John Wheatcroft concludes his look at Django Reinhardt's influence, bringing us up to date with the current crop of amazing gypsy jazz guitarists.
John Wheatcroft takes a look at modern gypsy players including Bireli Lagrene, Fapy Lafertin, Boulou Ferre and Stochelo Rosenberg.
last month we looked at the style of the legendary Django Reinhardt. here we see how Django’s legacy has thrived and evolved due to the talents of remarkable musicians, gypsy and non-gypsy, that have created another link in the chain while sounding groundbreaking in their own right. no mean feat when you consider Django’s huge influence. In fact, there are few styles that can be traced back to one solitary musical figurehead. While Charlie Parker was of mighty significance to bebop, you also have monk and Gillespie. while Robert Johnson was another vital musician, so too were son house, leadbelly and dozens of others.
with gypsy jazz, all roads lead back to Django. It’s impossible to go around him, such is the weight of his influence. I can only think of Earl Scruggs’ five-string banjo playing as another instance where one single player defined an entire movement based upon their style alone.
we have nine examples, each based around the following artists, from the 40s to the present day...
argentinian oscar aleman was based in Paris during Django’s time and is considered to be one of the few contemporaries in his class. aleman unusually favoured a thumbpick and finger approach. Although Pierre ‘Baro’ Ferret performed with Django many times on rhythm, he was a formidable improviser. a swing waltz demon, much of today’s repertoire can be traced back to him.
Fapy lafertin has performed in the gypsy jazz style for years and, for many, he comes closest to preserving Reinhardt’s early sound, tone and feel. Baro’s nephew, Bolou Ferré was one of the genre’s first child prodigies, playing his first concert at eight years old. now in his sixties, he continues, along with brother elios, to blend traditional gypsy material with bebop, classical and even free jazz influences.
another child star, Bireli lagrene is a terrifying guitarist but always so musical with it. equally at home with straight-ahead and fusion styles Bireli recorded a selection of albums in his early teens that display a phenomenal mastery of the genre and the instrument. he’s a little over 30 years older now and continues to grow and grow. Bireli’s favourite gypsy jazz player, with a more traditionally authentic style is the mighty stochelo Rosenberg. he has stunning vibrato and phrasing, with an immaculate rest-stroke picking technique and projection. French guitarist angelo Debarre is one of the most exciting gypsy players active today, with super articulate technique and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the style. he’s also not afraid to push the envelope in terms of note selection, rhythm and harmony, although generally within a fairly traditional repertoire of tunes.
Jimmy Rosenberg achieved huge success before even hitting double-figures, age wise. now in his mid-30s, personal problems have stunted his career but he remains one of the most expressive players in the genre, still with a ridiculous clean and super fast technique.
as both a solo artist and as part of the gypsy jazz ‘supergroup’, selmer 607, adrien moignard is an inventive improviser and the shining light of the current Parisienne scene, equally at home with gypsy and modern jazz vocabulary - definitely a name to keep your eye on, a real player for the future.
there are hundreds more amazing players in this style, such as Liverpool’s Gary Potter, from america John Jorgenson and Frank Vignola, the group les Doigts de l’homme, swedish virtuoso andreas oberg, Robin nolan, Romane, a dozen players with the name Rosenberg - and not forgetting Django’s grandson, David Reinhardt. even hank marvin has adopted the gypsy style! anyway, enough reading and not enough playing, so grab your guitar and dive straight in!
There are sensational players in the gypsy jazz world, not necessarily famous, but they deserve to be. Hank Marvin
Birelli Lagrene: equally at home with straight or gypsy jazz styles