Archive for Bireli Lagrene

Another Book!

Posted in Education, Players with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by theguitarcave


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!)


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, Lousson Reinhardt, Babik Reinhardt (Django’s son), young Boulou and Elios Ferré, Raphael and Louis Fays, Ninin, Modin, and many, many more. Of course the first part of the book is the story of Django — the guy who started it all!


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 Euro performances over the years. The instructional material is a good primer for getting one started on Manouche guitar. While it isn’t necessary 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 probably figuring out how to read some the of the diagrams, which are a bit confusing.


I recommend this book if only for the history lesson and as a snapshot of the mid-80s. Certainly the whole presentation 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 than it was back in 1985 when Manouche and Sinti musicians were still members of a pretty closed off community. 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 goes, so I have to give it a big thumbs up!

Be a Better Guitar Player! (Links_2016)

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2016 by theguitarcave

There are a whole lot of neato things online these days. Have you noticed? No? Well here’s a few things that you may find interesting, especially if you’re a guitar player. I do try to keep these posts updated and maintained. Currently I don’t think there are any busted YouTube links anywhere on my blog, but that is a challenge and not something I can worry about every week. Sometimes things disappear. Such is life and the internet.

I thought this lesson was way cool when I found it and now I do it regularly — play guitar scales like Bach. This is an exercise you can get under your fingers quickly and it forces you to break familiar patterns. Not only do you develop new ways to see and navigate the fretboard, you also expand your ear potential. Plus, these scales sound more musical right from the get-go as instructor James Scott points out during the lesson. This looks like a good channel with a lot of cool guitar instruction!

For you anyone who aspires to play Gypsy Jazz or Jazz or Shred guitar, or well, anything, The Boss finally has a series of instruction videos. Yes, Bireli Lagrene, King of All Things Amazing has been captured in all of his multi-instrumental awesomeness and he will impart his techniques and secrets to you! Thanks to DC Music School there are now 4 volumes of Bireli instruction available; everything from Gypsy Jazz guitar to Bebop/Modern Jazz guitar with some bass and violin thrown in for fun and education. Seeing as how all of the previews look downright splendiferous I can’t imagine how cool the entire lessons are! While I was away DC Music School released In the Style of video lessons with guitarists Tcha Limberger, Frank Vignola, Adrien Moignard and Sebastien Giniaux. Quite an impressive catalog! By the way…anyone who doesn’t think Bireli is about the best guitarist in the world need only view this live concert. Great band and I lost track of how many jaw-dropping moments there are in the set.

Christiaan van Hemert is the latest and greatest guy bringing Gypsy Jazz guitar education to the masses. He has been the driving force behind The Rosenberg Academy and is now doing a lot of his own videos on YouTube. He has developed into quite a good guitar player. Some of the ideas, tips and exercises he gives out in this Q & A series are very helpful. Recently he just started a new series called Gypsy Jazz Replay that looks to be a lot of fun. The couple episodes I saw selected a song with a guest soloist and then they all sat around and talked about the thinking behind what they played. Great advice for improvisers!

I’ve mentioned this guy before and I check in regularly with what he is doing — Morten Faerestrand! Really amazing player and always good for a neat idea or tip/technique. You can view these videos as stand-alones or as teasers for a larger comprehensive teaching program or group of lessons you can take advantage of here. I love working these new pattern exercises because, like the Bach scales above, playing these patterns regularly takes you into a completely different zone and it’s especially good for either adding depth to what you already have or breaking out of the dreaded INRsImprovising Navigational Ruts.

One thing that I did over the last few months is get real organized because there were a bunch of specific things I wanted to work on in “the woodshed” as they say. I would get to the end of a practice session and realize I had not worked on ideas that were on the mental list, so I made a hard-copy list and posted it where I could see it during my practice time and even when I was sitting around and oddly enough, I found the internalization process went much faster. As we all know, it can take awhile to work in a new move to an improvised situation, but I was happy with how quickly some of this stuff showed up in my playing. I also tried to target specific tunes I knew I would be doing with specific concepts. So in that way, while the licks/patterns/ideas might not have been completely coming out of that improvised zone, I was able to play them naturally in a jam without that “I’m forcing this in here” feeling that sometimes happens. All in all I think the writing and the targeting drastically improved the woodshed to play-time and I have kept adding to the list. What I do now is work a “new stuff” part of the practice and a “maintenance” part where I go over the things I already feel I have down but don’t want to forget. It works out pretty well and makes for a fun practice because I can play slow on things I need to focus on because they are new and I can alternate that with things I can already rip on pretty well. So the practice is organized and doesn’t get boring is what I’m trying to say. Good Times!


During the long weeks that I was laid up and couldn’t even play guitar I watched many of these videos from YouTube user Reg523. I believe he is a jazz player from the west coast who puts up stuff to flesh out concepts he talks about on the forum at So he isn’t really doing a lesson and he isn’t doing a performance either. It’s like he’s playing and trying to say what he’s thinking as he does it and he is a great player! I watched several of his videos on standards I play regularly and got some new ideas. I also loved this version of the Beatles Can’t Buy Me Love…so I learned it pretty much as is and do my own soloing. Great stuff! Also…if you become a member of you will receive a whole lot of lessons via email, some free, some as part of a paid package with free teaser stuff.

Alex Ipsa-Cowan is another jazz instructor on YouTube who has some really interesting ideas for guitar advancement! He plays a lot of straight ahead standard-jazz and breaks down many topics like playing over rhythm changes, playing outside, the bebop scale, arpeggios and many other guitar-type topics! I think, like a lot of players/instructors now he is available for Skype lessons if you so desire and he also has some performance videos with his band who are pretty crackin’ so definitely give a look and listen.

Though I don’t play it anymore, I was real impressed watching videos of Doug Steele, specifically his Van Halen instruction videos. This guy can shred like a BOSS, explores a whole ton of different players and playing concepts and has a really good teaching style/sense of humor! Makes for very cool, entertaining videos. He also has a page devoted to Gypsy Jazz and Django Reinhardt on his website. Cool! After a day and a half of watching Doug’s channel I wanted to go out and get all of my old gear back and crank it UP!!! But some things you gotta leave in the past and/or with other people. Definitely a good thing for anyone out there who wants to crush!

Finally, the old school, brought to you by a guy who has over time become one of my favorite players, Barney Kessel. I have an album review of his over in the right column and since then have acquired some of his other albums. Really great stuff. I will have a separate post on Barney soon, but back in the day he had a series of guitar instruction videos that are now on YouTube. While the quality of the videos is here and there, the information contained within is fascinating and invaluable. One of the best jazz and chord harmony players ever laying down the heavy-duty rap on how to do it. Definitely recommend. There is another here.


As I’ve done before, this post will get made into a sticky for the year so it will stay at the top of the page. If I find anything to and add to it I will. Also, the new links for lessons will get added to the right column. Enjoy!

Bireli Lagrene is Really Great!

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2011 by theguitarcave

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.

Stochelo Rosenberg

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2011 by theguitarcave

Stochelo Rosenberg

Stochelo Rosenberg is one of the top Gypsy Jazz guitar players of the day and is also certainly one of my favorites. He embodies everything one thinks of when considering a guitar player in this style of music; brilliant rhythm and timing, ferocious soloing abilities, great compositional qualities and an endless stream of musical ideas with which to improvise. He comes from a very musical family and learned from his father and uncles, and his two cousins, Nonnie (bass) and Nous’che (rhythm guitar master) are the other members of The Rosenberg Trio. Based in the Netherlands TRT are probably, along with Bireli Lagrene, most responsible for the popularity of Gypsy Jazz today. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other great players who are popular, especially in Europe, but TRT have established themselves world-wide as premier ambassadors of this style of music.

Stochelo has said many times that he learned to play by copying the great Django Reinhardt and it shows. While he has certainly expanded himself beyond being a mere imitator, he is very adept at capturing the vibe, ambiance and approach that Django pioneered. I’m sure there isn’t a Django side that Stochlo hasn’t internalized and you could probably wake him up in the middle of the night, force out onto his lawn, give him a guitar and make him play any of them, and he would be able to do it. Blindfolded. In 30 degree weather. Once again, almost all of the really great players in this style start at a very early age and grow up in a community where there is always music, and musical elders who can provide all of the assistance necessary to become a great musician. That isn’t everything though, as with any artist, the drive, discipline and will must be there in order to progress to the point of greatness. Aside from that determination, I find there are five important attributes found in all of the great players.

Stochelo quote

1. Tremendous picking skills — In order to play hyper-virtuoso lines on an acoustic guitar, one must be able to pick (or finger style if you are Paco De Lucia/Sylvain Luc) like a demon. This isn’t something haphazard—THERE ARE RULES. Classical guitar players spend a great deal of time in their early developmental stages just getting the right-hand (if they are right-handed guitar players) into an automated system of where to go and what to do—when. So it is with Gypsy Jazz. They do not just alternate pick their way through the songs but use the “rest stroke” technique combined with extra down strokes and alternate picking depending on the type of line they are playing. While there is not a long list of “what do I do here” moves, there are a few that are specific and must be practiced intensely for a significant amount of time in order to play at blinding tempos with a good tone. While many people are capable of playing fast, playing with good tone is very difficult and of course depends on other factors including guitar, strings, weather conditions etc. But using the rest stroke actually turns the pick into a “small hammer” (Romane) which gives Gypsy Jazz players volume, great tone, and a very percussive effect when picking.

2. Ninja Fretboard Knowledge There is no doubt about it — you must know where everything is on the neck and I mean KNOW — the same way you can find your way from your bed to the bathroom in the pitch dark middle of the night, drunk out of your mind with your hands tied behind your back and headphones on. Joe Pass stressed the importance of this because you can always play faster, better, and easier if you know where you want to go next. Using the above bathroom metaphor, imagine if you didn’t know or weren’t entirely sure where your bathroom was, but you really had to go and there were 400 people in your house at the time. That’s kind of what it’s like to play Gypsy Jazz in front of people. But if the route to the bathroom is completely internalized, and you have alternate routes—in case of fire, plumbing failure, a crowd, or just to impress people, that’s even better. I have already posted on how knowing how arpeggios relate to the chords you are playing against and playing with 2 fingers can simplify the fretboard so you can play in a variety of positions all over the neck. It is also helpful in breaking out of the “box-position” thing that many people do. Stochelo can play runs from the 1st position to the 5th(12-15 fret) at 150 miles an hour. Once you learn how to tie all of the arpeggios together, while you may not be playing at that speed, you certainly will have increased your knowledge of the fretboard and how your notes relate to the music. This means not just the OBVIOUS notes, but all of the not so obvious notes that work if they are played and phrased correctly (chord/note substitutions). Mainstream jazz players are very adept at this and some have genius qualities in how they improvise on the fly in performance. Gypsy jazz musicians are likewise very adept at this and the thinking behind it is simultaneously very complex, but simplified to the point where it is almost instinctive. People have asked Bireli Lagrene questions like “what do you play over dominant chords?” and he will reply “what is a dominant chord?”. Of course he knows what it is and how it functions. What he is saying is that all of the naming conventions and the “this is what I do here” ideas don’t matter.

3. Awesome Bag of Tricks and Licks Guitar and guitar playing has changed, evolved and expanded in scope since the days of Django Reinhardt. Though he was a total master and his playing and compositions sound fresh and modern today, there are more tools for performing and recording and a wider range of influences and styles a guitar player can call upon to achieve his or her dreams. Many jazz and Gypsy Jazz players employ licks and theory from other styles, the blues for example. Stochelo Rosenberg has a wide variety of blues licks at his disposal and the great thing about a blues lick, like your basic arpeggio; you can alter it by changing a few of the notes, the timing or the phrasing to play something that ranges from similar to completely different—over the same phrase or somewhere else in the song. Blues players do this all of the time and jazz players usually build on simple blues lines and chord patterns to make them more complex. He also has modern-sounding licks and some that are based in the style of Paco de Lucia and other flamenco players, and is obviously a fan of flamenco music. He also has a really, really cool vibrato technique. It can be very subtle, mysterious and soft on ballads and very sustaining on more uptempo songs. Personally, I think he has some of the best acoustic vibrato going and that combined with a very strong and stylish ability to bend notes effectively has a lot to do with why he has a very signature sound .

4. Compositional Approach to Playing and Improvising Ultimately, the goal is to be able to construct solos and improvisations that stand on their own as pieces of music. That doesn’t sound controversial, but each person will have different criteria for what constitutes a musical statement. What I like about Stochelo’s playing is the energy and phrasing; he is the Eddie Van Halen of modern gypsy jazz. The speed and fluidity of his lines, all of which make perfect musical sense when slowed down, combined with his great sense of timing and rhythm make for a very exciting musical statement. He is also capable of playing very emotional ballads and has a very good sense of feel that one can find in great jazz, blues and popular music players. Because he also composes his own music, some of it very popular and well-known, like For Sephora*, Gipsy Summer, Double Jeu, Last Minute Swing, Made for Isaac and many others including various waltzes and solo improvisation pieces, there is always a beautiful (my favorite word) ATMOSPHERE to his playing. This doesn’t have to be a fast lick or a complicated theoretical part. In the long run it comes down to playing the perfect part for every measure in the song. Time, focused practice, experience, imagination and thinking of the music (yours or a cover/standard) conceptually will eventually result in an infinite amount of options at your disposal and the ability to make use of the right one at the right time.

5. Excellent Rhythm and Timing While I’ve listed this at number 5, it could just as easily be the most important aspect of playing to focus on, especially if you are a player who doesn’t play with others very much or does not practice with a metronome or along with recorded music. Having a good sense of time is so important and it is definitely something I have to continuously work at. When playing a “chop-heavy” style like gypsy jazz or metal, the difference between someone who can shred really beautiful and powerful lines, and someone who is just wanking away on scales or arpeggios, is usually defined by how the lines are phrased and timed. All of the gypsy jazz pros advocate practicing with a metronome and creating lines with a sense of feeling, dynamics and emotion. While playing along with recorded music is good, it’s also important, in order to develop good improvising skills, to practice your routine (arps, lines, licks, comping, rhythm guitar) with a metronome so you are imbued with a strong sense of where and how to place notes and chords against a beat. This isn’t as easy as it sounds unless you are already very accomplished. You can play very well alone, and then get together with a rhythm section and in front of people and find out just how lacking your skills are. Some people need that awareness to force them to focus on this aspect and I count myself as one of those people. The good thing is that even after just a few weeks playing with a metronome every day and learning to relax when you are playing, you will see definite improvement.

* This is a great version of For Sephora. It looks to me like Stochelo has a little bit of trouble getting started, but by the final chorus he has even gotten a smile and a nod from Nous’che, the rhythm player, who has seen Stochelo do this song a million times. I hear some Al Di Meola stylings in this solo (Mediterranean Sundance). Do you?

A Guitar Master soundchecking/warming up

Stochelo now has his own Online Academy and I would encourage anyone interested in playing Gypsy Jazz to take the free tour and see what they have to offer. Living in the internet age is amazing because you can study with a guy you would never be able to hang with one on one. He is a very in-demand performer and, of course, many people would love to be his students.

1. Interview with Stochelo Rosenberg. Stochelo Rosenberg Part 1. 2005. Page 127.


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