Characteristics of Gypsy Jazz

Gypsy jazz music is a strange and wonderful branch of jazz that merges the stylings of French gypsy music with American jazz compositions.  Its most famous player was Django Reinhardt, after which all aspiring gypsy jazz guitarists attempt to emulate.

Most of the following refers specifically to gypsy jazz guitar, although the style can be (and usually is) played on violin as well as mandolin and other instruments.


The gypsy chord - The signature chord of gypsy jazz (often referred to as "the gypsy chord") is the minor sixth.  Technically it's a #6, but no one I know calls it that.  An example might be an Am#6 (A-F#-C), the central chord in "Minor Swing."

Other tritones - In addition to the m#6 chord (which features a tritone), many other dissonant chords appear (as in other styles of jazz, but) particularly diminished chords.

Minor modes - Naturally most gypsy songs (and gypsy-styled renditions of traditional songs) are in minor modes with alterations appropriate to the chords.

Resolve neatly to the root in most cases - Unlike more traditional styles of jazz, gypsy songs generally resolve to the root.  There is no dangling note at the end of a phrase or piece.

Playing style

4-to-a-bar rhythm - Modern rhythm players may dress up the rhythm a bit, but the classic recordings demonstrate how every bar had four quarter notes and not much else.

Staccato - Notes and even chords are rarely sustained.  Even the rhythm chords are muted (by left hand release) as soon as they are executed.  Notes are attacked and then abandoned.

Chromatic runs - Django was famous for running chromatic lines (even with chords).  Modern players incorporate this as well (see my favorite guitarist, Joscho Stephan, for example).

Arpeggios - Sure, these is a prominent in jazz in general, but gypsy jazz guitarists take it to a whole other level.

Faster, more intense - Gypsy jazz is never relaxed.  Both the tempo and intensity (including how hard the strings are hit) is consistently greater than perhaps any other style of music.


Selmer Maccaferri-style guitars - Usually the oval-hole ("petite bouche") plays lead while a D-hole ("grand bouche") plays rhythm.  There is much more to be said about the design and set-up of these guitars (e.g., which strings are appropriate, etc.), but not here.

Thick picks - Wegen picks are the choice among the gypsy guitarists I know, but any hard, thick pick will do.  Purists often seek out tortoise-shell picks.

Pickups - Traditionally, gypsy jazz was played acoustically (after all, there's no electricity in a caravan or around the campfire), but Django ultimately went through an electric phase much later in his career.  The magnetic pickups of choice are by Stimer and are mounted on a Maccaferri guitars.  However, modern players are more likely to add piezo pickups to their instruments to amplify the acoustic tone.

Copyright 2012 Alexplorer

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