Another week and another Rhythm Through Diversity, a fun musical trivia section on Metronome Online, where we explore music and dance through the development of cultural and social etiquette, history, and background of people in diverse communities. The cultures around the world showcase many different musical forms and this week we will explore the style of gypsy jazz originating in France in the early 20th century.
Gypsy jazz, found also under the names gypsy swing, jazz manouche, and hot club-style jazz, is a style of swing jazz music born out of a junction of two musical geniuses – violinist Stephane Grappelli and Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt. Django’s roots are traced back to the Manouche clan, the name that stuck as one of the labels for the style. The duo formed a larger band called Quintette du Hot Club de France, mostly consisting of gypsy jazz guitars, which served both as lead instruments, harmonic background, and the rhythm section, who could handle the lack of a drummer in the group. This kind of percussive technique of playing chords in a swing-like nature quickly became the signature strumming pattern in the style.
Percussive technique of playing chords in a swing-like nature quickly became the signature strumming pattern in the style of gypsy jazz.
Jazz mounche is played typically in 4/4, with a heavy swing, with guitars strumming a ‘la pompe’, which is a percussive rhythm similar to the ‘boom-chick’ in bluegrass music. This strumming emphasizes the beats two and four, which is crucial to the swing. The lead line typically embellishes arpeggio, and involves lots of chromaticism in between. Very popular are also appoggiatura grace notes from one semitone below. This coupled with string bending, staccatos and pizzicatos, lots of percussive harmonization, brings forth a very energetic style of playing.
Since the Quintette du Hot Club de France there were many amazing musicians following the style. Let’s look however at the original ensemble, with Stephane and Django in the lead.