Doug Martin: Learn the History of Gypsy Jazz Music

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One of the styles of jazz I perform is what has today become known as “gypsy jazz” or gypsy swing. This style of jazz is most often attributed to gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli who founded the all strings jazz ensemble, The Quintet du Hot Club de France, in the 1930s in Paris, France. This style is at times also referred to as “jazz manouche”, from the French term meaning “gypsy”. The style’s creation being attributed to a gypsy, the musical characteristics of the blending of gypsy musical elements with jazz and the fact that it has largely been fellow gypsies (until recently) who have carried and preserved the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt since his de ath in 1953, makes the term “jazz manouche” one that is quite fitting in describing this genre.



Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt was born in Belgium on January 23, 1910. Honing his skills as a guitar-banjo player accompanying accordion players in the Bals Mussette of Paris in his youth, Django Reinhardt years later switched to the guitar during convalescence after his near fatal injury when his caravan caught fire leaving his left hand ring and pinky fingers damaged for life. <more>

The Music:

One of the main characteristics of gypsy jazz, aside from its all strings instrumentation (more often than not), is the use of rhythm guitar in place of the jazz drummer. Utilizing a swing guitar rhythm technique o ften referred to as “la pompe” meaning “the pump” in French, the rhythm guitarist(s) can create a dynamic percussive rhythm which drives the beat and is as effective as a drummer. We often hear swing rhythm guitar in other settings such as Freddie Green’s role in the Count Basie Orchestra, for example. However, the “pompe” of gypsy jazz differs from the more American style of swing rhythm guitar in the way it is used completely in place of the drummer’s role as well as stylistic nuances such as playing very much on top the beat, emphasizing beats 2 and 4 to a larger degree and at times including a very slight upstroke flourish on beats 1 and 3.

In general, the solos are most often left to guitar and violin. This was the case anyhow with the original Hot Club instrumentation. However, today it is not uncommon for more than one guitarist and even the bass player to solo as well. Moreover, accordion is often included in the instrumentation as well, particularly in ensembles that perform many waltzes from the Mussette repertoire. It will be noted that though the QHCF was an all strings ensemble, in later years Django Reinhardt did also play with vocalists (though not often), reed players (clarinet, sax, etc.) and at times with drummers and other more conventional jazz instruments as can be heard on the “Django in Rome” recordings, and his later bebop recordings and his performances with the Duke Ellington Orchestra to name a few.




Gypsy Jazz has enjoyed a certain “revival” in a sense over the last decade. This can be attributed to a combination of factors such as the growing popularity of current generation players, (ex. The Rosenberg Trio, Bireli Lagrene, Jimmy Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, etc.), a wider availability of access to gypsy jazz recordings, and also an ever growing availability of Selmer-Macaferri style guitars. Additionally, technology has made it much easier for people to connect and share knowledge about this music all over the world. Moreover, over the last decade we have seen a huge spike in interest with this music worldwide as can be seen with the ever growing number of bands being created in honor of this music and the growing number of festivals worldwide honoring gypsy jazz and Django Reinhardt specifically.


Contemporary Players:

The Hot Club of San Francisco headed by Paul Mehling, Doug Martin, John Jorgenson Quintet, Kruno Spisic (originally from Croatia), Stephane Wrembel (originally from France), Gonzalo Bergera (originally from Argentina), Howard Alden, Pearl Django, Michael Horowitz.


An incomplete list of just some of the top contemporary players of the genre today which I highly recommend taking time to explore: (I know this is incomplete but a full list would be a mile long).

Doug Martin, Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Jazz Gallato Dell’Arte guitar violin, Selmer Maccaferri, Stephane Grappelli, Jazz gitan, manouche, John Jorgenson, Mnaouche, The Rosenberg Trio, Bireli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Pearl Django, Angelo Debarre, Jimmy Rosenberg, Gypsy Jazz DVD books, Bigtone, Maccaferri, Accordion Musette


Bireli Lagrene, Boulou and Elios Ferre, Angelo Debarre, Moreno Winterstein, Ninine Garcia, Christophe Lartilleux, Rudolphe Raffalli, Serge Krief, Tchavolo Schmitt, Costel Nitsecu, Raphael Fays, Florin Niculescu, Dorado Schmitt, Samson Schmitt, David Reinhardt, Roman e, Mayo Hubert, Jean Philippe Watremez, Sammy Daussat, Sebastien Giniaux, Adrien Moignard.

Daweli Reinhardt, Mike Reinhardt, Lulo Reinhardt, Moro Reinhardt, Han’che Weiss, Martin Weiss.

Fapy Lafertin, The Rosenberg Trio (Stochelo, Nous’che, Nonnie Rosenberg), Lollo Meier, Robin Nolan Trio, Jimmy Rosenberg, Jon Larsen, Reinier Voet & Pigalle 44.

Gary Potter, Ian Cruickshank, Martin Taylor.


How Can I Learn More About Django Reinhardt and Gypsy Jazz?

The best way to learn more about gypsy jazz is to go out and see the music live. Research who is playing this music and take the time to go out and see it in person. Music is best enjoyed when it is live and “alive”. Aside from seeing local performers in your area if there are any, many countries around the world host gypsy jazz festivals such as the festival at Samois sur Seine in France every year in June and the series of yearly “Djangofests” produced every year on the West coast in the USA.

Moreover there can be no substitute for exploring the plethora of recordings left to us by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli as well as the heap of recordings by contemporary players in the post-Django era.