There’s nothing worse than being at a jam and hearing the same old songs going round and round. Likewise, it can be frustrating watching a band playing a set without a good variety of tunes.
People that are turned off by Gypsy Jazz often criticize it for being too repetitive. Therefore picking tunes with a variety of rhythms, keys and chord changes will help to keep the audience’s attention. Knowing what gypsy jazz songs to learn can be daunting when there are so many to choose from. To help get you started, here are ten great gypsy jazz songs, picked for their variety and how they will develop your playing.
Find out more about Online Guitar Lessons with Andreas Oberg at artistworks.com/andreas-oberg"Minor Swing" (Django Reinhardt)
A seminal number in the Gypsy Jazz canon, this is the ultimate jam number. With just three chords it’s a great tune to try out your minor 6 arpeggios on, which Andreas also teaches in his guitar lessons online at ArtistWorks. An ideal tune for beginners learning guitar.
Composed by one of the players at the forefront of the current gypsy jazz scene, this bossa has a memorable melody with a B section based on the changes of ‘Autumn Leaves’.
Django’s most played ballad is probably his most famous composition, particularly as many straight-ahead jazz players have recorded renditions over the years. Played in either F or G major, the melody is simple to learn, but the chord changes are not so easy to improvise over. This number can be easily reworked into a chord melody arrangement.
Here's a nice version of Martin Taylor (who teaches fingerstyle guitar lessons online at ArtistWorks) playing "Nuages" live back in 1994. Joe Pass’ version is also well worth a listen.
This early 40s number is a rhythm changes chord progression, of which Django wrote a few ("Swing 42" and "Daphne" are other examples). This one stands out as it has a peculiar B section where it modulates to F# from D Major.
Known as the ‘gypsy anthem’, this tune originated from a Russian folk song. It has become a mainstay in gypsy jazz and like ‘Minor Swing’, is a great number for jamming and beginner guitar players. If you fancy a challenge try learning Django’s 1947 solo.
"Troublant Bolero" (Django Reinhardt)
Inspired by Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, this number’s charm is in the latin rhythm. In the unusual key of E Major (not a favourite for violinists!), this is a great number for trying to incorporate open strings into your soloing. Django also recorded an orchestral version of this number, which we've included below.
Again, a great number for beginners, with few chords and a memorable chord progression. This is a slow blues, so it’s very good if you’re just beginning to learn how to improvise on guitar. For a more full-on blues try "Swing 48".
Many jazz guitarists learn Django’s solo on this old show number note for note. Featured as a gypsy jazz guitar lesson on Andreas Oberg’s online guitar school, this song is unusual in that the opening chord isn’t the key of the song.
This jolly, major number has a great bounce when it’s swinging. This is a good number for working on your 2-5-1 lines. Below is a video of Andreas Oberg performing the number with Gonzalo Bergara, a player that has recently made his mark on the worldwide Gyspy Jazz scene. Checkout his YouTube channel for a great collection of free backing tracks.
A trad-Jazz number, this one will go down well with fans of the Harlem Globetrotters! This old standard is another great jam tune and great for practicing your dominant seventh arpeggios. Students of Andreas Oberg's guitar school can see how to treat these chords using trio-tone substitutions to help make the harmony a bit more outside sounding. Here's a nice version of Doc Watson (RIP) playing "Sweet Georgia Brown" with the David (Dawg) Grisman.