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!
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.
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 .