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Has the Gypsy Jazz Revival Peaked?

MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
edited April 2007 in Welcome Posts: 6,094
Hi everyone,

Just though I'd share some observations about the Gypsy jazz revival. I've been involved with this music on a regular basis for over 10 years now, and until recently it seemed to be growing rather fast. But over the last year, and especially the last several months, it's showing signs of stalling. Maybe even taking a nose dive in popularity. These things are hard to gauge, but since I'm involved in the retail side of this I see what sells and what doesn't on a daily basis. While I have no complaints, I am starting to hear others comment on the situation.

The thing that really has alerted me this, is a recent upsurge in "jitteriness" among various suppliers I work with (i.e. CDs, books, guitars, amps, etc.) Seems that all the managers are calling me wondering why no one wants to buy Gypsy jazz stuff anymore. It seems like I'm getting several calls a week like this recently. At least part of this may be due to over stauration...there's an unbelievable selection of almost everything related to Gypsy jazz these days. Picks, strings, CDs, guitars, books, etc. It wasn't long ago when Argentine strings were a luxury item for the very few. And gypsy CDs other than Django were almost impossible to get...but now it's just the opposite. So much to choose from, but it seems that there may not be the demand that everyone thought.

Anyway, at this point it's just a theory. But I have noticed some very clear signs that maybe we've passed the peak of popularity for Gypsy jazz. I'd like to hear other people's comments and observations.


  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    edited April 2007 Posts: 551
    Oversaturation is the word, if it is one (my spell check says it isn't).

    You have to wonder if there has been a revival in the first place. I've never seen a movement that was so stuffed from the back end as this. How many Selmacs does Gitane have out, 10? Plus all the rest of the stuff. In the meantime from the Midwest I have a choice if I want to see one of the top names, either travel 1000 miles one way or 2000 the other. Without stimulation of audience interest, there is nothing to build on. Plus there is the annoying (to me) tendency for the bands who do play this sort of thing here to embrace a retro stance which relegates them to some kind of historical revival which makes the music less relevant. The Gypsy guys don't seem to be doing this. And even counting the top Gypsy players, everybody seems to stick to the same repertoire, (much of which was learned as they were growing up). Unavoidable, but this counts for what - 20% of Django's recorded output?

    Of course to look on the bright side for a moment, there is a wonderful opportunity for good players to expose people to this great music at a time when everyone is burned out on 40 years of loud rock and blues. (Besides, it is somewhat of a relief to know that Bireli doesn't live 20 miles away!) But learning GJ is a long row to hoe and I'm sure people are wondering to what end when they can go back to their Martins and get along fine with what they already know, folk and whatnot. And while there are people here who'd disagree, GJ is not what most teachers would recommend as a great way to begin to learn how to play guitar, either.

    I believe that as the number of good players grow and there is more exposure there will be more expansion if and when audience interest grows in the future, but I am not too surprised if GJ is in a fallow state right now as far as sales. Art comes before commerce.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,094
    Elliot wrote:
    How many Selmacs does Gitane have out, 10? Plus all the rest of the stuff.

    I think they did very, very well for a number of years because they were the only entry level option for Gypsy jazz. But with so many new manufactures, I wonder if the market can take it. There were a few local music shops here in Seattle that used to carry Gypsy jazz guitars (mostly Dell Arte, Saga, Shelley Park, and Michael Dunn.) But they've all given up....they say they're too hard to sell. I went to one shop here in town in the late 90s and they had 4 Dell Artes, a Michael Dunn, and a Shelley Park. You rarely see that many Gypsy guitars in one place. Now they have zilch.

    Here at DjangoBooks I haven't really noticed any sort overall downturn. But that's probably thanks to all of you who have loyally supported this endeavor...which I greatly appreciate! So I guess it's more the manufacturers who are feeling the squeeze of over saturation.

    The CD distributors have been calling me the very well known label in France that carries a lot of Gypsy said it's getting impossible to sell CDs in general, but especially the Gypsy ones. But that may have less to do with demand, then a change in medium. So many people are now downloading via iTunes or just burning stuff for their friends. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few well known labels collapse in the coming years. Tower records, a retailer, recently bit the dust. Not a good sign for CDs.
  • StringswingerStringswinger Santa Cruz and San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭ 1993 Dupont MD-20, Shelley Park Encore
    Posts: 465
    Based upon posts to the Gypsy jazz forums, the price of used Selmacs and lower attendence at concerts, I'd say the fad has peaked.

    It will ebb and flow and will be popular again up the road. The saturation in the market will have a culling effect and the strong (eg., Maurice Dupont, etc.) will survive.

    In the meantime, if you want live gypsy jazz to continue, support it! Go to a Djangofest.

    Just my 2 cents.


    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    It's a real interesting topic. After watching bluegrass explode over the years, I suppose I had some hope that GJ would follow a similar, if much smaller trend. But the reality of it is that this music isn't nearly as accessible as bluegrass. Seems like anyone with a shred of musical background can pick up a bluegrass instrument and at least start jamming on rhythm at the local weekly or even daily bluegrass jams.

    But GJ is relatively hard to play. I've seen experienced jazz players seem lost when trying to la pompe. A solid jazz guitarist might have something of a reality check when he realizes that he has to be the drummer in a GJ band and keep good time. And less experienced players have the same challenges, plus learning to play over changes, learning the ins and outs of new equipment. Plus there's no local GJ jam in most places. There's no place in the USA where GJ is firmly established and can spring from.

    Then there's the whole rest-stroke crisis that many of us face. After 18 years I've had to re-learn to pick, starting with the most basic of the basics. After feeling like I have some bearing with the guitar, I have to learn to crawl again before I can walk. And I have to put the action on my guitar way up to compensate for the picking, after years of seeking the most buttery action I could find...

    My point is that it's a massive undertaking for even experienced players, so I suspect that many of the Gitanes which were sold to beginners are now collecting dust in people's collections. And how many of us have access to gypsies to learn this music the way it's traditionally taught?

    We all know that playing jazz is a horrible career decision. But for those of us who have tasted the nectar, there's really no choice. We grin and bear it and grin some more. But imagine if that level of challenge awaited those who wanted to experiment with bluegrass... something tells me the bluegrass boom would have been more of thump.

    Please note, I don't want to undermine the difficulty and talent in playing bluegrass well - I have the utmost respect for bluegrass musicians. However, it's relatively easy to pick up and go and hack your way through a local jam session or with some friends at home, as I did in the past. But while there's been a real surge in interest in GJ, I think the activation energy required to turn people into GJ musicians is far greater than with many other genres. You have to really want it to pursue it.

    Those are just some thoughts. Don't believe everything you think!
  • ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 296
    Perhaps it's just me, or perhaps it's just because I live in hub of the Gypsy Jazz community known as Kansas (sarcasm intended), but I just don't see that many people interested in it. Are we musicians just deluding ourselves into thinking that Gypsy Jazz is/was a fad?

    Heck, even when I get the rare chance to play violin live I invariably have several people say "What type of Bluegrass was that?" Cue response "It's Gypsy Jazz", to which I get the response "What is that?"

    I don't know, maybe it's just in the area I live.
  • djadamdjadam Boulder, CONew
    Posts: 249
    Shawn wrote:
    Perhaps it's just me, or perhaps it's just because I live in hub of the Gypsy Jazz community known as Kansas (sarcasm intended), but I just don't see that many people interested in it. Are we musicians just deluding ourselves into thinking that Gypsy Jazz is/was a fad?

    I'd say there was definitely a small surge - perhaps starting around when Sweet and Lowdown was released. Certainly there was a surge in the availability of materials (instructional stuff, recorded music, and instruments) and I'd have to think this supply was preceded by some demand.

    But a surge in GJ is kinda like giving a really old man viagra - it'll get him up for a bit, but won't exactly attract new tail. I'll probably catch some shit for this, but I think GJ in the USA lacks youthful energy and thus doesn't attract a youthful audience and youthful players. Most of the modern American hot swing I've heard, including the shit I play, is not all that hot.

    But who cares? We do it because we love it and eventually someone will swing something hot and more people will notice.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,094
    djadam wrote:
    I'll probably catch some shit for this, but I think GJ in the USA lacks youthful energy and thus doesn't attract a youthful audience and youthful players.

    There are a few really good younger players...Gonzalo Bergara who plays rhythm for J. Jorgenson is fantastic. Also, Tom **** of Laguna, CA and Sam Miltich from Minnesota.
  • djangologydjangology Portland, OregonModerator
    Posts: 1,017
    Gypsy jazz resembles traditional jazz and bluegrass when people put too much fusion into it. Its no surprise to me that, in some cases, peoples ears dont turn on to it because it sounds like stuff they have heard before. I think the real cool gypsy jazz is the stuff that sounds like Paulus Schaefer, Ninine Garcia, and Tchavalo .... with a sound that clearly comes from gypsy roots... It catches the ear of the american listener... Being a killer player wont make you popular ... its about making a sound that your listeners want to buy, regardless of how skilled you are.

    There is a lot of european/northamerican fusion going on in the last 5 years in all different varieties of music. Also, a lot of southamerican/african fusion. Some of the fusion from other styles is also making this music sound more common that it otherwise would have.

    Thanks to NPR for making some of the music come to the surface when it would otherwise remain pushed below other popular music.
  • kidtulsakidtulsa New
    Posts: 61
    My opinion is that the faddishness of Hot Club music may have peaked, but the awareness and visibility of it will continue to increase, albeit at a much slower pace. I hope this translates into more recognition not only for the younger players of note, but the 'middle period' musicians who kept the music alive when there wasn't as much momentum behind it -- Tchan Tchao Vidal, Raphael Fays, Fapy Lafertin, Han'che Weiss, Schnuckenack Reinhardt, Titi Winterstein, etc etc (I also hope it brings a new light to Roma culture in general).
  • badjazzbadjazz Maui, Hawaii USA✭✭✭ AJL
    Posts: 130
    I think djadam hit the nail on the head. This is really musicians' music, and there are significant barriers to entry that are going to keep the market fairly small, and I think it has peaked and is retreating slightly as musicians figure this out. For instance, I am a fairly proficient swing/jazz/blues guitar player, but I suck at GJ. It just doesn't translate easily, especially if you don't want to give up playing in the styles that you are used to. What happened to me, and I would guess will happen to others as well, is that I thought it would be great to play gypsy stuff, but when it came down to it, re-learning everything that I do to get a 100% GJ sound wasn't really practical. So, while it has definitely influenced a lot of what I play and you can hear GJ elements, I don't end up playing what I think could properly be called GJ. I actually think that is really cool, because that process is what brought about GJ in the first place. Django played swing, but instead of just copying American stuff, he took his own musical/ethnic background and tradition with him. The end result was a great hybrid of styles that wouldn't have happened if he stayed 'true' to any one style. The brilliance of Django and other greats who followed was doing it tastefully, which seems to be the hard part.
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