Senior Thesis Followup: What does everybody think of modern GJ?

After posting recently about asking if any Romani/Sinti/ other Gypsy players would be interested in conducting an interview regarding a senior thesis I am planning on writing, I wanted to pose a question to anybody: what do you think of "modern" players (very loose terminology, I'm mainly referring to the popular internet/ youtube figures such as Adrien Moignard, Joscho Stephan, Gonzalo Bergara, etc.)? I find myself able to enjoy the less traditional approach these players have as well as the incorporation of modern culture/ ethnic nationalities into their music, but I am curious as to whether other people see GJ as being dichotomous in this nature. When I listen to players such as Stochelo or Debarre, I hear different nuances and vocabulary than the more modern players. I think both are equally talented, but I can't help but wonder if others notice this as well? Not to say that the divergence away from a more traditional approach is even a bad thing, but I almost feel as if the rise in popularity of the genre has affected the way players approach it as well as having many influences outside of Django. Does anybody feel as if they are listening to a different or evolved version of gypsy jazz when they listen to these players? Has the genre shifted more to a timbral sound and general feel rather than focusing on the music of the original Django recordings? Thanks everybody.

(Side note: none of this will go into my thesis itself; I was merely asking to sort of guage this communities opinions on the subject to see if I am even on the right track.)



  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 351

    If you listen to any musical tradition that has "folk" roots (which in the long run means just about any musical tradition), you will hear what happens when musicians *play* with received material. I'm sure an ethnomusicologist can point to very stable, long-running traditions where change is strongly discouraged (I wonder how much Australian indigenous song has chaged over thousands of years), but my suspicion is that non-ritual music is subject to the same forces that anyone can hear operating in the recorded history of, say, "hillbilly" music from the 1920s onward--or jazz in general.

    Django's music was already syncretic--a mixture of traditions and styles--and his own style changed as he encountered the changing sound of (mostly American) jazz. When European gypsies (or Roma) adopted Django's music as part of their own culture, it initially behaved like "folk music," passed along by ear/imitation--and when gypsy musicians moved into non-gypsy mainstream musical territory (for example, by going to conservatory, as the Ferré brothers did), those influences entered their playing. As gypsy players encountered outside influences, they absorbed some of them. And when non-gypsies took up Django-rooted music, their playing inevitably included non-gypsy elements--an "accent," if you like. (I have observed the same dynamic among Hawaiian musicians--listen to, say, Keola Beamer, who is as Hawaiian as you can be and also as "modern" in his playing and composing. Ditto the late Dennis Kamakahi.)

    This kind of cross-pollination is inevitable, as is the push-pull of tradition-vs-innovation and the urge to maintain a cultural identity while engaging with a larger world. (Want to have some fun? Listen to klezmer, Hot Club, Hungarian, rembetika--work your way across Europe toward the oud.)

  • AndrewUlleAndrewUlle Cleveland, OH✭✭✭ Cigano GJ-15
    Posts: 541

    I'm sure anyone who pays any attention at all notices the changes in the substance of GJ with each new generation of players. I'm the farthest thing from an expert, but even I can see the changes and the growing diversity of styles among players of this genre.

    My personal opinion - and that's all it is, opinion - is that any deviations that take away from the organic nature will lessen my enjoyment of the music. I only became interested in GJ because of its earthy, acoustic, string-based sound that eschewed electric enhancements (but not amplification) and drums for slightly more interesting/complex chord choices, strong rhythms, and an emphasis on minor keys. It is for similar reasons that I also enjoy 1930s Western Swing, paleo country-western music, and even some Bluegrass.

    However, I have been pleasantly surprised to enjoy the occasional use of piano (Pete Beets), or even tuba (Swing of France's early CDs), although neither is typical of Django's original style.

    Another issue to consider is the source of the change. Too often, players coming from other traditions (rock/ blues/ pentatonic scales, etc.) who haven't developed the guitarist 'vocabulary' will use whatever musical syntax they DO possess, which often results in less than desirable results - "FrankenMusic" - at least to me. It's like a clumsy, musical transplant suffering from rejection. However, if the player is intentionally bringing in quality new or otherwise 'outsider' influences in an intelligent way that is sensitive to the existing language of gypsy jazz, it can be sublime.

  • krzyskrzys New
    Posts: 127

    Why don't you go on Facebook and message some Sinti players? I have no connection to the community, but I've messaged some of the big names in Forbach and they were happy to chat to me.

  • Posts: 60

    Speaking more as a fan of jazz overall, I tend to enjoy every era of Django equally and to me his "original" Hot Club group with Grappelli is frequently overly romanticized as "pure" or "purist" when the contextual reality is Django's jazz was continually evolving throughout his lifetime and his later works should be treated just as importantly. I also think it's important to separate the "traditional technique" from the music while also considering that Django's jazz was always avant guard swing which veered into different genres; obviously, the traditional folk he was raised with but also with direct musette influences and perhaps even more so laden with classical motifs that were contemporary to the more modernist compositional age he also lived within. This is where I think a player such as Debarre captures the "essence" of Django perhaps arguably better than many others, he very much emphasizes the classical music influence in his playing much as Django did. And meanwhile, a player like Bireli embraces the joyful "whimsy" of Django perhaps arguably better than many others.

    As for modern players pushing the genre, I love them. I actually find more satisfaction in listening to any player trying to push themselves towards something different than those who prefer to primarily mimic early-era Django. But I also understand the need for Django purists and the passion that comes from fully embracing his genre-breaking/creating music w/Grappelli - it resonates so deeply, especially with those new to the genre. Anyway, this is always such an interesting topic to discuss and one which is ultimately entirely subjective, imo.

  • Posts: 4,629

    It's often forgotten that Django tried his best to disassociate himself from the Hot Club sound in the post war years. He even stopped gigging because that's the sound people still wanted to hear, much to his dissatisfaction.

    And most musicians, I feel, are restless creatures and after a while of playing the same repertoire, arrangements etc...most people start asking themselves what else I can do.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • billyshakesbillyshakes NoVA✭✭✭ Park Avance - Altamira M10
    Posts: 1,190

    It's a story as old as time, but Rick Nelson put it well enough for me.

    🎼But if memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck. 🎶

    Music is a big tent, with room enough for everyone. So do your own thing and please yourself.

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