Gypsy Jazz. A European Variation of an American Invention.

March 16, 2010

Jazz’s origins are distinctly American, but other forms of the genre have developed away from American soil.

Jean 'Django' Reinhardt Gypsy Jazz pioneer

Post World War One, jazz was beginning to gain popularity across Europe, with notable musicians from the USA touring and living on the continent. With jazz’s growing popularity as the fashionable music of the day, it began to infuse into all levels of society and develop its own European style. One of the most prominent of the European styles was Gypsy Jazz also known as ‘Manouche Jazz’ (Mustache Jazz).

Gypsy Jazz had many key differences to its American cousin, the most notable being the types of instruments used. The jazz played in the United states at the time had evolved using instruments used in marching bands such as trumpets and saxophones. Gypsy jazz was wholly different using mainly string instruments with the leads taken by guitar and violin. In most groups there was also no rhythm section with beats being added from the tapping on the body of a guitar, much like in many traditional Latin folk music. Gypsy jazz has traditionally been a free form of music with the practice of passing down music through demonstrations and jamming rather than writing score. This is common with aural tradition where stories are passed from generation to generation and the one of the main sources of historical record in the Gypsy and Romany communities in Europe.

The key protagonist in the beginnings and formations of Gypsy Jazz was a Belgian by the name of Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt. Reinhardt was a Romany gypsy who with his band were one of the major players on the Paris music and jazz scene. His influence on the style was immense from the use of instruments to the way chords were played (Reinhardt was paralyzed in two fingers limiting the number of chords he could play). Django caught the attention of many American artists playing with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. His legacy continues to this day with many festivals and bands bearing his name.

Read our article on the life of Jean “Django” Reinhardt.

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One comment

  1. […] variations of jazz also began to appear the most notable being  Gypsy Jazz (see our article Gypsy Jazz: A European variation of an American invention). Gypsy jazz or Manouche jazz’s (as it is also known) main exponent was a Belgian by the name […]

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