I’ve recently been trying to navigate my way through a particularly tedious creative slump. The kind where you find yourself massively bored of everything you do, and where you feel like you’ve boxed yourself into a corner… it’s the worst.
Was it Einstien that said the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? I don’t know, but it makes sense and so in that spirit I’ve begun stepping outside of my normal operating perameters and making more use of “technology”. Specifically Logic and Ableton*. I know Logic well enough, but have only ever used it to record and mix audio (and do a bit of MIDI stuff when required) but now I’m making an effort to actually delve into the things that I had previously considered “not my thing”. And, oh look! It’s more fun.
I recorded a Dmajor triad and loaded it into Space Designer (a reverb plug-in) as an impulse response. This means that instead of the input guitar signal triggering a reverb, it triggers the Dmajor audio file. A pretty cool effect.
*Ableton is still a mystery to me, but I do at least own the program now.
Gumtree got in touch with me and asked me to be part of a social media campaign – a bit unexpected, but the idea was that we shoot a short video of me talking about the SG I recently got from Gumtree… Next week we’re filming a live stream with FRiSK, so look out for that one!
FRiSK are having a busy summer, which is a wonderful thing in itself, but the great thing about it is that it gives us more opportunities to produce little off-the-cuff videos and things – largely for our own amusement!
Recently we were booked for a private event at Brooklands Museum, which is a fantastic place that celebrates a golden age of British racing, aviation and engineering. Penny (one of our singers) and I felt inspired to perform this Fats Waller classic which is of the same era as a lot of the cars in the museum… A few takes and some hasty editing on iMovie and this is the result. Fun!
The 16th of May marked the anniversary of the death of Django Rienhardt, so I asked the guys at ACM if I could do a little video by way way of tribute, and here it is. There’s a lot I wanted to talk about but it’s hard to know what to fit in a video that has to be so short, so it’s a very simple demonstration of one idea: taking the minor pentatonic (1, b3, 4, 5, b7) and lowering the b7 by a semitone to make it a maj6th (so it’s now 1, b3, 4, 5, 6 – like a m6 arpeggio, and implying the Dorian mode). This is one thing I found that really helped me start to build some Gypsy style vocabulary and move away from the minor pentatonic licks that are omnipresent in rock and blues improvisation.
The lick I play is based one of Django’s phrases found in the solo of Swing 42 (click here and skip to about 1’07”). Swing 42 is in C major , but here I’m using it in the context of a Gm6 chord. The TAB is here: Django Style Minor 6 Lick
I’ve had this guitar for about three weeks now (see here) and I absolutely LOVE it. It’s the best guitar Gibson have ever made, and (despite being an entirely subjective and untestable statement) that is the honest truth. The only thing I’m not masively in love with is the neck pickup – it’s a bit muddy. I’m going to swap both out for a new set…
Here’s a little video of it. I’m messing about with some John Scofield-esque outside ideas over a great bcking track by Quistjam. I’m going to try and put a lesson together feturing some of these ideas, it’s not a style of playing that I venture into all that often but it’s great fun!
In an attempt to get our promotional stuff in order, we organised a long overdue photo shoot for FRiSK at a great venue in N.London called Paradise. The photos aren’t back yet, but while we were there we shot a couple of simple live videos and they’ve turned out pretty well. It was an excuse to try out my new camera lens (Sigma 10-20, for anybody that cares) and I’m really pleased with it. We could have lit it better and the sound, whilst a perfectly decent recording from a Zoom H2n, probably would have benefitted from a couple of well placed “proper” mics… but all that’s a bit of a faff, really – we just wanted to press record and play! We did three impromptu vids which are all up on our YouTube page, but the one above (Brown Sugar) turned out to be particularly good fun!
Volume for neck and bridge p/up, .master tone control
My first proper guitar was an Epiphone G400 – a budget licenced copy of a Gibson SG – and I really loved it. I played it to death but when I got my first Telecaster a few years later, it got packed up, fell into a state of disrepair, and was more or less never used again. For the last few years I have really wanted to replace it with a proper Gibson. SGs are the only solid body Gibsons that I like playing. I just feel like Les Pauls don’t suit me and while I’d love an 335 they are absurdly expensive and for me, Gibson’s quality control has not been good enough to warrant the price tags. I have flirted with the idea of a new SG Classic, the current SG Standard or the various Specials, but I found them all quite underwhelming for the money. In addition I was massively put off by the g-force tuning system which Gibson has inexplicably decided to put on so many guitars. So I had given up on the idea of owning a Gibson.
Then I found this curious 2011 SG Special on Gumtree for a very modest sum and couldn’t resist it – quite heavily used, but with zero fret wear (possibly refretted?) and it plays really nicely. It’s a bit odd, because it has a wrap around one piece bridge (instead of the stop tail and tune-o-matic) and it has just one tone control, instead of the usual two. The most striking thing is the dark walnut finish which I’ve never seen before, and makes a great change from cherry red! It’s a genuinely great guitar and although it’s probably not going to be my go-to axe, but I reckon I’ll get a lot of use out of it!
I sold my 1996 Fender Floyd Rose Classic Strat on Gumtree to get this. Most would consider that a far superior guitar, but I don’t regret it in the slightest and the best thing is that all told, I’m still a couple of hundreds £s up!
Planning to post a video soon, so look out for that if you want to hear it!
Django Reinhardt (lead guitar); Joseph Reinhardt (rhythm guitar); Stephane Grappelli (violin); Louis Vola (bass)
Django recorded this Gershwin classic a few times in his career and from what I can find out, the one I’m looking at in this post is from a recording released in 1937. Django was a remarkable guitarist for many reasons: his virtuosity was matched only by his creativity; he was a groundbreaker, and his work with the Hot Club of France (1934-1948) gave birth to a whole genre – one that is still very much alive in the 21st century. This is a great solo for its own sake and that’s why I transcribed it, but I thought it would be interesting to add a bit of commentary. Here’s the original.
The solo as a whole features a lot of arpeggio work (something which is certainly key to the style) and Fig. 1 showcases Reinhardt’s ability to navigate the changes with long lines of connected arpeggios. He uses the arpeggios in a very linear fashion, ascending one and descending the next (bars 17-19) but a sense of melody is always present.
Bars 23-26 (fig 2) demonstrate a signature “Django-ism”. The tremolo chords are reminiscent of big band horn lines and could be an attempt at mimicking that sound. The triplet quarter note rhythms providing a forceful and angular juxtaposition to the constant “la pompe” of the rhythm section. The addition of the #5 and 9 of the chords adds to this angular sound*. The tremolo chords appear in many of Reinhardt’s improvisations and compositions and a notable/impressive example of this would be the opening of Mystery Pacific.
*the physical shpe of these chords would have been very natural for Reinhardt given the impairment of his 3rd and 4th fingers on his fretting hand. Reinhardt would often superimpose the same chord shape over different points of the underlying harmony. This can be seen in the last bar of fig 3: the shape is used to add alterations to the Ab7 underneith – in essense implying Ab13(#9), which then resolves to G. There’s a great article in the British Medical Journal (here) that explains more about this.
Figure 3 shows a visceral and idiomatic passage. Fretted notes are played in unison with open strings of the same pitch (in the same way that one might tune a guitar). This is an example of a specifically guitaristic improvisation – the aggressively played unison pitches resulting in a particular timbral effect. So he’s exploiting the quirks of the instrument for the sake of it, rather than emulating others or applying standard vocabulary.
In Figure 4 we can see a repeated rhythmic idea based on triplets and a bluesey string bend from C# up to D. Reinhardt likes this triplet idea and a very similar example can be found towards the end of I’ll See You In My Dreams[see approx. 02’19”-02’23”].
I hope this has been useful to you, there’s so much to talk about when it comes to Django’s playing (and Gypsy jazz in general). Technique is a big part of the sound, but something I didn’t want to get too caught up in with this post. You might have noticed that I’ve added picking directions in Figure 1 – these are my choices but I’ve also added bracketed directions that are consistent with Gypsy picking technique (though exactly what Django did, we’ll never know!). I’d strongly recommend a visit to www.djangobooks.com, Micheal Horowitz (the owner) has written some excellent books on Gypsy guitar playing – Gypsy Picking is an essential book for anybody learning the style. There are many other resources available there too, as well as a thriving online community.