Who 'Worked Out' The Chords?

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edited July 2010 in History Posts: 186
Someone asked me this and I didn't have an answer.

When the Hot Club rehearsed / recorded a new number, a Django composition for example, who worked out the chords?

We know Django didn't know the names of the chords and the two rhythm guitars plainly play the same things. Did Joe and Eugene sit down together and work it out for themselves from the melody until they came up with something Django was happy with? Or was there someone else around who was able to tell them / show them "Dm, A7, Em etc, etc..."?



  • Craig BumgarnerCraig Bumgarner Drayden, MarylandVirtuoso Bumgarner S/N 001
    Posts: 795
    I might be wrong, but it is hard to believe that anyone other than Django worked out the harmonies or at least made the decisions.

    Even if Django did not know the English names for chords and notes, he must have had some way of articulating differences between chords, intervals and notes. We may not know exactly how he did it, but to assume he was ignorant of any chord naming system seems highly implausible. Perhaps he used the French Solfege system for naming chords (Do Re Me...).

    Django played with hundreds of players over an entire lifetime, many of them on an impromptu basis. He was highly sought after as a session player and in jams. He wrote nearly 100 original pieces and played in bands of all sizes and degrees of complexity. Throughout, he knew the notes and chords he wanted to play with astounding clarity and confidence, surely he had ways of communicating the music he played with such passion and dedication.

    I often wonder if, to some degree, Django's image as a primitive savant wasn't, to some degree, exaggerated as a marketing ploy. Primitivism was popular in early 20th century, think Gauguin, Rousseau, Josephine Baker, Oscar Aleman, Django the Gypsy, etc. While most everyone seems to agree Django was minimally literate at best, he shows time and again that he is a sophisticated man of his time albeit quirky.

  • djangologydjangology Portland, OregonModerator
    Posts: 1,018
    my guess is that they didn't really need to "work out the chords" because Djangos rhythm players and the "gypsy community" probably had traditional chords and patterns, such that any chord progressions were probably already "implied" from that point of view...
  • steven_eiresteven_eire Wicklow✭✭✭✭ Dupont MD50
    Posts: 172
    i don't have it with me, but i think in dregini's bio he talks about django simply showing the band what to play on his guitar and by whistling, i think it talks about how he would do this when organising large groups too.
  • spatzospatzo Virtuoso
    Posts: 768

    That's a pretty interesting question: I think that usually Django should have shown what he wanted.

    Alain Antonietto told me that a contract had been found indicating that Django's rhythm section was payed to rehearse each day for 4 hours at least fifteen days before some important tournée or long gig in the same place. In fact you can see in the Jazz Hot video you can clearly see that Baro and Joseph play exactly the same chord positions on "J'attendrai" this is clearly a work they had previously been done.

    For example when they played "Just one of those things" with an Ab bridge instead of the usual Eb bridge I think it could hardly be an idea coming out from the rhythm section. The same with the cuts in the usual harmony of some tunes such has "Charleston" are clearly indicating Django's influence in working out the chords of some tunes and changing the harmony.

    But who had the idea of minorizing for example one chorus of "The man I love" in the piano/guitar duo between Grappelli and Django?

    In an interview connected with Django's mass, Django said that it was natural for a gypsy player to find the "right chord". In a way he was saying that there was an common harmonization procedure among gyspsy players that helped them to find easily the chords of a tune.

    I also think we do not have to missregard the role of Stephane Grappelli in the harmonizing staff of the quintet as he was a good piano player. I don't know if some of you have already seen the video of the recording session of Flamingo between Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani.
    In that video they decide to play a Jazz standart and they play the theme once then Grappelli stopped and wispered to Petrucciani "We play it again...I can show you the chords if you want..." unbeliveable... Petrucciani obviously knew the tune but for Grappelli the chords were others, Petrucciani was not playing the "good chords".

    Have a look at 2:06 of that video

    So I think that both Django and Grappelli worked out the chords for the quintet and the rhythm players were fast enough to learn and memorize the changes on the spot. I also think that the rhythm players worked out an harmonization together to perfect "la pompe".

    Anyway I think that Django always accepted good musical ideas, who could imagine that the doublebass player Coleridge Goode was the one that proposed the idea on "Echoes of France" to "bow" the theme? But in fact it was his own idea! isn't it Teddy?

  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,263
    spatzo wrote:
    Anyway I think that Django always accepted good musical ideas, who could imagine that the doublebass player Coleridge Goode was the one that proposed the idea on "Echoes of France" to "bow" the theme? But in fact it was his own idea! isn't it Teddy?

    That is certainly what Coleridge told you and I.

    Alas, we still haven't seen that photo of Django sitting in the corner of Coleridge's lounge with his (Coleridge's) daughter sitting on his knee have we? :cry: Amazingly, Coleridge Goode still lived/lives in the same London flat that he did when Django visited him in 1946 and I stood on the spot where Django had sat trying to imbide any essence of his spirit that remained, completely in a world of my own whilst Spatzo had to attentively listen to free-form jazz.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,154
    spatzo wrote:

    For example when they played "Just one of those things" with an Ab bridge instead of the usual Eb bridge I think it could hardly be an idea coming out from the rhythm section. The same with the cuts in the usual harmony of some tunes such has "Charleston" are clearly indicating Django's influence in working out the chords of some tunes and changing the harmony.

    In some instances I'm not so sure these alternate changes that the Hot Club used were intentional reharmonizations. It seems that sometimes they simply didn't know what the changes were and just approximated them. That is certainly true on some of the earlier recordings....their early renditions of "Rhythm Changes" are just laughable!

    I think it's important to remember that as great as Django was, he was working in a foreign musical genre and was learning just like us. Sometimes he, or the Hot Club, utilized chord changes, rhythms, improvisational techniques, etc. which were not ideal for jazz. You can clearly hear the progress of Django and his accompanists over the years as their mastery of jazz conventions improves.

    Of course, many of the things they did differently are what makes this music unique (the musette influence, Parisian Gypsy aesthetic, conspicuous lack of "blues" phrasings, unique harmonizations, etc). But some things just seemed to be mistakes do to lack of experience and were usually corrected in later years.

    I guess the lesson here is not everything Django or the Hot Club did was pure gold (although most of it was!) So when learning this stuff it's worth keeping that in mind. I'm sure Django would be amused to see an army of guitarist memorizing his mistakes by route...ha ha

  • spatzospatzo Virtuoso
    Posts: 768
    Of course those were ALL intentional harmonizations!

    For example in the case of "Just One of Those Things" the excellent idea Django had is to immediately understand that playing the bridge in Ab instead of Eb gave him the same descending chord sequence as in the A section with Bm7b5, Bbm6, Am7b5 and so on... The effect is the same as the one obtained in "Night and Day" (casually also written by Cole Porter) between the A section and the B section of the tune. Django here underlines Porter's harmonizations habits.

    I understand that no american, even today, can easily admit europeans were, in those years, able to "create" jazz instead of just beeing american admirers/followers. This is the reason why Django was invited to tour with Duke Ellington: many musicians did recognize Django as a jazz musician and genious.

    Today most of commercial producers (concerts, books, cd's, etc...) are blindly attracted by the "Gypsy Thing", insert of valzes, csardas, they just can resist playing it the boheme way. But what they find in Django's music and they comunicate is exactly at the opposite of what Django was doing: Django was a jazz musician and that's all!

    I do believe that Gypsy Jazz players do not listen today to Django's music but to Stochelo/Bireli/Angelo/Dallas/MIchto/Brutto/Groucho/Harpo/ Chico/Gummo/Zeppo...

    Should it be necessary to speak on the famous bridge reharmonization of "Well You Needn't" by Miles Davis? Was Miles Davis still learning Jazz? Maybe he confused and missed something in Monk's charts?

    One of Django main caracteristics is that he was ready to play Jazz in 1932 (ref. Clair de Lune solo) of course he had an evolution in his playing mainly because he was a jazzman and jazz always had a fast motion.

    If you have doubts on Django's harmonization capabilities you just have to put Rosenbergs aside for a while and put on again Django's records. The difference in harmony is trully huge. In fact Django's state-of-the-art isn't found in what you call "Gypsy Jazz Music":

    - minorization of themes (The man I love)
    - modulations on themes (what about Swing 39 last modulation where the second voice is then the first?)
    - modulation between choruses (listen to Folie à Amphion chorus transition guitar/clarinet...)
    - modulation between theme and first chorus (C major to Db transition on Django's Swing Guitars opening solo)

    Django perfectly knew the "I got Rhythm" chords it can be easily found on the recordings but I do like for example the way he simplifies them such as on Mike 3x(G/Eb7/Am7/D7)

    Sorry Man but I cannot accept without reaction your last intervention
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,263
    :lol::lol::lol: Mmm. I rather thought Michael's comments would upset Spatzo and I must admit I agree in principle with everything Spatzo says. I think it is quite astonishing to even suggest Django did not know what he was doing. :shock:
  • steven_eiresteven_eire Wicklow✭✭✭✭ Dupont MD50
    Posts: 172
    Django was a master of harmony, you only have to listen to him backing up Stephane in the duets. still though his European accompanists were undoubtedly limited and couldn't follow or create themselves the type of harmony that he wanted to play.

    Grappelli mentioned this, how Django would complain about bass players, and how the accompanists couldn't follow Himself and Django. And he talked about having to settle for 'le pompe' because that's all they could get.

    I wonder if there had have been adequate amplification technology in the 30s would Django have formed an all string band like the QHCF. And If that was the case would there even be 'Gypsy Jazz' genre today. That's not to say i don't love Gypsy Jazz, it's just a thought.
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 654
    I also agree with Spatzo and Teddy. Many of the musette accordeonists told interviewers that the reason they looked for manouche guitarists was for their superior knowledge and use of chords, including M7, 6,9, and diminished chords. The gypsy style of accompaniment was known as the "son manouche" or "feeling gitane". And if you listen to as much old-fashioned musette as I have, you can tell in an instant who is providing the accompaniment. You have to wonder if the jump in compositional sophistication among accordeonists - "swing musette" - that occurred in the late 30s was related to the skill of players like Baro Ferret. I for one am certain that it was directly related. Baro and Marcel Bianchi in particular were quite skilled at harmony. I have a recording of a jam session at La Lanterne where you can hear Baro calling out the chords. Francis Moerman backs this up - he assures me that all the Ferrets were skilled with harmony and knew the names of all the chords. Baro told Francis that nearly every night, when he and Django were still quite young, they'd go to Poulette's caravan in the wee hours of the morning, bang on the door to wake him up, hoping to get some lessons from the master. Poulette would yell at them and grumble, but never said no. Poulette was the pit guitarist at the Chatelet theatre and was a total professional, such that he knew music theory and could read and write music. Gypsies had been playing in the music halls of Paris since the early 19th century and were known at the time to be good readers.

    Another friend of mine who played with Baro and tended bar for him in the early sixties, related a funny story about chords to me: "One night when we were the only people in the bar, Baro asked me to play "Georgia on My Mind" with him. Afterwards, he told me that the modern chords I had used were quite different than the chords they had used in 1936. He then picked up his guitar and proceeded to play a sequence of chords which he said were the chords he'd played with Django and Freddy Taylor:

    Baro - "You see, Barbu, those are the chords we used that day"

    J-M - "Those are indeed good chords, Baro, but in fact those chords are not the chords you played on that recording."

    -"How's that, Barbu? What do you mean they're not the same? How can you say that you know better than I do what chords I used? You're crazy!"

    -"No I'm not crazy and even if I wasn't there at the session or even born yet, I'm serious about this and can prove it."

    -"OK, we'll see, allez, prove it to me, I'm listening..."

    I then played the chord sequence exactly as it was on the record, which I had studied intensely for a period of time. Baro was struck dumb - after a few moments of serious thought, he recognized his errors and laughed:

    -"No, no, no, can't fool me... I've forgotten, but that's not the same..."

    He found it extraordinary that just by listening to a record, I could "see" how they had played at the time. I tried to explain to him that any professional musician worthy of the name could do this with ease. But he wouldn't buy it - the whole concept was too much for him to comprehend."

    (My translation, and I am rusty so this is simplified but the message is still the same...)

    A charming anecdote which gives us some insights into a number of very interesting things...

    It would be a mistake to think that Django was the only sophisticated musician among his peers. These guys were serious musicians, jazz musicians, who surely were always looking for new ways to play things.

    That anecdote comes from a much longer story which one of these days I will translate and post here if anyone is interested.
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