Though the original Django Gypsy Jazz guitar-style has developed into
many different sub-styles nowadays, from very traditional ones (Tchavolo, Stochelo,
Basily, Fapy...) to ones that are contaminated by modern styles (Bireli,
Robin, Mandino, Dorado...), the Gypsy Jazz improvisational approach is still strongly
linked to traditional Jazz. Musicians who wish to play this style properly, should
listen extensively to the great musicians of that period including Django first
of all, and other masters of the same era such as Charlie Christian,
Coleman Hawkins (Saint Joseph, Missouri, 21 nov 1904 – 19 mag 1969),
Lester Young (Woodville, Mississippi, 27 agosto 1909 – New York, 15 Marzo
1959), Art Tatum (13 ott 1909 - 4 nov 1956), Louis Armstrong
(New Orleans, 4 ago 1901 – 6 lug 1971), Benny Goodman (Benjamin
David, Chicago, 30 mag 1909 - 20 giu 1986), Lionel Hampton
(20 apr 1908 – 31 ago 2002) etc. in order to gain a suitable knowledge of
the right sound, phrasing and typical melodic and rhythmic patterns.
Another very important aspect is getting the right guitar tone, which is produced
first and foremost by a proper picking technique, and secondly by choosing a suitable
guitar, strings, instrument set-up and pick.
To explain this style simply, I like to use the definition: "arpeggio embellishments".
Quite often the melody develops "vertically", which means that it follows the notes
of the major and minor arpeggios of each tonic major and minor chord,
while on 7th dominant chords, in addition to their corresponding 7th
dominant arpeggios, a classic Gypsy Jazz way to create tension is by playing
on dimished and augmented arpeggios. Generally arpeggio notes ("vertical
melody") are used much more that scale notes ("horizontal melody") to build the
In my long experience as a guitarist and teacher, I've often seen and played
with fine guitarists and musicians who, despite being real experts in "modern" approaches
to jazz improvisation, were frequently in trouble when asked to play simple, effective
and fluent melodic ideas based on straight major, minor and 7th dominant
arpeggios. The great 30s and 40s masters had a more practical approach, after all,
they didn't have access to Berklee, music schools, clinics, methods, books, DVDs
etc as we do nowadays! They just followed chord progressions (often stripped down
to the basic functional chords) and built up the melody by playing around and embellishing
the arpeggio notes. In my opinion, this solution is not only suitable for "old"
Jazz styles, but it is also very effective and useful in any style!
To sum up, as for any other style, the first step is to learn to play the original
pure style as it is. Once you can do that, then do not hesitate to mix it with your
own variations, musical experience, and personal taste! Gypsy Jazz is still constantly
evolving, and is open to influences by other styles, not like other "mummified"
Jazz styles like Dixieland, where you just have to play it super strictly note by
note, like they used to 80 years ago. As Jimy Hendrix said (I think it was him)
"learn the rules first, then break them" …and not the other way round!
Tip n° 1. An idea to get tension over a 7th dominant chord: just play
a simple major arpeggio starting from the TRITONE. For example, over a G7
(that will resolve on a CM or a Cm) play an idea based upon the C#M arpeggio… simple
Tip n°2. Over a major tonic chord at the end of a IIm V7 I sequence, play a major
arpeggio ONE STEP HIGHER: for example over a CM play a DM, you'll hear some interesting
notes, as the II (or IX), the VI(or XIII) and the Vb (or XI#)… a very bebopish sound!
Tip n°3. Over a minor tonic chord you can play ideas based on the augmented
arpeggio and scale starting from his dominant chord: for example, on a Cm you
will play the G augmented arpeggio/scale.
Tip n° 4. You can always swap relative major/minor keys: for example, you can
play Am ideas over a CM, and viceversa.
A LITTLE EXERCISE. On a IIm V7 I progression in key of C, try to develop ideas
using just major arpeggios in the following way: Dm = CM arpeggio G7= C#M
arpeggio CM= DM arpeggio. Find a nice sounding pattern then move it chromatically
upward…then begin to work on it, you can play one pattern upward and the next downward…
there are a lot of workable melodic inventions!
insert an opinion
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Publishing Date: 01/03/2007