Gypsy jazz

Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

Gypsy jazz (also known as gypsy swing or hot club jazz) is a style of jazz music often said to have been started by guitarist Jean "Django" Reinhardt in the 1930s.[1] Because its origins are largely in France it is often called by the French name, "jazz manouche", or alternatively, "manouche jazz", even in English language sources.[2] Django was foremost among a group of Gypsy guitarists working in and around Paris in the 1930s through the 1950s, a group which also included the brothers Baro, Sarane, and Matelo Ferret and Reinhardt's brother Joseph "Nin-Nin" Reinhardt.[3]

Many of the musicians in this style worked in Paris in various popular Musette ensembles. The Musette style waltz remains an important component in the Gypsy jazz repertoire. Reinhardt was noted for combining a dark, chromatic Gypsy flavor with the swing articulation of the period. This combination is critical to this style of jazz. In addition to this his approach continues to form the basis for contemporary Gypsy jazz guitar. Reinhardt's most famous group, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, also brought fame to jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.


Instrumentation and lineup

The original Quintette du Hot Club de France played acoustically without a drummer, facilitating the use of the acoustic guitar as a lead instrument. Guitar and violin are still the main solo instruments, although clarinet and accordion are also common. The rhythm guitar is played using a distinct percussive technique, "la pompe", that essentially replaces the drums. Most gypsy jazz guitarists, lead and rhythm, play a version of the Selmer-Maccaferri guitar design favored by Reinhardt himself.

Although many instrumental lineups exist, a group including one lead guitar, violin, two rhythm guitars, and bass is often the norm. Ensembles aim for an acoustic sound even when playing amplified concerts, and informal jam sessions in small venues or meetings such as annual the Django Reinhardt festival at Samois-sur-Seine are very much part of the scene.

In Eastern gypsy jazz, rhythm section is most likely covered by one or two cymbaloms, or (less frequently) a cymbalom and/or drums and an acoustic guitar (the cymbalom accompaniment technique is called in Romanian "ţiitură"). An upright bass fills out the ensembles.

George Cole performing original Gypsy Jazz music at a nightclub in NY, before Carnegie Hall performance.



La Pompe.[4] About this sound Play

Rhythm guitar in gypsy jazz uses a special form of strumming known as "la pompe", i.e. "the pump". This form of percussive rhythm is similar to the "boom-chick" in bluegrass styles; it is what gives the music its fast swinging feeling. The strumming hand, which never touches the top of the guitar, must make a quick up-down strum followed by a down strum. The up-down part of la pompe must be done extremely fast, regardless of the tempo of the music. It is very similar to a grace note in classical music, albeit the fact that an entire chord is used. This pattern is usually played in unison by two or more guitarists in the rhythm section.


Another important aspect of this style of playing is based on the chord shapes Django was forced to use due to his injury. Standard barre chords are not an acceptable form in gypsy jazz, and these are instead replaced with chords that use just two or three fingers, often with one or more guitar strings muted by the left hand. Standard major and minor chords are almost never played, and are instead replaced by major 7th chords, major 6th chords, and 6/9 chords. Gypsy reharmonisation is often aimed at giving a minor feel even where a song is in a major key, for instance the substitution of a minor 6th chord for a Dominant seventh. Dominant seventh chords are also altered by lowering the 9th and 13th scale degree.


Lead playing in this style has been summarised as ornamented or decorated arpeggio.[5][6] Decorations often introduce chromaticism—for instance, mordents and trills. Particularly characteristic is a figure where successive notes of an arpeggio are each preceded by an appoggiatura-like grace note one semitone below.[7] Other decorations include tremolo and string bends on the guitar, staccatto (or pizzicato on the violin), ghost notes, harmonics, octaves, double stops etc.

Arpeggios on the guitar are typically executed as patterns running diagonally from the lower frets on the lower strings to the upper frets on the upper strings. Such patterns tend to have no more than two stopped notes per string, relating to the fact that Django could only articulate two fingers on his fretting hand.[8]

Commonly used scales, in addition to arpeggios, include the chromatic scale, melodic minor scale, dorian mode and diminished scale.

Chromatic runs are often executed very quickly over more than one octave. A particularly characteristic technique is the glissando, in which the guitar player slides a finger along a string, with a precisely timed tremolo picking out individual notes, in order to get a fast, virtuosic sound. Diminished runs, in which the shape of a diminished seventh chord is played in all inversions, one after the other, is another widespread gypsy jazz technique. Diminished 7th arpeggios are also used over dominant 7th chords. (Example: If an A7 is being played, a diminished run starting on C# would be played, creating an A7b9 sound over the dominant chord.) Guitarists often intersperse melodic playing with flamenco-esque percussive series of chords to create a varied solo .

The plectrum technique of gypsy jazz has been described[9] as similar to economy picking. Notes on the same string are played alternately, but when moving from string to string, the same direction will be maintained, with the further requirement that a rest stroke will be performed. For instance, on switching from the G to the B string, the plectrum will move in the same direction and come to rest on the E string. This technique enhances both volume and speed.


Gypsy jazz has its own set of frequently played standards, which are fairly distinct from the standards tunes of mainsteam jazz. However, contemporary ensembles may adapt almost any type of song to the style.

Gypsy swing standards include jazz hits of the '20s and '30s, such as "Limehouse Blues", and "Dinah"; Bal Musette numbers, often waltzes; original compositions by Django Reinhardt, such as "Nuages" and "Swing 42"; compositions by other notable gypsy swing players; and jazzed-up versions of gypsy songs, such as "Dark Eyes".

Much of the repertoire is in minor keys, and the dorian and harmonic minor modes are frequently heard, lending a distinctively dark and modal sound to the tunes which contrasts with the uptempo and spirited performance style. One popular example is Django's tune "Minor Swing", perhaps the most well-known Gypsy jazz composition. Slower ballads and duets may feature rubato playing and exotic harmonies.

Teaching and learning

The first generations of gypsy jazz musicians learned the style by the 'gypsy method', involving intense practice, direct imitation of older musicians (often family members) and playing by ear, with little formal musical study (or, indeed, formal education of any kind). Since about the late 1970s, study materials of a more conventional kind such as workshops, books and videos have become available, allowing musicians worldwide to master the style. In recent years, software such as powertabs and band in a box files have become available. Prominent gypsy-style guitarists who are not ethnically Roma include John Jorgenson, Andreas Öberg, Frank Vignola, George Cole. Touring gypsy jazz musicians often include workshops with performances. Players who have written study guides include Martin Norgarrd, Tim Kliphuis, Andreas Öberg, Ian Cruickshank, Robin Nolan, Denis Chang, Michael Horowitz, Daniel Givone and Patrick "Romane" Leguidcoq.

Contemporary Gypsy jazz

Gypsy jazz is thriving today, with fans and practitioners — some faithful copyists, others innovators — found all over the globe. The largest audiences and highest caliber of musicians are still found in Europe as this is where the style originates.[10] Tim Kliphuis, Stochelo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, Paulus Schäfer, Joscho Stephan and Angelo Debarre are perhaps the most famous performers today. There is also a substantial American Gypsy Jazz movement headed by groups like Pearl Django, John Jorgenson Quintet, Frank Vignola and George Cole.


Django Reinhardt was born in Liberchies, Belgium and is commemorated by a yearly Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival held there. Some modern players such as Philippe Catherine, whom Charlie Mingus nicknamed "young Django" and Fapy Lafertin also hail from Belgium.


Other outstanding contemporary Manouche instrumentalists in the Django Reinhardt/Le Jazz Hot Tradition, as heard annually at the Festival de Jazz Django Reinhardt at Samois-sur-Seine, France, include Django's grandson David Reinhardt,[11] Dorado Schmitt, Tchavolo Schmitt, Jon Larsen, Didi Duprat, Angelo Debarre, Babik Reinhardt, Dario Pinelli, John Jorgenson, Samson Schmitt, Stephane Wrembel, Biréli Lagrène, Florin Niculescu, and the late Mondine Garcia.


The German gypsy-jazz scene has a rich history with a variety of famous players such as Joscho Stephan. Today gypsy-jazz has its share in cultural life in Germany, thanks to the activities of the late Eberhard Tscheuschner, who was the founder of the Djangofestival in Burgthann. The main events are the annual Django Memorial Festival in Augsburg (organised by Bernhard Gierstl), the Djangofestival in Burgthann/Nuremberg, the Sinti-Festivals in Hildesheim and Koblenz.


The Netherlands is home to a number of contemporary players such as Stochelo Rosenberg from The Rosenberg Trio, Jimmy Rosenberg, Paulus Schäfer and Tim Kliphuis. Especially the Dutch Sinti guitar players of gypsy jazz can be recognized by their singing and powerful tone, expressive vibrato, melodic improvisations, clear timing and dazzling technique. This style is referred to as the “Dutch school” of Gypsy Jazz.[12][13]


Ireland has seen a recent surge in popularity in Gypsy jazz, with artists such as The Hot Club of Dublin (featuring Koshka's Oleg Ponomarev), Ian Date and Locoswing performing regularly. 2011 saw Ireland's first ever Gypsy jazz festival take place in the heritage town of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. The lineup included Robin Nolan, Lollo Meier and Tcha Limberger.

North America

Pearl Django appearing at a Bastille Day celebration

Django in June offers a weeklong Gypsy jazz music camp ("Django Camp"), as well as weekend clinics and concerts. Inaugurated in 2004, the event is held on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, MA.[14]

DjangoFest NW, a celebration of Gypsy Jazz, takes place each September at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, Washington, which typically features such performers as John Jorgenson, The Rosenberg Trio, Dan Hicks, and Pearl Django.

Every year, in August, New York's Lincoln Center hosts a Concert at Rose Hall, and the world famous Jazz Club, Birdland, in New York, features a week long Gypsy Jazz concert series in November.

In Minnesota, guitarist and composer Reynold Philipsek performs gypsy jazz music as a solo artist, and with Minnesota gypsy jazz acts East Side, The Twin Cities Hot Club, and Sidewalk Café. There is The Hot Club of Detroit in Detroit, the band that specializes in performing Gypsy-style swing jazz music, mostly modern interpretation of repertoire of Django Reinhardt. Pearl Django from Tacoma, Washington (from Seattle now) is combo that specializes in performing their version of Gypsy swing. George Cole and his group Vive Le Jazz have been touring nationally, most recently playing at Carnegie Hall in 2008. His original Gypsy Jazz inspired music was chosen for a Grammy's showcase. He plays an original Selmer 520 that Django Reinhardt used on tour in France in the 1940s.

Los Angeles, hometown of the "Birth of the Gypsybilly"[15] is a blend of Gypsy Jazz Guitar and Rockabilly Guitar.


Gypsy jazz came into prominence in Romania around 1980 by means of the pop-folk subgenre known as muzică bănăţeană (i.e. music in the Banat style), still practised to date. It has a different approach to lăutari (Gypsy folk) music. In muzica bănăţeană, some traditional instruments (kobza, cimbalom) are replaced by electric guitars and synthesizers, while others are kept (fiddle, accordion, alto saxophone, taragot), thus creating an eclectic type of sound (beside the unexpected timbre combinations, contrasting textures from these instruments are also featured.)[16] The repertoire mixes together café concert, old-school jazz standards, folk and pop-folk music. The Western manouche style is reinterpreted mostly through the sârbă rhythm, actually very close to it, but syncopated differently in lead instruments. Throughout the years, muzica bănăţeană has gradually become fond of the manea rhythm, which sounds more like the twist when played in the Banat style; however the swung sârbă was not abandoned.

Muzica bănăţeană was politically censored throughout the 1980, so that only bootleg recordings survive of those years. According to the Romanian Ministry of Culture, the reason for banning it was its impure nature, threatening the national folk music. However, other lăutari music was widely recorded and performed in Communist Romania.[16] After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, numerous musicians who weren't previously permitted to record on the national record label Electrecord, saw their debuts released; but that eclectic characteristic of Romanian gypsy music degenered into what is now called "manele" - a music that is not entirely from gypsy folk origin, nor is it jazz or another defined genre. There are a lot of manele performers, none that have musical culture, though, thus creating hybrid genres mixing and matching different notes and rhythms.

Damian Draghici, born in Bucharest, Romania in 1970, is a virtuoso musician particularly associated with the Romanian Pan pipes (Nai) and is possibly the most noted exponent of his particular instrument in the world, having focused new international attention on the ancient Romanian pan flute.

In 2006 Draghici decided to return to his roots, by putting together a new group with “his gypsy brothers”, as he likes to call them. One of the purposes of the band “Damian & Brothers - Filarmonika Rromanes” is to change the international perception and the stereotypes on Roma (Gypsy) minority, through their music. The impact and the huge popularity achieved until now are a confirmation of their common effort. The official recognition of Damian Draghici efforts and dedication to promoting Roma minority came on 20 March 2007 when he was designated by the President of Romania as Romania’s Ambassador for the Rroma minority in the European Year of Equal Opportunities for all. On December 17, 2009 after 3 years and 600 concerts all over Europe, Damian and Brothers, the project was finished and the band had the last concert in Bucharest in front of 4000 fans, being sold out.


There is a yearly Django festival in Norway and Jon Larsen's Hot Club de Norvège is based there. Gypsy guitarist Andreas Öberg is based in Sweden. Famous Gypsyguitar builder Ari-Jukka Luomaranta (AJL-Guitars) is based in Finland and He is also running his own group Hot club de Finlande, performing with many famous soloists from Europe. In Finland there's also one of the greatest guitar soloists of today, young Olli Soikkeli.

South Africa

Gypsy jazz has even made its mark as far afield as South Africa with bands like Hot Club d'Afrique, Manouche and Skabengas.

United Kingdom

The first generation of British gypsy jazz musicians is represented by the late Diz Disley who played with Stephane Grappelli.

John Etheridge combines jazz-rock fusion with forays into Gypsy Swing. Martin Taylor has worked with Stephane Grappelli and performed a widely-heard Djangoesque piece for the "Papa and Nichole" TV advertisements for Renault.

London has a specialist Gypsy Jazz venue, Le QuecumBar, which concerts featuring some of the world's musicians. Regular gypsy jazz sessions are held at the Briars Hall Hotel in Lathom near Ormskirk, Lancashire (Beaufort Jazz [17]), Northampton (the Black Cat) and Brighton and Hove (Club Chat Noir [18] at the Hanbury Club [19]). There are study groups in Marlow and Penzance[20] (both called "Club Django").

"The Gypsy Jazz Guitar Festival" was held from 1997 to 2000 and a series of festivals called L'Esprit Manouche was held in Moseley, Birmingham in 2003/4/5. The International Gypsy Guitar Festival[21] is currently being held at the end of July every year in Gloucestershire.


There is a yearly Jazz Manouche festival in Brisbane, Australia called OzManouche. Started in 2006 by guitarist Ewan MacKenzie, who was inspired by a pilgrimage to Samois-sur_Seine for the annual DjangoFest there, the festival attracts djangophiles from around the country. A regular performer is guitarist Ian Date, now living in Ireland, who has been playing Gypsy Jazz since the 1980s. Other notable visiting players are Hank Marvin, Lulo Reinhardt, Andreas Oberg, Robin Nolan and Michel Trabelsi from Nouméa.

In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane particularly there are some fine players of all ages and some excellent lineups including La Mauvaise Reputation, Duck Musique, Blue Drag and Ultrafox from Melbourne, Gadjo Guitars, the Spyglass Gypsies and the Djangologists from Sydney and Swing Manouche, Paris Dreaming, Cameron Ford Quartet and East West Hot Club from Brisbane.

MelbourneHot - Djams Over the past 6 years, Melbourne Gypsy Jazz scene has been kept alive and vibrant by 'MelbourneHot' weekly Djams sessions. Run by Alec and Ross - the styles serious enthusiasts and open to all local and visiting musicians. 'MelbourneHot' Djams used to be held at the Abbotsford Convent on Sundays throughout the year - a great testament of its organisers - and featured the very best Gypsy Jazz musicians in performances that lasted 6+ hours. Since 2012 the frequency of Djams have been reduced and its location has changed - but not the passion and music quality.

The Bellingen Jazz Festival in New South Wales features a large contingent of Jazz Manouche musicians each year.

Australian Gypsy Jazz musicians and fans make every effort to journey to France each year for the Samois festival.

References and further reading

  • Stan Ayeroff Jazz Masters: Django Reinhardt Amsco ISBN 0-8256-4083-0
  • Ian Cruickshank The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies
  • Michael Dregni, Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19-531192-1
  • Romane and Derek Sebastian: L'Esprit Manouche: A Comprehensive Study of the Gypsy Jazz Guitar Mel Bay ISBN 97807786668956


  1. Dregni, Michael (2008). Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing. Oxford University Press. pp. 10–13. ISBN 978-0-19-531192-1. 
  2. English language site on "Jazz manouche."
  3. Dregni, Michael (2004). Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend. Oxford University Press. pp. 60–63. ISBN 0-19-516752-X. 
  4. Natter, Frank (2006). The Total Acoustic Guitarist, p.126. ISBN 9780739038512.
  5. Tony Oreshko
  6. Django Reinhardt Stan Ayeroff p 43
  7. Decorated arpeggio example
  8. Django's hand
  9. Michael Horowitz: Gypsy Picking
  10. Geographic World Music site on "manouche jazz"
  11. Dregni, Michael (2006). Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz. Speck Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-933108-10-0. 
  15. Gypsybilly review
  16. 16.0 16.1 Rădulescu, Speranţa and Iordan, Florin. Conferinţele de la Şosea. Profesioniştii muzicilor orale: istorie, practici, stiluri, tendinţe recente ("The Şoseaua Kiseleff Conferences. Oral music professionals: history, practice, styles, recent tendencies"), a lecture read at the Peasant Club within the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (4 iunie 2009)
  17. Beaufort Jazz
  18. Club Chat Noirt
  19. The Hanbury Club, Brighton
  20. Club Django, Penzance (IE only)

External links

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