The unique style of gypsy jazz is gaining major attention from the music community. Learn how to play the top tunes in this genre and what makes them unique.
Every now and then a music style comes along and finds its way into the mainstream.
Right now, gypsy jazz is hot, and if you are a guitar player, at any level of experience, you just have to give this style of music a try.
As you would expect, there is a style and manner of play that you will need to adjust to. This is what makes gypsy jazz guitar something for everybody. Keep reading for some great examples of easy songs you can learn on your gypsy journey.
But first, the question that is probably already forming on your lips.
What is Gypsy Jazz?
Started by a Romani guitarist by the name of Django Reinhardt, gypsy jazz got its name from its creator’s origins. The classic gypsy swing style (acoustic, all strings, no drums) was conserved among gypsies in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands as a folk style in homage to Django Reinhardt. After Reinhardt met violinist Stéphane Grappelli, they played together informally when they were not playing dance music with a small orchestra at the Hôtel Claridge in Paris during the summer of 1934.
Using influences of both jazz and swing it was widely played among the gypsy communities until Reinhardt shared his music with the world. The turn of the century saw a sudden surge in the popularity of Reinhardt’s musical styling. French jazz vocalist Tatiana Eva-Marie performs gypsy-jazz music combined with swing music in Brooklyn, New York. The city became a gathering place for artists from around the world and The Hot Club’s unique sound of gypsy jazz reflects this inter-wartime collection of cultures.
Still largely unchanged from its original influences, gypsy swing – as it is also known – has remained strong as its own musical genre. That being said, how can you put words to any definition of music and genre. So much is open to individual interpretation, especially a music style like jazz.
While some believe that true jazz Gypsy music is that of Reinhardt himself, there are many others that simply use the term to cover any jazz played by or passed on through those of Romane/Romani lineage. Reinhardt had moved to an electric guitar sound influenced by bebop. His sons, Lousson and Babik, played in a style influenced by American jazz.
Contemporary gypsy jazz musicians include Gonzalo Bergara, George Cole, Angelo Debarre, Pearl Django, John Jorgenson, Tim Kliphuis, Biréli Lagrène, Robin Nolan, Stochelo Rosenberg, Paulus Schäfer, Joscho Stephan, and Frank Vignola. Contemporary Manouche instrumentalists in the Django Reinhardt and 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, John Jorgenson, Samson Schmitt, Stephane Wrembel, Biréli Lagrène, and Florin Niculescu.
It is the latter definition that we will use for this article. With that defined, let’s take a look at some of the best beginner gypsy jazz songs.
Getting that Authentic Jazz Gypsy Guitar Sound
There are no drums in true gypsy jazz standards. This means that the onus falls on the rhythm guitar to replace the more commonly heard jazz drums which are a distinct percussive technique, “la pompe(right-hand rhythm)”. Also gone are the saxophones and trumpets.
A violin is a necessary tool, but at the end of the day, the real sound and soul of gypsy swing lives in the sound of the guitar.
For beginner gypsy jazz students it is important to understand that you can only really use one sort of guitar to truly call yourself a practitioner of the genre.
Out of all of the different guitar styles, the best is the Selma Maccaferri guitar. This gives the music is distinct crisp and metallic sound, which is part of what sets this jazz manouche apart from the rest of the bunch.
A Django Reinhardt hit from the 1940s this piece is a chord progression number that has a clever F# modulation right from D major.
2. Dark Eyes
Considered by many to be an anthem for the gypsy communities, the roots of this song can be traced back to Russia.
This tune holds great appeal to novices as it is a relatively easy piece to learn but has a sound that is unforgettable.
3. Minor Swing
Much like Dark Eyes, there is a classic feel to Minor Swing. One of those anthems that everybody knows. With only three chords it is a fantastic beginner’s piece with brings with it a sense of satisfaction as you explore your arpeggios.
4. For Sephora
A modern song with a melody that will stick in your head from the first time you hear it. A great B section only adds to the overall beginner’s appeal of this swinging tune.
5. Troublant Bolero
The name of this piece gives a nice tribute to its inspiration. A fun Latin rhythm played in the rather unique choice of E major. The opportunity for open string play during the solo section adds a certain appeal to novices just starting out.
Without question, the most well known and popular of Django Reinhardt’s pieces. The easy to handle melody is coupled with chord changes that leave little room of artistic interpretation. With options to play it in both F and G major, this tune is much loved by all of those who enjoy easy gypsy jazz
7. I’ll See You in My Dreams
A classic tune that is even taught in online classes, it is a great example of gypsy jazz music, Reinhardt style. Yet, this simple song has one unique element, in so far as it is played in a chord other than the one that opens it.
A bouncy number that carries great swing when it gets going. An older number with a long history of popular renditions, it was actually first released back in 1928 by Guy Lombardo.
9. Minor Blues
What is better for beginner gypsy jazz guitarists than a song that uses minimal chords, which come in an easy to remember chord progression.
A naturally slow number it is also a great learning song for those looking to add some improvisation into their musical choices.
10. Sweet Georgia Brown
A traditional jazz song that is popular with all beginners, and a fun way to master those dominant seventh arpeggios. To give the tune that something special you can use trio-tone substitutions on the chords. Try it out and you will hear the difference for yourself.
Gypsy Jazz Like All Music is in the Ears of the Listener
At the end of the day, much like any music, gypsy jazz will be something that speaks to some above others. Music is art. Art is something that’s not done out of a feeling of obligation, but rather a passion.
It is when passion and obsession mix that true talents can be born. You should never start playing something just because its easier than the next, or because somebody told you to do so.
The above list is a wonderful starting point for those that feel genuinely drawn to the genre and the soul of the beat.
Is that you? If so then we would love to hear from you. Get in touch to learn more about learning how to play easy gypsy jazz.
More Gypsy Jazz Songs Here:
|SONG||ARTIST||LISTEN / WATCH|
|Nuages||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|Les yeux noirs||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|I'll See You In My Dreams||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|Blues Clair||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|Django's Tiger||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|Manoir de mes rêves||Django Reinhardt||Listen / Watch|
|Mouvements||Biréli Lagrène||Listen / Watch|
|Isn’t She Lovely||Biréli Lagrène||Listen / Watch|
|Le petit bal perdu||Sanseverino||Listen / Watch|
|Maigrir||Sanseverino||Listen / Watch|
|Swing 42||Stephane Grappelli||Listen / Watch|
|Minor Swing||Stephane Grappelli||Listen / Watch|
|La Gitane||Angelo Debarre||Listen / Watch|
|La Manouche||Angelo Debarre||Listen / Watch|
|Topsy||Dorado Schmitt||Listen / Watch|
|Coquette||Jimmy Rosenberg||Listen / Watch|
|Belleville||Adrien Moignard||Listen / Watch|
|Djangology||Adrien Moignard||Listen / Watch|