Tunes of the day:

  • Djangology
  • Douce Ambiance

Morning session: improvisation with Biel Ballester (Barcelona, Spain)

d5 morning 4

What was covered:

Djangology: learned to practice changes with arpeggios. Learned two chord substitutions for the second chord in the piece. Instead of C dim, play basic triad:

  • with F#, play D7
  • with G natural, play Cmin 6 (“planar cadence”)

Biel offered a systematic approach to getting basic improvisational chops. Practice:

  1. All arpeggio positions in a tune
  2. Arpeggios in real-time changing chords, exactly as they come about in the progression
  3. 4th note arpeggios, changing from chord to chord as per progression (like walking bass line)
  4. 8th note arpeggios, bis
  5. 16th note arpeggios, bis

This learning of the arpeggios skeleton should be learned in all place on the guitar neck, in all possible( and imaginative) permutations.

Lessons learned:

  • On a tune like Djangology, no way to cheat the chord changes with scale or catch-all melodic device. you must learn the chord changes, not in scale form, but in basic arpeggios.
  • If the rhythm guitar keeps to the basic triad, a lead guitar player has more harmonic options at his/her disposal in the same chord progression. at this point, it’s a matter of really knowing the possible harmonic variations of a tune in advance.
  • Pace Dennis Chang: by and large, basic gypsy jazz improvising on the guitar requires arpeggiated, vertical development of melodic ideas over horizontal, single-string melodic development.
  • As a practice rule of thumb, transitions between arpeggios take on the closest note in the next arpeggio of the chord progression.
  • Turn-around = cadenza
  • Take harmonic risks during the basic progression, but always nail the turnaround with a recognizable lick, melodic pattern. this grounds your solos.
  • Improv performance is largely intuitive. all the rote, learned stuff happens during intensive practicing, using the gamut of left-brained approach (metronome, musical analysis, naming notes, chords, etc.)

Early afternoon session: —

skipped class, to rest… and yet neglected to go to the much-vaunted Smith College Museum of Art next door!

Late afternoon session – latin rhythms in Gypsy Jazz, with Biel Ballester (encore!)

d5 late aft 4

What was covered:

Same issues covered as with day 3 early afternoon session, with addition of three other specific gypsy jazz latin rhythm: the bossa (both plectrum and hand strums), the bolero and the rhumba.

The Basics:

  • Bossa: up-strokes and left-hand muting all-important.
  • Bolero: though it sounds tough because of that rapid right-hand triplet pattern, much easier to play than bossa.
  • Rhumba: near-continuous triplet strumming, with three accents, the strongest one in the lone upstroke accent of the strumming pattern.

Lessons learned:

  • Learn the rhythm before you try it on your instrument: sing/scat it.
  • Latin rhythms in gypsy jazz are not “true” bossa’s bolero’s, etc., rather, they are adapted by gypsy masters into the gyspy jazz repertoire as derivations of “la pompe”. learning a latin gypsy jazz rhythm therefore requires to learn the “ground and accent” approach of la pompe, and play the required strumming and left-hand muting approach as per latin rhythm style.
  • If there’s one thing Biel wanted us to take away from this session, it’s the habit out grounding rhythm playing in beats one and three of a 4/4 bar, whatever the rhythm happens to be. Tempo is king in gyspy jazz music.

Concert Time Again!

Tonight’s concert is the Django In June big event. Already 3/4 of an hour before the show droves of people are lining up in front of the Helen Hills Hills Chapel for tickets.

d5 concert line-up

The show begins with a warm welcome to all by Andrew, who summarizes the entire week-long event to the locals and out-of-town guests, and goes on to thank the many sponsors who’ve provided support, resources, funds and promotional opportunities to Django In June.

Next, the musical performers. The first set showcases the talent Vladimir Mollov (accordion) and Kruno Spisic (guitar and vocals), with Ted Gottsegen (guitar) and Jared Engel (bass) as accompanists. The gypsy jazz standards offered to our ears are played with guts and brio, and Spisic and Mollov shine further with soulful numbers from the Balkans.

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After a the first ovational moment of the evening, the crowd returns from a 15-minute break to greet the star performers of the evening: German gypsy guitar master Wawau Adler and the great Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis, backed up by the trusty rhythm team of Ted Gottsegen and Jared Engel.

If you’ve attended many jazz concerts in your life, you’re probably experienced in finding the musical gems in the rough wherever they may turn up. Jazz music is so easily typifiable for today’s seasoned listeners that it takes a special kind of talent (and a lot of work!) to bring an audience from simple enjoyment of the familiar to the experience of true musical epiphany.

In our case, as Tim Kliphuis mentions early on in the show to the audience, he and Wawau became lifelong friends about 1/2 hours before the show, lying on a couple of couches behind the stage. So what musical dialogue to expect from two new lifelong friends?

Tonight I discovered that it takes top musical improvisation skills along with the mastery of diverse traditional repertoires to pull an act of impromptu stage chemistry.

With all the jams I’ve been witnessing throughout the week breakneck tempos seem to me to be the bread and butter of gypsy jazz today. Not with tonight’s all-stars: by the end of the concert I’ve counted only four uptempo numbers, from a total of roughly 13-15 songs.

Does that mean that the rest were “slow tunes”? Not at all. Seasoned performers know this, it’s the combination of rhythmic variety and eclectic numbers that keep today’s concert-going audiences satisfied.

And this is exactly what Adler, Kliphuis and co. delivered. One exquisite tune after another, of warm acoustic magic, beautifully melodic solos cascading in and out of a vast reservoir of musical knowledge – snippets of bach, mozart, scottish reels, bossa beats and eastern dirges, all delivered into the gypsy cauldron to boil and simmer, as required. Result: I heard classics like Nuages and Minor Swing as if for the first time.

d5 concert3

To give you a taste of the virtuosity involved in both Kliphuis’ and Adler’s playing, here’s a couple of clips from Youtube (again, if someone comes across an embedable clip of this actual concert, let me know!). First Wawau Adler, at Samois 2006 (he’s wearing the blue cap):

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Now Tim Kliphuis playing Sweet Georgia Brown. Tim’s inventiveness just blows me away:

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Need I say more? If these guys ever come to your town, don’t miss a beat and run straight to the ticket booth! Lucky me, I got to see them play together, in one life-changing concert!

One Last Jam!

Here are a few pics from the last mega-jam of Django In June 2007. Enjoy!

d5 final jam1

d5 final jam3

d5 final jam8

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