Gypsy jazz (also known as gypsy swing or hot club jazz) is a style of jazz music often said to have been started by guitarist Jean "Django" Reinhardt in the 1930s. Because its origins are in France it is often called by the French name, "jazz manouche", or alternatively, "manouche jazz", even in English language sources. The term is now commonly used for this style of music.
Django was foremost among a group of Romani guitarists working in and around Paris in the 1930s through the 1950s, a group which also included the brothers Baro, Sarane, and Matelo Ferret and Reinhardt's brother Joseph "Nin-Nin" Reinhardt.
Many of the musicians in this style worked in Paris in various popular Musette ensembles. The Musette style waltz remains an important component in the gypsy jazz repertoire. Reinhardt was noted for combining a dark, chromatic gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period. This combination is critical to this style of jazz. In addition to this, his approach continues to form the basis for contemporary gypsy jazz guitar. Reinhardt's most famous group, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, also brought fame to jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
Instrumentation and lineup
The original Quintette du Hot Club de France played acoustically without a drummer, facilitating the use of the acoustic guitar as a lead instrument. Guitar and violin are still the main solo instruments, although clarinet, mandolin, and accordion are also common. The rhythm guitar is played using a distinct percussive technique, "la pompe", which essentially replaces the drums. Most gypsy jazz guitarists, lead and rhythm, play a version of the Selmer-Maccaferri guitar design favored by Reinhardt himself.
Although many instrumental line-ups exist, a group including one lead guitar, violin, two rhythm guitars, and bass is often the norm. Ensembles aim for an acoustic sound even when playing amplified concerts, and informal jam sessions in small venues or meetings such as the annual Django Reinhardt festival at Samois-sur-Seine are very much part of the scene.
In Eastern gypsy jazz, the rhythm section is most likely covered by one or two cymbaloms, or (less frequently) a cymbalom and/or drums and an acoustic guitar (the cymbalom accompaniment technique is called in Romanian "ţiitură"). An upright bass fills out the ensembles.
Rhythm guitar in gypsy jazz uses a special form of strumming known as "la pompe", i.e. "the pump". This form of percussive rhythm is similar to the "boom-chick" in bluegrass styles; it is what gives the music its fast swinging feeling, as it emphasises beats two and four; a vital feature of swing. The strumming hand, which never touches the top of the guitar, must make a quick up-down strum followed by a down strum. The up-down part of la pompe must be done extremely fast, regardless of the tempo of the music. It is very similar to a grace note in classical music, albeit an entire chord is used. This pattern is usually played in unison by two or more guitarists in the rhythm section.
Another important aspect of this style of playing is based on the chord shapes Django was forced to use due to his injury. Standard barre chords are not as common in gypsy jazz. Standard major and minor chords are almost never played, and are instead replaced by major 7th chords, major 6th chords, and 6/9 chords. Gypsy reharmonisation is often aimed at giving a minor feel even where a song is in a major key, for instance the substitution of a minor 6th chord for a dominant seventh. Dominant seventh chords are also altered by lowering the 9th and 13th scale degree.
Lead playing in this style has been summarised as ornamented or decorated arpeggio. Decorations often introduce chromaticism—for instance, mordents and trills. Particularly characteristic is a figure where successive notes of an arpeggio are each preceded by an appoggiatura-like grace note one semitone below. Other decorations include tremolo and string bends on the guitar, staccato (or pizzicato on the violin), ghost notes, harmonics, octaves, double stops etc.
Arpeggios on the guitar are typically executed as patterns running diagonally from the lower frets on the lower strings to the upper frets on the upper strings. Such patterns tend to have no more than two stopped notes per string, relating to the fact that Django could only articulate two fingers on his fretting hand.
Chromatic runs are often executed very quickly over more than one octave. A particularly characteristic technique is the glissando, in which the guitar player slides a finger along a string, with a precisely timed tremolo picking out individual notes, in order to get a fast, virtuosic sound. Diminished runs, in which the shape of a diminished seventh chord is played in all inversions, one after the other, is another widespread gypsy jazz technique. Diminished 7th arpeggios are also used over dominant 7th chords. (Example: If an A7 is being played, a diminished run starting on C# would be played, creating an A7b9 sound over the dominant chord.) Guitarists often intersperse melodic playing with flamenco-esque percussive series of chords to create a varied solo.
The plectrum technique of gypsy jazz has been described as similar to economy picking. Notes on the same string are played alternately, but when moving from string to string, the same direction will be maintained, with the further requirement that a rest stroke will be performed. For instance, on switching from the G to the B string, the plectrum will move in the same direction and come to rest on the E string. This technique enhances both volume and speed.
Gypsy jazz has its own set of frequently played standards, which are fairly distinct from the standards tunes of mainstream jazz. However, contemporary ensembles may adapt almost any type of song to the style.
Gypsy swing standards include jazz hits of the '20s and '30s, such as "Limehouse Blues", and "Dinah"; Bal Musette numbers, often waltzes; original compositions by Django Reinhardt, such as "Nuages" and "Swing 42"; compositions by other notable gypsy swing players; and jazzed-up versions of gypsy songs, such as "Dark Eyes".
Much of the repertoire is in minor keys, and the dorian and harmonic minor modes are frequently heard, lending a distinctively dark and modal sound to the tunes which contrasts with the uptempo and spirited performance style. One popular example is Django's tune "Minor Swing", perhaps the most well-known gypsy jazz composition. Slower ballads and duets may feature rubato playing and exotic harmonies.
Teaching and learning
The first generations of gypsy jazz musicians learned the style by the 'gypsy method', involving intense practice, direct imitation of older musicians (often family members) and playing by ear, with little formal musical study (or, indeed, formal education of any kind). Since about the late 1970s, study materials of a more conventional kind such as workshops, books and videos have become available, allowing musicians worldwide to master the style. In recent years, software such as powertabs and band in a box files have become available. Prominent gypsy-style guitarists who are not ethnically Roma include John Jorgenson, Andreas Öberg, Frank Vignola, George Cole. Touring gypsy jazz musicians often include workshops with performances. Players who have written study guides include Martin Norgarrd, Tim Kliphuis, Andreas Öberg, Ian Cruickshank, Robin Nolan, Denis Chang, Michael Horowitz, Daniel Givone and Patrick "Romane" Leguidcoq.
Contemporary gypsy jazz
The largest audiences and highest number of musicians are still found in Europe as this is where the style originates. Tim Kliphuis, Stochelo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, Paulus Schäfer, Joscho Stephan, Robin Nolan and Angelo Debarre are perhaps the most famous performers today. American bands and artists include Pearl Django, John Jorgenson Quintet, Frank Vignola, George Cole, and The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet
The Bellingen Jazz Festival is held annually in New South Wales.
In Hobart there is a popular gypsy jam night in South Hobart's Cascade Hotel with local players and visiting performer's.
Django Reinhardt was born in Liberchies, Belgium and is commemorated by a yearly Django à Liberchies Festival held there. Some modern players such as Philippe Catherine, whom Charlie Mingus nicknamed "young Django" and Fapy Lafertin also come from Belgium.
In Brazil some gypsy jazz players such as Mauro Albert, Bina Coquet, Hot Club de Piracicaba, Flávio Nunes, Jazz Cigano Quinteto, Tigres Tristes and Hot Jazz Club.
Contemporary Manouche instrumentalists in the Django Reinhardt/Le Jazz Hot Tradition, as heard annually at the Festival Django Reinhardt at Samois-sur-Seine, France, include Django's grandson David Reinhardt, Dorado Schmitt, Tchavolo Schmitt, Jon Larsen, Angelo Debarre, Babik Reinhardt, Dario Pinelli, John Jorgenson, Samson Schmitt, Stephane Wrembel, Biréli Lagrène and Florin Niculescu. Former regulars also included the late Mondine Garcia and Didi Duprat. Jazz vocalist Cyrille Aimée has roots based in gypsy jazz.
German gypsy-jazz players include Joscho Stephan, Wawau Adler, and Lulu Weiss with Ensemble. The late Eberhard Tscheuschner was the founder of the Djangofestival in Burgthann. Similar events include the annual Django Memorial Festival in Augsburg (organised by Bernhard Gierstl), the Djangofestival in Burgthann/Nuremberg, the Sinti-Festivals in Hildesheim and Koblenz. Based in Aachen and Maastricht, Mah-e Manouche's style has an oriental influence.
Irish gypsy jazz artists include The Hot Club of Dublin (featuring Koshka's Oleg Ponomarev), Ian Date, Locoswing and The Tolka Hot Club performing regularly. In 2011 Ireland's first annual gypsy jazz festival, 'Cloughtoberfest', was held in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary. There is also a Gyspy Jazz festival starting this October 28th - 30th, 2016 in the town of Ramelton, Donegal. The Festival is called 'Django Sur Lennon', the town of Ramelton is situated on the river Lennon. Line up includes the great French gypsy jazz guitarist 'Romane' and The Dario Napoli Trio from Italy. The festival is organised by Donegal-based Manouche Jazz band 'La Pompe'
Violinist George Curmi l-Puse along with accordionist Yuri Charyguine, guitarists Joshua Bray and Steve Delia d-Delli, and bassist Anthony Saliba l-Fesu created the Hot Club Of Valletta in 2014. They have played a number of gigs in and around Valletta into 2015, sometimes referring to the music they play as jazz manouche.
Gypsy jazz came into prominence in Romania around 1980 by means of the pop-folk subgenre known as muzică bănăţeană (i.e. music in the Banat style), still practised to date. It has a different approach to lăutari (gypsy folk) music. In muzica bănăţeană, some traditional instruments (kobza, cimbalom) are replaced by electric guitars and synthesizers, while others are kept (fiddle, accordion, alto saxophone, taragot), thus creating an eclectic type of sound (beside the unexpected timbre combinations, contrasting textures from these instruments are also featured.) The repertoire mixes together café concert, old-school jazz standards, folk and pop-folk music. The Western manouche style is reinterpreted mostly through the sârbă rhythm, actually very close to it, but syncopated differently in lead instruments. Throughout the years, muzica bănăţeană has gradually become fond of the manea rhythm, which sounds more like the twist when played in the Banat style; however the swung sârbă was not abandoned.
Muzica bănăţeană was politically censored throughout the 1980, so that only bootleg recordings survive of those years. According to the Romanian Ministry of Culture, the reason for banning it was its impure nature, threatening the national folk music. However, other lăutari music was widely recorded and performed in Communist Romania. After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, numerous musicians who were not previously permitted to record on the national record label Electrecord, saw their debuts released; but that eclectic characteristic of Romanian gypsy music changed into what is now called "manele" – a music that is not entirely from gypsy folk origin, nor is it jazz or another defined genre. There are many manele performers creating hybrid genres mixing different notes and rhythms.
Damian Draghici, born in Bucharest in 1970, is a player of the Romanian pan pipes (Nai). In 2006, Draghici formed the band “Damian & Brothers – Filarmonika Rromanes”. On 20 March 2009, he was designated by the President of Romania as Romania’s Ambassador for the Roma minority in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for all. On December 17, 2009, after 3 years and 600 concerts in Europe, Damian and Brothers held their last concert in Bucharest in front of an audience of 4000.
There is a yearly Django festival in Norway and Jon Larsen's Hot Club de Norvège is based there. Gypsy guitarists Andreas Öberg and Gustav Lundgren are based in Sweden. Gypsy guitar builder Ari-Jukka Luomaranta (AJL-Guitars) is based in Finland and runs his own group Hot club de Finlande, performing with soloists from Europe.
Gypsy jazz bands in South Africa include Hot Club d'Afrique, Manouche and Skabengas.
Gypsy jazz in general was influenced by the music of Spanish gypsies, with Jean "Poulette" Castro being an influence on Django Reinhardt. Contemporary Spanish musicians include Biel Ballester.
Le QuecumBar The Hot Club of London, in Battersea, is considered to be the UK's home of Gypsy swing. Established 13 years ago, it's become the venue of choice for visiting Sinti and Roma musicians, as well as non-Gypsy musicians playing this genre. Patrons of Le Q include Hank Marvin, Stochelo Rosenberg, John Jorgenson, Tcha Limberger, Dave Kelbie, Angelo Debarre and Stephane Wrembrel. Le QuecumBar also manages a record label Le Q Records that specialises in Gypsy swing/jazz. The record label currently has eight recordings which are distributed around the world. The ninth album is in production.
John Etheridge combines jazz-rock fusion with Gypsy Swing. Martin Taylor has worked with Stephane Grappelli and performed Johnny and Mary, a Djangoesque piece, for the "Papa and Nicole" TV advertisements for Renault. Robin Nolan was cited as being George Harrison's favourite guitarist.
"The Gypsy Jazz Guitar Festival" was held from 1997 to 2000 and a series of festivals called L'Esprit Manouche was held in Moseley, Birmingham from 2003 to 2005.
Django in June is a weeklong gypsy jazz music camp ("Django Camp"), with weekend clinics and concerts. Inaugurated in 2004, the event is held on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
DjangoFest NW is held each September at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, Washington, which typically features such performers as John Jorgenson, The Rosenberg Trio, Dan Hicks, and Pearl Django. In conjunction with the first DjangoFest event, Jazz Gitan guitarist Don Price started the first American Gypsy Jazz Guitar Group and web site to facilitate the popularity and spread of this style in the United States.
In Minnesota, guitarist and composer Reynold Philipsek performs gypsy jazz music as a solo artist, and with Minnesota gypsy jazz acts East Side, The Twin Cities Hot Club, and Sidewalk Café. George Cole and his group Vive Le Jazz have been touring nationally, most recently playing at Carnegie Hall in 2008. His original gypsy jazz inspired music was chosen for a Grammy's showcase. He plays an original Selmer 520 that Django Reinhardt used on tour in France in the 1940s.
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References and further reading
- Stan Ayeroff Jazz Masters: Django Reinhardt Amsco ISBN 0-8256-4083-0
- Ian Cruickshank The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies, Music Sales Ltd., ISBN 978-0711918535
- Michael Dregni, Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19-531192-1
- Romane and Derek Sebastian (2004). L'Esprit Manouche: A Comprehensive Study of Gypsy Jazz Guitar. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay. ISBN 978-0786668946
- Media related to Gypsy jazz at Wikimedia Commons