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Speed kills the swing/time to get back to dancing.

anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
edited August 2012 in History Posts: 560
Hello there folks, advanced warning, this post is likely going to upset and perhaps offend some (for which I apologize in advance), but I'm also fairly sure many will agree (And I sure hope they chime in about it)...

I'm writing to open a discussion about the infatuation with SPEED in Gypsy Jazz. I just returned from Django in June, and quite frankly, It seemed as though the many of the top players play with constant speed, foresaking melodic ideas that can be heard WITHOUT the 'amazing slow downer' software. In fact, I found the friday and saturday night shows mostly a LONG string of 32nd notes with the occasional oh so briefly sustained vibrato note (unless the songs tempo was super fast, in which they were 16th notes). It became quite monotonous to be frank (I won't name names, but I know I'm not the only person who felt this way). More often than not, Django used speed sparingly, and I wonder how often people are using speed because of it's musicality, and how often they use it out of some sense of bravado and status. As a result of this drive for more speed, songs that were originally played at about 180 - 200 bpms, are now being played at 280 to 300 bpm's and faster songs like Limehouse blues or sweet gerogia brown are being played at like 360 bpms. At those speeds, I find musicality is completely lost and often you can hardly hear the harmonic changes (unless you know the song well)

It's funny, because Sebastion Boyer said something to me in a rhythm 3 class about how, as soon as you accent the 2 and 4 too much, getting a "boom Chuck!" sound, you've effectively killed the swing. Of course, I held my tongue, because in my opinion, as soon as your tempo gets in the high 200 bpms/low 300bpms, you have also effectively killed the swing.
To illustrate, how about a review of the definition of swing - to move back and forth. The original popularity of swing music was fueled by how it made people want to DANCE. I guarantee you that if Django played a show (pre-bop) and nobody danced, he considered it a failure. These days it's the norm, and people would look at you funny if you got up and danced at a gypsy jazz show. Imagine how horrified someone from the 30's would be if they saw a swing show with the entire audience sitting!! Fact is, At 300 + bpms, it is qute impossible to dance in any other way than vibrating your body.
Basically, these days, gypsy jazz seems primarily geared towards other guitarists (primarily) and fiddlers/mando/accord/ players (to a lesser extent).
Jeff Radich said something in a lead 3 class that illustrated this point "Woman LOVE gypsy Jazz," he said, and then added "note my sarcastic tone"... Yes, as some of you have noticed, there are very FEW women interested in Gypsy Jazz, either to see it or to play it - (I think there were about 5-7 women at DIJ out of 120 participants- 2 guitar players a smattering of fiddlers and a singer/guitar player). As far as playing gypsy jazz, guitar has always been a boys club regardless of style so that is normal... but As far as watching it, I believe their lack of interest is due to the fact that we SIT. I noticed as I sat and watched the saturday night show, a woman in front of me was swaying her body back and forth to try and get a LITTLE bit of movement in; be truthful, how many of your girlfriends would be much more interested in Gypsy jazz if it meant they were going to get to dance ?

So now that I've outed myself as being bored of the speed, speed, and more speed, is there anyone else who wants for a return to musicality that can be heard by the "naked ear" ??

My other question is - Why the desire to play so fast ? Is speed the only way you feel challenged ? Is it the "final frontier" if you will ?

Anthony
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Comments

  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,645
    I would just jump in to add that, in a Gypsy Waltz class last year, Michael Horowitz commented that people nowadays play many of the waltzes at breakneck speeds to show their prowess, but at one time they were played at a danceable tempo.

    Also, a lot of the tunes were originally vocals. You could not sing some of them at modern GJ tempos.
    Benny

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • It ain't just in GJ gentlemen. :shock:

    A lot of young players in mainstream Jazz are all about demonstrating the ability to play several choruses worth of high speed notes, and in newgrass which is the other music style with a lot of improv.

    I'm gonna get I trouble, but I think it is done to make up for a lack of artistry. :P For nothing to say about a song.

    Speed is a wonderful accent. So is one right note after a long pause. I'm all for mixing em up

    My best friend from childhood's dad was a superb swing guitarist and a huge musical influence on me. He told me that most musicians spend the first part of their careers seeing how many notes they can put in a song, and the last part seing how many notes they can take out. That was in the late 50's before I was 10.

    I think the issue has been around a while lol. Now we get spanked I guess. :lol:
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,645
    Jazzaferri wrote:
    ... most musicians spend the first part of their careers seeing how many notes they can put in a song, and the last part seing how many notes they can take out.
    Beautiful!
    Benny

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 560
    hmmm.... I hear what you're saying about the other styles having big speed contingencies. Seems to me, though, that in gypsy Jazz, it's not limited to the younger players. A lot of older players who are highly regarded, and whose names I won't mention so as not to blaspheme, are also playing endless streams of 32nd notes.
    One of my favorite players is Paul Mehling of hot club sf, who uses speed much like Django did - Tastefully, and with moderation.
    I also like Robin Nolan, who uses speed sparingly as well.
    Anyway, I guess opinions really are like assholes, and I've bared mine.

    Cheers !
  • SpaloSpalo England✭✭✭✭ Manouche Guitars "Modele Jazz Moreno" No.116, 1980's Saga Blueridge "Macaferri 500", Maton 1960's Semi, Fender Telecaster, Aria FA65 Archtop
    edited June 2012 Posts: 186
    I’m with you all the way with this one. I too am getting tired of this never ending quest for speed. The fast tempos are pushing aside the music as far as I’m concerned. It’s all just empty ‘bandstanding'. I get the impression that a lot of players think, “ I can play Limehouse Blues three times faster than Django, therefore I’m three times better than him”.

    There is a place for fast playing but in context and with taste, please. It shouldn’t be the ‘raison d’etre ’ of the entire genre.

    I’ve found myself moving away from a lot of modern players, with honourable exceptions (Birelli, Stochelo, Fapy, Ninine Garcia) and spending more time with Django’s recordings. I may be an Old Fart (I admit it!) but I’ll swop Django taking his time with Billets Doux for any number of supersonic renditions of Sweet Georgia Brown or Black Eyes.

    SP
  • AhabAhab GB✭✭
    Posts: 88
    I couldn't agree more with the first post!

    I'm relatively new to the Django scene (I hate the term gypsy jazz, such an ill-fitting defintion of the style, to me it's all Django's music whichever way you look at it really), and it seems to me that this style of guitar playing is becoming an ever more closed circle, guitarists playing for other guitarists, and it's lots touch with it's roots which as anthon_74 says was all about dance music. That's not to say that Django didn't play fast on occasion, Babik and Impromptu spring to mind, but it's used for effect, and not an end in itself. The same goes for any of the be-boppers from that period, Dizzy and Bird played fast because it was part of the style and it makes musical sense. However, the need to play Limehouse Blues at 320 bpm with just endless phrases without pause just seems so artistically void. As everyone knows, Bireli can play as techincally brilliantly as any of the guitarist out there, but watching him play fast keeps you on the edge of your seat because you know he's taking risks and playing right on the edge.

    It does annoy me though when I go and jam and this tendency to just play fast for the sake of it creeps in. The soul of the music is it's rhythm and as the great man Duke Ellington once said, "It don't mean a thing...etc etc".
  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,283
    Good topic, and post, Anthony. The thoughts below may be rambling, sorry; I have been thinking about this myself, and I can't decide whether there's something intrinsic to the "hot" in hot jazz that means some of this is natural, and fitting...a kind of almost neural response, a primal thing. I agree that speed solely for speed's sake blows, and that it's a trend that does no good for the music. Re: DIJ, I'm not sure if we're talking about the DIJ feel in general, or the concerts in particular.

    I dunno, guys, such a wealth....so many extraordinary players with their own voices...I didn't get much sense of what I call "playing with your food," wizardry to an empty purpose, really, though in jams I saw it can get ridiculous (sometimes, that was just fun...hitting loud or accelerando until the animal cries release...!). Something Stephane Wrembel said in class, I found interesting...that the intrinsic nature of jams is, in a word, competitive. That there is an element of this that one finds in jams, and this presumably has been for a long time....whether DIJ or a romani campfire. He said that's not necessarily a bad thing. He added that performance is a play where this all goes out the door, and a performance, basically, is an act of love, of generosity.

    Re: the concerts, I flatly loved them. Both nights, I did see people swaying, but they were swinging. I had never heard Denis, Kamlo, or Olli live before, and was really grateful to hear them in a performance (unfettered from a teaching) context. I felt Stephane & Co. were doing some really cool things, playing with his S. Asian influences, and not just as an intro to Dark Eyes, but sprinkled interestingly here and there in his playing; lots of melodic interest in Sebastian and Antoine. If Antoine sometimes plays out of beat, I expect that in a genius kid, and can't wait to see how his music matures. I got the Boyers' Sita and really appreciate the music.

    Saturday's concert with Paulus absolutely blew me away. The guy felt ironclad tight, to me - and I mean that in a good way, precisely in the way we're condemning useless speed. My take is that his music made wonderful sense, no matter what tempo he was playing at. I got mastery, self-knowledge, and generosity, all good things.

    I hear you on the Boys' club. Christine Tassan, whom I had listened to but never met, swings, and swings hot. One of the highlights for me was to see her, Eric, Michel, Sergei (sorry, can't recall the bassist :oops: ) at Spoleto's. How much of this relative dearth of women is because of tendency to shredding, and how much that we're just at this point in the history of the music? I come from a traditional French cooking background. Talk about a boy's club...but women have made their mark, have spawned entire culinary movements, and the boy's club in cooking is becoming a thing of the past; a trend I hope continues. Is this any different?

    To the general subject, I think something the late actor/writer/director Ossie Davis once said to me might apply. I performed in the premiere of his play Sybil. He personally meant a lot to me, as I had long known what he and his wife, Ruby Dee (and others - my teacher, Jeff Corey, blacklisted as a result of HUAC's crimes, for 12 years; another actor whose family I had worked for, Will Geer - all of these were brave artists), had gone through. In the case of Ossie and Ruby, I knew what they sometimes endured, as artists and as people heavily involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Sometimes, as with Will Geer, it meant bloodshed, to make brave art.

    At any rate, after the opening night's performance, he leaned in with those eyes, and that great bass growl, and said to me, "thank you for doing such a fine job with my play"; closing with "...when I was your age, I shot everything I had, in every performance. As I grew older, I learned to be a good steward of my energy."

    He shook my hand, and I couldn't avoid weeping. I never forgot that gift, from a master. It's a natural curve, I think, for an artist to want to "throw everything at" his or her art; and it's a sign of mastery, to trust the silences - whatever the art form.
    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,645
    Yes, speed kills, especially at 4,000,000 bpm:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23i8BzhxCy8&feature=related

    plus it can melt your strings. Scary.
    Benny

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 560
    klaatu wrote:
    plus it can melt your strings. Scary.

    Just watching it melted my strings... and I had a minor heart attack and almost died...

    Scary stuff !
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