an ominous tritone chord pattern.
This recording also uses studio effects to enhance the music, with added reverb at 1:41, creating an illusory ‘unnatural’ environment and thereby adding to the ‘impossible’ nature of the lead guitar sound. This is unusual for classical Gypsy Jazz recordings, which are generally left untouched by studio effects. These studio enhancements are generally uncommon, and debatably a radical movement away from the musical style of Reinhardt in that they constitute an attempt to embrace the American Fusion movement using electronics as instruments. Despite this, the sleeve notes in their entirety say: “There Is No Overdub On This Record”. The possibility to overdub tracks in the recording is yet another process that opens the debate regarding what may be considered as the authenticity of music production and, as termed by Croft, the ‘liveness’ of the music. Boulou and Elios Ferre have therefore explicitly stated that this album was recorded as a live performance, even though there are certain elements of studio enhancement.
The tempo varies with a gradual accelerando building from 0:25 to 0:51. This is unique to Boulou and Elios’ version and does not occur in Reinhardt’s original composition. Certain motifs are elongated and repeated, and the elements of aggression and bold statements stay true to Boulou and Elios’ own style (such as in Track 16). Rhytm Futur was originally composed by Reinhardt, and was originally through-composed, intentionally not leaving space for improvised instrumental solos. Whereas, in this recording by Boulou and Elios Ferre, there are lengthy instrumental solos, a common stylistic trait of much of the ‘classical’ repertoire, but not Reinhardt’s original intention for his composition. The harmonic progressions remain consistent to Reinhardt’s original composition (Track 17), whereby the opening section is based around an F#7b5b13 chord, played with an emphasis on the tritone between F# and C.
Boulou and Elios Ferre’s modern version also shares the parallel chromaticism within the harmony between G7 and Ab7 as in Reinhardt’s original; this can be heard from 1:21-1:27. With this particular recording, Reinhardt’s original harmonic structure has not been greatly altered, however the solo improvisations are arguably more connected with the ‘Free Jazz’ movements in America surrounding the 1970s and 1980s.
Refer to Nuages (Track 12) to hear this example of Reinhardt’s composition. The generation of ‘Modern’ Gypsy Jazz guitarists following the 1970’s kept many classical aspects of the music, but undoubtedly progressed the style. Refer to Track 18 to hear Boulou and Elios Ferre’s take on this Gypsy Jazz standard from 1985.
The head or melody is still recognisable, despite an ambiguity of harmony and a reluctance to resolve phrases, making it an extremely ‘modern’ take on the standard. Their music was arguably an innovation from certain classical aspects of the music, including an entire negligence of the standardised La Pompe throughout the recording. However, it was not unusual for this to occur in Reinhardt’s solo performances without the Quintette du Hot Club de France, where Reinhardt would perform unaccompanied, with lenient tempi and freer improvisations away from the ‘swing’ style. One can hear Boulou and Elios Ferre’s influence in many of Reinhart’s solo works, although a much clearer tonal centre is apparent. An example of Reinhardt’s freer compositions is evident in ‘Improvisation’. This can be heard on Track19.
Album cover for ‘Gypsy Dreams’. Boulou and Elios both pictured using Selmer ‘petit bouche’ replica guitars.
Despite the more obvious connections with classical Gypsy Jazz, there are certain fundamental elements that are comparable to Jazz Fusion, returning to what Richard Cook wrote about music, ‘that absolutely refuses to resolve itself under any recognized guise’.
Although he has seemingly been canonized, Reinhardt’s technique and melodic style is not the only constant amongst Gypsy Jazz guitarists and performers; the repertoire of the Gypsy Jazz genre is also extremely important. The repertoire that is considered exclusively Gypsy Jazz are those that were composed by either Reinhardt and/or Grappelli in the Quintette du Hot Club de France. According to James Michael, “He was a gifted composer of short evocative pieces and had a flair for pacing a performance so that the maximum variety could be wrung from it without compromising its homogeneity.”
Despite much of the Gypsy Jazz repertoire originating from American Swing music, Gypsy Jazz focuses predominantly on the guitar. Whereas American Swing music utilizes guitar as a predominantly rhythm based instrument, (this of course has exceptions as mentioned earlier), Gypsy Jazz has predominantly string based arrangements. Regardless of musical developments and supposed reinvention within the genre, instrumentation, in particular the guitar and it’s idioms, remain fundamental to the style. This is, of course, nothing new when we look back to the origins of the music initiated by Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, as music is continuously evolving through the interaction with external influences.
One very recent recording could be described a prime example of this musical evolution: La Fuente ft. The Rosenberg Trio, ‘Guitarra’ (2010). In this recording, DJ La Fuente collaborates with the Rosenberg Trio to create an electronic dance piece with Gypsy Jazz influences. This example (Track 20), shares rhythmic emphasis on every beat, (this is the only similarity to La Pompe) although this electronic ‘four-on-the-floor’ is far more characteristic of electronic dance music, due to its choice of instrumentation (i.e. electronic drum kit).
The involvement of Nonnie Rosenberg (bass guitar and double bass) is seemingly to supply a bass line in intervals of a 5th, to outline the base harmony. This can be heard most clearly from 0:32-0:46, although the harmony remains static throughout. The rhythm guitar, played by Nous’che Rosenberg, accents on the offbeat and performs embellishments similar to flamenco style rasgueado (hence the Spanish title, ‘Guitarra’) from 1:30-1:39, but this is seemingly his only role within the track. Stochelo Rosenberg (solo guitar) performs lengthy cadenzas throughout the piece 0:20-0:31 where Nous’che supplies arpeggiated chordal accompaniment, and frequently returns to the main riff at 1:24-1:38. Therefore, there is nothing obviously in common musically with the classical style of Gypsy Jazz other than the inclusion of a Gypsy Jazz trio (i.e. some elements of instrumentation). However, what this effectively demonstrates is the widespread influence of Gypsy Jazz beyond that associated directly with American Jazz music. This proves to be the case in the 1970s also, where Rock music could be considered as just as much of an influence on Gypsy Jazz musicians (i.e. Boulou Ferre) than solely American Jazz of the time.
Many modern guitarists are arguably performers of a pre-ordained style, following stylistic boundaries that are already, in a sense, historical. This classification of genre does not allow for a ‘living’ and evolutionary process involving continual external influences, but remains tethered to a certain point in history. The innovators of the genre, such as Boulou and Elios Ferre, believe that they effectively preserve some essence of Gypsy Jazz, even though the style becomes ever more influenced by American Jazz. This links back to Paul Gilroy’s assertion of Jazz as a ‘processual’ and evolutionary music; something that Gilroy would argue is evident in all creative processes.
Cosmopolitanism and Gypsy Jazz
Paul Gilroy describes the nature of artistic expression and creation as ‘processual;’ this is essentially what makes the music a living genre as opposed to a historical practice. In ‘Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time),’ (2006) Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that cultural borders become highly problematic once they become too entrenched with notions of nationalism and that it is essential that the notion of “citizens of the world” be developed. A consideration of the theory of Cosmopolitanism would therefore identify that the genre of Gypsy Jazz, defined as a continuance and devotion to it’s prescribed classical features and ‘rules,’ is somewhat deadening. Thus, Gilroy and Appiah highlight the way in which cultural identity is a mutable and continuing process. Similarly, in ‘Metamorphoses,’ Rosi Braidotti argues against the notion of linear progression stating that: “In spite of the sustained efforts of many radical critics, the mental habits of linearity and objectivity persist in their hegemonic hold over our thinking. Thus, it is by far simpler to think about the concept A or B, or of B as non-A, rather than the process of what goes on in between A and B… They tend to become frozen in spatial, metaphorical modes of representation which itemize them as ‘problems’.” Therefore, static categorizations of genre are hierarchically structured and negatively arrived at in terms of simple binary oppositions. What Braidotti states as ‘the process of what goes on in between A and B’ is much more complex involving what Gilroy identifies as ‘contingent loops’ and ‘fractal trajectories.’ Arguably, this continuing evolution in the case of Gypsy Jazz, has taken Reinhardt’s legacy in different directions.
Gilroy, Appiah and Braidotti essentially hold the same opinion that genre is not ‘set in stone.’ Gilroy’s writing in The Black Atlantic discusses the globalization of black music, and questions the importance of authenticity in regard to global manifestations of the same cultural forms; Gypsy Jazz initially had its roots in black music as well as in Roma traditions. In this case, it can be argued that Gypsy Jazz, and indeed all genres of music, are what Braidotti describes as a ‘hybrid’ mix. Braidotti writes that one cannot live in the 21st century if one cannot accept change: “We live in permanent processes of transition, hybridization and nomadization, and these in-between states and stages defy the established modes of theoretical representation.” It is the need to accept evolution and transformation that defines postmodern existence.
Leitch agrees that there are substantial questions regarding the direction of black culture when one considers the experiences of ‘relocation’ and ‘displacement.’
When following the development of Gypsy Jazz throughout the 20th century, and in particular in the 1970s, it could be argued that it’s history and development is so influenced by American Jazz that it poses the question as to whether Gypsy Jazz can be considered as a totally separate genre in itself, or just as style under the Jazz ‘umbrella’. One element that remains constant is technique, repertoire and instrumentation, but it is debatable whether this is enough to label it as a genre in it’s own right. I have already argued that Gypsy Jazz in the 1970s ‘absorbed’ much influence from American Jazz music of the time, and that this was also true of Reinhardt and his contemporaries; as explained in the sleeve notes for the ‘Gypsy Jazz’ (2007) compilation album. (Author not credited):
“The Gypsies are an ancient nomadic people. Their origins lie in the Indian sub-continent. At some point in their ancient history the gypsies split into two main tribes, the Manouche and the Gitanes. Perhaps the biggest distinction between the Manouche and the Gitane is Geographical. The Manouche travelled through the Middle East, then, via the Balkans and Hungary, took a Northern sweep into Europe. The Gitanes came up through Southern Europe and Spain… The music of the Gypsies was influenced in rather the same way, as their music absorbed aspects of many other musics.”
This quote is controversial in that one could argue that much of the world’s population has its origins in the Indian sub-continent but it also implies that the music of the ‘gypsies’ was a consequence of their geographical relocation. The sleeve notes stress the assumed enigmatic nature of ‘gypsy’ lives and music that have their origins in ‘exotic’ locations – as the mysterious ‘other.’ However, whilst recognising outside influences, it does not consider American Jazz as a defining feature of the music, but takes a very much more partial view involving its ancient origins. I argue that Gypsy Jazz, rather than having specific and tangible elements, is a developing genre much in the same way that Gilroy uses the metaphor of the sailing ship in The Black Atlantic to describe the complex processes involved in creativity.
In The Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy draws attention to the transnational and evolutionary character of black music and argues that it should, as Leitch describes, transcend “ethnicity and nationality to produce something new.” According to Leitch, “Gilroy deplores ethnic and nationalist absolutisms, and champions transnational hybridities, particularly their forgotten histories.” Leitch states that Gilroy effectively claims that fascism is an aspect of many peoples’ cultural experiences when differences between cultural groups and individuals are entrenched. Indeed, in an epigram to chapter three of The Black Atlantic Gilroy quotes Adorno:
“Since the mid-nineteenth century a country’s music has become a political ideology by stressing national characteristics, appearing as a representative of the nation, and everywhere confirming the national principle…Yet music, more than any other artistic medium, expresses the national principle’s antimonies as well.’
Adorno argues here that a static definition of a ‘national’ music is highly suspect since it reinforces negative ideas of imperial ‘nationhood’ evident in the mid-nineteenth century and evidence of concomitant xenophobia. In addition, Adorno asserts that music is the creative art that is most able to relay a more complex vision of nation and its contradictions. Gilroy asserts that all art, including music is ‘processual,’ meaning that musical style is not ‘fixed’ and defined at one point in history. In this sense, the crisis of modernity in the 1970s can be considered alongside a tradition that has been constructed and continually reinforced through the adherence to Reinhardt’s legacy. As Gilroy states, it is strange that:
“The contemporary debates over modernity and its possible eclipse…have largely ignored music. This is odd given that the modern differentiation of the true, the good, and the beautiful was conveyed directly in the transformation of public use of culture in general and the increased public importance of all kinds of music.”
As mentioned earlier, I consider that the correlations between American Jazz and Gypsy Jazz are as important as any correlation with Roma performance practices or ancient origins. Gilroy describes the ‘values’ of music as being associated with its origins, but as something more mutable: “particularly if they come into opposition against further mutations produced during its contingent loops and fractal trajectories? Where the music is thought to be emblematic and constitutive of racial difference rather than just associated with it, how is music used to specify general issues pertaining to the problem of racial authenticity and the consequent self-identity of the ethnic group?” I argue that Gilroy’s definition of ‘mutations’ can be applied to the developing interrelationship and shared history of American Jazz and Gypsy Jazz, and the similar ancient origins of both in the Indian sub-continent. These ‘contingent loops’ and ‘fractal trajectories’ describe evolutionary processes and are arguably what make Gypsy Jazz, and indeed any other category of music, a living genre rather than a static one and solely as a historical performance practice devoted to Reinhardt.
Ralph Ellison’s observation on Jazz, in relation to identity in particular, states that the notion of a static genre in music is contradictory since it necessarily requires creative freedom. Indeed, he writes that Jazz is an ‘individual assertion’ by means of improvisation and alteration of traditional material. In this case, “the Jazz man must lose his identity even as he finds it.” Gypsy Jazz was therefore clearly influenced by the musical stimuli of genres closely surrounding it, as well as an element of spontaneous creativity. Ellison writes:
“There is a crucial contradiction implicit in the art form itself. For true jazz is an art of individual assertion within and against the group. Each true Jazz moment… springs from a contest in which the artist challenges all the rest; each solo flight, or improvisation, represents (like the canvasses of a painter) a definition of his [sic] identity: as individual, as member of the collectivity and as a link in the chain of tradition.”
In Ellison’s opinion, it is in the nature of the genre of Jazz to encounter these ‘mutations’ and then evolve within the music. It is therefore possible to consider that the modernization of Boulou and Elios Ferre’s style as the product of a processual development of their own identities within Gypsy Jazz. In particular, Boulou Ferre’s involvement with Jazz Fusion in the 70s can be seen as the most radical development of an established performer of Gypsy Jazz.
In relation to Jazz music of the 1970s, the crisis in tradition was arguably evoked by commercial viability; hence the amalgamation of Rock music and the formulation of Jazz Fusion. As discussed in chapter two, similar attributes, including studio effects, found their place in the work of Boulou and Elios Ferre. To many critics, Jazz Fusion and musical ‘mutations’ were considered ‘cultural contamination’, rather than an enriching musical factor. As noted earlier, Gypsy Jazz, in its ‘classical’ form has predominantly been an acoustic practice, with amplification and technology used purely to resolve issues regarding balance technicalities rather than a defining feature of the music.
However, Cosmopolitanism is highly controversial and critics state that it ultimately results in a notion of a homogenous society and catastrophic loss of authentic culture. Academics and activists such as Nadi Edwards crticise Gilroy’s work for equating ‘black community’ with the ‘oppressed,’ arguing that Gilroy’s stance involves too large a generalization and, what is more, continues to negatively define black communities in relation to the prevailing hegemony (what Braidotti states as ‘A as not B’). Françoise Vergès criticises Gilroy’s work in, ‘Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage’ (1999), saying that the, “exclusive focus on the Atlantic slave trade hinders the explorations of other areas”.
However, Rosi Braidotti would argue that hybridity is an inevitable state. Gypsy Jazz has developed to a certain point musically, thus demonstrating these ‘contingent loops’ that are shifting and forever changing. It may be impossible to entirely define Gypsy Jazz by its musical aspects in a prescriptive way, because it must inevitably evolve. However, It seems that Django Reinhardt’s legacy has become reason enough for many to employ ‘Gypsy Jazz’ as a fitting label for their music. This prescriptive approach to musical creation is a limiting factor for artistic creativity, which could be seen to go against its evolutionary and processual nature.
Reinhardt’s primary source of influence was similar to American jazz music of the time. I argue that a similar correlate is true of guitarists of the 1970s.I have concluded that Gypsy Jazz guitar is a synonym for music in the style, or in some respect homage to Django Reinhardt. The genre firstly defines music that is created on the foundations of Reinhardt’s Legacy, but not as a sustainable genre in it’s own right. Gypsy jazz is not a genre so much as a style of musical performance. Performers in the 1970s have inherited this performance ‘gene’ in different ways, but taking the music in different directions.
Despite some musicians developing the music in different directions the notion of inheritance is reinforced by both traditionalists and innovators who claim allegiance to the work of Reinhardt. The innovators of the 1970s believe that they preserve some essence of Gypsy Jazz, even though they are predominantly following American jazz styles. It can be argued that much in the same way, composers of the Romantic era used Beethoven (1770-1827), as their source of compositional inspiration. Despite later composers also taking influence from, and claiming allegiance to, the ‘great composer’, the music evolved in very different directions. Therefore, authenticity and innovation need not be seen as mutually exclusive but as part of the complex process of evolution.
The work of Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France is undoubtedly canonic, but the notion of a ‘canon’ itself is perhaps intrinsically problematic since it suggests elements of stasis and elitism. Inevitable crises occur in tradition but arguably, rather than challenging authenticity, this results in radical mutations that constitute a highly creative evolutionary process. When Gypsy Jazz was reinvented in the 1970s, although lacking certain elements of the classical style, the music was still largely inspired by Reinhardt’s legacy and consequently the idioms of the guitar. The reinvention of the 1970s was a necessary development in breaking away from potentially limiting historical stylistic boundaries. I have concluded that this was noticeable in the works in ‘Pour Django’ and ‘Gypsy Dreams’ by Boulou and Elios Ferre, and Boulou Ferre’s work with ‘Emergency’. Many other Gypsy Jazz musicians, including Django Reinhardt’s son, Babik Reinhardt, also practiced this ‘reinvention’.
One quote in particular, I feel encapsulates the link between music and conceptions of time, such as the reinvention of Gypsy Jazz in the 1970s. James Baldwin writes:
“Music is our witness, and our ally. The beat is the confession which recognizes, changes and conquers time. Then, history becomes a garment we can wear and share, and not a cloak in which to hide; and time becomes a friend.”
Gypsy Jazz is a case-in-point and supports this argument. It is a genre that has a processual and instinctual drive towards evolution whilst retaining its loyalty to the legacy that Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France initiated.
(No credited Author): Accompanying Digital Booklet- Gypsy Jazz. Proper Records Ltd. 2007.
ANICK, Peter. ‘Bireli Lagrene: A Gypsy Virtuoso Returns to the Music of his Youth’. (2003). Fiddler Magazine. <http://www.wideospaces.com/peter/folk_routes/panick_bireli.htm>(date last accessed, 10/11/13).
ANTONIETTO, Alain. Liner notes from: Baro Ferre, Swing Valses. Produced by Charles Delauney. Re-edition by Jon Larsen. Hot Club Records, 1988.
AYEROFF, Stan. The Music of Django Reinhardt; Forty-four Classic Solos by the Legendary Guitarist with a Complete Analysis. Mel Bay Publications, 2002.
BALDWIN, James. ‘Of the Sorrow Songs: The Cross of Redemption’, Views on Black American Music, no.2. 1984-85. P.12.
BRAIDOTTI, Rosi. Metamorphoses: Towards a materialist theory of becoming. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2002.
CANNON, Steve and Hugh Dauncey. Popular Music in France from Chanson to Techno: Culture, Identity and Society. Ashgate popular and folk music series. Ashgate, 2003.
COOK, Richard and Brian Morton. ‘Miles Davis’. The Penguin Guide to Jazz. 8th ed. New York: Penguin, 2006.
CROFT, John. ‘Thesis on Liveness’. Organised sound 12. Cambridge. 2007.
CRUICKSHANK, Ian. The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies. Wise, 1989.
DAVIS, Ursula Broschke. Paris. Found in: Paul Gilroy. The Black Atlantic. Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso, 1993. P.18.
DEVINE, Kyle. Lecture 6 slides: ‘Technology Week 1: Capturing Sound’ Popular Music Studies. lecture notes. Lecture 6 given on 07/03/14 at City University.
DREGNI, Michael. (2004). Django: The life and music of a Gypsy legend. New York: Oxford University Press.
DREGNI, Michael. Gypsy Jazz: in search of Django Reinhardt and the soul of Gypsy Swing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
ELLISON, Ralph. Shadow and Act. New York: Random House, 1964.
FRITH, Simon. ‘Music and Identity’. Questions of Cultural Identity. Ed. Stuart Hall Paul du Gay. SAGE, 1996.
GILROY, Paul. The Black Atlantic. Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso, 1993.
GLISSANT, Edouard. Translated from the novel: Malemort. Paris: Seuil. 1981. Quoted in: Paul Gilroy. The Black Atlantic. Modernity and Double Consciousness. Verso, 1993
HOOKER, Lynn. (2007). Controlling the Liminal Power of Performance: Hungarian Scholars and Romani Musicians in the Hungarian Folk Revival. Cambridge University Press.
JACKSON, Jeffrey H. (2003) Making Jazz French; Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris. American Encounters/Global Interactions. Duke University Press, 2003.
LEITCH, Vincent et al. Eds. The Norton Anthology Of Theory and Criticism. W. W. Norton Company. London and New York. 2010.
MICHAEL, James et al. ‘Reinhardt (ii).’ The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, <http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.wam.city.ac.uk/subscriber/article/grove/music/J675400pg1.>(date last accessed April 28/4/14)
MOON, Tom. 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener’s Life List. Workman Publishing, New York, 2008.
PETERS, Gary. The Philosophy of Improvisation. University of Chicago Press, 2009.
ROMANE, and Derek Sebastian. L’Esprit Manouche: A Comprehensive Study of Gypsy Jazz Guitar. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay Publications, 2004.
TYLER, James. ‘The Italian Mandolin and Mandola 1589-1800’. Early Music, Vol.9, No.4, Plucked-String Issue 2, pp. 438-446. Oxford University Press. (Oct, 1981).
VERNON, Paul. Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt: A contextual bio-discography 1910-1953. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003.
WHITE, Bob W. Music and Globalization: Critical Encounters (Tracking Globalization). Indiana University Press, 2001.
WILSON, Andy. Faust – Stretch Out Time 1970 – 1975. Published by: Andy Wilson, 2006.
YUROCHKO, Bob. A Short History of Jazz. Rowman and Littlefield, 1993.
(No credited author). ‘Fesitval Django Reinhardt Samois s/Sienne’. (2013) <http://www.festivaldjangoreinhardt.com/spip.php?article957> (date last accessed, 12/11/13).
‘Boulou & Elios Ferre – Pour Django’. Discogs. <http://www.discogs.com/Boulou-Elios-Ferré-Pour-Django/release/2060571>(date last accessed, 22/03/14).
ETHERIDGE, John and Alyn Shipton. ‘Django Reinhardt’. BBC radio 3. Friday 28 December 2007, 22:30. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008jf9w
GOTTLIEB, William. Portrait of Django Reinhardt, Aquarium, New York, N.Y, c.a. Nov. 1946. < http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wghtml/wgpres11.html> (date last accessed, 01/05/14).
Patrus53. Babik and David Reinhardt & Django Painting. (2011) < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvphEb1rEro>(date last accessed, 12/4/14).
Quintette Du Hot Club De France. Discogs. < http://www.discogs.com/artist/355185-Quintette-Du-Hot-Club-De-France>(date last accessed, 04/05/14)
SADAKA, Edmond. ‘Boulou Ferré’. Festival Django Reinhardt Samois s/Seine. (2012) < http://www.festivaldjangoreinhardt.com/spip.php?article917>(date last accessed, 06/05/14).
WEGEN, Michel. ‘Wegen’s Guitar Picks’ (no date given) Wegen Picks. <http://www.wegenpicks.com/#gypsy> (date last accessed, 12/11/13).
REINHARDT, Django. ‘Improvisation’. The Ultimate Collection. Stardust Records. 2008.
REINHARDT, Django. ‘Les Yeux Noirs’, The Best of Django Reinhardt. Blue Note – 724383713820. 1996.
REINHARDT, Django. ‘Minor Swing’, The Ultimate Collection. Stardust Records. 2008.
REINHARDT, Django. ‘Nuages’, The Ultimate Collection. Stardust Records. 2008.
REINHARDT, Django. ‘Rhytme Futur’. The Ultimate Collection. Stardust Records. 2008.
REINHARDT, Django. ‘When Day is Done’. The Ultimate Collection. Stardust Records. 2008.
REINHARDT, Django and Stephane Grappelli. ‘Dinah’, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France: The Ultimate Collection [Disc 2]’. Track 12. Not Now Music – NOT2CD251. 2008.
Robin Nolan (17/01/14)
There are few people who can play it at such a high level. Do you think you have to be born a Gypsy to do it?
No. Not anymore. Players like Andreas Oberg, Olli Soikeli and many others have proved that you don’t have to be a Gypsy to play to a high level. Gypsies learn this music from a very young age and often don’t go to school so dedicate their whole childhood to mastering this music. Now with the Internet everyone has access to see how the gypsy players are playing and dedicate themselves. Saying that I can usually tell by listening if the player is a gypsy or not – this has to do with the feel which not being a technique is harder to learn. Still some mystery there!
Are there any constraints performing this style as a non-Gypsy?
No constraints for me personally but again living in a gypsy community would be very conducive to playing this style with the support etc – music is very important to them so encouragement and inspiration is a plenty.
What do you feel are fundamental techniques to the style?
Do you feel they are universal amongst players?
The right hand technique is the most important in defining this music from others and is vital in becoming accepted as a gypsy jazz player. The rhythm is the other defining technique, which absolutely defines this music. It replaces the drums and gives it that recognisable swing not seen in other music. The harmony is always evolving like with jazz but the rhythm defines.
There is a big focus on tradition, and traditional values in the music. What do you think of the ‘importance of tradition’ in Gypsy Jazz music?
Tradition is a great place to start but you must always remember that Django was an innovator and was constantly looking for new ideas and music. He was ahead of his time. I’m not so into preserving the tradition but many are. The guitars and paraphernalia (picks, strings etc.) are a fun part of this style (like heavy metal) and the guitars and the luthiers are very important.
Jonny Hepbir (13/01/14)
There are few people who can play it at such a high level. Do you think you have to be born a Gypsy to do it?
No, I think that the Jazz-Manouche style is fully accessible to every type of player (guitarists). With the increase/saturation of Internet material available these days it’s easy to progress to a reasonable standard. There are more and more musicians picking up on it, not just guitarists. It’s also a good ‘in-road’ to the jazz vocabulary for players who might have been daunted by the myriad academic approaches to jazz. Everything is nicely set out.
Are there any constraints performing this style as a non-Gypsy?
Based on my own experience from playing at length with some of the foremost Roma guitarists in the style, I would say the only true dividing line is the cultural one. There are literally only a small handful of non-gypsy players in the world who can communicate the authentic feel that the Roma have with the guitar and its role in gypsy jazz. The reason for this, I believe, is due to their integration at young ages with Roma families, learning from the older relatives as though they were part of the family.
Technical fluidity both in rhythm and solo abilities, plus creative harmonic invention are equal these days amongst the top Roma and non-gypsy players. It’s the feel/accent that is subtly different. Not wrong, just, different. I could easily draw up a list of comparisons with the aid of YouTube. It’s also the reason why Django Reinhardt could take on the world’s top ‘Jazzers’ back in the day and keep people enthralled and baffled throughout his life, up to the present and without a doubt, far into the future.
What do you feel are fundamental techniques to the style?
Do you feel they are universal amongst players?
The fundamental techniques (for a guitarist) are rhythm and melody/solo. Very demanding on all levels. Relaxation with strength, especially for the plectrum arm. Very difficult to achieve if you want to sound like a gypsy player. I think these are universally recognised if you want to set out on this path, but the understanding/opinion of how the two work together is as varied as the amount of people playing it these days. Personally, I take all my technical lessons from Django and the Roma. For gypsy jazz, they tick all the boxes for me. Harmonically, everyone/everything is open season. There are so many brilliant musical approaches now on the International gypsy jazz scene propelling the genre into tomorrow and attracting new fans.
In regard to rhythm, La pompe is a much-debated subject. What do you feel is necessary for good rhythm playing?
Timing and feel. You have to be solid and strong yet light and bouncy! A good rhythm player will have the perfect vehicle to become good soloist if he or she chooses. With some non-gypsy players you sometimes can get great soloing which becomes slightly tainted when you hear them take over rhythm. Maybe not necessarily a timing issue, more of an accent/bounce thing. All those great Roma soloists are all excellent rhythm players. They did that first; it showed them how to do it.
What aspects do you feel are most important in defining the style as ‘Gypsy Jazz’, is it rhythm, melody, technique?
Personally, it’s rhythm. For me there lays the feel, accent and bounce. Technique can be learnt through practice. Taking the rhythm and hopefully putting that to the melody/solo. Then trying to be as musical as possible.
There is a big focus on tradition, and traditional values in the music. For example, Selmer style guitars, Django as a common denominator. What do you think of the importance of tradition in Gypsy Jazz?
With gypsies, tradition is important, with non-gypsies, I don’t think it plays a huge part (musically) anymore. Everyone loves a Selmer guitar; they look awesome and sound cool. Musically, these days, it’s very hip to throw in ideas from any part of the jazz/harmonic spectrum. As I mentioned before, it keeps things fresh, progressive and encourages new blood onto the scene. It’s very difficult to get your own ‘voice’ in the style because of the general high standard, but I think that it’s the only way forward if you want to get noticed.
Denis Chang (27/01/14)
There are few people who can play it at such a high level. Do you think you have to be born a Gypsy to do it? Are there any constraints performing this style as a non-Gypsy?
This is a difficult question to answer and it especially depends on how one defines Gypsy Jazz. It also depends on how you would define ‘high level’. For starters, even within Gypsy communities, some are musically described as not being Gypsy enough, or too Gypsy. In France, I was told by Gypsies to never emulate certain Gypsies from Holland, because they were too academic and not ‘Gypsy’ enough. In Holland, I was told by Gypsies that certain players in France sounded too Gypsy and sloppy. So you see how complicated it gets; I would rather not name names. Then in Paris, France, since about 15 years, a scene has been growing in which non-Gypsy players have been learning to play the style and turning it into something a bit more sophisticated.
I, myself, am not sure how to define Gypsy Jazz. I don’t consider Django to be Gypsy Jazz to start with. One thing though, is that I can recognize a Gypsy’s touch by listening; especially in the rhythm playing and in the lead playing. In the lead playing, the Gypsy sound is usually a strong and confident attack (right hand technique) but also a certain roughness in the phrasing, and subtle ornaments with the left hand. This is especially true of players from the east of France (Alsace-Lorraine region) and parts of Germany. In Holland, as I mentioned earlier, they tend to be slightly different, there is a bit more “elegance” and straightforwardness in the playing that is quite easy to distinguish, and also much easier for a non-Gypsy to emulate. There are lots of non-Gypsies such as Thomas Baggerman (Holland) who play in this style, and in which case, it would be difficult to tell if he was Gypsy or not.
So if one were to adopt the idea that “true” Gypsy playing comes from the east of France, then indeed there is many subtle things that are not easy to emulate. I don’t think it has to do with ethnicity but by cultural upbringing. If you were to hang and live with these people, you’d most likely come to the conclusion that they play very much like they are in real life; whether they are good musicians or not, there is a certain something in their playing that sets them apart. Most people are aware of the “famous” players, thanks to YouTube, but you should be aware, that there are many players who play for fun, who are not necessarily good musicians but who have that Gypsy sound. The first thing is definitely the rhythm. I’ve met young Gypsy players who had no interest in music and who did not consider themselves musicians at all, but you give them a guitar, and when they play rhythm, you just hear THE sound; they might not be able to keep good tempo or remember chords, but just in the way they attack the strings, you hear it immediately! It’s hard to explain Gypsy culture, and it’s also a bit taboo since they generally do not like to share their culture with outsiders, but I can say that in general, they have a flair for flashy things. You can tell by the way they dress, the way they express themselves; they are very free in spirit and extremely confident. There are guitarists who are not good musicians at all (play completely out of key, random notes) but who have that certain Gypsy sound; whether they are aware if they are good or not is not something they think about, they are just themselves. For many Gypsies, playing guitar or music, is just a way of life, unlike many non-Gypsies who are always trying to qualify things as being good/bad/better/worse. For the most part, Gypsies just don’t think that way at all. There’s a strong social aspect to their music making; it’s not always about working on certain ideas in your bedroom with a metronome or a backing track, it’s more about spending time with other people, playing and jamming. Of course, the Gypsies who do take music seriously will also woodshed a lot, and those musicians end up being the ones that are famous, but at the base of all that, is the spirit of community and just simply being who they are.
What do you feel are the most fundamental techniques to the style? Do you feel they are universal amongst players?
Rhythm playing is definitely the most fundamental aspect. Followed by confidence in the playing; like I said, most Gypsy players are not afraid to make the guitar scream, whether they sound good or not!
In regard to rhythm, La pompe is a much-debated subject. What do you feel is necessary for good rhythm playing? Similarly, in your opinion, what makes good solo playing?
This is very difficult to answer. As I mentioned previously, pretty much all Gypsies have the Gypsy sound in their rhythm playing. But having a sound does not make one a good rhythm player; it is just a description, no more no less. To me, a good rhythm player is one who is able to vary the sound and dynamics according to the situation. A good rhythm player should also have a strong notion in lead playing so that they can understand what is going on while they are accompanying and can therefore make certain small adjustments to improve the sound of the band. These are often very subtle things that most people might not notice, but that just vastly improve the listener experience. A good rhythm player should be able to keep a certain steady groove that is comfortable for the lead player. He/she should also be able to learn songs quickly. Those are my criteria for a good rhythm player, it’s really not easy at all, whether you’re Gypsy or not. It requires you to think a lot about music in an academic way, and in some ways that can be a disadvantage for many Gypsies who just simply don’t think that way.
As far as lead playing is concerned, it is all about confidence and not being afraid to dig into the instrument. I appreciate many different players, but what they all have in common is that drive and confidence. Gypsies play like there is no tomorrow, you can hear it clearly in their attack, it is strong, powerful and clear. I noticed it can be a difficult thing for certain non-Gypsies; you can play the most beautiful ideas, but if your attack is very weak and shy, then the beauty will be lost. It’s just like giving a speech, imagine Martin Luther King’s speech with a very shy and soft-spoken voice, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.
What aspects do you feel are most important in defining the style as ‘Gypsy Jazz’, is it rhythm, melody, technique?
Like I said, I don’t know how to answer this question because I am not sure how I would define Gypsy Jazz myself.
There is a big focus on tradition, and traditional values in the music. (e.g. Selmer style guitars, Django as a ‘common denominator’..) What do you think of the ‘importance of tradition’ in Gypsy Jazz music?
Again, it depends on how you define tradition. From hanging out with Gypsies, the most important tradition I’d say it ‘s the strong family spirit and the spirit of community. I have noticed that a lot of non-Gypsies who like this style are quite fascinated with the modern Paris scene. It is definitely great and very sophisticated, but unfortunately, a lot of people seem to forget the older players and this whole spirit of sharing that is strong within Gypsy communities. You can check out some of the online Gypsy Jazz forums yourself and you’ll see all sorts of analysis of x player being good or bad, and all that negative vibe. While Gypsy culture is not a perfect culture (no culture is), it is very simple and straightforward when it comes to music; just play, have fun, share good times with each other. Not to be disrespectful, but there are a lot of people whose only exposure to GJ is through this modern scene, and suddenly they are expert commentators. I went and sought out the Gypsies and spent a lot of time with them, there is something very special in the way they look at life and music that I think everyone who is interested in this music should really explore before making any kind of authorative statements on this music. Again, nothing wrong with the modern scene, but people should dig much deeper if they are really passionate about this style. In fact, the pioneers of the modern style have done just that, Adrien Moignard comes to mind; that is what sets them apart from the other modern players who have ignored the roots of the style. My opinion of course!
“Ready for 23 minutes of ‘All of Me’? Who takes first solo?”
After years of jamming in various situations, with all kinds of players, a recent discussion on Denis Chang’s facebook page had me figuring it could be useful to write about Gypsy Jazz jams and etiquette. We all have already been saddened and annoyed by certain behavior… or frustrated by different things: our performance, the way the jam is managed… sometimes we felt something went wrong but couldn’t figure out why.
I’m certainly not writing the perfect jammer’s manual here but just trying to share with you a few things I’ve learned and experienced through 15 years of jam-sessions. I’m thinking especially about the people who don’t have the chance to frequent a jam on a regular basis. As the French proverb says, “Hell is paved with good intentions” and a session with heaps of nice and enthusiastic people can therefore quickly turn into a sonic disaster, a musical wreckage, regardless of the musicians’ skills.
Jazz has always carried an idea of freedom in both music history and theory but if you look closely, there’s always a structure to prevent music turning into chaos. Just thinking about a few details listed below can easily improve your jamming experience. They are a kind of basic, unspoken rules that will apply anytime, with some of them more specifically dedicated open jams in public venues.
The general idea is that playing music is about pleasure, sharing and a bit of self-accomplishment too.
1. Get your gear
As basic as it seems, a true guitarist should never walk out his place without his pick. You never know what can happen! You can even take a pair of them with you in case you need to help another player that’s not as smart as you. I remember going to the number 1 French jazz radio for an interview with Latchès (Steeve Laffont, Chriss Campion, Yorgui Loeffler). Yorgui didn’t have any pick with him. Oops.
Bring spare strings of course and some chord charts if you are a beginner. Usually, a repertoire of 20-30 songs is enough to be able to jam pretty anywhere. Still, it’s better to start by learning 5 songs by heart instead of roaming jams for years with a gig book that will make you lazy.
2. Say Hello!
People at Gypsy Jazz festivals, like the Samois Django Festival, are so excited to jam. That’s legitimate as that event is to Gypsy Jazz lovers what Disney World is for kids: all your favorite characters are here and you can almost touch them! Consequently many GJ fans forget their manners and act as if they were shopping in Wallmart, picking-up jams as if they were wandering the alleys, easing their urge for music. This is rude. Please make eye contact to introduce yourself. Just look at people and ask (even with body language only): “Can I join you?”. Most of the time you’ll be answered a “sure!”, or maybe you’ll just be asked to wait until the next tune. On my opinion, it breaks the balance to sneak into a song as the “band” is already presenting something with a particular line-up and mood. Would you sit with a random family in a park, have a bite in their sandwich and leave the place without a word? Of course not.
3. The more the merrier: ok but…no
Honestly, who takes pleasure playing Blues Mineur for 17 minutes with 4 guitar solos, 3 violin solos and some bad scat singing on top of it?… I don’t and I know I’m not alone. The thing is you can’t focus on everybody’s solo for 17 minutes: at the end people are just waiting for their turn, their moment to shine whereas most of the audience and musicians are not listening anymore. Making love with one person is great, some do it with 2, 3, 4… but with a dozen it gets complicated… I believe it also applies for music in an informal and improvisational context. Also, it’s not easy for everybody to keep a good pace for a long time. Interesting analogy, hey?
I live in Paris and there is a kind of natural set-up in open-jam-sessions here that reproduces what you’d find in a private jam, being at your own place or at a gypsy camp. 3 guitars maximum playing at a time seems to be the most pleasant way to jam. You can then add a bass, violin, clarinet, singer, whatever… that way, soloists have 2 or 3 guitars as a rhythm back-up and everyone gets attention. The audience can listen to a tight piece of music that will not exceed 8 or 10 mns… One or two guitar players can switch place after a few tunes so that the music evolves from song to song. Some Aussie friends visiting Paris made me realize that. That basic organization gives plenty of time for everybody to play in good condition during the session and avoids the mess. As a musician, it’s also good just to listen to the music sometimes!
4. You are not alone
– Listen. It can only help you to serve the music better. Interplay is the key: you can fill gaps with chord substitutions or rhythmic accents if you feel that the soloist lacks inspiration, do some stop-chorus, breaks… or keep steady and simple the rest of the time to allow the soloists the freedom to play nuances and vary the harmonic colours, etc… Try to stay aware as much as you can.
How many times did I see people missing their turn in a 4/4 chase because they were so focused on… themselves. I think you’ll learn more listening to someone else, even people that are less advanced than you, rather that thinking about your phrasing schemes or your shopping list during other people’s solos. Furthermore, it shows when you do that.
With an audience, listen to what’s played and try to avoid performing two songs in the same key and/or same tempo in a row. This would give a feel of monotony both for audience and musicians. State-of-the art is too go up in the keys at each new song.
If you hear someone in the band playing out of pace, try to kindly make him understand he has to get back into the tempo, with words or body language. If you can’t, or if it doesn’t work, just ignore that person. It may not be easy, especially if the person is playing loud but you have to stick to the right tempo. Hopefully this groove killer will be back on track after a moment but if you try to adapt, then it will be a sum of hesitations between him, you, and the person next to you that doesn’t know who to follow anymore. The tempo problem can soon become contagious. These people lack listening and awareness. You must be able to hear when you’re sloppy otherwise you will never improve yourself. That’s why listening is important: if you feel that the tempo is giving you a hard time, or that you are rushing on ballads, just stop for a few seconds and synchronize yourself with the others.
– Make yourself heard…but remain civilized. Django’s music was born with roots in ballroom dancing, busking, playing totally acoustic or with a single microphone in front of the band. The soloist must be heard and able to produce a powerful sound. You’re not playing in your bedroom here. Playing constantly loud is aggressive and tiring to the ear but the opposite is just as painstaking and annoying for the mind: spending an entire dinner with someone yelling at your side is no fun… but a whole evening in a noisy bar with someone whispering just make you want to leave the place or yell : “Speak up!!!” As an acoustic guitar soloist, don’t be afraid to produce some generous sound. As an accompanist, if you don’t hear the soloist, then there is a problem. The whole rhythm section should lower the general volume to find balance and support the soloist. If that soloist is particularly weak in his sound, just tell him nicely to play louder. Gypsy Jazz is about energy. When you jam with top players they are not tearing you ears with continuous fortissimo phrases but you can feel they are involved and are giving you some energy. I often jam with people who don’t sound very loud. Well, it gets worse when they are at home. You hear the pick plucking as loud as the notes… this is ok around 3 pm to preserve the peace with you neighbors in a small building or if you have your girlfriend sleeping in the next room but otherwise it’s just annoying and frustrating. Maybe it’s a form of shyness? Once again, it is a matter of balance but you gotta make that guitar sound, I mean for real! It’s acoustic, not electric…
By the way I think that jams are the best place to evaluate an acoustic guitar’s potential in terms of power and tone. It has to be played the right way of course, with that famous gypsy right-hand technique but if a guitar is played correctly and strongly enough in that context you’ll immediately hear if it cuts through or not.
Sound is the basis of music, it is the first information listeners receive. You can be an awesome actor but if nobody hears you on the theater’s stage, what’s the point?
Clarinet player Florin Gugulica (who played with Moreno, in Gatlif’s “Latcho Drom” along with Bireli, Stochelo, Didier Lockwood etc…) told me one thing he noticed when performing with those great musician: “if you play with a loud and nice sound, in tune, in time… even if you play very simple phrases… you’ve won, the audience will appreciate.” So true.
– Look. I like to make short eye contact from time to time with people I’m jamming with. After all we are producing something together right now, right? Jamming with some soloist that pops up, plays, and leaves the bandstand without even looking at you is no pleasure at all. It says a lot. Man, if you blow your horn or play your violin for 10 minutes, the least you can do is to thank the rhythm section. I remember Samois a few years ago: we just sat in the camping with two friends in a close circle, out of the driveway because we didn’t want to show off. We just wanted to enjoy jamming together as we met only once a year or so. After 5 minutes a bass and a guitar came along, sat and started playing loud and out of pace, without even looking us in the eye or saying hello. Okay. Then another two guitars joined in. Hummm okay… Then a violin player just came and started soloing over whosever solo it was. That guy finished his solo, and just walked out to the next jam before the end of the song. He didn’t even look at us. Another day, in the middle of a song I suddenly heard a huge pompe behind me, and then the guy just started a solo over mine… What kind of manners is that?
Not to say, but some soloists have to learn to stay with the band during a whole song. I’ve witnessed that so many times: the guy plays melody, solo, then walks out for a cigarette or try to pick up a girl and comes back 5 minutes later for final melody and applause. I’m talking about violinists, singers, saxophones, clarinets, you name it. And guitarists should learn not to talk, tune or drink during bass solos as well… Come on don’t tell me you never did it.
When you’re playing in public, look at the audience. This will give you the feel, the general mood, and people are always happy to share a smile with the musicians. It just takes a second. If you are playing indoors, close to a wall or in a corner, and if you have enough room think about opening the circle so that the audience won’t feel excluded. It’s nicer to see faces and hands rather that people turning their back on you. If you play acoustic it remains the best way to be heard correctly. This is even more true considering the directive sound projection of a petite bouche. Jazz manouche is a style that can be easily appreciated by newcomers because it’s also fun to watch. I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine making a comment after I had took her to her first gypsy jazz jam at “Le bouquet du Nord” : “Your friends look like a bunch of grumpy, big-bellied, hairy guys playing for themselves”. I can’t really say she was wrong that night!
“2nd year here? All right come and play but remember dude: 2 guitars at a time!”
Another thing is to define each player’s turn for solos. Some just wait the end of a chorus to start theirs without asking permission. Most of the time people look at each other, make themselves understood or pass their turn clockwise for instance. Otherwise, it’s just an ego battle with often one musician being deprived of his solo because the final theme is being played and nobody cared about him. Cruel world! Each musician must be aware of that and that’s also the MC’s responsibility in case of an open jam. The MC must also keep an eye to all the musicians coming in the venue so that he can have everybody playing during the session. As far as I’m concerned, I like to let things happen naturally and just interfere to invite some shy people or ask the guy that’s been playing for an hour to pass his seat to someone else. Back in the old days at La Chope des puces, guitar players had to show up for months, before being invited to play. That’s a bit too much. Also, I think it’s better to let the less advanced players play at the beginning. It avoids tension and interest going down during the session if you have limited time and beginners will feel more secure that way rather that coming after a killer version of Cherokee by a Stochelo disciple in front of an engaged audience.
Talking about audience, whenever people are applauding at the end of a tune don’t forget to look at them and eventually say “Thank you”… Remember that these people are giving their time, attention, energy and probably money listening to you! It’s quite unpleasant to see musicians not even looking at the audience when they are being applauded. It is not about standing, bowing and thinking you’re at Carnegie Hall for an encore but just looking up at the audience and smiling. Seems fair, doesn’t it? Moreover it really helps the audience feeling involved and connected with the musicians. Cant’ be bad if you’re busking or asking for tips, right?
5. Acoustic? Electric? Make a choice
When having both kinds of instruments the amplified ones always tend to get louder and louder. I’ve recently been in a jam with acoustic guitars, an accordion (not what you’d call a weak sounding instrument) and an electric bass. It was awful: we had to play rough on our guitars but still, all you could hear was that fender bass. It’s the same with a 2 guitars “Stimer vs acoustic set-up” combination. Not so many people are aware and educated enough to have a good balance when playing. We are talking here about jam or small gigs because that problem is much rarer with a skilled sound engineer. Anyway they are so much medium frequencies in a Stimer or an electric pick-up that it tends to take over the acoustic guitar.
6. The gentle art of jamming with a singer
A singer will always impose a key because “it’s my key” or “it’s not in my key”. The tempo will most of the time be… unexpected. They just figure you can transpose “All the things you are” from Bb to C# in the blink of an eye… I won’t make comments on that! Oh yes: if you manage to transpose the chords but don’t feel comfortable for solo, just skip your turn. The world will survive without a messy solo of yours and it will shorten the pain… I’m ironic here but even if transposing is fully part of the accompanist’s job, I think is not appropriate to ask that in a jam. First, you can put people in a difficult situation: I personally feel insecure to have to transpose a song on the spot, except a super-easy one. I think one should go to a jam to play, propose what he can do and not be asked to sit on a school bench. In that case it becomes a negotiation and we’re not here for that. You’re not rehearsing for a paid gig here. So singer friends, if you like jamming, I suggest that you review the most played standards and pick-up the ones that match your vocal key instead of learning dozens of songs that 90 % of musicians but you play in the same key…
In a general way, if you are the jam-session MC, try to match singer with experienced players and rather at the end or the second half of the session. Actually, singers but also violin and trumpet players, tend to get all the audience attention, however good or bad they play. It’s hard to get that same energy by getting back to a two or three guitars set-up. Life is unfair.
7. The gentle art of jamming with… what is THAT? (a.k.a. the Jam Killer)
Depending on the city, the neighborhood, the time of the day the jam-session occurs, the probability of having a total weirdo entering the jam varies. Just expect the unexpected… That 6 feet body-builder guy singing with a cranky falsetto voice, that djembe player playing so loud, the Hippie woman playing a flute made out of a carrot, that tap dancer that blows out your ears and keeps tapping over everybody’s solo, that blonde that’s so hot but so drunk and out of tune, that young man singing his own dark “chanson réaliste” texts over All of Me, as if the whole society was tearing his skin apart… Well, as a polite person I’ll let them play a couple of songs but if it gets too painful, just ask them nicely to leave the bandstand because someone else is coming, because people drove a long way to play Gypsy Jazz or simply take advantage of this incredibly artistic performance to propose a general break… Nevertheless, remember not to judge a book by its cover. Always wait to hear the performance, you never know. I remember a jam in Paris with an African singer from Senegal entering the venue randomly and joining the crew on Danse Norvégienne. It was unexpected, strange but beautiful! Now with true jam killers it’s better to talk and explain them nicely why their behavior is killing the groove. A group of persons will be more efficient for that than a single one to fulfill this task.
8. Connecting people
Music should always be a moment of sharing and fun. Don’t be shy. Talk to that terrific player you’ve heard, ask her or his name, talk about the people you like or know, ask questions even if they seem stupid to you. Ask about that chord sequence, that phrase on the E7, that song they played, etc… It may seem elementary to many of you but I saw so many people come, play and just vanish. If you are new, don’t be shy. If you are a regular and see a new face come in, welcome him to make him feel at ease. Starting a conversation is also interesting to have some feedback about your playing. Sometimes you feel satisfied with your performance but nobody seems to care… On the other hand, I’ve often noticed that if you happen to feel disappointed and ashamed about your playing, you can be pretty sure to receive some unexpected compliments on specific points that you wouldn’t usually think about. It’s always difficult to judge yourself.
Remember also that, as far as regular open jams in big cities are concerned, they are the musician’s market place! Many times did I hear players complain about their lack of work, bitching on other musicians, etc… but how do you expect people to know you and call you for gigs if they never see your face? It’s good sometime just to remind them that you’re still around.
9. Playing jazz is always a new experience
Even with the same people, the same songs… the result will always be different. Jamming is a very important and unavoidable aspect of learning jazz. However hard you worked, what you’re playing now and then (be it with a bit of stress, or with that sloppy rhythm player, that awful guitar or amp…) is your true average level. Jamming gets you out of your comfort zone. Out of the routine you can have at home or with your friends. It forces to you to interact and pushes you forward. When non-musicians fill the audience, you’ll notice that it is not always the best ranked player among musicians that will get all the applause. Playing with feeling is the key and for that I’ll let you pick all the good advice from the excellent article Denis Chang wrote on the Djangobooks blog. Remember that music is made to give people emotions. It’s not an exception to see amateurs doing better solos than full-time musicians during a jam. That’s the magic of music. But if you hear the same guys playing in a dozen jams, the average level of the pros will always be higher, more regular. It feels solid. As pilots have to acquire flight time, I think music can be considered the same way. Take advantage of jams to work your time, sound, interplay and get chops from the other musicians.
As a conclusion, I will quote what Serge Krief often says to his students: “Playing at a concert or a jam is worth a whole month of home practice”.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a global surge in the popularity of Gypsy Jazz and the music of Django Reinhardt. Many articles have been written about it, and many myths have been perpetuated as to the origins of Gypsy Jazz. As of this date of January 23rd (Django’s birthday!), a quick Google search on the term "Gypsy Jazz" leads us to many pages (from Wikipedia, to the website of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, to various reputable international news organizations, etc.) with inaccurate information as to the history of Gypsy Jazz. In some instances, Klezmer bands are considered Gypsy Jazz!
I must admit that I struggled a little bit with this article, not because I have trouble explaining myself, but because it is almost a one man battle: a handful of experts, that have done extensive research on the subject, against the rest of the world clinging to misinformation, and/or half truths cyclically perpetuated by the media. As they say, repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth. As such, I feel that in writing this, I have to be very careful with my words and to properly backup my arguments, to avoid turning this into an attention-grabbing, sensationalist article. This will be another long ride!
To be fair, Gypsy Jazz is as hard to define as most other genres of music, after all, how does one even define jazz in the first place? Everyone will have their vision of things. Therefore, within reason, the music is what one wants it to be; one can really let one’s imagination run wild with all sorts of sub-genres within a genre! However, that does not mean that conventional wisdom has not perpetuated many myths about Django and Gypsy Jazz. These myths are the focus of this article.
To start with, there is the term Gypsy Jazz, which in mainstream culture, generally refers to music related to Django Reinhardt. It is not to be confused with the idea of Gypsies playing jazz, which can easily refer to Roma playing bebop, or even some Sinti, such as pianist Jermaine Landsberger, who, while certainly inspired by Django, mainly play music that has little, if anything, to do with Gypsy Jazz. Some Roma (non-Sinti) musicians have called their music Roma Jazz, mixing Eastern European idioms with contemporary jazz improvisation and harmonies. On the other hand, some will still use the term Gypsy Jazz, even if their music is not directly inspired by Django Reinhardt; it is a term that they use to refer to their Gypsy lineage, and to the fact that they play some form of jazz that did not come from Django. If you are wondering about the difference between Sinti and Roma, please refer to my article about Sinti culture: Sinti culture, language & the origin of the name Django
EXAMPLE OF ROMA PLAYING JAZZ OR ROMA FUSION:
the Hungarian Roma, Kovacs Andor, curiously seems to have had some awareness of Django’s jazz as we can see in this video:
He was also playing Eastern European music on the guitar:
The Sinto Jermaine Landsberger, a contemporary jazz musician, playing the Hammond B3 (as a side note, he can also play Gypsy Jazz guitar):
One of the most common misconceptions was that Django Reinhardt invented and played Gypsy Jazz himself. Of course, that would depend on how you see it. In some ways, yes Gypsy Jazz came from Django Reinhardt, but one of the most common arguments was that Django mixed Gypsy music with American jazz. To be blunt, such a statement is full of cultural ignorance, perpetuated by stereotypes.
For starters, strictly speaking (and I stress the word strictly), there is no such thing as Gypsy music. Since leaving India many centuries ago, Gypsies migrated westward towards Europe, and spent time in various countries as they traveled. Their exodus is unclear and shrouded in mystery, though theories do exist. In each country that they visited, whatever culture that they had brought with them was then mixed with the local culture; they would often adopt many of the traditions of the local culture into their own. Music was one of them. Some stayed in the same country for generations and are still there today, others continued their migration, and their culture evolved accordingly. To this day, there are many Gypsy tribes, each with their distinct culture; as they migrated, they continuously brought along the various traditions that they acquired over generations. Some traditions were lost, others were kept, and on it went; it was a very organic process.
Music is a strong part of Gypsy culture, and their musical talents and affordability often made them directly associated with a country’s traditional music. In some ways, they adopted the music and turned it into their own Gypsy style, which often included heavy use of musical ornaments, some form of improvisation, and technical virtuosity. In my opinion, that is the Gypsy style. It is not a specific collection of scales, harmonies, rhythms, or even genres, but a distinct, passionate way of interpreting music; to stand out, Gypsies played to impress the audience. This passionate virtuosity had long lasting impressions on classical composers such as Paganini, Liszt, Ravel, Sarasate, and many others. At times, Gypsies have also written songs with lyrics in Romani (language of the Gypsies, refer to my article about Sinti culture); perhaps, this is the real Gypsy music, but then again, the music accompanying the vocals is often based on borrowed musical traditions.
In Romania, the Gypsies would play all the styles associated with the region; hora, sârba, doina, etc. In Spain, Gypsies came to be associated with Flamenco. In Hungary, they entertained the elite by performing the popular national music of the country, which they refer to as Magyar Nota (literally, Hungarian music); when one thinks of Hungarian music, one generally thinks of the Csardas dance form and the Gypsies that interpret it.
However, even within the same country, one can find different castes of Gypsies. In the case of Hungary, while most are quick to think of Gypsies playing Magyar Nota, there are rural Gypsies playing a very raw and folkloric form of music. These Gypsies are, unfortunately, often looked down upon, even by the Gypsies who play Magyar Nota. It is because the Magyar Nota Gypsies have benefited from the patronage of the elite society in Hungary, and have integrated very well into Hungarian society; one might even say assimilated, as most do not speak Romani. For those who are curious, you can see and hear the music of the rural Hungarian Gypsies in the train stop scene in Tony Gatlif’s movie/documentary Latcho Drom.
Django Reinhardt was a Sinto or Manush -also spelled Manouche-; both terms are generally interchangeable. The Sinti mainly live in western Europe: France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy, etc. Django grew up in France, playing the local popular music of the time. Whatever it was, Django played it on his banjo and violin. As expected, he played with such Gypsy virtuosity and, most of all, musical maturity, that he immediately stood out, and was in high demand as a sideman.
In those days, the guitar was not what it is today, and it was mainly used as an accompaniment instrument. For starters, amplification systems were not yet common. In France, the Selmer style guitar, that we now refer to as Gypsy guitars, had widespread appeal among musicians as they were distinctly dynamically powerful. The term Gypsy guitar, itself, is a misconception; one has to remember that in those days, the world was not certainly not as connected as it is today; the Selmer style guitar was the common guitar in France. We refer to them as Gypsy guitars today, only because of Django Reinhardt’s legacy and popularity.
The truth is that the Italian ex-pat Mario Maccaferri had no intention of creating a guitar for jazz, but his designs proved so popular and effective, that many guitarists of the day started using them. These essentially became the every day guitar in France at the time; the same way one would walk into a guitar store today and buy a Martin or Gibson. Furthermore, around that time, many Italian luthiers migrated to France, and set up shop there, creating many more guitars based on this design. Gypsy or not, everyone was playing them, and using them for different styles of music. That design remained popular in France throughout the years, though it is now reduced to a niche market. I suppose that since those guitars were not invented in America at a time when the USA was at the height of its glory, they did not benefit from the powerful political and promotional machines from which their American counterparts (Martin/Gibson) benefitted. In my opinion, this made these guitars all the more exotic in the international community. That, along with Django’s popularity and genius, only made it more appealing to refer to these guitars as Gypsy guitars. However, the fact is, that if Django had been playing Ovation guitars, we would be calling them Gypsy guitars. Interestingly enough, when Mario Maccaferri, teamed up with CSL in the mid-70s to produce Maccaferri replicas, they named the guitar "The Gypsy".
Before Gypsy Jazz saw a surge in popularity in the 2000s, these so-called Gypsy guitars were generally not in mass production like they are today. As such, many Gypsies, who often lived below the poverty line, could certainly not afford such instruments. Instead, they played on whatever they could get their hands on. In those days, it was not unusual to see a Gypsy musician playing on a cheap classical guitar strung with steel strings. Some were lucky to even own a guitar, many were not. Some were even luckier to own a Selmer style guitar. This is important proof that, a "Gypsy" guitar is not necessary to play Gypsy Jazz (though it certainly does help) nor does it necessarily make it easier to play the style. These guitars have a specific construction, but in the end, the player makes the music, not the instrument.
With regards to playing the instrument, since this was before the advent of amplification, in order to achieve maximum tone, plectrum-style players (be it banjo, mandolin, or guitar) used an old technique that is descended from classical mandolin. This technique involved an arched and floating wrist, and a hammering motion to attack the strings in order to achieve maximum projection and a round tone. In those days, tone came strictly from the hands. Today, this technique is rarely used outside of Gypsy Jazz. Most, if not all, guitar players of the early 20th century used this technique, not just Django Reinhardt; the list includes Charlie Christian, Lonnie Johnson, Nick Lucas, Carl Kress, etc. As amplification became more widespread, guitar technique evolved to what it is today, and the early 20th century technique was soon forgotten in popular guitar culture. Today, thanks to Django Reinhardt, the Sinti, and most of all, thanks to Djangobooks.com’s Michael Horowitz, we call this technique Gypsy Picking (the title of one of his method books).
Video of Nick Lucas using "Gypsy" picking (solo at 1:40):
Video of Lonnie Johnson using "Gypsy" picking:
Django discovered jazz through French artist Emile Savitry around 1930. He immediately fell in love with the music; this hot jazz was very reminiscent of the Gypsy spirit of virtuosity and improvisation. From then on, he would practically dedicate his entire life to jazz music.
The famous Quintette du Hot Club de France was formed as a result of numerous impromptu and informal backstage jam sessions at the Hotel Claridge where Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grappelli, guitarist Roger Chaput, and bassist Louis Vola were performing with a dance orchestra under Vola’s direction. These four musicians were fascinated with jazz and would get together backstage during breaks to jam and improvise. This is the original formation of the group (minus one guitar). Note, that the only Gypsy among them was Django! The idea of a purely string jazz band was circumstantial. French impresario Charles Delaunay encouraged these four to form a band together and Django’s brother Joseph was brought along on rhythm guitar to create a heavier rhythm section. I would like to note that different biographical accounts mention that his brother Joseph was the original rhythm player, to which Roger Chaput was added.
Though it was a unique formation with highly accomplished musicians, the quintet was not the first jazz ensemble to perform with stringed instruments, nor was it the first group to use the rhythm guitar to simulate the sound of drums. This was the typical guitar accompaniment in those days. Listen to Stringing the Blues by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, recorded in 1926 or Pickin my way by Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, recorded in 1932.
Listen also to Tiger Rag by the Mills Brothers in 1931.
In the 1920s, Argentinian guitarist Oscar Alemán was already playing Argentinian music in a somewhat similar style in his native Argentina, though he had not discovered jazz yet.
Even Charlie Christian played a rhythm that was very reminiscent of Django Reinhardt’s style; listen to Edmond Hall Blues from the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet.
What made the Quintette especially unique was the sheer unprecedented genius of Django Reinhardt, and his strong musical chemistry with Stéphane Grappelli. Django was a unique musician, very much ahead of his time. Despite his Gypsy background, Django was fascinated with fine arts and deeply interested in all sorts of music. I say despite his background, because traditional Gypsy culture is very conservative; I would imagine it would have been even more so in those days. There are stories that Django’s community did not unanimously appreciate some of the new boundary-pushing sounds that Django was exploring. Listen to his compositions Rythme Futur, Nymphéas, Stockholm, for instance; these songs are a synthesis of American jazz and Impressionist classical music that perfectly represent what Django was about: a musician with an insatiable musical appetite.
Django absorbed music like a sponge; he had incredible ears, an impeccable sense of timing, and a technique that, still today, many would envy. He set the bar extremely high, and one could arguably say that, as far as plectrum-style guitar was concerned, he was the first to explore the full potential of the guitar, like Paganini did with the violin. Gypsy or not, a musician of this unparalleled caliber was sure to stand out!
With such genius, comes a voracious appetite for new and exciting music. It made perfect sense that Django would fall in love with jazz. He was also very fond of classical music; he was particularly attracted to the contemporary classical composers of his day, Ravel, Debussy, etc. Oscar Alemán, who was good friends with him, stated that Django claimed that jazz was Gypsy music! I would imagine that he meant that it was dazzling, and that there was a lot of excitement and freedom for expression. They apparently had arguments about that, with Alemán criticizing Reinhardt for his abundant use of "Gypsy tricks": the flashiness and the heavy use of embellishments.
I have spent a considerable amount of time transcribing and analyzing Django’s solos. Recently, I have also been intensively doing the same with Charlie Christian. A comparison between the guitarists is very interesting, not for the purpose of saying that one’s music is better than the other, but to understand how the guitar was being used in those days, and to understand what it was that was truly unique about Django’s guitar playing.
Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt were at the top of the celebrity food chain as far as early jazz guitar solos were concerned, though they were certainly not the only ones using the guitar as a lead instrument. They were certainly aware of each other; Mary Osborne has mentioned that she once heard Charlie Christian play Django’s solo on St-Louis Blues note for note. On the other hand, biographies have also stated that Charlie Christian was not much influenced by Django. Could it be a lie? We may never know, but in transcribing many Charlie Christian solos, I see many similar sounding ideas used by Django. At any rate, one of the major differences between the two players is the interpretation of the notes.
Whereas Charlie Christian occasionally used ornaments, Django would not hesitate to bend into notes, use vibrato, play certain notes with harmonics, use ghost notes, etc. Furthermore, Django had tremendous right hand dexterity that allowed him to play highly virtuosic lines. Again, don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing their music and saying that one is better than the other; I love them both for different reasons. Charlie Christian’s right hand technique was not as dexterous as Django’s but he did not need that, he played the lines that he needed to play, and that was it. In essence, I believe that these are the "Gypsy tricks" that Oscar Alemán was referring to when talking about Django’s music. At that time, no one came close to doing what Django was doing as far as the guitar was concerned.
Another side note that might throw this article off to another tangent was Django’s left hand handicap. As we all know, Django lost the use of his two little fingers, the ring finger, and the pinky finger. In practice, however, as far as single note soloing was concerned, he only lost the use of one finger. In those days, the vast majority of non-classical guitar players mainly used a 3 finger approach on the left hand, slightly tilting their hand to the left against the fretboard, using a lot of position shifting similar to violinists. This approach refers more to a thought process than to the actual act of only using 3 fingers; the pinky was certainly used for the occasional passages, octaves, and chords. This method allows for more fluidity when shifting positions, and gives us greater control over individual notes for ornamentation. The 4 finger approach is a result of attempts to standardize guitar technique when non-classical guitar made its way into music school curriculums. The theory is to view the fretboard in box-like shapes and to assign each finger to a specific fret. It certainly has its advantages, but is not always practical in many real life situations. French Django expert Alain Antonietto once spent an afternoon with Matelo Ferret (one of Django’s accompanists) comparing the 4 finger approach versus the 3 finger approach. Matelo much preferred the 3 finger approach. Many critics have mentioned that Gypsies today use a 3 finger approach as a compromise between "normal" guitar technique and an infatuation with imitating Django. That could not be further from the truth. As with the right hand technique, the Gypsies have gone on to preserve the old way of approaching the left hand. I believe these techniques were preserved because they never benefitted from the books that sought to standardize guitar technique in the last half of the 20th century. Everything they learned was passed down orally and visually from generation to generation. Practically every guitar player in every style played this way in those days, and many still do today: from Charlie Christian, to Wes Montgomery, to George Benson, and many blues players today. Again, this is a big topic that could go on for much longer, but I thought it would be nice to point this out.
The Quintette du Hot Club de France, was not a Gypsy band and was not a Gypsy Jazz band. They were a jazz band of the 1930s. Furthermore, this exclusively string formation was but a small part of Django’s musical career. Django would often collaborate with various orchestras featuring more common jazz instruments (saxophone, piano, trumpet, trombone, etc.). He worked with the jazz stars of the time, Rex Stewart, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Justin Bieber, etc. Listen to this 1939 recording of Rex Stewart featuring Django as a sideman. Should this be considered Gypsy Jazz?
Compare these two recordings of The Sheik Of Araby, one featuring Django Reinhardt, the other, Charlie Christian; what makes one more Gypsy Jazz than the other?
By then, Argentinian guitarist Oscar Alemán was also living in Paris and playing in a very similar style as the Quintette. Listen to the 1933 (prior to the formation of the Quintette du Hot Club de France) recording of Fox Musette by Alemán and Louis Ferrari. The guitar accompaniment and lead playing are very reminiscent of Django’s early guitar style!
Oscar Alemán, unfortunately, never achieved the fame that Django did. I personally believe that, as far as the early swing style is concerned, Aleman had nothing to envy of Reinhardt. I would argue that, ultimately, Django had a deeper musical vision than Alemàn, but when it came to this early acoustic swing style, they were, in my opinion, equals. Listen to Alemán’s 1939 recording of Amada Mia. If Django should be considered Gypsy Jazz, should we call this Argentinian Jazz? Though talent has a hand in fame, many other non-musical circumstantial factors lead to celebrity status; unfortunately, these factors overlooked Alemán.
Listen to 1938 recording sessions of George Barnes with William McKinly "Jazz" Gillum. This is blues music using a rhythm guitar accompaniment very reminiscent of the early Quintette style.
Listen also to the 1943 recording of Cherokee by jazz legend Charlie Parker with guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer Phil Phillips; yet another recording reminiscent of the Quintette where the rhythm guitar emulates the sound of a drummer.
There are many other examples of jazz reminiscent of the Quintette du Hot Club de France from that era; from Stuff Smith, to Eddie South, to Svend Asmussen and others. They all featured violin and/or guitar styles similar to the Quintette. Of all these artists, only Django was a Gypsy (along with some of his accompanists)!
So where then does Gypsy Jazz come from? When Django achieved celebrity status, many in his community began to envy him and started to copy his musical style. It slowly and gradually became a folk music among the Sinti. Today the rhythm guitar style is called La Pompe, which translates to the pump; the notion that the left hand is constantly pumping the strings as the right hand creates the percussive attack. According to French guitarist Samy Daussat, La Pompe is French jargon from Bal Musette culture. It was originally associated with the accordion and piano accompaniment style of emphasizing the bass on beats 1 and 3 and the treble on beats 2 and 4. French guitarists Christophe Lartilleux and Philippe Doudou Cuillerier confirm that the term was in use from at least as far back as the 1950s, perhaps earlier. It was not exclusively used to describe Django’s rhythm, if at all, during his career. French Gypsies themselves, today, generally do not use the term; instead they simply refer to it as accompaniment. However, due to the rise in popularity of Gypsy Jazz, this term is now used in many languages to specifically describe the Gypsy Jazz rhythm.
While Django’s chord voicings were unique because of his handicap, his actual rhythm guitar players were not that much different than rhythm guitar players in other jazz orchestras. The chord voicings in those days were very simple, mainly triads based on barre chord shapes, and simple dominant chord voicings. Furthermore, there is and never was just one way of playing this rhythm. Different sounds and feels can be achieved, and not one is more valid than the other. As a side note, when I teach Gypsy Jazz rhythm guitar, I do have a few basic styles that I consider bread and butter as far as technique is concerned. Explaining all the subtle differences of pre-war jazz accompaniment would throw this article way of course, so I’ll leave it for another time! I will just say that Django was very conscious of the effect of these different sounds.
In the folkloric Gypsy Jazz, many players certainly try to imitate Django’s voicings and style, which, then, make Gypsy Jazz more and more codified. We haven’t even talked about solos yet! Experts have even mentioned regional differences in Gypsy Jazz rhythm playing. This is hard to verify, as these descriptions were used to describe a small number players from an era when the music was not as widespread as it is today. In my opinion, there is a definitely some truth to it, but, as codified as the style is, not every player from every region will necessarily play exactly the same way.
After Django’s death in 1953, many Sinti continued to learn from the vinyl recordings of the master or from family members who were already playing it; they continued to play this music within family circles, the origins of the American standards began to fade away and they would become part of Sinti folklore. Indeed, many Sinti do not know the names of the standards that they play, and some even believe that Django wrote many of them, and are therefore traditional Gypsy songs!
Others, such as Bamboula Ferret, and his step-brothers Piotto Limberger and Latscheben Grünholz (grandfather of Stochelo Rosenberg) were not playing much jazz, but actually continuing in the Gypsy tradition of playing local popular songs. However, they were still heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt in their guitar playing. Jazz or not, traces of his music and guitar style crept into the Sinti Gypsy musical tradition. There are also bootleg recordings from as early as the mid-50s in France, where Christian evangelical worship songs are performed in the Django style. This, to me, is a perfect example of Gypsy Jazz that Django Reinhardt accidentally created. Over the years, various experts and musicians have shared their archives with me. This track is from the the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Gypsy pilgramage , and features Christian Evangelical Gypsies.
As I mentioned earlier on, Django was deeply passionate about music and the finer details of what make music sound good; though he was self-taught, it is so evident in his music that he had a deep understanding of harmony, even if he had no means to put labels to what he heard. In the folkloric Gypsy Jazz style, however, the songs are often passed down from family member to family member; often the harmonies became much more simplified, many chords are omitted or flat out wrong! It is not uncommon in Gypsy Jazz to hear all sorts of clashes that would make trained musicians frown. These clashes can be heard in the German Sinti recordings I provided above! Not so with Django, he was very sensitive to harmony, and as a soloist, he was always very conscious about what he played; every tension that he created was intentional, and he would resolve these tensions eventually. That said, I must point out that in my extensive analyses of Django’s recordings, I have noticed strange things happening in certain recordings: chords that clash with either the bass line or lead line. Considering the limited recording technology in those days, I would assume that these are mistakes made by the rhythm section, but the lead was so strong that they decided to keep the take. Luckily these clashes can really only be heard if one pays extremely careful attention; I must have spent countless hours deciphering these things by looping various passages, and messing with the EQ!
I have also witnessed many well known Gypsy musicians not knowing how to tune their guitars properly. I am not sure where this comes from, but a lot of them tune them from high string to low string, playing both strings at the same time, and tuning them according to what sounds OK to them. This often results in very questionable tunings; concerts and albums have been recorded where the guitar is severely out of tune! However, don’t get me wrong! I am not criticizing the way Gypsies play music. Far from it, I think it is very charming and I listen to it all the time; even with the tuning issues and the wrong harmonies. There’s something about it that really attracts me, and I think it is the passion and the sincerity of it all. Based on biographical accounts, Django would be quick to point out tuning issues when listening to other musicians. Once again in the interest of fairness, on certain recordings, Django himself was a bit of out of tune when playing octaves; perhaps the intonation was a bit off, or maybe his guitar was slightly out of tune, who knows?
The Sinti would also often play repertoire from Eastern Europe such as Hungarian csardas or Russian melodies. Some would also write songs/lyrics in the Gypsy language (Romani) set to music in the Gypsy Jazz style. German/Polish Sinto Schuneckenak Reinhardt was one of the pioneers of this style. Here is another track from my archives, featuring German Sinti. This recording is from the 70s and features a young Titi Winterstein. This is originally a Hungarian song, A vén cigány (the old Gypsy) to which the Sinti have written worship lyrics.
The Hot Club style formation saw a revival in the public eye in the 1970s/80s thanks to artists such as Dorado Schmitt, Fapy Lafertin, Titi Winterstein, Lulu Reinhardt, Häns’che Weiss, Raphael Fays, Bireli Lagrene, Tchavolo Schmitt, etc. It is perhaps at this point that journalists coined the term Gypsy Jazz, Gypsy Swing, Jazz Manouche, or whatever variation that may exist.
In the 80s, in France, before the term Jazz Manouche became widespread, people referred to it in various ways: Jazz Gitan, Jazz Tsigane, Musique de Django, Musique Manouche, etc. As early as 1959, Michel-Claude Jalard wrote an article titled "Django et l’école tsigane du jazz" (Django and the Gypsy school of jazz). In the early 80s, Alain Antonietto wrote articles using the expression "Jazz Tzigane". In the early 90s, Michel Lefort organized a festival called Gypsy Swing. Articles in the early 90s from the French magazine French Guitare talk about the difference between Django’s jazz and the music of the Gypsies, and whether it is right to refer to it as jazz.
In English, various terms were also used: Gypsy Jazz, Gypsy Swing, Hot Jazz, Django Style, etc. In 1981, British guitarist Ian Cruickshank produced a documentary titled Gypsy Jazz; this is the earliest instance of the term that I was able to find to date. It is a direct translation of the French Jazz Gitan that was widely used in French media after Django’s death. An article written by Maurice Summerfield in the early 70s talks about Django and the Hot Club style still being emulated but makes no mention of Gypsy Jazz. The near-exclusive use of the terms Gypsy Jazz and Jazz Manouche, however, came roughly after 2000.
In the early 2000s, a fellow by the name of Alfred Offenbach jotted down his memories about meeting Django in 1938. He used the term Gypsy band to describe a small ensemble that he saw. Joseph Reinhardt was a member of this ensemble. I suppose that he is referring to the ethnicity of the musicians rather than a particular style. Later on, he talks about meeting Django and writes "I banged a few chords in the Hot Club style". From that same period, Harry Lloyd, a British guitarist, won a competition in the UK that was judged by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Mr Lloyd’s daughter writes: "As you know Django, as part of his UK tour in 1938, played at the Gig Club which I believe was held in the Bourne Hall/Fishmongers Arms, Wood Green on the 10th July 1938 and presented a Cup to the winner of the Quintet competition which ardent followers of Django came and competed for. My father’s Quartette won the competition which was judged by Django and Stephane Grappelly as nearest to their own group and Django actually presented the cup and also gave Dad his autograph at that time. The name on the cup is H. Lloyd’s Quartette." Beyond this information, there are no other details of the competition. The term "Quintet competition" is an interesting one, and not far from the term "Hot Club Style" that Mr. Offenbach used.
At any rate, for some Sinti, their style of music is indeed a folkloric Gypsy Jazz. For them, it is part of their culture, a way of life, they do not necessarily see it as an artistic form; it is simply part of who they are. For others, such as Fapy Lafertin or Bireli Lagrene, it is also part of their culture, but they share the same progressive musical vision that Django had; these Sinti musicians would go on to pursue music in a more artistic manner and less as a folklore. Indeed, the line between artistic pursuit and folkloric tendencies becomes very muddy, and quite frankly, I don’t care too much to try to define this line, if it is even at all possible. For this reason, as I mentioned earlier on, it can be quite difficult to define Gypsy Jazz.
Since the early 2000s, for whatever reason, Gypsy Jazz has seen a surge in popularity. Today, there are Gypsy Jazz bands all over the world, from Taiwan, to Malaysia, to Russia, to Israel, to Brazil, to Canada, to Australia, etc.! The vast majority of the musicians in these bands are not Gypsies, and practically none have had close contact with the Sinti and Sinti culture. I wonder then if we should still refer to it as Gypsy Jazz!
Many of these non-Gypsy players have reached an incredible level, and many have even developed their unique style that many other non-Gypsy players try to emulate today. Even some of the more open minded Gypsies strive to learn from this new style! It is much less folkloric, and the artistic ambitions are often significantly deeper and more progressive! Should this high level Gadjo (non-Gypsy) way of playing still be called Gypsy Jazz? More than ever, this new wave of players have made it even more difficult to define the genre!
Furthermore, many young players are getting into the style from this new generation of non-Gypsy players; for many of them, they are not aware of the 70 or so years of history and evolution! I find that a little bit unfortunate, not for the new music itself, but for the ignorance of history, and the assumptions that many make. As far as I am concerned, all this variety is absolutely wonderful, and I hope that more people discover Django Reinhardt, but I also hope that they will have the humility and open-mindedness to discover the history! There are now enough sub-genres in Gypsy Jazz to satisfy all tastes.
One wonders, however, if without Django, would Gypsies have ever discovered jazz? I personally believe so. The Gypsies, whether Sinti or Roma, are very musically curious. While there is a lot of conservatism in their culture, the musically inclined tend to thirst for new sounds. In Eastern Europe, for example, Roma guitarists discovered jazz music from the mainstream bebop era; the influence of Wes Montgomery and George Benson is very clear. I must admit that my contact with Roma musicians is not as extensive as my contact with the Sinti. Nonetheless, based on my personal experiences and those of others that I have spoken to, the Roma certainly acknowledge and respect Django Reinhardt, but very few are familiar with the repertoire and playing style; their knowledge of Django Reinhardt is truly superficial at best.
Would Gypsy Jazz as we know it exist today without Django? Based on my arguments, I really do not think so. The vast majority of Gypsy Jazz players today are playing a heavily codified form of jazz, and the core of these codes come directly from Django; the rhythms, the chord voicings, the vocabulary, the repertoire, right down to the instrument.
However, the resurgence of popularity of Django Reinhardt can also be attributed to the Sinti. In Django’s time, there were most certainly other non-Gypsy bands imitating the Hot Club of France, but it was essentially the Sinti that continued and preserved the tradition, in their own folkloric way, throughout the generations. Their continuation of this music also preserved the early 20th century guitar technique that would have, otherwise, most likely be forgotten by the guitar community.
Django single-handedly redefined Sinti musical culture, and, in turn, the Sinti preserved Django’s legacy for all to enjoy today. We must remember that the Gypsies faced tremendous persecution in those days, and were hunted down by the Nazi regime. Even today, there is still an unfortunate circle of mistrust between Gypsies and Gadje. The sociopolitical background of the Sinti played a great role in the preservation of Gypsy Jazz; out of nowhere, Django appeared and became a tremendous source of cultural pride. The question, then, is whether Gypsy Jazz would exist today had Django not been a Gypsy? Well, we wouldn’t use the term Gypsy Jazz, that’s for sure. If we look at Charlie Christian who, despite a very brief career, eclipsed Django Reinhardt in terms of popularity in mainstream guitar culture and history (thanks to the American promotional powers of the time), there are practically no festivals around the world dedicated to him, no charliebooks.com (unlike Michael Horowitz’s Djangobooks.com), one does not refer to archtop electric guitars as "Charlie guitars" or "Black guitars" (*gasp*) as one refers to Selmer style guitars as "Django guitars" or "Gypsy guitars"! I strongly feel that it is, indeed, thanks to the unique combination of Django’s musical genius, and his Gypsy heritage, that we have, today, a genre called Gypsy Jazz.
I would like to end this article with two quotes (both translated from French). This first one is from a filmed interview with Joseph Reinhardt (brother of Django Reinhardt) and Babik Reinhardt (son of Django Reinhardt):
Interviewer: What genre of music do you play? Traditional Gypsy music or jazz? Joseph: Jazz… Interviewer: You mean you don’t play… Joseph: [interrupts the interviewer] No… We play the music of Django.
In that last statement, I am sure that Joseph meant that they played jazz in the style of Django rather than literally the music of Django.
This final quote is from Matelo Ferret, who often played with Django:
Django did not play in the Gypsy style. He played a style that was his alone, that began with him. Certainly, he played the guitar, a traditional instrument, but his school of guitar playing was his own creation".
I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation about Django with Elios Ferre, the son of Matelo. He confirmed to me what his dad said: that Django was a jazz musician and that the idea that he played Gypsy Jazz was absurd. He went on to mention that Django was very musically aware, and that he was not shy about telling his rhythm players to be more dynamically sensitive when accompanying.
As you can see, the history of Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz is a bit more complicated than what popular culture would lead you to believe. However, to be fair, although I do not believe that Django Reinhardt played Gypsy Jazz, I usually do tell people that I play Gypsy Jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt; it’s truly too much of a hassle for me to go on an extensive rant about this topic. A little bit of ambiguity can be nice sometimes!
Thanks to Roger Baxter, Ted Gottsegen, François Rousseau, Robin Nolan, Samy Daussat, Philippe Doudou Cuillerier, Jon Larsen, Christophe Lartilleux, Michel Mercier, Emmanuel Kassimo for their insight and generosity.
In this article, I mentioned the subtleties of rhythm playing, as well as the early 20th century guitar technique. These are two very big topics but if you are interested in knowing about them, you might be interested in some of the lessons that I have produced, that talk about these in much greater detail: