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My Gypsy Jazz Journey (a cautionary tale with a happy ending)

anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
Hi friends,

Many of you have noticed that I've begun to sell a lot of GJ gear, including books, my spare guitar, my ischell system, etc, and some of you have asked if that means I'm leaving the style. It occurred to me to answer this question by telling my gypsy jazz journey, as maybe some of you have had a similar one, with similar trials.

I started playing gypsy jazz 14 years ago for 2 main reasons - 1) I wanted to learn a style that would push me to improve as a guitarist, and after falling in love with Django's playing, I decided that was the way to go. 2) I thought the gypsy swing sound would be great combined with Rock and Roll, which up to that point had been my main style of guitar playing, and I would eventually come back to rock to create this sound. So I slowly delved into the style, practicing mostly rhythm for years, and then finally taking on lead. About a year after I began to tackle lead playing, I went to my first Django in June, and like many of you, I was awed, inspired, and humbled in equal amounts. Also I was hooked and I would eventually go to Django in June 5 straight years. During that time, I would also become the co-founder of the (now defunct) gypsy jazz band "The Dukes of Manouche".

It was during Django in June at one point in time, that IT happened..... My Ego got involved. Suddenly, I didn't want to be just another DIJ attendee. I wanted to be appreciated and admired by the other attendees, respected by the top players (ie, the Parisians), and welcomed with open arms into the elite jam circles of the Gonzalos, the Mogniards, the Giniaux's, the Holovaty's. etc. Additionally, I wanted my band, and with it, me, to flourish and earn some respect and notoriety in the bay area and beyond as a gypsy jazz group.
Unfortunately, since I could never find the time to practice 2-4 hours a day, I was only able to barely keep up with the class of attendees who started going around the same time I did. Every year, no matter how much better I got, it seemed like everyone else got better-er than I was able to. I still felt WAY too intimidated to even consider sitting in with the elite guys, and on top of that, my band went NOWHERE. right up until the recent end, we were only able to manage one mediocre paying gig a month.

So, somewhere along the line in all this, I decided to bring in my teaching prowess as a way to earn the appreciation and respect I so desired, so I wrote Manifesting Manouche. In addition I started making youtube tutorial videos in hopes that I could leverage my teaching knowledge and relatively decent playing ability into some gypsy jazz notoriety. But, while the book had a nice buzz in the very beginning, one of the groups of people I was really hoping would buy the book were good/great players who wanted to use it to teach their students, but they unfortunately remained uninterested, and so book sales flattened after a big first 6 months or so. In addition, while I was able to get a few thousand views on a couple of youtube videos, it wasn't nearly enough to leverage into any real interest in me as a teacher, specifically, a teacher at Django in June. Did I mention that becoming a teacher (of beginners) at Django in June had become my "Moby dick". I thought, since I don't have the time to practice enough to become amazing, If I can get hired to teach at Django in June, I'll get the respect and admiration my ego wants, and I'll feel important enough to sit in with the "big boy" jams.

And, I got my shot....sort of. Andrew offered me a steep discount in Django in June tuition in exchange for leading morning warmups, leading some facilitated jams, and some late evening slow jams. I did enough teaching that year that I was included in the "how were your teachers" section of the questionnaire sent out at the end of the week.
Maybe this would be my big break..... Um...NOPE. I would later discover that feedback on me was "lukewarm", which I'm guessing was a nice way of saying "not so good". This pretty much eliminated any chance I had of being hired as a teacher unless I somehow became famous in the gypsy jazz community.

This blow to my ego woke me up to what I had been doing. It occurred to me that the reason I was so unhappy about all of this was that this was NOT what I wanted musically at all, and I had actually FORGOTTEN why I had started this journey in the first place, which was to become a better overall guitar player, and combine gypsy jazz and rock and roll somehow. That brings me to my "happy ending". At the beginning of the year, I got some recording software for my computer, set up my own little home studio, and began recording rock and roll songs, some of them with a gypsy jazz flare. And BOOM!!! I had finaly come full circle. Ever since I was a teenager and bought a 4 track tape recorder that I rarely used, I had wanted to record my own songs. This was the plan all along, and I am finally doing it.
So that's where I stand today. I'm recording rock and roll songs. gypsy jazz has taken a back seat (I'm raising an infant so going to Django in June is out of the question anyway). I've stopped worrying about becoming better and better at gypsy jazz, and started doing something I absolutely love, which was the plan all along. So that's my story... cheers!

Anthony

t-birdJosechikyaltonbillyshakesgeese_comBill Da Costa Williams
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Comments

  • crookedpinkycrookedpinky Glasgow✭✭✭✭ Alex Bishop D Hole, Altamira MF01, Godefroy Maruejouls
    Posts: 724
    Thanks for that very honest appraisal. I think I am in a similar situation. I've been playing this stuff fir about 7 years with 2 years off in the middle and more recently due to illness. I feel that in many ways I've actually gone backwards being much better in the early days. I suspect my lack of progress is down to a) a lack of serious practice and b) following different teachers some of whom sometimes contradict others.
    I've also suffered from thinking that other players who started this style after I did are somehow better than me. Maybe this notion of comparison is not helpful and I should be happy with where I've reached. After all this should be about enjoying the whole experience.
    Josechiky
    always learning
  • I've realized that comparison to others when I'm on the bandstand or in a jam is poison. I beaten myself up countless hours since I've started this music. While I don't have a permanent solution to this, I force myself have to think about why I am doing this. I constantly try to find a way to get back to getting me to that place of joy in playing. Easier said than done.
    It sounds like Anthony has done some serious soul searching and has come to the place of joy. Good for you.

    By the way, Anthony's book is very good, for anyone who has not read it.
    Josechiky
  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew Martin Tremblay Grand Modèle Busato
    Posts: 180
    Thanks for sharing! I am glad it worked out in the end.
    Josechiky
  • ScoredogScoredog Santa Barbara, Ca✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2017 Posts: 619
    Though I am not Anthony I think I can say with some life knowledge that this is unlikely the end, at least I would hope not, like all things it is a continuation and process and with that we often do not know where it all leads. To me it it does not sound like a happy ending because the goals that were sought after (whether realistic or not) have not been achieved yet.

    I have to say over the years since I joined this forum I got comfort from watching Anthony's videos which were nicely home spun and had a joy about them like "lets take this Gypsy Jazz journey friends". I loved the dog walking in the background while Anthony is recording, it just felt like home, maybe not mine but still home and Anthony spreading the gospel...I love that.

    Before I continue I first want to say congratulations on your child, obviously that's priority #1 and comes before self indulgent guitar playing (that said you need to be happy too).

    ...to continue

    What I also saw is what Anthony expounds upon and something we all deal with and that is the inherent desire to feel important. It is one of man's most driving forces and it drives both the good and bad. When I wasn't enjoying Anthony's videos for their homespun quality and GJ positive vibes I was analyzing what Anthony was doing right and not well because even though I was struggling with my own GJ journey, I could see I was having a bit more success and wanted to pin point where he could be better. He does not know this till now but i put more thought into this than I should have, but few people have exposed themselves on this forum more than Anthony (in an honest way) so it got me thinking. I may have some of the answers but not knowing Anthony's personality i cannot assume I would be correct in pointing out fixes. I do know Anthony has spent a lot of time trying to improve to world class level but has been left frustrated by the result as he has stated. The good news is he has a lot of playing under his belt that he can harness if decides to come back to this. I'd love to have a conversation with him, i met him once at a Djangofest when I had been playing GJ for about 2 yrs and was too green to offer up any advice.
    JosechikyBill Da Costa Williams
  • Gypsy jazz in some way is similar to yoga. My yoga teacher always opens the class by reminding students that yoga is not competitive. For a short period I couldn't help but admiring those who could do all those advanced poses and I wondered when I could do it. Fortunately, I got that out of my head before I got myself injured.

    Thank you so much for sharing! Best wishes to you and your adventures.
    Josechiky
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 560
    Hey thanks you all for taking the time to comment. Here are a few clarifications - Your'e right, this is not "the end" of my relationship to gypsy jazz, but it is a change in my relationship. I frankly don't really foresee myself being in a gypsy jazz band again, nor do I see myself spending hours and hours trying to become a better player anymore. and for the record, It wasn't really frustration with my playing that led me to this, nor is it being in a rut, but rather a realization that I wasn't inspired to put in hours a day to become great in the first place which is why I never made the time to do it. I didn't have the desire and interest to learn umpteen thousand chord substitutions by heart and so on and so forth. It wasn't feeding me creatively. In fact, when I did practice for a few weeks in a row more intensely (like the few weeks after django in june), I got electric pins going through my palm and shoulder pain.
    What I see for myself moving forward is to enjoy jamming gypsy jazz with friends in a low key manner. Basically the fun part of playing django without the pressure of results.
    Josechiky
  • edited December 2017 Posts: 2,576
    Anthony, a lot of the stuff I saw you do over the years was an inspiration to me.

    You know, Andrew chose you to be on the staff. He didn't take a wild stab at it, he did that based on your merits. There are only a few teachers that keep coming back year after year. A lot more came once and didn't return. You're not in a bad company, think about it.

    Thanks for being brutally honest. That alone shows that you're on a higher level as a musician.

    I share some of the sentiments you mentioned.
    But having gone through a lot of the same process with my rock bands, taught me a lesson so these days I'm much better equipped to keep things in the right perspective.
    I still share a lot of the same goals you mentioned but more as keeping the carrot to chase, without worrying about the end result.

    Years after my rock bands fell through and I lamented for not reaching our ultimate goal of getting a recording contract, fame etc, it dawned on me that I/we actually achieved everything the world famous bands did albeit on a micro scale. I rehearsed with the band, played for people, had great fun doing all of it, had people come to me after the show and say what I played was an inspiration to them, recorded albums that some people tell me to this day they still listen to... I even got recognized on the street, only to hear a group of punk kids shout F U at me.

    What's missing? Nothing as I was finally able to realize. So I became content. I'm enjoying my journey with GJ. I'm able to much more enjoy today instead of aching for a some fictional better tommorow. Wish I knew this much earlier but better late than never.
    Josechiky
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited December 2017 Posts: 1,383
    Anthony, first of all congrats on your recent fatherhood!

    And thanks for bravely sharing your story, which I know many of us can relate to... especially the part about not quite achieving the pinnacle of success in this very difficult style!

    And I think your decision to work on your own personal fusion of rock and gypsy jazz is a wise one... for several reasons.

    Most importantly, that is where your heart is leading you.

    But secondly, being honest, some of the great GJ players I've seen at Django in June may have all the technique in the world, but somehow they don't make my pussy wet like guys with less technique... like say, Eddie Lang or Oscar Aleman, or even George Harrison.

    Then there's the fact that gyspy jazz as a musical form in some ways is a kind of a closed niche for partisans only, much like bluegrass, traditional jazz or heavy metal... many great players, very limited audience.

    I mean as a guitarist, as much as I'm obviously thrilled to actually witness somebody playing Django's music perfectly... Yes! there's a whole subculture of gypsies and European non-gypsies brilliantly playing Django's now-archaic 1930's jazz repertoire... but rarely is the question asked, "Why?" or "Don't these guys realize as virtuoso rock guitarists they'd have a ton more money and fame?"

    (Full disclosure: I say this as a 'moldy-fig' jazz partisan who couldn't rock his way out of a paper bag...)

    ********

    Anyway...

    are you going to be sticking with acoustic guitar or going back to electric?

    Whichever way you go--- or perhaps a bit of both!--- I would encourage you to try something that I enjoy a lot... and sometimes, like now at Christmastime, actually get gigs that pay actual money!

    Using Band in A Box, I create rhythm tracks for the exact tunes that I want to play with accompaniment just the way I like it... the perfect key, tempo, chord changes, etc. ...usually these tracks are about three minutes long.

    Then when I get a gig I just plug my iPod into my Fishman Loudbox and play along with my rhythm tracks.

    OK, jazz purists HATE the entire idea, and I can kind of see their point... except for one annoying fact: for the past twenty-thirty years, jazz gigs for five or four or three or even two musicians have had the same crappy pay envelope... whereas as a solo player you can actually make a semi-living wage.

    Another downside is, you become a kind of background music... the usual thing is that most people are chattering away and only a few are seriously listening.

    But unfortunately, that's the way 95% of people nowadays experience live music, unless the volume is turned up so high that conversation becomes impossible. And who wants to be involved in that? Not me!

    But the upside is, you're out actually playing, not endlessly practising! And I've found that to be real important in my own musical development, such as it is... more on that some other time.

    And the other upside is, there are probably restaurants and wineries a half hour drive from your home, or less, who would hire you... and pay you at least a hundred bucks a gig... and it's very unlikely that there's anybody out there competing against you with the same hustle...

    But best of all from your point of view.... the fact that you play both jazz AND rock is going to be a big point in your favour with today's audiences.

    Good luck!

    Will

    Josechiky
    I live in a little tourist town called Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada, which is about twenty miles north of Niagara Falls.

    If you are ever planning on visiting the beautiful Niagara area, feel free to PM me and perhaps we can get together and do some jamming.
  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    edited December 2017 Posts: 444
    I saw real progress in your videos Anthony, timing and technique really coming together.

    I remember when I was learning I found it difficult to find a teacher because technique had somehow come pretty easy to me. So I wanted someone who could knock my socks off.

    Eventually I did find someone who could. Though not in the way I expected, my teacher was called Grant Heggie and he worked as a school teacher. He had attended the Conservatory I was aiming for as a first study composer. Any way he couldn't really play anything that I could.

    But he was frankly disgusted with my playing, for years. Initially I was confused and discouraged but damnit I knew he was right deep down and I don't like to shy away from hard work.

    But the hard work was not quite what I thought it was. It wasn't practicing more or faster of louder or cleaner or any of that. It was the work of getting out of my head and actually listening properly to what was coming out of my guitar.

    What was coming out was notes and not music. It is really hard to talk about music outside a really nurturing and honest teaching relationship. I see none of it online.

    And it makes for very poor edutainment, Grant for an hour trying to get me to hear that I couldn't join two notes together in a musically convincing way. And no steps skipped concessions to delusion or obliviousness.

    I see a lot of methods that are easy to understand and seem to make sense. But I never come across any kind of discussion of what makes a performance musical and how to improve musicality. There is an art to working on musicianship and it has nothing to do with getting things right.

    Right is deeply uninteresting, I never want to hear anyone play anything right. I want to hear things played beautifully and that means working on the skill of being in the moment. And for that skill to be nourished we need to really really really try and listen for the things in our playing which are crass or glib or failing. Then we need to admit them and forgive ourselves and learn from them.

    I have found that carrying around the baggage of all the things in my playing which do not give me joy is too exhausting. I am far less interested in playing more and more music than I am in playing more and more musically.

    And there is no method to that around. There are a lot of methods such as yours which will give those who study them earnestly lots to work on and learn but I have met a lot of the people who write the books and they could do with having some lessons with Grant or someone like him.

    I should probably look him up, I would like to think I might impress him now but that is probably just a crazy dream. He might not be teaching guitar at all though, everyone is an expert now thanks to youtube videos on how guitar teaching should go. I seldom accept pupils these days, they know so much that isn't true and are terrified of learning because they so want to be proud of what they already have. And

    I guess I am not as brave as I once was.

    D.


    JohnVBsteffo
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    edited December 2017 Posts: 2,072
    Hey Anthony, I'm happy that you are in a happy place now; you definitely have to do the music for the music and not for any kind of career goal. I know you to be a driven and motivated person!

    If it helps you, here's my story:

    Django changed my life in so many ways. I'm always in awe of this fact, and I am constantly reminding myself that I owe everything not only to Django but to the Sinti community that have been extremely generous to me over the years.

    Learning this music for me was not easy, because I was far from where the music was happening, and I didn't start becoming involved with the Sinti community until maybe a few years after starting out. I am mainly self-taught in this style because there was no one to teach me. I was lucky enough to have had a few months of lessons from a guy who learned from Moreno's rhythm player. He taught me what he knew about rhythm guitar, and that was helpful , and then I went to Fapy on and off, and he showed me another aspect of rhythm playing, but otherwise, I was all on my own, and it was extremely difficult to learn. I had to discover every aspect of the style on my own through trial and error. I think it took me about 8 years or so before I thought my rhythm playing was starting to feel somewhat competent, and today, I'm extremely confident about my swing rhythm playing, but it has now been about 18 years since I've been playing the style.

    What took me 10 years to learn, it takes the new generation one or two years :-( . However, the intense struggle allowed me to intellectualize the entire process of learning, which helped me become a better teacher, because I knew what people were going through, and could help guide them.

    As far as me being a "regular" teacher at DiJ, it wasn't always the case. There were some years, Andrew didn't plan on inviting me, and it was OK, I totally understand the need for diversity, and he really tries to deliver on that! But then at the last moment, he would invite me, so then I would be there year after year. Starting in 2012 or so, with my DC Music School, I started sponsoring artists to go to DiJ , I forget who I sponsor, but there was Tcha Limberger, Antoine Boyer, Serge Krief, and wait until you see how I got for 2018 ;-) .... So thus, me becoming a regular staff since 2012 or so, is mainly because I'm contributing to the even not just as a teacher but as a sponsor. Also, I can drive to DiJ, I don't cost him much.... Who knows, maybe Andrew wouldn't invite me year after year if it weren't for that, and quite honestly, I'd be OK with it, if he felt he wanted to get someone else. So it has nothing to do with me having any kind of superstar status or anything like that. I don't know what my feedback is from the student survey. I just know that one time, some guy got really pissed off at me because of my sense of humor, and he took my dumb jokes way too seriously. I've learned to cut down on my strange jokes ;-)

    Anyway, for this style of music, I've never done anything out of career oriented goals, it's always been about the love of the music for me and especially my tremendous respect for Django Reinhardt. My DC Music School, I've never pushed it onto anyone, I've posted about it here and there, but I've never made any kind of car salesmen style sales pitch to anyone at all, I focused only on the music, and thankfully enough people believed in me to make it work. People have emailed me asking which one of my courses to buy, and I've told many not to buy any of my stuff if I truly felt they didn't need what I had to offer. That has happened many times.

    How I managed to be part of the Sinti community was because they saw that I was always myself and that my friendship with people in that community was out of genuine respect for Django and never any kind of attempt to boost my career. They took me in like family.

    Man, I've shared the stage with some of the best musicians in the world, and I've always included other people if I could. I gave so many free/discounted guitar lessons over the year to people in financial difficulty. I've even taught musicians who have gone on to become professional and well-known musicians and who now claim to be 100% self-taught and when asked about me, they claim only to have taken a few lessons here and there with me (vs the 2 years of weekly lessons for very cheap, inviting them on stage with me, taking them to meet famous musicians). That is life, but I will continue do what I do (but with a bit more caution, and respect for my own mental/physical health).


    One final thing to understand about my life, and what seems like "success" is that I 'm a workaholic , I've sacrificed so many things in my personal life to get to where I am. I work not because of career goals, but it's just because that's how I am. I'm OCD and am obsessed with music and discovering new things and sharing it with others. I've suffered a lot in my personal life because of this obsession, and it's only in recent times, that I've been trying to look after my mental sanity. So, on the surface, it seems I am successful, but you have to understand all the sacrifice and suffering I had to go through...

    You have a loving wife, a child, and you seem to be in a happy place; be thankful for that! I'm still in a state of confusion as to what my life is about but I'm doing much better than I was last year !
    JohnVBJosechikyt-birdBill Da Costa Williams
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