The Great Gypsy Jazz Debate in the Wake of the 1970s – Joe Perkins – 2013/14

The Great Gypsy Jazz Debate in the Wake of the 1970s


Reinhardt’s virtuosity and prolific body of work with the Quintette du Hot Club de France is held as the pinnacle of Gypsy Jazz. As a result, Reinhardt is portrayed as the innovator and common denominator in the practice of Gypsy Jazz guitar. This first chapter will outline musical elements synonymous with the ‘classical’ (i.e. traditional) style of Gypsy Jazz guitar. The study will mention Reinhardt’s European contemporaries, also held to be innovators of the classical style of Gypsy Jazz. In particular, Pierre Joseph ‘Baro’ Ferret. My findings will demonstrate the technical specifications that define Gypsy Jazz guitar.

The second chapter will discuss guitarists of the 1970s who brought about a crisis in tradition, and a modernisation of the Gypsy Jazz style. This study will demonstrate the music’s correlation with American Jazz of the 1970s, where a similar subservience and reverence to the music occurs. I will include transcriptions and analyses of performances, demonstrating similarities (i.e. conservation) and differences (i.e. innovations) in comparison to the work of the ‘classical’ pioneers such as Django Reinhardt and Baro Ferret. I will reiterate points made in the first chapter concerning the traditional approach to technique, repertoire and instrumentation. I hope to find similarities in both the classical style and modernisation throughout the 1970s (i.e. Jazz Fusion), in order to more accurately define the genre in terms of its musical components, and its processual evolution.

The final chapter will collate my findings concerning the part played by ethnic, cultural and musical characteristics in the evolving genre, and to establish a definition of Gypsy Jazz up to the 1970s. At that time, the art of the authentic ‘Gypsy’ sound was considered to be relayed by a certain circle of performers; in effect a synonym of Reinhardt’s style. However, this is problematic since it creates a deceptive conflation between musical character and ethnicity. Therefore, this classification of the ‘Gypsy’ genre is not merely reductive, but inherently confused. This chapter will focus on the theoretical thinking of Paul Gilroy in ‘The Black Atlantic’ and ideas of Cosmopolitanism within the genre.

Since the 1970s further generations of Gypsy Jazz musicians have based their musical style on fundamental characteristics of Reinhardt’s music, thus conserving a canon of musical characteristics that have defined the music as Gypsy Jazz. However, I will argue that Gypsy Jazz, as with other genres, involves complex and interconnected evolutionary processes concerning repertoire, technique, instrumentation and other musical characteristics across time.