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Book Review: to rest or not?

MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
edited February 2006 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 5,893
Someone brought this to my attention. It's a review of the Hal Leonard book The Best of Django Reinhardt

Since the Gypsy Picking book came out there's be an ongoing to debate on the advantages and disadvantages of rest stoke picking. My position has always been that you should do what ever you want to. The book simply describes the tradition as I learned it from the Gypsies. Personally, I was glad I gave up alternate picking. I'd never go back. I probably can't play some things that I used to, but the tone, relaxation, and volume really make up for that. I've always preferred to hear a real physical element in someones sound....I just never get that from most non-rest stroke players.

Anyway...thought people might like to see this review by George Vasquez.

Reviewer: George H. Vasquez

I highly recommend this book. I don't understand why some reviewers would criticize it. The transcriptions and tabs are flawless and the performances are spirited. I really enjoyed the CD.

Now about the infamous "rest stroke". This stroke came from banjo technique before amplification. In Eddie Lang's 1930's guitar method he claimed that alternate picking was not a good idea because of "volume" in bands. I own Michael Horowitz's book "Gypsy Picking". It's a great book for the style, but in it he states that it is not conducive to bebop. I think this goes for any modern jazz, including modal and free jazz as well. It's too choppy for this later style (Listen to Joe Pass on "Cherokee" on his album "Virtuoso" to see just how limiting this picking is. It sounds choppy and focuses too much on the down beat instead of the subtle syncopation of later jazz, not to mention how sloppy it gets at these speeds. The Ferrer brothers (Boulou & Elios Ferre) have the same trouble when they play modern jazz-again the speed). WARNING!: Doing "Giant Steps" with the rest stroke can cause a brain aneurism, so please, don't try it without proper supervision.

If you want to just play Django "prewar" and use a "Selmer Maccaferri" type guitar and be some kind of Django petrified jazz manouche clone, I would recommend the rest stroke (I've even read you should use only two fingers while playing his solos, as though Django wouldn't have done anything to have all his fingers back. Maybe you should buy some butane and orchestrate your own caravan fire to be really authentic). This sort of imitation is not flattering to Django memory and I think, pure silliness.

I would recommend alternate picking unless you want to ignore the last 50 years in jazz and the invention of the amplifier. And yes, you can get a powerful and beautiful sound on an acoustic guitar with alternate picking. Check out the Al Dimeola's instructional tape by REH Video (Warner Brothers Publishing). You can argue with his content or musical ideas but not with his superb technique. I also recommend John McLaughlin's acoustic work such as "Qué Alegría" or "My Goal is Beyond" (rare and expensive) . This speed and virtuosity is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to get with the "rest stroke". By the way, Django himself moved on to other guitars such as gibson and other arch tops and incorporated bebop ideas in his solos. Toward the end of his life he was upset that people couldn't or wouldn't accept his new form of playing, just like Hendrix, Coltrane and other great musicians and painters.

What I would recommend is what Wes Montgomery did. He transcribed every Charlie Christian solo he could get his hand on, and then went somewhere completely different with it. Charlie Parker learned Lester Young solos and went somewhere else with that as well. The same could be said for Bob Dylan and folk music, or Hendrix and the blues.

Live in the true spirit of Django. Buy this wonderful book. Learn the solos. Study the content of the solos and the PLEASE...go somewhere NEW, beautiful and completely, unexpected with it the way Django would have. Now that's real "bal musette".
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Comments

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,116
    while he's certainly entiteld to his opionion, this guy seems a bit too harsh.... and based on his statements, does not seem to have explored the django technique much, or else he'd come to realize that the picking technique doesn't focus too much on downbeats... it's the other way around, it focuses a lot on accenting upbeats...

    all i can say is i've seen wawau, rocky, etc... play uptempo bebop tunes using this technique way more than convincingly

    what it is about this technique in my opinion is a specificsound (which is neither better nor worse than any other sound) and phrasing...using this type of technique is conductive to a quite specific way of phrasing on the guitar.... his comment on boulou is wrong too... i've seen boulou use "normal" technique many times, if it sounds sloppy or choppy, it's just the way boulou's sound always was, his genius lies more in his creativity than his technique (though it's still excellent)

    that said, using normal technique (and there are so many variations on this) lends itself to another type of sounding and phrasing, one that clearly exploits horn-like lines as well as guitaristic ones (licks involving up and down sweeps)....

    in my opinion, if it's possible (and i believe it certainly is), why not spend time learning both?

    bireli is a great example.... he switches techniques regardless of style according to the type of sound and phrasing he's going after.... check out the north sea video i sent to michael ... on certain tunes he plays with the normal technique on others (ie blues en mineur or was it the only?) , he goes for the rest stroke technique .... and he'll sometimes mix both in the same song
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,183
    If you want to just play Django "prewar" and use a "Selmer Maccaferri" type guitar and be some kind of Django petrified jazz manouche clone, I would recommend the rest stroke (I've even read you should use only two fingers while playing his solos, as though Django wouldn't have done anything to have all his fingers back. Maybe you should buy some butane and orchestrate your own caravan fire to be really authentic). This sort of imitation is not flattering to Django memory and I think, pure silliness.
    I completely agree with this statement. If individuals feel the rest stroke helps their playing, that is fine but the current obsession with it, almost insistence upon it, is inhibiting creativity and helping generate a horrible "sameness" about the music.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,893
    dennis wrote:
    his comment on boulou is wrong too... i've seen boulou use "normal" technique many times, if it sounds sloppy or choppy, it's just the way boulou's sound always was, his genius lies more in his creativity than his technique (though it's still excellent)

    That's interesting....I've seen Boulou up close many times and never once saw him deviate from Gypsy Picking. Albeit, the Ferre family (Matelo, Elios, and Boulou) all seem to use a stiffer wrist then most. But I never saw him do anything that looked like free strokes.

    When the Ferres were in Seattle last month I hung out with them at a local music store. They did an impromptu concert and I was sitting about 5 feet away and his technique seemed 100% Gypsy ( except for when he's doing fingerstyle.) But it wouldn't surprise me that he might do something else sometimes......I was surprised to see him do everything with straight Gypsy Picking.

    BTW, I asked him how his father taught him and Elios to play. He said it was basicly a musical boot camp. Matelo made them do the most outrageous finger exercises to stretch and strengthen their fingers! Some of it sounded like Medieval torture! And then he insisted they play Bach...

    'm
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,116
    i have to admit i'm certainly no boulou expert, but on the samois video i have, on certain tunes, he'd do fingerpicking and sometimes have his wrist on his bridge for "normal" style picking...

    in any case, when i listen to his records, the sound he gets definitely sounds a bit choppy as the reviewer said, not necessarily sloppy... i wouldn't say it's a bad thing, it's just his sound.... he sure can play fast though.
  • V-dubV-dub San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 268
    I think its interesting to see how this "review" of a book of Django transcriptions becomes a full blown rant about gypsy picking and django purists.

    Honestly, I find that most people who criticize gypsy picking either haven't seriously tried it, or don't stick with it long enough to truly reap the benefits of the technique. And hotheaded rants like that are exactly the result of their frustrations.

    Nobody claims that gypsy picking is the only way to play gypsy jazz... it is simply another tool that can help you play and understand the music.
  • zavzav Geneve, SwissNew
    Posts: 94
    Check out the Al Dimeola's instructional I also recommend John McLaughlin's acoustic work )

    Heh.... Than I also recommend the third member of the Super Trio - Paco de Lucia - as an example of playing jazz picado with fingers - and with conclusion - that finger are the best !!! :D :D :D

    - I laughed a lot about this kind of teenager arguments, when top players are taken to proove some statements.... :)

    Have FUN!
    Anton
  • Tom LandmanTom Landman Brooklyn, NY✭✭✭✭ 6 strings
    Posts: 93
    Well Mr. Vasquez is certainly entitled to his opinion about picking techniques, but his claim that "the transcriptions and tabs are flawless" is absolutely false.

    Could the reviewer possible be the same George Vasquez as mentioned here?
    http://tinyurl.com/8ukea


    - Tom
  • mmaslanmmaslan Santa Barbara, CANew
    Posts: 87
    If you want to just play Django "prewar" and use a "Selmer Maccaferri" type guitar and be some kind of Django petrified jazz manouche clone

    Hey, I'd be content with that! But Lord protect me from Al Dimeola!
  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,183
    Teddy, using a system of playing has nothing to do with the sameness in Gypsy Jazz -
    Rigid adherence to a particular technique can certainly inhibit creativity and musical differentiation in all but the most brilliant players.
    Simply using a rest-stroke based style doesn't mean you're going to sound like Stochelo or Angelo, so I'm not sure why you're so against it.
    I'm not against it at all. For those who feel it helps their playing that is absolutely excellent. I do, however, question the apparent insistence that in order to play gypsy jazz you must use the rest stroke concept in its entirety otherwise your playing is inevitably of questionable quality. That is something I do not accept. Gypsy jazz seems to have become a music with increasing limits and conditions and nowhere to go but backwards. It seems to be striving for an authenticity that has only recently been created and, as a consequence, becoming less rather than more.
    There were plenty of American soloists who used this system as well, simply because as a means of maximizing sound and volume while minimizing effort, it's really efficient.
    Not convinced about the “efficient” claim. Several years ago I did an experiment whereby I recorded myself playing a Django sequence with a rigid adherence to the rest stroke concept and then in a way that I found easiest which involved using as many downstrokes as possible. I would have defied anyone to identify which was which. Having said that, in striving to get the sound I am looking for, my plectrum almost inevitably touches the string below. But that is to get the sound and not because I am consciously trying to touch the string.

    I just feel that an imposition of the rest stroke on the psyche of those trying to play this music contributes to the sameness that has developed; a sameness that you too have complained about.
  • RICK-D15RICK-D15 New
    Posts: 25
    The reviewer in the OP makes too many blanket statements to be taken at all seriously. He obviously betrays an agenda, as Ted has noted.

    I haven't been able to master the rest stroke in all it's authenticity. I'm a family guy with young kids and I just don't have the time required for such a major renovation. I've been able to integrate some of the more basic features whenever possible, playing down strokes as much as possible, sweep strokes, playing more around chord shapes, etc.., and it has made an improvement in my playing. I'm definately not slavish about the style, and I incorporate a lot more blues (and rock) flavors then would ordinarily be "permitted" by the authorities.


    A lot of this has to do with who were playing for and who we're trying to impress. I guess if I went to France I would not be accepted--that's a truth I will have to live with. But I don't play professionally, only on park benches around town with my buddy Steve, and people are not too picky. For me the key is to have fun, to be happy, and to make people happy. Nobody really gives a rat's ass what technique I'm using if they are happy, and that's what I see this music excelling at.

    What I would fear is for potential players to shrug off "gypsy jazz" believing they must conform to a particular mold, and I'm just here to say you don't, and at the same time to encourage those players to learn and master the rest stroke as a valuable technique, or partially integrate into their playing as I have tried to do.

    Rick
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