How to Learn to Phrase like early Django

ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
OK. Tall Order. As some of you may recall, I've got 45 years of guitar playing in my life, lots of fun in the sun folk, some serous Chicago Blues, some studied Flamenco, most recently (a decade ago), a nice run with my own band playing New Orleans R&B with a splash of Texas Blues.

After a long hiatus, back on the instrument since July 2013. First, a nice Taylor cutaway acoustic, now an Altamira M10D (wish I had known about Djangobooks out of the gate and put all the money into a nice Dupont!). Early on, bought Yakov Hotter's "Minor Swing" course and learned the entire solo. Since then, took good advice from you guys and have been working my way through Micheal's Gypsy Picking book, determined to adopt it as my primary form. Also working on accompaniment in equal measure--nobody likes a hotdog soloist who can't play rhythm--and working on learning the canon of recognized tunes: "Minor Swing" "Minor Blues" "Dark Eyes" "Lady Be Good" "Honeysuckle Rose" and now, "All of Me". Got a good teacher who, although not primarily versed in Gypsy Jazz, is well versed in Jazz on guitar, and has backed up local New Orleans Gypsy Jazz players like Tony Green and others.

Let me cut to the core: as to soloing, I'm looking for the right path to be thinking and phrasing like early Django. I find I need to go here first to weed out any modern influences because I'll find myself falling back on quoting everything from Stevie Ray, BB King to Jeff Beck, or even Miles, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, etc. In other words, I want to get my mind and fingers in early Django phrasing before I go anywhere else.

For example, take "Honeysuckle Rose" (the very early version). The first chorus and bridge and return to head solo is deceptively simple, yet the phrasing is completely not intuitive to me. I know about Django's injury and the limitations it placed on his playing and what he did to overcome it. I know it influenced how and what he played, but it's more than that. The seemingly simple melodic phrasing in the beginning of this tune is what I'm trying to get to.

I've been working on arpeggios all over the neck in addition to key scales themselves just to know where I am. I've gotten good advice about soloing in this forum regarding staying near the melody and away from fiery scale flash for its own sake and I agree. I'm not completely lost because I can hear some of what I want in my head. But, other than immersing my ears in nothing but early Django solos, I'm looking for some other ideas.

Shortcuts? Maybe. But you other 60 and above guys know what I'm talking about--there's no time to waste.

Seriously, thanks for all the good advice so far and any forthcoming.


  • I think you've pretty much nailed it with regards to the best way to assimilate some of this phrasing into your playing. That is, learning solos note for note and by rote. Stephane Wrembel asserts that learning these with two fingers is an excellent exercise. Christophe Lartilleux from Latcho Drom made the same assertion.
    Why? You become a bit more mobile and you'll use areas of the neck that aren't that intuitive. You start to see things repeat after you have a few solos under your belt. Mind you, I can't reproduce these in a jam or live session, but it is a good exercise and certainly helps to assimilate some of this stuff into playing.
    Also, why not take some of the Django solos you do know, break them down, phrase by phrase and try to reproduce them in different keys?

    Maybe someone has some better advice on how to get there a little quicker, but this is basically what I'm doing now.

  • Joli GadjoJoli Gadjo Cardiff, UK✭✭✭✭ Derecho, Bumgarner - VSOP, AJL
    Posts: 542
    Denis Chang's DVDs on improv have a few sections (DVD3 and 4?) on Django's phrasing.
    Also, Ben Givan who had transcribed so many of Django's solos for his academic studies, recently analyzed some of Django's "formulas".
    It was shared on Manoucheries, so I assume it is fine to post the link here as well:
    - JG
  • ShemiShemi Cardiff✭✭✭
    edited August 2014 Posts: 170
    I'm early on in my Gypsy Jazz learning also, about 7 months in but here is what I have observed so far. I started off like you, going over arpeggio patterns in all areas but found quickly that although I had the technical ability to play all the notes, I just didn't sound "gypsy" when improvising.

    The last month or so I have taken to transcribing Django's solos. Working out the possibilities of how he may have played them with 2 fingers actually helps immensely and makes the job easier. I've recently finished Minor Blues and can now play it at the original tempo with correct picking (really hard to break 20 years of alternate picking) but essential to also grasp the phrasing and sound. Now I am taking the phrases from that and applying them to other songs/chord progressions when I'm improvising, sometimes adapting them on the fly. I can really see how this will help build my vocabulary for improvising as my mental lick library expands, plus learning how the arpeggios link in this way is so much more productive than running through arpeggios cold. I run out of juice quickly when improvising, but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day!

    As another poster said, after transcribing 4 songs, I'm starting to see similarities and recognise these ideas in other Django solos as well as other famous players. I watched a video with Fapy talking about constructing a solo over All Of Me, and there was one lick he did that I absolutely loved. A week later, I transcribed Django's solo and there was that very same lick!

    Like learning a language, you can only develop the accent by immersing yourself around people speaking it it. Listen to Django all the time, until like Jimmy Rosenberg said "you can sing it with your mouth", play his lines, and I think it will come with time. I don't think there is a short cut to this, but most things worth doing take dedication and time to achieve. Plus taking this approach has really helped me to understand and appreciate just how much of a genius Django was!
  • kevingcoxkevingcox Nova Scotia✭✭✭✭ Dupont MD50
    Posts: 298
    Don't worry, the first 30 years are the toughest. I've heard after that things get easier. 20 more to go for me!
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,665
    At that rate, I've only got about 22 years to go. So when I hit 90, I've at least got something to look forward to?

    "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
  • nicksansonenicksansone Amsterdam, The Netherlands✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 274
    By far my favorite style of this music has to be the early Django stuff, the JSP set of the Classic Early Recordings are the majority of what I've listened to for years. However, learning to phrase like Django..... I've asked Rino Van Hooijdonk and Jan de Jong this, who are 2 of the best in this early style, and they always say "listen to the recordings". Nothing else. So it's a tough job for all of us, best of luck.
  • apwebbapwebb
    Posts: 24
    Interesting thread...

    I can relate to what you are saying.

    Coming from a deep blues background I've pondered on this puzzle, the phrasing.

    I think the advice so far is correct and has stood true to me learning the blues, jazz, rock and classical. Immersing yourself in the recordings, learn the solos and learn the history.

    One thing I have noticed is how playful Django's phrasing is. Charles Delaunay mentions this in his biography of Django. Django can take a phrase and bounce it around like a ball then move on to the phrase or idea.

    His lines also have a joyful sense of swing to them. American Jazz and Blues seems to be much more driven, serious even. Django's phrasing seems to me like a celebration of a life not be taken too seriously.

    These are my thoughts, and I hope they might spur on further ideas.

  • Wise words, Stuart. It's the rare player that will match what Django did dead on.
    And an excellent suggestion by Joli to watch Denis's DVDs. Once you get beyond knowing what notes to play and/or can hear the sound you want, learning to phrase in relation to the beat is an excellent thing to work on as many of Django's phrases do not start on the first beat of every chord. At DiJ, Denis had us go through exercises phrasing on the beat, before the beat, and after the beat. That is, an entire chorus (at least) of playing phrases that only start on the beat, an entire chorus of playing phrases that start before beat, and an entire chorus of playing phrases after the beat. I'm simplifying this, but it is something that stuck with me and it is a worthy exercise to run through.
  • Lots of players have the technical chops now, to learn Django's stuff note for note. That's just like classical music.

    I rather suspect, that if one isn't thinking and playing like Django, (obviously one's own stuff, as no one can truly play like someone else) by the time one is's highly unlikely one ever will. Comparing oneself to one of the giants of the last century is a rather odd thing to attempt.

    Doesn't mean one can't play some nice stuff in this genre though. Truth be told though, I don't quite understand what the OP really is getting at.

    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited August 2014 Posts: 1,834
    <I>45 years of guitar playing in my life, lots of fun in the sun folk, some serous Chicago Blues, some studied Flamenco, most recently (a decade ago), a nice run with my own band playing New Orleans R&B </I>

    As a fellow 45 year plunker, I wish you all the best in your musical journey.

    Trying to play like Django at this point, or indeed any point! may be aiming high, but even if we don't make it all the way to the stars perhaps we'll at least achieve a crash landing on the moon!

    I've always thought that Flamenco, which is also music invented and played by gypsies, matches up nicely with GJ and personally I would encourage you to incorporate some of your past Flamenco work into your new GJ style.

    I know Django would approve, because he composed and recorded a tune called "Echoes of Spain" in which he attempted some half-ass finger picking...

    (for some reason, I find an odd kind of consolation in the fact that even the legendary Django had his weak point as a guitarist--- namely finger-picking!)

    But when those Flamenco players do the fiery single-string runs--- wow!

    Guitar doesn't get much more exciting and passionate than that!

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
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