I am new to gypsy jazz, but have been playing guitar for over 50 years. I have played everything from folk tunes in the 70's to New Orleans r&b, Chicago and Texas blues, and flamenco, sometimes semi-pro, but always with a day job. The one thing that has always been the brick wall for me has been jazz on guitar. I tried it in my youth, during the heady days of jazz fusion music, but I didn't have the discipline at the time. What I can say, though, is like most guitar players, I have a good ear. I can hear and understand the most complex improvisational music.
I've been interested in Gypsy Jazz for as long as I've heard it. I am lucky enough to say that I've seen Stephan Grappelli in person (yeah, I'm almost 60). I finally picked up the guitar again after a hiatus, inspired by local GJ player Tony Green. Unfortunately, I did not find Michael’s site until after I bought a Taylor 310ce, the closest thing I could find to a GJ guitar around here. Now, I've got an Altamira with my name on it heading my way later this month and may sell the Taylor (maybe not, though; can’t have too many guitars).
In the interim, found a jazz instructor that took the time to dissect GJ theory and soloing, but, at $50 a lesson without specific GJ experience, I dropped him. I subscribed to a Robin Nolan’s magazine and even bought his a "Minor Swing" master class. Later, I bought Yaakov Hoter’s video class on “Minor Swing” and learned the entire solo pretty close to speed. (For the same $50, Yaakov’s study is light years ahead in content and comprehensiveness.) I also picked up Yaakov’s Ballad study and learned a finger and pick style of “Tears.” I'm now working my way through Michael's Gypsy Picking book (reworking my “Minor Swing” solo), and Denis Chang’s accompaniment DVD. I've gotten used to using the 3.5 Wegen pick, but I'm researching others.
So, here’s what I'm thinking. Part of the impetus--in addition to the obvious attraction of playing Gypsy Jazz--is that this is an great way to get into through my final brick wall on guitar: jazz. I felt and still do feel that the energy of the music is a great motivator. There is, of course, much more to it than this. Little did I realize the specialization in picking and strumming styles were so exacting.
The main thing is, though, I don't look forward to spending the rest of my life woodshedding in a room, learning every single arpeggio, trying to get faster, playing for no one. What I do want to do is--within the limitations I have--play some of the most beautiful and interesting music I've ever heard.
To that end, I can now play pretty good versions of the two tunes I mentioned, but I can’t stretch very far in a solo beyond what I've learned by heart. I’m not so naive as to believe that there’s a shortcut to the proficiency I have in blues, r&b, folk and other genres (and they are not easily translatable to Gypsy Jazz), but I don't want to waste time either. I have made some inroads into studying this music, and I have been able to distinguish a few approaches that seem inherently better for me. I have been reading a lot of the old posts on this forum about learning to play, especially about those about being new to the style. I look forward to the arrival of my new real Gypsy Jazz guitar in the belief that it will further spur my interest and excitement for this music.
If you've read this far, I'd appreciate your comments on how to make the best use of my time learning this great music.