Django Reinhardt Resources

Django Reinhardt with guitar, smoking cigaretteThis is a revision of a page I (Warren) published years ago. It’s almost laughable now, how thin the list originally was. In the intervening time, a Gypsy Jazz Explosion has occurred world-wide, and there are many Django Reinhardt resources available for free or pay, with Django festivals and workshops going on all over the world. Here are links to a “curated” set of resources for learning and enjoying – feel free to send more for inclusion in future posts via our Contact page.

YouTube

Nothing beats personal instruction – after all, only a live teacher who really knows what she/he is doing can observe your playing and make observations (the effect can be multiplied if you take lessons from someone you regularly jam with, as they have many opportunities to observe you).  However, there are many parts of the world where GJ instruction is hard to find.

There are so many free lessons and other Django Reinhardt resources on YouTube that it may be hard to know which ones to watch first. Many of the free lessons are “teasers” for paid products, but they often have much value. I would especially recommend checking out free videos by Christiaan Von Hemert, Joscho Stephan, Paulus Schaefer, Robin Nolan, Denis Chang, and Yaakov Hoter, and also visiting the web sites of your favorites to check out their for-sale lessons. The competition is kind of fierce, so the quality is often quite high!

Facebook Groups

I highly recommend Gypsy Swing NYC (although NYC-centric, there are many guitar players from throughout the world there).

Festivals/Workshops

The mother of all Django festivals is the renowned Festival Django Reinhardt, held less than an hour south of Paris in late June of every year. The “real” action is in the campgrounds, primarily at Samoreau, where many true gypsy players jam all night, every night.

Django In June is held on the Smith College campus in Northhampton, MA every June, and is typically attended by several hundred guitarists from all around the world. If you are in the eastern US, you must stop here!

Djangofest Northwest, another institution that has been around for quite awhile, is another key stop on the Django world tour.

Other Resources

Try a Google search for “Ben Givan transcriptions” – he has transcribed quite a few Django solos!

 

Gypsy Jazz Ornaments

In an earlier article, “Are You Learning Or Just Copying”, I advanced the idea that ornaments are essential elements of any style, and that copying ornaments from records and applying them to new situations is a great way of evoking the feel of a style.

This observation applies especially to jazz in the style of Django Reinhardt, who utilized ornaments called “enclosures” extensively. In a previous article, we analyzed and reapplied a Wes Montgomery ornament. In this article, we’ll give the same treatment to what I call a variant or two as encountered on recordings. (Turn: An ornament consisting of four or five notes that move up and down ‘around’ a given pitch, using that pitch as a tonal center. It is often referred to as an enclosure.). The first turn is a grace note triplet preceding a “target note” (C, in the following example), like in the first measure of this example:

The second measure shows how the turn is more typically extended and resolved (by continuing the chromatic motion for one more step up, and then continuing with whatever the melody needs to do); so the actual turn is really 5 notes: 3 grace notes and 2 eighth notes.

In practice, Grappelli tends to really play the first triplet as grace notes, while Reinhardt is more likely to steal more time from the preceding note.

For instance, in the version of “Nuages” on Django Reinhardt: Verve Jazz Masters 38, Grappelli plays the third and fourth phrases like this:

In this case, the A in the third measure is preceded by three grace notes (not shown): Bb – B – Bb.

Here’s another example of the trill, from the beginning of Night and Day’s head, from the same CD. This time Django is playing:

In this case, the three grace notes have been expanded to take up a full beat (I’m exaggerating, and the true timing is somewhere between these two extremes). But the form remains the same: it’s a turn leading to the G on the fourth beat of the second measure, and then the chromaticism is extended, as the turn continues down to the Gb and back up to the G in the last measure.

Either way, the chromaticism in the turn, totally contemptuous of the key signature, is a large part of what gives it “gypsy” flavor. A more classical turn might keep the same kind of rhythm and shape, but would more likely use notes within the key signature.

So how do you integrate this into your playing?

First of all, a great type of chord progression to use this on would be a gypsy-type version of that old standard, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schein”. This song is, in it’s simplest form, a 3-chord song consisting of just Am, Dm and E7. However, we’ll jazz it up by substituting a progression involving m6 chords for the Am, and adding an F7 at the end of the form just to spruce up the turnaround. Here’s how the chords go in the A section:

| Am6 Bm6 | C6 Bm6 | Am6 Bm6 | C6 Bm6 |

| E7 | E7 | Am |  F7 E7 |

Try improvising over that, starting each phrase with the turn starting on various notes. Which starting notes work the best? (my favorites are E, A and C in that order – the notes of the root chord, even when the other chords are sounding). See what you can come up with! And then try integrating the turn into the middle  of phrases – that’s when the chromaticism really comes alive.

Wes Montgomery – The King of Octaves

Album cover art, Jimmy & Wes The Dynamic DuoThis has been the summer of Wes Montgomery for me and my guitar style. I recently was reminded of his great album with B3 master Jimmy Smith, Jimmy & Wes The Dynamic Duo. It inspired me to go order this CD, which I’d heard on vinyl years ago but never bought before.

I picked up my guitar this morning, and, undecided about what to work on, I put the CD in the computer, fired up SlowGold, and decided I’d work on the head of Road Song, here called O.G.D. (apparently the recording engineer’s abbreviation for “Organ, Guitar, Drums”), for an upcoming gig. It’s a great, memorable, foot-tapping line, and played entirely in octaves, so it affords some good practice.

Use Octaves To Break Up Streams Of Too Many Notes!

Octave playing can be one of the most powerful techniques in the arsenal of any guitar (or, I imagine, keyboard) player. Its main virtues are that it both enhances the tone and restrains the speed of melodic passages.

Yes, you read me right. I believe that restraining the speed of melodic passages is often a virtue. Now, I certainly have nothing against lightning-fast playing, but it’s just one of many types of playing that you can employ. And, you know, impressing other guitar players is not the same thing as pleasing an audience – in my experience, audiences usually react more positively to slow or medium-tempo melodic concepts than they do to virtuosic displays (although you’ve gotta give ’em the occasional fireworks just to show ’em you can, eh?)

Which brings us around to Wes Montgomery. Wes got kind of a “sellout” reputation in the late 60s for making the best-selling records of his career (A Day in the Life and others) with strings and other sweeteners. And, it’s true, those records are not be among his most satisfying from a jazz fan’s standpoint. But he had a right (a legitimate artistic right, not just a legal right or commercially-justified right) to address the desires of a different audience, and that doesn’t in any way diminish his other work.

The Thumb

At any rate, it was The Thumb that made Wes Montgomery famous in the first place. But what was so great about The Thumb? Surely, it was not just the technical prowess involved, but the fact that it made such sweet and melodic statements.

One way any non-wind player can improve the melodicism of his/her playing is to sing along (softly, most probably) while soloing. This will force your solos to mimic phrasings that suit the ultimate instrument, the human voice. It is a remarkably effective means to better phrasing that is often missed.

But when you slow down your playing from superhuman to human tempos, single-line guitar can sound thin. That’s why octaves are so cool. You can fatten up your sound in a very pleasing way, while still keeping your focus on melody (you can fatten up your sound with other intervals, of course, but they’ll tend to move you in a more harmonic thinking pattern rather than a melodic. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just different).

Of course, what’s critical in octaves is learning to move your thumb correctly, in order to get the right tone. You can try it with a pick, and that does work for some things, but the traditional tone comes only from flesh on metal. (Editor’s note: Django Reinhardt and other flatpickers did or do use octaves. In Django’s case, all the strings are played when you hit an octave, but all the strings are muted except the ones that you want to sound. This gives a more aggressive attack to the octaves.)

When I started trying to play octaves, I approached them as a classical guitarist would, either by stroking two strings with the side of my thumb, or by using the thumb and another finger to play the octave. This second approach is pretty non-traditional in the jazz world, but I find it works really well in some cases when the mix seems to demand more clarity and less attitude from my octaves. On the other hand, stroking the strings with the side of the thumb doesn’t seem to work at all well.

Some months ago, though, I happened upon a clue (in an issue of Guitar Player), which was to try and see a video of Wes Montgomery to check out the way he played with the flat of his thumb. After quite a bit of hunting I was able to locate a copy of Legends of Jazz Guitar Vol 01 at amazon.com. This has several great cuts of Wes, intermixed with Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis (the video manufacturers cleverly spread their rare Wes material over 3 tapes to entice you to buy all three).

Watching the way Wes Montgomery uses his thumb has liberated mine, but I’ve had to move from emulation to experimentation in order to advance. I don’t hold my hand exactly the way he does because my hand is different than his. Sometimes I curl a couple of fingers under the first string as an anchor, while sometimes I splay all my fingers and fling my thumb up and down with wrist action. I try many different angles of attack – it’s all fair game.

Road Song Transcription

Click on the link below for a transcriptions of the start of Wes Montgomery’s solo on the famous “Road Song”, as it appears on The Dynamic Duo. This cut was an alternate take, not released on the original vinyl version of this record. The take that this is an alternate of appears on a different album: The Further Adventures of Jimmy And Wes. Are you confused yet? Well there’s more. The originally-released, (non-alternate) take also appears on Impressions: The Verve Jazz Sides, a 2-disk collection of some of his most burning material. Here’s a link to where the solo begins on YouTube.

At any rate, it’s really instructive to listen to BOTH solos, to hear what the differences and similarities are. The “non-alternate” take seems to have protean (earlier and simpler) versions of some of the licks transcribed here.

Here’s a transcription of the first two A sections of Wes Montgomery’s solo on Road Song
Notation with commentary
Tab