Hearing differences in style

edited November 2020 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 3


I have recently begun to learn gypsy jazz (about a month ago now) and have been listening to the genre more carefully. A few months ago I had thought that most gypsy jazz guitarists have essentially indistinguishable styles. After more listening, I can hear the differences between, for example, Stochelo, Bireli, and Joscho, who I have been listening to for a while. However, there are still many guitarists whom I cannot distinguish from one another. I have recently begun listening to Fapy, who sound very similar (to my ears) to Django. Jimmy Rosenberg also sounds similar to Stochelo to me.

Would you guys be able to hear these guitarists and tell who is playing just by their sound / style? Were you able to do this just by listening, or did you sometimes have to transcribe and analyze solos? I'm worried that my ears are not sensitive enough and that there are musical qualities I'm not hearing which a musician should be able to pick up on. Maybe I just need to spend more time listening.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read and/or answer!



  • Posts: 4,797

    There's nothing wrong with your ears. It just takes time. It's like being able to hear the accent in the non native speaker who is fluent in some language that you're not speaking or not fluent in. Like if I hear a person speaking French with a decent pronounciation I'll never hear their accent and someone else will immediately ask "where are you from originally?". It just comes with more listening. And most of these players have their signature ways to move around the fretboard. I won't call it licks, their playing is much more than a collection of licks but you can certainly hear that too.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • adrianadrian AmsterdamVirtuoso
    Posts: 546

    Yes, it's definitely possible to be able to identify a player purely by listening. Some players are more easily/quickly identifiable than others, due to things like tone, signature licks or note choice.

    You could even argue that's a goal of every serious jazz improviser — to find their own identifiable sound/personality.

    This reminds me of the "Blindfold Test" column in DownBeat Magazine. It's where they ask a jazz musician to listen to a bunch of recordings and try to identify who's playing. At a surface level, it's fun to see musicians demonstrate their knowledge (or lack thereof) of the music's history and the current scene. At a deeper level, it underscores how getting your own sound is one of the most highly valued traits in jazz.


  • edited June 2020 Posts: 92

    I think this even easier with jazz ( non GJ ) guitarists. For instance, within a couple notes you can hear the difference between say, Joe Pass and Pat Martino, or Tal Farlow and Jimmy Bruno. But these guys all play very different guitars and amps in addition to their phrasing and timing being so unique. More difficult with GJ players as most play similar sounding guitars. But the more I listen, the easier I can distinguish them. I can now pick out Stochelo , Schmitt, etc just because I have been listening to them so much. Each has "signature" lines that stand out for me now.

  • geese_comgeese_com Madison, WINew 503
    Posts: 466

    After spending hours and hours of listening, I think you will start to be able to pick out players just by their playing. An interesting thing to do that I have done is find all the different versions of a single song (e.g. After You've Gone, Coquette) by all different players, put them into a playlist, and listen to them in random order. That will really help in being able to get tuned into each player's particular style.

  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator Gallato RS-39 Modèle Noir
    Posts: 277

    I've been away from the style for a few years, but when I was listening constantly, there were certain living "voices" that were more distinct than others: Tony Green, Tchavolo Schmitt, Fapy Lafertin, Angelo Debarre, Bireli Lagrene, Hannsche Weiss (living?), Patrick Saussois, Olivier Kikteff, Serge Krief, Francis-Alfred Moerman, Koen de Cauter, Tcha Limberger, and Boulou Ferre. I could pick those guys out: they stuck out as individuals, to my ear. There are more, but also a lot of guys I can't distinguish.

  • Posts: 4,797

    I don't know if I would be successful in a blind test, but they all have something that stands out to me. Stochelo has a very distinct tone, projects but has a soft note quality. The tone of Tchavolo is a dead giveaway. You'll know Jimmy by hearing a stock lick played faster than anyone else alive. Joscho lately has a fair amount of showcase tricks that sometimes don't change much between songs plus you have his surgically precise and clean picking. Bireli I'll know if he drops some bebop lines and going places on the fretboard that generally nobody else dares going. Fapy is one of the more dynamic players, he takes time developing the ideas, kinda like Peter Bernstein of GJ world. Angelo by his great sense of swing.

    And so on...

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Posts: 3

    Thank you guys that's good to hear!

    @adrian I was also thinking of Miles Davis's Blindfold Tests when writing this! The first time I read those I was so impressed that he could recognize musicians so accurately. That and what he wrote about jazz in his autobiography really made we want to experience playing the genre as a musician.

    And yes, I think part of why I even want to be able to recognize style is so that I can develop my own! I was thinking "How can I come up with my own sound if I can't even recognize it in others?". Fortunately I am gravitating to certain artists and the way they play more than others, so that could be a good start. To have an intentionally crafted distinct and recognizable sound within a genre seems like a real achievement. I think it's very possible, or even probable, that I will never get there, but I think it's a good goal to structure my practice and give me a sense of direction :)

    @matthewkanis Playing with similar guitars, picking styles, etc (at least relative to the overarching genre of jazz) was definitely a big issue. That's why I'm glad to hear that with more listening, you can pick up on the differences.

    @geese_com That's a great idea! So far what I have been doing is listening to guitar duets and trying to figure out who's playing a particular solo. Doing this with Joscho Stephan's Guitar Heroes really helped me to be able to distinguish Joscho, Bireli, and Stochelo. However, your approach is also a great technique why I'll try out as well. Thank you!

    @Ando Good to know! You also just gave me a list of musicians to check out :) Perhaps if, with enough years of listening, I end up not being able to distinguish them, it will end up being more of a reflection of the musicians than my ear haha

    @Buco I had very similar thoughts! That's very encouraging. To my ears, Stochelo has a very soft/clean tone, and I think you can often hear the harmony/lead melody pretty clearly in his lines. Joscho is insanely technical and precise, where every note is clean and even, and I would also say his style of playing is a bit more on the technical/virtuosic side. With Bireli, it seems like he brings his experience from playing other genres into his playing, and he has a particular way of picking/attacking the notes.

    Finally, with all this listening, I'm also able to hear a bit more of what people mean when they call Django a genius. His playing is so tasteful and unexpected but in a way which makes complete sense! I hope with time I'll be able to pick up on more and more of what made him such a great musician. It was @dennis's video on Django's birthday where he mentioned how Django had a very precise ear, amazing musical intuition, paid careful attention to every element of the music, and how he went "beyond gypsy jazz" that really made me want to be able to hear those things, and I've made a few small steps in that direction which is exciting!

    Thank you so much to everyone for your replies!

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