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Which books to get?

JeremyJeremy New
edited June 2007 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 39
I'm looking to start learning gypsy jazz, which books should I get? I'm mainly looking for explanations of the chords and scales, and how to apply them. I'm definitely getting 'Gypsy Picking', so I can work on my gypsy technique.


  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002

    There are about a half-dozen threads on this forum that cover this, so you can get a variety of opinions. "Gypsy Picking" is the foundation book; without it or a good teacher, everything that follows is pointless. Stephane Wrembel's "Getting into Gypsy Jazz" is, I think, the best book for laying out the musical basis for improvization. "Gypsy Fire" and the Robin Nolan lick books are excellent for learning some good licks to rely on as you expand your own ideas. A number of people will recommend "Gypsy Jazz: The Secrets", but I find that book to be too advanced for a beginner except for some of the exercises at the beginning, which you can get elsewhere. Another book I liked was "Easy Django", which laid out some Django tunes in a simplified format. It helped me feel like I was playing somethin real, and gives a few tunes you can apply your other licks to.

    For rhythm I like the Robin Nolan song books at my level. Cosmini's books are great, but probably are suited to a more advanced player. Wrembel has great play-alongs on his website that you can download for free.

    I'm not sure where you live, but if you can find a teacher neaqr you, I highly recommend it. GJ requires a guide. I had Gypsy Picking for three months, but it wasn't until I had a seminar with Michael Horowitz at Django in June that I really got a handle on holding the pick properly and how to position the right arm and hand. In fact, I highly recommend Django in June if you are anywhere close. I learned so much in just a few days that I would never have learned so quickly...and I found a pretty great teacher to boot! Almost any GJ event has seminars. Go to as many as you can. You will learn something at each one.

    Good luck and enjoy!
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    I'd be wary of a lot of the books with chord charts for Gypsy Jazz material. With all due respect, books like the Cosimini series are, IMHO
    'barking up the wrong tree'. Try to learn good functional harmony for this style of music. Get it from the Cd's if you can, or from other players if you can't get it on your own. I realize that it's human nature to take the easy way out, but it's worth taking the time to learn songs right the 1st time. Unfortunately some of these books have a bunch of ii v's and subs, etc. Try to use your ears as much as possible.
    This is one of my pet peeves, so, sorry to you all that have heard me ranting before.
    If I go to a jam and see some of these books, I cringe.
  • kidtulsakidtulsa New
    Posts: 61
    I agree with HCPhilly -- it's best to concentrate on learning the basic changes first. This will give you a greater understanding of the bigger picture in terms of harmony (that there's an awful lot of repeating chord patterns). A great way to learn is to try and figure things out by ear and compare that to a basic chart, seeing where you have 'blind spots' in your hearing. It will help at jam sessions et. al. when an unfamiliar tune comes along -- most of these tunes share the same language harmonically, regardless of key. I like Ralph Patt's Vanilla Book for stripped-down standard changes
    I think that books like Colin Cosimini's are very useful once you have this basic framework in place for thinking about ways to gussie up your changes or understanding chord substitutions that crop up in the style. Just my two cents.
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    Hey, I'm not gonna argue with Barry, who is a helluva player and a very knowlegable teacher! I will say the Nolan books (especially the first one) helped me find a way to play rhythm where everything was neatly laid out and made sense, so from a beginners perspective, there is clearly value. I don't refer to them as much anymore (a year later) and am more apt to grab a grill. But some beginners, and I was one, are really overwhelmed out how different GJ is, and how much has to happen successfully to play it. Robin's books help you past that period of insecurity, and give you some good chord voicings to work with for when you do go to grills. I was trying to be deferential to Cosmini, but I found his stuff too hard for me.

    I think the most important thing is a good teacher still. We have Barry and Kruno here in Philly, and it isn't far to Wrembel and Ben Wood in NYC. I can't imagine trying to learn this stuff without help. That's still the key in my view. For a schmo like me that makes all the difference.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    Hey Mike,

    I hope I didn't sound too negative about books like Cosimini's,
    and I really don't want to bore you all to tears.
    God knows we all need as much help as possible, especially because most of us weren't born in a caravan.
    However, I think that It's important to start from the best possible point when learning this style, [or any other style]. For one thing, your improvising and everyone else's will depend on good functional changes,
    good basic voicings
    and a good "pompe." If you are learning a song, it's best to learn it without somebody's pet changes and subs. [And it's good to be able to know which is which!]
    Case in point;
    If you wanted to learn, say a piece of classical music, the way that it's done is to get a copy of the music that was as close as possible to the composer's original intent. The reason being that editors constantly add their own notes and edits not found in the original.
    Now obviously since we are playing music that is a bit archaic harmonically as Django originally played it, [ less ii-V -I progressions, for instance], we are all going to smooth out some of the harmony to some extent, and personal taste is going to come into play. But again, for example, if you learn Django's version of "I'll See you in My Dreams,' you'll see and hear that adding an ami7b5 before each of the D7's might be OK in a
    piano "one size fit's all" type fake book, but it'll probably sound
    a bit out of place if you're trying to play Django's solo with your buddies, {or using tracks, BIB files etc}. Now if you like adding some ii's to the v's etc., cool, you should make the changes sound the way that you want to hear them, but take the time to figure out or get a hold of a good version of the changes first. Anyhow, I hope I see you at one of our gigs, or a jam, etc.
  • the #1 thing that helped me when I started was sitting down and memorizing songs. i agree with Barr that the Cosimini charts are usually not on par with what people usually play but I also think that the Cosimini Minor Swing, Minor Blues, and Dark Eyes charts are hands down the best charts to start with.

    for melodies, i think using the Robin Nolan books is a great start. some of the melodies in there are darn close to note-for-note Django solos.
  • V-dubV-dub San Francisco, CA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 304
    Yeah the Nolan books can go overboard with ii-Vs (usually two measures of a V will do) but I learned a lot from them, and I still use them to this day.

    The standard jazz real book doesn't contain many Django tunes, and it's not easy to find a collection of gypsy jazz songs that you can just plop in front of a rhythm section. Plus the Nolan books show you some typical guitar voicings that you wont be able to decipher from listening alone.

    As usual, if you disagree strongly with what's there, you just cross out chords right in the book and never have worry about it again.

    Really, it's not the fault of the literature. It's all useful stuff, you just have to use it the right way and let it guide you, but not command you.
  • Posts: 22
    In defence of Cosimini's chord books, they were one of the first books i got when i first became interested in playing the music and I still use them as a reference to this day. Granted, the chord charts are 'gypsified' but they definitely get you involved in forming inversions and voicings through out the fret board. This definitely helps in comping and even soloing around the chord patterns. I found them to be a useful tool in learning the music, helping you to create you own chordal interpretations of songs too.
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    I think the day will come when I will really value Cosmini's books. Heck, I see that they are good, but they are a bit harder than I need right now.

    For a person coming to GJ from British blues/rock like me, the chord voicings of jazz aren't always as intuitive as veteran players might think. Robin Nolan got me through a period where I came close to throwing in the towel, and for that I will always appreciate what his books (both licks and chords) do to help a novice find a ground point.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    Hey ya'll,
    I really don't want to beat a dead horse,
    [and the original question was what books to get].
    I've been very lucky to have been blessed with a the ability
    to hear chords and lines. I realize that it isn't that easy for a lot of players. I certainly don't want to sound like I'm dissing Cosimini's books or anyone else's for that matter. If any book helps you, then good for you.
    I thought that in the spirit of trying to help beginning players, we could post chord charts and dissect them. And again, if the chart shows the original change and labels subs as subs, cool. Some books don't make that distiction, :cry:
    I'll offer to go over any chord chart offline too. Email me thru this site or my band's site.
    [Since this might be getting tiresome for a lot of folks, we could do this
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