Posts Tagged ‘gypsy jazz’


Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 1

August 2, 2011

By Devin Grant

Dave Brubeck in 1954.

Dave Brubeck was a key figure in post war jazz music. Image via Wikipedia

At the end of our article Jazz Styles Family Tree (Pre-World War II), we left off in the history of jazz with the Gypsy Jazz (or Jazz Manouche) of Django Reinhardt and the Swing music of such greats as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. However with many band leaders and members serving in World War II (and some, such as Glenn Miller, losing their lives in the war effort), this period saw the breakup of the “Big Bands”, leaving the field open for smaller groups and a new style of jazz, called Bebop. Led by such jazz legends as Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie, this style moved away from the melody-based improvisation seen in most big bands and toward chordal improvisation, the style most readily seen today. In Bebop an artist would be free to explore whatever improvised melody they saw fit, as long as it fit within the chord structure of the piece.

This era also saw the birth of Vocalese, a rather unique style of jazz in which pre-existing melodies, and even solos, would be given lyrics and then sung by artists in the style of the previous instruments. Considered by many to have been invented by Eddie Jefferson, Vocalese did not see much success until more recently, with more well-known artists such as Jon Hendricks and The Manhattan Transfer (who won a Grammy for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for their Vocalese performance of Birdland).

Descending directly from Bebop in the 1950’s was Cool Jazz, also known as West Coast Jazz due to the heavy influence out of the western states, especially California. A mixture of Swing and Bebop, Cool Jazz is most easily recognized for its harmonic tones combined with much more smoothed out dynamics, avoiding the more aggressive styles and tempos of Bebop. Such artists as Lester Young and Miles Davis are considered to have contributed heavily to the feel of Cool Jazz, and many successful recordings have come out of this style, such as The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out”.

While the Cool Jazz style was growing in recognition, some artists wished to recapture both the excitement and the audience of the Hot Jazz and Swing era. An extension of Bebop, Hard Bop filled this need, partially returning to both the Bebop and Hot Jazz of the past while drawing inspiration from Rhythm and Blues and even Gospel to a degree. Hard Bop tunes often had simpler melodies than its Bebop predecessor; with an emphasis on its now more sophisticated rhythm section. Horace Silver and Art Blakey of The Jazz Messengers are well known for their work in Hard Bop, with a prodigious talent for innovation keeping their pieces interesting for the audience. Both Funky Jazz and Gospel Jazz can be seen as natural extensions of Hard Bop.

Moving back to the other end of the spectrum, Cool Jazz had been mixing with the more European sensibilities and styles of South America, and by the time it worked its way up to North America in the 1960’s we had the new style of Bossa Nova. A lighter genre of jazz, even in comparison with that of the West Coast musicians, this “Brazilian Jazz” relied heavily on samba rhythms and acoustic guitar, often with English or Portuguese vocals. Bossa Nova gained popularity as an alternative to the Hard Bop of the time, and also due to the contributions of such artists as Charlie Byrd (Not to be confused with Charlie “Bird” Parker) and Stan Getz.


Jean “Django” Reinhardt, the Story of the man Behind Gypsy Jazz

May 14, 2010

Django Reinhardt 23 January 1910 – 16 May 1953

Just over one hundred years ago, in Liberchies, Belgium, the legend Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt was born. More commonly known as “Django” Reinhardt, a nickname from his Romani roots meaning “I awake”.

Django was immersed in music from an early age, learning how to play violin, banjo, and guitar just Gypsy encampment just outside Paris where he lived. It was in these Gypsy encampments across France and Belgium that the word of Reinhardt’s musical gifts quickly began to spread, and where the young prodigies’ talents were nurtured.

At the age of only 12 Django was already playing professionally and rapidly growing both his audience and his talents as a musician. It seemed as if the future of the young virtuoso’s musical career was set to be one of great magnitude, until disaster struck the home of 18 year old Django. In 1928, after returning home late from a performance, Django knocked over a candle on his way to bed, setting his caravan on fire, quickly engulfing it in flames. Luckily, Django’s family and neighbors were quick to rescue him from the fire, but, unfortunately, he didn’t escape unscathed. Django suffered severe burns to over half of his body, leaving his right leg paralyzed and the third and fourth fingers on his left hand badly injured. Believing he would never be able to play guitar again Django fell into a deep depression.

“Django” never would regain the use of his paralyzed fingers but spurred on by the gift of a guitar from his brother he began to play again. Django, as his name suggests, had “awoke” from his depression. He had to relearn to play the instrument using only two fingers, developing an instrumental technique and sound entirely of his own.

With his new technique and second chance at pursuing his musical career, Django along with Parisian violinist Stéphane Grappelli formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” one of the few well-known jazz ensembles composed only of string instruments. From then on “Django” enjoyed a full and wonderful musical career performing and touring with jazz giants such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Rex Stewart.

Sadly on May 16th 1953, Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt passed away of a stroke at the young age of 43. Although his life was short, it was filled with great disappointments and monumental achievements, creating a legacy with his music and the Gypsy Jazz style he created. “Django” Reinhardt will be forever remembered as a pioneer of jazz.

See also our article on Gypsy Jazz

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Jazz Styles Family Tree. (Pre-World War II)

April 6, 2010

Jazz music has evolved since its inception in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, creating a jazz family tree of styles. Jazz by nature is an evolving and exploratory form of music and new shoots continue to sprout.

Scott Joplin, a pioneer of Ragtime

At the very root of this tree is Ragtime. Ragtime itself was an amalgamation of many forms of music such as traditional African songs and folk music mixed with traditional European musical forms such as waltzes and marches. These styles were however only really influences upon Ragtime and why it is consider the first form of jazz.

Ragtime was born in the South of the United States and so was jazz’s first variation. New Orleans Jazz (sometimes referred to as Dixieland), developed from the popularity of ragtime. Musicians in New Orleans embraced this new style but used the instruments from brass bands which were popular in the city at the time. This change of lineup brought about changes in the music with the skill and influences of the musicians, creating the New Orleans style. This style was less focused on the solo, but there was more individuality shown from the players. Musicians  would embellishing their playing to show off their talents. In New Orleans Jazz improvisation had become a huge part of the style.

In the 1920’s Jazz’s popularity began to spread across the United States with new musicians exposed to the genre. One of the major Cities to be captivated by this modern style was Chicago. Chicago in the 1920’s was a city going through drastic growth and changes with the youth of the city rebelling against the traditional societal values. A more individualistic and outspoken society was being created. This is reflected in Chicago Jazz which is characterized by its focus on innovation and improvisation.

Back in New Orleans Hot Jazz becoming more prominent led by a musician named  Louis Armstrong. Hot Jazz featured collective improvisation where the band would work around a central melodic structure to produce new and original work. The size of a hot jazz band was beginning to grow too from the basic brass band. This in most part was due to improvements in recording technology which allowed more instruments to be recorded at one time.

In the 1930’s Jazz not only began to become the prominent form of popular music in the United States but also spread across the Atlantic to Europe. It is also a decade considered to be a golden time in Jazz history with the emergence of the Kansas City scene. Kansas City Jazz is regarded as the beginning of what is regarded as modern jazz (see our article on Kansas City: The birthplace of modern jazz ). Kansas City Jazz fused blues styles with jazz and the heavy amount of improvisation created ground breaking and innovative music.

During the 1930’s Swing was king. Swing was  based on New Orleans style Jazz but using large orchestras and was full of the new innovative influences from Kansas City . The music was fun and invigorating making it great to dance to, giving it that mass appeal. Swing would continue to be a dominant form of music well in to the 40’s & 50’s.

Jazz had been exported to Europe during and post World War I by American soldiers posted on the continent and had become a popular form of music. New European inspired 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 of Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt. In this style string instruments are used opposed to the brass and woodwind instruments used in American forms. There is also no rhythm section, with the beat being played out by banging on the stocks of their instruments.

Jazz’s influence across the globe would continue to spread, leading to further innovation and styles.

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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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Duane Andrews ‘Raindrops’ – the movie.

February 4, 2010

Centered around the release of his 3rd album ‘Raindrops’, this 10 minute documentary gives insight into the music of guitarist Duane Andrews and the formulation of his inimitable style.

With the stunning St. Phillip’s, NL acting as the polestar, the video takes you in and around the studio where the album was recorded. It explores the origins of his unique sound, blending the Gypsy Jazz of Django Reinhardt with traditional music from his home in Newfoundland, then rockets to the release of ‘Raindrops’, at Hugh’s Room in Toronto and onto a collaboration with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. Finally, this documentary answers “What’s next for Andrews?” in what is proving to be an already stunning career as a performer and composer.

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