Bireli Lagrene

Another Book!

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Spring Cleaning has yielded a few more books from my Instruction Media collection! I last wrote about the other stuff I had in very exacting detail here about a month ago. I’ll have another one or two to show soon but here is The Guitar Style of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies, by Ian Cruickshank. This is a compact, yet informative little tome from way back in the mid-80s and it was given to me a few years ago by my cousin. I think he originally picked it up soon after it was published. It reminds me of the Django Reinhardt: Know the Man, Play the Music book from the early 2000s in that the author tries to convey a sense of the people, community and history behind the music itself, while imparting some of the important guitar techniques of the style. I think both books succeed fabulously in this regard! (I’ve linked to Djangobooks where you can get them for a very reasonable price. I just ordered some Argentine Strings and will be reordering soon and, as always, you can count on prompt service!)

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The photographs in the book are fascinating and almost all of them were taken by the author (except for those pics of Django), probably at the annual Samois Festival.  You can feel the history just jumping off the pages with all of the players who were on the scene back in the day. Manouche/Sinti players always have a certain savoir faire about them. That’s true of all guitar players, but these guys definitely have their own artistic/cultural vibe. There are a lot of beat-up guitars and whatever amps they could dig up so most of the players supported themselves as musicians and worked a lot (whenever they could). There are pics of Django contemporary Maurice Ferret, Django’s brother, Joesph Reinhardt, a youngish Fapy Lafertin, Babik Reinhardt (Django’s son), young Boulou and Elios Ferré, Raphael and Louis Fays, Ninin, Modin, and many more. Of course the first part of the book is the story of Django — the guy who started it all!

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The author has been a player of some renown in the UK for a number of years. He obviously has a lot of love for the style and has been there for a lot of great shows over the years. The instructional material is a good primer for getting started on Manouche guitar. While it isn’t as detailed and exhaustive as later publications, Cruickshank covers all of the basics to get one up and jamming on a couple choruses of Minor Swing or Djangology. The hardest part is figuring out how to read the of the diagrams, which are a bit confusing.

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I recommend this book if only for the history lesson and as a snapshot of the mid-80s. Certainly the quality of instructional material has taken major leaps forward in the past 30 years and so much more is known about the inner workings of the style and community compared to 1985. Younger people would probably view some of the material as quaint or dated today, but it does hit all of the right notes as far as bullet points of the style, so I have to give it a thumbs up!

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Bireli Lagrene is Really Great!

This video was my introduction to the guitar monster known as Bireli Lagrene and from here I picked up his 2004 Jazz at Vienne Concert where he does a whole mess of great playing and has help from some of the best talent around today. This concert is really amazing and I know that word is thrown around a lot, but if you haven’t been exposed to this style or the people who play it, you will find this to be a real eye-opener. It’s almost too much to watch all at once as it goes for almost 3 hours and then there’s bonus footage. It is a testament, not only to how great the European gypsy jazz players are, but how super-duper comfortable Bireli is in any playing situation.

Not only are these guys so good musically, but they are also really fun to watch (like all of the faces Bireli is making in the video above). I went to Jazz at Lincoln Center a few years ago with a couple of friends to catch Tchavalo, Dorado, and Samson Schmitt along with amazing violinist Florin Niculescu. Their complete disregard for the Broadway showbiz rules was refreshing. Jazz at Lincoln Center can be a little, er, stuffy. But we had seats front row center and caught all of the mirth the guys were having onstage. Dorado and Florin spent the whole second half of the program sharing some joke that brought laughter from the first few rows, us included. To have a sense of humor and also have chops that put most people to shame are two of the best human qualities as far as I’m concerned.

Here is a video from the Jazz at Vienne concert with Tchavalo, Dorado and Stochelo Rosenberg doing the Django classic J’attendrai. Tchavalo played this at Lincoln Center and as soon as he started it — I got a similar feeling when I saw Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan — you KNOW you are watching the real deal. He was wearing a white suit and played like a man possessed. Dorado Schmitt is also remarkable and he played guitar, violin and even crooned a sweet ballad for us. To watch Tchavalo, Dorado and Florin  trade chorus after chorus with each other was just fantastic. A woman sitting in the next seat said “I can’t believe how good they are!” and I had to agree with her even though I knew we were going to see good show.

I encourage anyone the least bit interested to get the Jazz at Vienne DVD, you won’t be disappointed. Any guitar players interested in this style should watch the top video repeatedly and pay attention to Bireli’s right hand. THAT is what people call Gypsy Picking and nobody does it better than he. He also uses standard alternate picking when the mood strikes him, but plays the Gypsy Picking most of the time when he is doing this kind of material. The DVD has him onstage for a many segments — with his Gipsy Project, in duos, trios or group jams like the following. Bireli is a guy who can pretty much do anything.

Here is another video from the Vienne concert with Bireli, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavalo and Dorado doing the jazz and GJ standard Them There Eyes. This is these guys doing what they have been doing since they were kids — having a gypsy jazz  jam — only here they are in front of thousands of people.