I like to listen to great banjo artists for fun and as an aid to learning to play well...
For early jazz music, mostly from what I have heard is big band style where the banjo is relegated to be a percussive background instrument, and the horns and clarinets have almost all the volume (with drums) and most all the solos. Plus, to say that the rare banjo solo is typically short would be an understatement.
I was listening to Django/Gypsy Swing music recently and thought that the banjo must have played a role in that music...? Maybe it had a more prominent role in Europe?
Could you tell me if the names of (or links to) early Gypsy jazz bands where the banjo played (literally) not just percussive background but a prominent, leading or at least equal role to the other instruments in the band?
It would only make sense that some of these bands were based in Europe; would love to hear names or links to American and European bands, or from wherever.
I feel like I should know the names of the these bands, but I don’t.
YouTube has quite a few videos along these lines, some are by Eddy Davis & several from groups around the world. (there are some images of Django on Banjo around the internet).
Don Reno is a 5 string player who was known for playing some tunes covered by Django, Notably, Limehouse Blues, The World is Waiting for a Sunrise and Whispering although he did it in a bluegrass context not so much jazz. Django himself also played banjo at an early age, likely because that was what was available.
If you think that there should be a Gypsy Jazz band fronted by a banjo, I think it would be a great idea to start one.
Maybe not quite what you are wanting to listen to rocky, but I guess this is a young Djanjo on banjo. If you listen closely, you can certainly his lines.
There is a great book called "Gypsy Jazz in search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing". It's written by Micheal Dregni and i got my copy on Amazon.com. It would appear that Django wanted to play banjo and it was not a case of having to settle for a banjo because he couldn't get a guitar. Django loved the 6 string banjo work of Gust Malha who was the favorite of the accordion players that played at the bal musettes around Pigalle and Belleville and Montmartre. The banjo was preferred for it's ability to cut through the crowd noise and for the way it could accompany the accordion with melody, harmony, bass lines and rhythm. The most popular tempo was the waltz, mazurka, etc. Looks like Gusti Malha made some recordings on banjo as did the young Django. The tenor banjo and the mandolin-banjo were also used. There is a picture of Django playing what looks like plectrum banjo and the famous shot of him as a young man with his 6 string banjo. Gusti also played guitar and remained a friend to Django for many years. So there is some precedent for utilizing the banjo for Gypsy/Romany Swing and Jazz. Maybe some adventurous banjo player could learn "La Minch Valse" composed by Matteo Garcia who was Gusti's teacher. Gusti also wrote many "Valses Manouche". Young Django spent about 10 years prowling the Bals Mussete with his banjo all the while honing his skills until he became the best. So the birth of Django really has it's roots in his banjo playing.
Look up Howard Alden and Don Vappie on YouTube. They have both played some great single line solos.
That's absolutely great John........I'm going to order that book right now.
Damn expensive book! But got one used for $16 in paperback
It's worth it. Lots of info. The same guy also wrote a good bio of Django.
I’ve looked up some of your suggestions, but not all yet.
I had heard, but didn’t recall until you brought it up here, that Django was a banjo player. John, is it the case that, when Django played a banjo, he mostly or almost exclusively played a 6 string? Did he play banjo on stage regularly throughout his whole career, or just started with it? Just wondering.
I did listen to the link of Django, David, you can hear him basically do turn arounds at the end of phrases, but no solo. Does anyone know of a link where Django is playing a solo?
Howard Alden seems to do some Gypsy Swing, enjoyed it. ‘Didn’t find much of him. Ran out of time then to try to dig up more of Eddie’s (greenmeat’s) Django banjo; I’ll be back to it or maybe he’ll chime in and point us to links. Don Vappie was wonderful to listen to but I think he does Creole or Lousiana jazz, not Gypsy swing.
Like most often, the horns overpower, putting the banjo most often in percussive mode (and often the banjo is a visual only, anything left of the banjo sound is buried behind the drums). I never thought I’d start to dislike hearing horns and clarinet :) . There is a local early jazz band that plays on stage with 4-5 horns and 2 clarinets, large drum kit, 1 (yes, only 1!) banjo, and he gets a solo for about 4 measures in a 2 hr set, I wonder why the banjo player even bothers...? I wonder if banjo players in these bands today know that the audience basically never hears them (which seems typical), other than the 4 measures, but I digress...
I haven’t found much Gypsy Swing banjo online. Sometimes there isn’t much of a distinguishing line between what is Gypsy Swing and what is a merging of genres, or I haven’t found the right online fishing holes.
One of my ultimate favorite bands is the Hungarian Banjo Kings; sometimes they go by another name. Mostly they play and sing 20’s-40’s trad American jazz standards, exceptionally well; I think they do some Gypsy Swing numbers. I will post it if I find any. Others may know.
They are obviously a current band, though, like the folks mentioned above. Even those seem to be very few and far between, or it’s a band focusing on Gypsy Jazz and they play one song where the instruments include a banjo.
Anyone know bands back in the day that were known as Gypsy Swing bands where the banjo was treated as an equal with other instruments?
Seems also like Django would have written some music for the banjo, since he played it.
Maybe Polle from across the pond or someone else from the “greater Europe” will know and chime in too...?
Just to point out, this might be your chance to strike out in a direction rarely traveled.
There are lots of books on gypsy rhythm guitar, and others on lead guitar and on Stephane Grappelli violin playing and licks. Add in those on-line resources for building chords, and you've got your course. With the musical muscle you'll build translating the stuff to CGDA tuning, you'll be on your way.
Not sure how comparable to Django his music is but check out Lee "Plink" Floyd. Lead banjo all day long.
I think that Django had abandoned the banjo by around 1930. There's not much solid evidence to go on because so much of the Gypsy Jazz story, and Django's story for that matter, is a handed down oral history. There have been some excellent books on the subject in the past 10 years or so and Gypsy Jazz is quite popular.
From what I can gather, and this is off the top of my head, but I think Django was given a 6 string banjo by a relative and was playing by 1923 or so. He made his first recordings on banjo in 1928 and that same year was the terrible fire that almost cost him his left hand. He was in the hospital recovering for quite awhile and his brother Joseph brought him a guitar because he seemed so upset at the possibility of never playing again. It was in the hospital that he re-learned the guitar using only his first 2 fingers and thumb because the fire had damaged and deformed his ring finger and pinky.
So when he was released from the hospital he began playing again and I think it was at this point that he gave up on the banjo to concentrate on the guitar. I also believe that Django did compose a few numbers during his banjo playing days but they were not published and survive today on recordings by some of Django's colleagues most notably Matelo Ferret. The pieces are waltzes and I looked up the titles. "Montagne Sainte Genevieve" "Gagoug", "Ceez Jacquet" and "Choti". These are not easy to play but might transfer to the banjo with a little work.
There is a picture of Django holding what looks to me like a plectrum banjo. Django is sitting at a picnic table with some friends including his brother Joseph, and Django sits at the head of the table with his arms stretched up and the banjo is in his lap. Detail is not great and I think it dates to around 1930.
I hope this answers some questions and I hope my info is correct since it's just off the top of my head.
Omeboy, that was awesome!
Thank you for introducing a really interesting and, for me, truly surprising angle on Django. Never knew that he started out with banjo. So here are my two cents on it, since I think I can provide a 'European' perspective.
Firstly, it should be noted that in Europe, the style you call 'Gypsy Jazz' is generally referred to as 'Hot Club', I believe. The 'Hot Club de France' label inextricably connected with founding fathers Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli, of course, and so called so as to distinguish it from American jazz. So, guitar-led jazz, with or without violin - or should I rather write 'syncopated music' here? I'm not sure - is usually immediately recognised as Hot Club. Reversely, though, Hot Club musicians are predominantly Gypsies, true - but not all music played by Gypsies is necessarily 'Hot Club'. In this sense, the term 'Gypsy Jazz' can be a bit misleading. There might even be a racist connotation to it, in these hyper-sensitive times. But if I'm wrong on this, please do correct me.
Secondly, Rockyo also asked for some Hot Club stars from Europe. So here goes, from the top of my head:
- The Rosenberg Trio
- Bireli Langrene
- Fapy Lafertin
- Koen de Cauter (a Belgian Hot Club veteran on clarinet), in a YouTube clip (sound recording) together with Fapy Lafertin, below:
- the late Diz Dizzly, a personal friend of Stephane Grapelli.
Incidentally, Diz famously enticed Grapelli out of retirement. But I met Diz personally, too, if only once.
Many years ago, I was affiliated with a small agency that sent me out to a corporate gig, as part of an ad-hoc quartet. But I discovered only on the premises that the line-up for that evening was guitar, tenor banjo (me), clarinet and trumpet. All strangers to each other. And since the agency hadn't been able to find a bassist, Diz stepped in. At the last minute, apparently. We must have struck a chord, though (pun unintended), because people came up to us, in-between breaks and after the party, to book us for other gigs.
No recording of that event, sadly. But truly the highlight of that year. If not of my whole musical career.
But back to Rockyo's original question. I myself have never ever seen a banjo in European Hot Club. But here's another pair of anecdotes.
Once upon a time, I did street parades, off and on, with an ever changing group around a double bass player. His double bass mounted on a three-wheeled contraption he designed and built himself. It even had an in-built amp, I think. But he also ran a really excellent 'Hot Club' quintet. And since he was curious as to how banjo would fit in, I was invited to sit in. Sadly though, nothing ever came of it, since he suffered a heart attack or a stroke shortly afterwards. As far as I know he's still alive, but I don't know if he's still active in music.
Such level of enlightenment, as to banjo in a 'Hot Club' setting (or any non-jazz setting, for that matter), is very rare, though. My other experience, therefore, a less happy one.
One summer, a Hot Club quintet was performing, acoustically, at the Saturday corner market just a few steps from my front door. I asked their leader if I could sit in for a couple of numbers. He silently glanced at my banjo for a moment - and then politely declined. Never mind that I have some four decades in jazz under my belt. He never even asked. My choice of instrument that ultimately counted, apparently.
Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 04/13/2018 08:28:46
There are some cool Django backing tracks on youtube for anyone wanting to experiment. I was messing with this one this morning. Have a good weekend all.
This is my personal favorite banjo version of this tune. Just close your eyes and listen.
Yesterday I attended the Boston Banjo Bash. Tyler Jackson was the featured performer. During his evening performance he played two Hot Club/Gypsy jazz tunes. He is leading the way in Django style on the 4-string banjo and is redefining 4 string banjo playing the same way Bela Fleck did for the 5-string.
That's great Ken. Tyler is a Brilliant musician, and is doing great things with the banjo. What gypsy tunes did he play? I would love to hear your thoughts on the Boston Banjo Bash on a separate thread. Have you ever attended one before? I know everyone involved are great people, and great musicians.
I saw a wonderful guitar player, Chris Newman, at an Irish festival play some Hot Club music years ago with his wife on harp. He introduced me to Rosenberg Trio, Langrene and others. Since then, that has become one of my favorite styles of music.
I would enjoy hearing you play, do you have any samples?
@malarz Tyler Jackson makes me want to chop off my fingers.
The Rosenberg Trio is my favorite in the Gypsy genre Mike. Not too flashy, Rock Solid, Pristine Gypsy Jazz.
Just got back from Boston Bash where I had the privilege of backing up Tyler Jackson (very cool) with Albie Bernard on tuba - enjoying a rare opportunity to play my Guild archtop. The set list included Django-esque versions of "Exactly Like You" & "Honeysuckle Rose".
Tyler's also a great and friendly person, which makes it more difficult to resent his unfair levels of talent and skill.
PS - I expect others here will be looking forward to hearing his upcoming recording work with Howard Alden as much as I do.
So that was you!? Excellent and solid rhythm accompaniment! And, your performance that evening was great and entertaining. A nice mix of tunes and songs. The vocals always add a lot of interest to a show.
Hope no permanent damage to your Guild after that nasty fall!
Of course it was you! Now I look more closely and see your name listed under “Sunnyland Bob.” Sheesh! i should follow the rule “Read twice, write once!”
I would enjoy hearing you play, do you have any samples?
Yes I do. However, my life has been rather chaotic, of lately; my digital technology down the least of my worries. But I'll have a look through my back catalogue as soon as the opportunity arises.
Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 04/15/2018 22:35:01
'What's it worth?' 30 min
'Pick Up Query' 1 hr
'Grandson’s first fish' 3 hrs
'I'm excited!' 4 hrs
'The Royal Schottische' 4 hrs