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!
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’m one of those people that hates the sound of my recorded voice, so you can imagine how I felt about doing a video interview with the ACM for their “Tutor Stories”!
It turned out well though… so all credit the guys that edited it! Have a watch, I like the shakey-cam.
Song: Oh, Lady Be Good (Gershwin)
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.
Thank for reading, my full transcription is available by clicking here: Lady Be Good (Solo)
One of my students wanted to learn how to play What Do I Know? yesterday. It’s one of about 19 songs in the current UK top 20 (!) that are from Ed Sheeran’s latest album. Upon hearing it, my first thought was that it’s a lot like Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself: same key, same kind of riff. Coincidence? Hardly. After a quick glance at the internet I saw that Sheeran actually co-wrote Love Yourself. Un-belieber-ble.
Anyway, I thought it was a good opportunity to take a look at the Emajor scale in 10ths. 10ths are really pleasing to listen to and by learning this scale you’ll have everything in place to tackle these two riffs (and in the process get your fingers around some new shapes).
I’ve highlighted the range of the scale that both riffs cover, and you might have noticed that I’ve extended the scale one degree above the octave (circled) . This is just to accomodate the range of notes in Love Yourself. Leave this out if you want to play an exact one octave scale in 10ths.
A 10th is a compound interval (which means it’s an interval greater than an octave) but it’s essentially the same as a 3rd. If you’re not sure what that means: play the 1st and 3rd notes of the major scale (Fig 1).
Then, without moving the 1st, move the 3rd an octave higher (Fig 2) – that’s a 10th.
Learn the scale, and you’ll be able to work out the riffs from the video (there are slow versions of each). If you want to check out some other songs that use 10ths in a similar way, try: Holiday (Green Day); Scar Tissue (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Blackbird (The Beatles).
Thanks for reading!
Song: Cheek To Cheek (Berlin)
Album: Swing Zing
Frank Vignola (lead guitar) Vinny Raniolo (rhythm guitar)
I’ve met Frank twice at masterclasses in London and on both occasions he’s been very keen to stress the importance of strong, musical phrasing when improvising. Upon listening to any of his works, it becomes very clear that he practices what he preaches. This has got me thinking about simplifying my approaches in the hope of achieving a more “musical” outcome. Taking this short solo as an example I thought it’d be interesting to see what sort of themes are evident in Vignola’s approach. The solo is only 16 bars long, so I’m just going to offer a commentary on each group four bars and highlight some of the rhythmic and harmonic features that I think are worth considering.
The opening phrases feature some fairly standard blues vocabulary, and are based largely around chord tones. There’s a rhythmic figure of five notes in bar 2 (red) which is reapplied to a C major arpeggio in bar 3 (blue): this idea of repeating the rhythmic shape of a phrase but changing the melodic composition really helps build in some strong rhythmic interest.
In bars 5 and 6 (Fig 2) Vignola takes a more scalar approach placing chord tones on the beats and diatonic passing notes between, a standard tactic in jazz improv. The Bb in the middle of bar 6 helps to retain the bluesy sound by implying C mixolydian and simultaneously providing a b9 tension over the A7. Instead of spelling out the ii-V in bar 7, Vignola opts for a straight forward blues scale run. This is a great example of how one doesn’t have to follow the changes: there is tension, melodic shape, and resolution but it’s clear he’s not thinking about outlining the harmony in any specific way.
Note: The 16th note rest in bar 7 has been put there to illustrate that the note is played fractionally late. It’s not to be taken literally but I wanted to include it because it does have an effect on the phrasing by breaking up what would otherwise be continuous 8th notes (albeit in a subtle way).
Bar 9 is another example of the statement (red) and reiteration (blue) of a strong rhythmic motif. This time with an ascending and then descending arpeggio pattern. In fact, these four bars are largely arpeggio based and as a result there is a wave-like contour to the phrase. Vignola clearly spells out the ii-V-I in bars 11-12 with a straight Dm7 arpeggio followed by a chromatic line running from the 3rd to the b9 of the G7 (yellow). Although this is a different approach to the ii-V (compared to what we’ve seen in bar 7) it’s similar in that the strength of the line lies in the uncomplicated nature of the rhythm and pitches used.
Bars 13-14 feature a repeated rhythmic motif (similar to those already discussed). Vignola recalls a grouping of specific notes that he has already used in bar 6 (fig 2) – shown in here in the red, this is the Bb, and G# creating tensions against the A7. He finishes the solo with another C blues lick (yellow) in much the same way as he does in bar 7-8. This time anticipating the resolution by placing the C on the last 8th of bar 7th instead of the first beat of bar 8.
There are things that haven’t been dicussed here, though. For example, to what degree the solo may or may not be related to the melody; and I haven’t atempted any detailed anaysis of note choice. These things are for another post. What I hope I have done is identify a few useful devices that Vignola has employed in this solo that might be worth considering in the journey to stronger phrasing:
1: Use of rhythmic motifs, changing pitches on repetition to provide melodic shape/interest.
2: Use of confidently placed blues scale to “ignore” changes but still create tension and shape over a resolving ii-V (see fig 2, 4).
3: Use of chord tones and arpeggios to create robust lines that are strongly anchored to the underlying harmony (see fig 1, 2).
I hope you’ve found this useful and enjoyable. You can download the the full transcription here: Cheek to Cheek .
Thanks for reading!
The first instalment features a simple rhythm study which will help you grasp the basic idea of the “La Pompe” feel. Traditionally Gypsy jazz ensembles don’t have a percussionist, so that role is taken on by the rhythm guitarist(s) who really have to drive the ensemble. It’s all about being consistent. The main thing is getting used to putting the chord on beats 1 and 3, and the dead notes on 2 and 4 – which seems odd at first, but think of those dead notes as a snare drum or peddled hi-hat and it should make sense. Consider this as the foundation of Gypsy style rhythm playing, there are lots of variations other complexities . Just go and listen to the greats – Django, anybody called Rosenberg, Bireli Lagrene… the list goes on.
The TAB is here: AC01
Tim Robinson, who is something of an authority on the UK scene (more so than me anyway!) made an excellent short video that I also found very useful a while ago. If you’re interested in a second opinion, you can see it by clicking here.