As soon as I heard Django Reihardt and other gypsy jazz guitarists I wanted to be able to play at least a little like that, and I am sure that just about any guitarist who hears gypsy jazz wants to as well. However the means to learn to play like this is not always readily available, and I speak with many years experience of trying. The biographies of Django Reinhardt and other great gypsy jazz guitarists from France and Belgium suggest that they were born into an environment where music was as much a part of life as eating and drinking and they had opportunities to learn from members of their close social group from an early age. This doesn’t happen to many aspiring gypsy jazz guitarists! A good teacher would be invaluable but again these are rare in many places. Sheffield, where I live, is a conurbation of a million people but I don’t know of any gypsy jazz guitar teachers. Generic jazz guitar methods are of no use at all – they mainly concentrate on scales whereas gypsy jazz is much more centred on arpeggios, they are often based on the premise that the type of jazz you want to play is bebop and they make great play of positional playing using all four fingers. Gypsy jazz, from my observations, is far more concerned with movement up and down the fretboard and most players usually use only their first three fingers when playing solos (and of course Django only used two).
What about specific gypsy jazz books and DVDs? Well there are a number of these available but many of them are dissappointing – I have shelves full of them! I will mention some more of the better ones in future posts but for now I will tell you about the one which I have just discovered and which might really be the solution to a lot of players’ needs – it is Robin Nolan’s Essential Gypsy Jazz Licks Vol 1.
There are many fantastic features about this book. Robin Nolan is a great player who tours all over the world and has many CDs available so we can be assured of his credentials as a gypsy jazz player. However many great players don’t make great teachers but Robin shows in this book that he is one of the exceptions. The book consists of carefully constructed solos over the changes to 5 common gypsy jazz tunes including a major and minor blues. For each tune there are five solos and these build from single note through octaves to chordal soloing. Each solo is made up of classic gypsy jazz licks that are just the sort of thing that every aspiring gypsy jazz guitarist wants to play – they don’t sound like dry technical exercises. The solos are given in ordinary notation and tabulature – no left hand fingerings are given but if you only use 2 or 3 fingers it is easy to work out sensible and consistent fingerings and that process in itself helps to assimilate the licks. The book has a CD with it which has all the solos played through twice, once at a slow speed and once at ‘gig’ speed which is absolutely invaluable. There are also notes about each solo which point out the musical features that make them work which enables you to work out your own licks.
I really can’t recommend this book enough and wish that it has been published twenty years ago – it should be everyone’s first port of call when learning gypsy jazz guitar soloing.