Which are the guitars used for gypsy jazz? To answer this question, you first need to know what gypsy jazz is.
This terminology was coined by famous guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1930s. Since Django was a French guitarist, this music is also known by its French name ‘Jazz manouche’ or ‘Manouche jazz’.
This style of music became famous in Paris, and the musicians of this style usually worked in popular Musette ensembles. In the world of gypsy jazz, the Musette style waltz constitutes an important element. Django combined a dark gypsy flavor with the contemporary swing articulation of that time. This jazz is known for this combination. The contemporary guitar used for this music uses this element as its base.
The genre of gypsy swing is learned through the knowledge passed down the generations of musicians, just like the traditional gypsy music. Most of the gypsy musicians do not need to read notated music. The beginners spend a considerable time learning and memorizing the songs by listening to various recordings. They also learn the basic techniques from more seasoned players.
In this form of jazz the main solo instruments remain the guitar and the violin. Sometimes clarinet and accordion are also played. The rhythm guitar used in this style is played in a percussive technique which is pretty unique and distinct. This sound makes the use of drums redundant. The ensembles are filled out by an upright bass. A standard group in this style usually includes one lead guitar, two rhythm guitars, violin, and bass.
Gypsy jazz is a very popular form of music. People around the world enjoy it. However, the best musicians and the most enthusiastic fans are still confined to Europe. Since the style originated in Europe, it is quite understood that it still thrives there. The caliber of European gypsy swing musicians is unmatched elsewhere; even though there is a substantial fan following in the United States. Groups like Pearl Django and the John Jorgenson Quintet are the leaders in this genre of music.
The New York’s Lincoln Center is famous for holding a concert in this style every year in August. Another famous Jazz Club called Birdland conducts a concert series for a week every November.
Musicians like Django Reinhardt were lucky to have been born in an environment where music was an integral part of life. They learnt it at a very early age from the experienced members of their immediate social group. Today, you need to look for some good teachers, and real good ones are a rare commodity. General jazz guitar methods are not really of much help in playing the gypsy jazz. These methods are more centered on scale, while the style of gypsy swing mainly concentrates on arpeggios. It is also more concerned about the movement on the fret board. Most jazz guitar players in this style use only their first three fingers.
Learning from gypsy jazz books and DVDs doesn’t really help. In fact most of them are quite disappointing. If you are serious about learning this beautiful style of music, just start practicing the arpeggios, especially the triadic. Don’t get carried away with beginning at the bottom string and playing across. The main charm of the gypsy swing music lies in its haunting melodies. These melodies are driven by rhythm that adds a strong appeal.
What are you waiting for? Take your the guitar and start playing!