CD review – Franco-American Swing by John Jorgenson

October 30, 2006


This gypsy jazz CD is a bit different. It features the great guitar playing of John Jorgenson but in an unusual setting – many tracks have full string orchestra arrangements provided by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. It is nice to listen to music that has been so carefully arranged – a pleasant change from many albums which are close to jam sessions. Whether a string orchestra in the background is to your taste is an entirely personal preference and I suspect that listeners will fall into love it or hate it camps without much in between. On the tracks without the strings John Jorgenson plays nearly everything himself. I had being listening to the title track for months admiring the almost klezmer style clarinet as well as the guitar before I found out from the sleeve notes that John Jorgenson plays that, and the tenor saxophone on that track. He also plays vibes and percussion on other tunes – and most of us struggle to pass muster on just the guitar!

Gypsy jazz lick 1

October 26, 2006


Thinking about my post on gypsy jazz scales it seemed to me that it would be better if I could produce examples of arpeggio licks for readers to try. After a little fiddling around here is my first one (as described in the earlier post). It is simply the notes of a C major triad (or any other major triad if you slide it up and down the fretboard) with additional notes a semi-tone below each. The numbers show the order in which the notes should be played.

You could play this lick in a number of different rhythms and articulations. Each note could be one beat so the lick spreads across 2 bars, or each note could by a swung quaver in which case it would fit into one bar. Each note could be picked, or just the first note of each pair and then hammer-on the second. I find it easiest to play this with just the first two fingers of my left hand, as Django would have done.

You can also try starting on the triad note (i.e. number 2 in the diagram) going down a semitone and then back up to the triad note again, probably with a triplet rhythm.

Notice how the triad notes in this lick are the top four notes of a straightforward C major bar chord:


Gypsy jazz scales

October 26, 2006

One interesting feature of writing a blog is that you get information about the search terms which people have used to get to your site. One of the most popular search combinations that finds this site is ‘gypsy jazz scales’ so I thought I had better post my view on this subject:

There are no scales in gypsy jazz

Of course without qualification this might seem a little extreme but I am sure that if all novice gypsy jazz guitarists started from this premise then they would get going a lot faster, I know that I would have saved a lot of time learning any sort of jazz guitar style if I had initially ignored scales but it is especially relevant to gypsy jazz guitar.

If one looks at the general pattern of notes played in gypsy jazz the overwhelming pattern is of arpeggios with chromatic decoration – by that I mean the standard arpeggio notes of a chord, e.g. C E G for a C major chord, with other notes just above and below them.

Take a very common, and great sounding, Django lick which just consists of the three note of a major arpeggio (or more strictly major triad) and the notes a semitone below each of these – B C, Eb E, F sharp G, B C  – that sounds like authentic gypsy jazz doesn’t it?  It is very easy to see how this relates to the C major chord on the fretboard especially if you start on the B at the 9th fret on the D string and so it is very easy to see when you might use that lick simply by playing through the chords of the tune. If instead you analysed these notes in terms of a scale you would get – root, minor third, major third, flattened fifth, perfect fifth, major seventh – which doesn’t make any sense at all.

So my advice to any gypsy jazz guitarist just starting out is to ignore scales and practice lots of arpeggios. The triads – root,  third and fifth are a good starting point and then later add major sixths (sevenths don’t feature much in gypsy jazz, especially minor and major sevenths). You have to be careful how you choose to play the arpeggios, the temptation on the guitar is always to start on the bottom string and work across the strings but in gypsy jazz many arpeggios in solos will start on higher strings and go up and down the fretboard rather than across. For this reason it is best to get one of the excellent tuition books that are available and start from there. At the moment I am getting a lot of use out of Robin Nolan’s Essential Gypsy Jazz Licks which contains many of the most important decorated arpeggio patterns but I will be reviewing some alternatives to that on the site soon.

Book review – Django by Michael Dregni

October 25, 2006



Django Reinhardt didn’t spend a lot of time filling in tax forms, buying houses, giving statements to Congressional committees or writing books (thankfully because that left plenty of time to record the wonderful legacy of gypsy jazz he left us) so getting the information to write his biography has always been very difficult. Up until now there haven’t really been any biographies that could be viewed as close to the truth. Charles Delaunay’s attempt is very entertaining but has a particular bias. This biography written by Michael Dregni and published by Oxford University Press in 2004 has good claim to be the first critical biography of Django. The amount of information is amazing and I am sure took years to acquire. The biography follows a fairly strict chronological order and finishes with a section on gypsy jazz after Django’s death which is fascinating. Michael Dregni takes care to set the social and musical context of each section of Django’s life which is very useful especially for the section where Django travels to America to play with Duke Ellington. All in all an essential read for Django fans.

CD review – Move by Bireli Lagrene

October 25, 2006


I have had this CD for a while now but was listening to it again today and reminding myself how good it is. The band is Bireli, Hono Winterstein on rhythm guitar, Franck Wolf on various saxophones and Diego Imbert on double bass. Many of the tunes are core gypsy jazz repertoire – Clair de Lune, Troublant Bolero etc., but others are originals or bebop tunes (like the title track). The opening track is a quirky blues head written by Diego Imbert with an idosyncratic rhythm which then launches into storming swinging blues changes. Bireli really lets rip on this with some wild outside playing but holds it all down with some classic blues and gypsy jazz phrases. There isn’t a bad track on the CD and I have been listening to it for months without any lessening of my enjoyment – highly recommended.

CD review – Acoustic Spirit by Romane

October 24, 2006


As I often do I found this CD on Amazon and that company does seem a great source of really rather specialist CDs. This is a double CD with a difference – one CD is a usual (though there is noting ‘usual’ about the standard of the music) audio CD of great gyspy jazz by Romane and a cracking band. The other CD contains all the tracks from the first but with the lead instruments removed so you can use it as a playalong for practice, and as all the compositions are by Romane this CD also contains all the written parts for lead and rhythm section. Goodness knows how long it took to put this project together but all gypsy jazz players should be grateful for such a greast learning resource.

The music on the first CD is great and well worth the price even if you have no interest in the 2nd CD.

CD review – Source Manouche by Marcel Loeffler

October 24, 2006


It is always worth going back to a CD which on first listening doesn’t appeal. I bought this CD because there was link to it on Amazon from other Bireli Lagrene CDs I had been viewing. It was a busy day and I just selected the two tracks with Bireli and listened to those, they were good but they were accordion and electric guitar as a duo and they weren’t in the mainstream gypsy jazz style. I rather forgot about the CD until a couple of weeks ago when I was tidying up our house and I found it again, I put it on and listened whilst I went about my work. There are a rather eclectic selection of tunes and styles (a vocalist singing ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho’ anyone?) but there are many great gypsy jazz tracks with some great playing by Marcel Loeffler on accordeon and Yorgui Loeffler on lead guitar, with many other Loefflers on rhythm guitars. Marcel Loeffler is a new player to me and it is always good to find another virtuosic button accordeon player to listen to.