Sunday, May 17, 2009


Let me welcome you to the first installment in my new blog. For those of you interested in music history, you may visit my other blog at For those of you interested in jazz guitar, then here is the place to come!

I will post a variety of short (and hopefully useful) articles on a wide variety of topics related to jazz guitar, including everything from maintenance to jazz theory and history.


I hope over time, that readers might become involved and add their articles. One step at a time, however, so I will let you all know when I have arrived at the point. For now, I will leave the comments window open so that you can add any information that you believe makes an article better, that is, once articles start appearing. You can go to the comments window by clicking on the article title. One rule--play nice.


Also, please visit me at my website and at my You Tube Channel. Thanks!


Brazil is a tune forever associated by most people, especially those tuned into gypsy jazz, as one of Django Reinhardt's finest moments. The tune was also used as the title track in the Terry Gilliam film of the same name.

Brazil, Django Reinhardt

Playing Brazil

The most compelling feature of the music is the unrestrained enthusiasm and its unabashed Latin quality of the piece, though the underlying rhythm does not fit into the basic established patterns of the rumba, tango, or samba. The melody itself is a 'rift' tune in the Swing style, and the Latin feel is created in the head to a large degree by the highly-syncopated secondary chromatic melody from the fifth of the scale to the seventh and back again to the fifth. Hence, the song, at least the head, features not one rift, but two!

Included at the right side of the page is the score of the head. Since there are two independent melodies that run through most of the head, the piece is, at the minimum, a duet, and it is as a guitar duet that the score has been arranged.

The chord symbols are also given over the score, so the melody in the higher part of each paired system and the chords above may be used as a fake book score by a band. Here the secondary melody in the highest voice of the lower part of the system must be played by second player, but the remaining parts of the texture can be filled out by the comping instrument, bass, and drums in the standard way.

To view the score in right column of the article, right click, open in a new window and, to save the score to your computer, right click a second time.

I play with pick-up bands but have no regular gig, and sometimes I play social functions (restaurants, wedding and corporate cocktail hours, private parties, etc.) solo. When I do, I use rhythm tracks that I have made and drive them through my amp from my laptop. I also use rhythm tracks to sharpen my improvisational skills when practicing at home. I have provided two videos, one of me improvising to one of these rhythm tracks and a video for your use for practice that features the second guitar part as written on the score above.

The audio given on the practice video below is slower than the version I use in my improvisation below and my version crawls compared to Reinhardt's, but the practice video is fast enough to be useful in learning your way around the song. The file goes on for four complete stanzas, so there is time to both practice the head and sharpen your skills at improvising. The progression is simple: G and D7 in alternation (major, mixolydian from tonic, major pentatonic, and even minor pentatonic)-E7 (major phrygian, diminished, alt scale)-Am9 (A pentatonic, natural minor, dorian, melodic minor, E major phryrgian continued from E7)-D7 (all the same scales the song started with over the tonic chord pus mixolydian on D and even materials from the diminished chord or scale). The rate of harmonic change is very slow, so there's time to explore! Have fun!

Last, here is my take on Brazil using a slightly modified version of the rhythm track (faster and with bass added). If you decide to use this song in a band setting, once past the head, I would recommend abandoning the secondary melody, as does Django, and add momentum through the use of a walking bass.

Clearly I am not a gypsy jazz player, although that is a gypsy guitar in my lap on the video, but the tune does lend itself nicely to a Swing treatment. This was one of the last pieces Reinhardt recorded before his death, and one could reasonably argue that there are more Swing and bop influences in his playing by this time than gypsy.

Brazil (my version)

Gyspy Guitar, Yet Again

Limehouse Blues
Limehouse Blues
was composed by Philip Braham and was originally sung with words by Douglas Furber. The song has long since become a improvisational instrumental and one, like Brazil, I heard on an old but astounding Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappeli recording.

Reinhardt/Grappeli, Limehouse Blues

The lyrics:
And those weird China blues
Never go away
Sad, mad blues
For all the while they seem to say

Oh, Limehouse kid
Oh, oh, Limehouse kid
Goin' the way
That the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom
And nobody's child
Haunting and taunting
You're just kind of wild

Oh, Limehouse blues
I've the real Limehouse blues
Can't seem to shake off
Those real China blues
Rings on your fingers
And tears for your crown
That is the story
Of old Chinatown

Rings on your fingers
And tears for your crown
That is the story
Of old Chinatown

Here is my version of Limehouse Blues. The guitar I am playing was made by David Hodson shortly before his death, and was a replica of Reinhardt's guitar in the Louvre. I say "was" because a local repairman (a monkey with a can of Krylon and a wrench, as it turned out) took a barely visible hairline face crack and made it into a disaster by forcing the crack open, pouring glue onto it, then sanding it after the glue dried. The guitar's face has since been lovingly and painstakingly restored by someone with the talent and expertise to do it, but there were some really intense moments.

Swing Gitane
Despite his fame as a gypsy guitarist, "Swing Gitane" is one of the few gypsy melodies that Django Reinhardt recorded and kept for a time in his repertory. "Swing Gitane" means "Swing Gypsy." My version is certainly more Swing than gypsy, but it is a very compelling minor key song. It has built in both swing and drive while retaining some of the eastern European flavor of earlier versions.

I am not a gypsy jazz player, instead having my roots more in electric archtop playing, but the allure of these guitars is hard to resist.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Working the Blues 1, Introduction

This series of articles will hopefully help new players come to grips with improvising over the wellspring progression of American popular music, the blues. Many who teach improvisation hold that the major scale is the primary scale and that all other notes not in the scale but which are brought into play are grafted onto the major scale or used to substitute for notes in the scale. While this is correct in the grand scheme, it does not address "blue note" resolutions or help the new player get any closer to a "more authentic" feel in creating melodies. Identifying the notes that can be used is the easy part. Mastering the syntax and grammar in order to make music in the blues and jazz language is another matter entirely. To make matters even more complex, there is a wide variety of "dialects," though basics are shared.

Nearly all of us carry with us our earliest musical training, at the most meager, the assemblies and brief classes we had in grade school. Here we are taught from the European point of view, and the very first item on the agenda is "do, re, mi," the natural major scale. We are taught, as in European music, to sing or play on the beat. We also carry the influence of all the music heard at home and on the media, and much of what we hear has great value but does not help with understanding the blues or how the basic behaviors of the notes within blues informs all popular music that followed it, especially jazz.

To getting a start, an overview of two basic scales, the major and minor pentatonic, and their historical uses as early as the nineteenth century is really important. The foundation of most American popular music was laid in African-American drum song and dance, work songs, British and British-inspired folk songs, the Spiritual and the sorrow song Spiritual, and even prison songs. The two scales represent polarities in that one is essentially major and the other minor, but herein is found the bases of melodic direction, note resolutions, melodic leaps, and the substitutions of some notes for others and when the substitutions are possible, desirable, and even absolutely non-negotiable in their absolute necessity.

Though I would hardly describe myself as a "blues god," especially since my playing is colored for better or worse by decades of classical music training and by an interest in jazz that prompts me to use scale materials that are outside blues but not jazz, I nonetheless would like to start with a sample of my blues:

Twelve Bar Blues in B Flat