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Been there, done that, it didn't help!
But seriously I suspect Stringswinger's "The first 30 years are the hardest" is probably about right; and I am only five years into getting serious about GJ, so I will call back to confirm in 2045.
My most effective motivation is to tell myself that every day I move to the 'Next Level', but I can't tell you how many 'levels' there are !
Well, thanks everyone. I've read almost all of the responses, and I have an idea of how to move forward for now. I'll come back and comment on everything later tonight or tomorrow. Gotta run somewhere in a few.
One more bit from the cheap seats...
I've been playing guitar since I was 4, playing for 49 years. Blues Rock player, dabbled in ^METAL^ in the 80's, but found that electric guitar was becoming a competition thanks to GIT. So, I settled with the Pentatonic Minor and Major for the next 40 years. I know some theory, modes, arpeggios, how to put chords together, etc. That kind of stuff definitely helped out when I dipped my toe in the deep end of GJ.
Once I figured out what I was hearing the first time I heard it (GJ), I listened to the players/songs that I liked. Not all of them, not trying to sound like >__insert Awesome GJ player here__< - just what I thought I could mentally handle and physically play. I knew I was never going to sound like Django, but if I listened long enough to Django or, say, Gonzalo, I might be able to 'steal the feel'. I gravitated towards what I considered easy songs - songs with an 'easy' head/melody - Coquette, Swing 42, Swing 48, Viper's Dream, some others. Songs like Swing 48 and Viper's Dream are cool because the head/melody is fairly easy, and the changes are (relatively) I-IV-V...something that a dude that played Blues Rock for 40 years could navigate. There are tons of other GJ songs with a I-IV-V that one can play their blues over. Obviously, Minor Swing and Minor Blues are I-IV-V, but I don't think they lend themselves to 'blues/pentatonic' as well as the others...YMMV...
I will echo those above who mentioned MELODY. Learning to play and improvise melodically is definitely alot better (as in sounding like you know what you're doing) than learning licks. Play lines not licks - think sax or clarinet. Licks are impressive and all, but if you lean on them, and don't learn to melodically improvise, it just sounds like you're playing the same licks over & over, which you are. Then you become a prisoner of licks. Yes, all the the GJ greats have licks that they lean on when they are going from point to point (or as mentioned above, Django repeated the same licks or ideas from song to song). IMHO, licks put you in a box that's hard to get out of.
BTW, one of the funny things I've noticed is that when >__insert Awesome GJ player here__< shreds all the arpeggios and scales and (gasp) licks during a solo, alot of it is lost on the audience, almost like the audience is desensitized to all of the heroic musicality. Then, the VERY MOMENT >__insert Awesome GJ player here__< plays a simple Blues line, phrase, or (gasp) lick, the audience goes crazy. In America, in the Blues/Rock realm, it's almost the opposite - >__insert Flashy Blues Guy here__< plays Blue/Pentatonic licks all night long, no one bats an eye...but when >__insert Flashy Blues Guy here__< plays a GJ-inspired scale, line, arpeggio or (gasp) lick, the audience goes crazy. Go figure.🙄
Sorry for the book...
Psychebilly, I totally agree with the last paragraph:
"BTW, one of the funny things I've noticed is that when >__insert Awesome GJ player here__< shreds all the arpeggios and scales and (gasp) licks during a solo, alot of it is lost on the audience, almost like the audience is desensitized to all of the heroic musicality. Then, the VERY MOMENT >__insert Awesome GJ player here__< plays a simple Blues line, phrase, or (gasp) lick, the audience goes crazy. In America, in the Blues/Rock realm, it's almost the opposite - >__insert Flashy Blues Guy here__< plays Blue/Pentatonic licks all night long, no one bats an eye...but when >__insert Flashy Blues Guy here__< plays a GJ-inspired scale, line, arpeggio or (gasp) lick, the audience goes crazy. Go figure.🙄"
That is my experience of listening to many of the greats too. Shredding can be self-indulgent and probably only impresses other guitar players but not your general audience. I know he is not GJ but B B King made a point of saying with three notes what another might feel the need to use twenty for. And B B also said Peter Green was one of the only players of his generation that "gave him chills"; another who did not need to overdo it. As for your comments about saying something with licks, B B also once said he thought like a horn player, meaning leaving room to breathe between phrases, he would sing in his head what he wanted to play which of course means you have to pause for breath. Most guitar players don't do that and and that is when the continuous flow of notes can lose their meaning.
Just my ten cents on the subject.
After much thought, I've decided to weigh in with my inexpert and untested methods - all of which I would describe as a bluffer's guide. They won't impress any gypsy jazz masters in the audience, but they will be too busy working up their 10,000 hours anyway and this approach I find works well with audiences.
So for me a solo has a beginning, middle and end and the components I work with (more or less in this order) are: Melodic variations, Runs, Special Effects and Endings/Turnarounds. And then I add in a few tips and tricks I've picked up over years of watching others play e.g. playing a minor chord over a major, simplifying the progression, excessive ornamentation and, my favourite, the random note.
So for a solo I will usually start with a melodic idea, vary it on the next chord, when I run out of ideas I put in a run. Hopefully I can get in another idea over a bar or two, perhaps another run to get me over a hump. Save the special effects for when you really want to add excitement, because there's no going back once you've got into special effects territory. Best saved up for the end, or if the solo is really flagging. So in more detail:
'Melodic variations' - by this I mean, the notes of the chord that's being played, played in almost any order, and then repeating that order for the next chord. Rhythmic variation helps here, nothing more boring than endless 8th notes, but the basic triad, although only three notes, is full of melodies. Louis Armstrong was the absolute master of this - I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a lick of his, sat down to work it out and realised he's just going up or down the arpeggio. It's good to start a solo like this because it's also a slow start, you don't want to go straight in with a flashy lick or run because there's nowhere to go after that (that's a mistake I've seen even top players make). Plus repeating the pattern for the next chord sounds amazing, it almost sounds like you know what you are doing. NB - the melody should not be too strong, otherwise it sounds like a counter-melody and you'll get a nasty look from the melodist. You are not there to compete with the melody. If you hit on one by accident, save it up for your next composition.
'Runs' - simple patterns, usually arpeggio based, that get you out of a tight corner. Musically uninteresting and therefore not to be relied on, but they are flashy, percussive and usually easy to play. As said above, constant shedding is deadly dull but the genre demands runs here and there and are particularly useful over things like dominant chords. Learn a few - some are so common that they are practically idiomatic e.g. the 7b9 run starting with an enclosure on the root played over a dominant chord. If you played a drinking game spotting that run on any gypsy jazz album, you wouldn't make it to the end of the album without passing out. If you ever see a player doing lots of runs and special effects, that's a player whose run out of ideas and is hoping no one has noticed.
'Special Effects.' This is a virtuoso genre, and virtuoso is Latin for 'showing off' (*no idea whether this is true or not, but if it isn't it should be). Every guitar player needs some special effects to wow the audience with their technical brilliance. It's good to invent your own, but there are some .e.g sweep picking diminished arpeggios up the neck that are practically compulsory. Note, these virtually never have any musical value and are purely there to show off, and most of the time the effect is much easier than the audience think. They are basically magic tricks. No one is impressed by a pianist playing a chromatic scale, but in this genre, it's another drinking game.
'Endings/Turnarounds.' It took me a long time to cotton on to this, but the endings are the most important part of a solo. For awhile, I would launch into a solo but have no way of ending it. It's a bit like driving - the trickiest bit is not the journey but arriving and parking. There are lots of standard phrases from the swing era which gypsy players use all the time, often some variation of a V-I that lets the audience know you've arrived. It's good to have an arsenal of these and know how to use them.
And for my tips and tricks:
'Playing a minor chord over a major' - as old as the hills this one but I don't know a player who doesn't do it. You don't even need any theoretical knowledge - realising that an A9 and an Em6 are virtually the same shape on a guitar is enough to let you play Em over A9, and by the same token G and Em at the 7th fret are virtually the same shape so again, Em over G works.
'Simplifying the progression' - a lot of jazz tunes started with simple progressions and have been dumped on with lots of substitutions which have someone become standard. A lot of the time you can get away with I-V-I. Being able to strip back to the vanilla chords really helps you navigate your way through a song.
'Excessive ornamentation' - gypsy jazz is a flamboyant genre, full of enclosures, trills, vibrato etc. Learn as many ornaments as you can and don't be shy about using them. Players like Stochelo shake the whole guitar when they do vibrato, and they will get in as much vibrato as possible into a solo. Just landing on a note is not the gypsy jazz way - the way is to pound the note into submission, wrestle with it, shake it, set a rocket under it. There's no good humbly suggestion a note or a phrase which might fit but I'm sorry if it doesn't and err do you mind if I try this difficult lick oh sorry I screwed that up I'll go away now - in this genre, it's all about pretending that the wrong note you just played is actually the right note and I'll punch anyone who says it isn't (historical side note, Sidney Bechet went to jail for shooting someone after someone said he played a wrong note. Some would say that's taking things too far.)
'Random note' - my favourite, and related to the above, and I'm sure even Django did this one, but landing on a completely random note, the more atonal the better, and then vibrating the shit out of it, is about the most fun you can have with this music.
This is literally everything I know about soloing. Obviously if you want to really get good, you'll have to put those 10,000 hours in, but in the meantime things like this will get you through gigs in front of ordinary punters and may even get you out of some tight spots.
That's a genius writup Stu, good humor and good advice all rolled into one great post!
Wow, for the 'level' I am at, Stuology's post above is the best lesson I have read for how I can get to the next level. Learning the chords, the melody, the timing, the rhythm, how to swing are the obvious building blocks but that has given me a road map to how to confidently dive into soloing. I always found the 'arpeggios at speed' approach too predictable and boring but just starting with those triads across a couple of chords is simple AND effective. I might even go back to listen to some Louis Armstrong (its been a long time) which coincides with my comment above about thinking like horn players. Thanks.
Endings are the most important; behaviorally it is how we process experience.
that is the theory and there is alot to be said for it.
I felt something like that instinctively but I'm glad there's actual research that supports it. I remember telling a friend during GJ concert once "man seems like if you do a glissando or a big and loud chord riff somewhere towards the end of your solo, the applause will be way louder". I fail at it though, a lot, slurring my endings, gotta practice just that.
Hmm. Without deep diving into that, it seems to me like you are talking about listening versus actually doing. If you are concerned what your audience's response will be, you must already be doing fine because...well... you have an audience.