Expressive performance cues in Gypsy swing guitar style: A case study and novel analytic approach

Marko Aho

Documented instances of Roma individuals playing lutes or plucked instruments at the royal courts of Europe go back over 500 years (Kertesz-Wilkinson, 2001, p. 614). Genres which embody gypsy music in the mind of today’s audience – Spanish flamenco, Hungarian primás-tradition, Romanian taraf-orchestras as well as the genre of Russian gypsy romance – were developed in urban surroundings during the 18th through early 20th centuries. It was in association with these and other coexisting indigenous styles the term ‘gypsy music’ acquired its’ broader meaning, as the gypsy image brought exotic flavour to the arts of the romantic era. The gypsy entertainers occupied a special place in the imagination of the European public. Franz Liszt, a keen fan of gypsy music and musicians, stated that when a gypsy fiddler improvised on a tune, he was able to produce the kind of music that synthesized the rational and the irrational, technical competence and depth of feeling (Malvinni, 2004, p. x).
The virtues of gypsy music find their magnificent exponent in the gypsy jazz style developed in France in the 1930s. The gypsy jazz or gypsy swing idiom (sometimes also called manouche jazz due to its French origins) was created largely, although not single-handedly, by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt. Despite the fact that swing as a form of popular music and jazz fell into obscurity already at mid-century, Django’s legacy still lives on, and Django Reinhardt’s approach continues to form the basis for the surviving gypsy jazz guitar style in the present day. The local styles of the different gypsy tribes are in a global context being exchanged for a more generic gypsy swing guitar style, which however, retains the basic principles of performance on a particular design of steel string guitar conceived by the Italian luthier Mario Maccaferri in the 1930s. Indeed, the Maccaferri guitar type, originally produced by the French company Selmer, with its’ unique features, is a central factor in the stylistic-tactile execution of the style.

Journal of interdisciplinary music studies spring 2012, volume 6, issue 1, art. #12060101, pp. 01-21

Expressive performance cues in Gypsy swing guitar style: A case study and novel analytic approach

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