For this very first article, I decided to talk to you about listening. Indeed, to learn jazz or gypsy jazz, you must first listen to it. Since it is improvised music, to play it you must absolutely hear what is happening in the music, and this is not possible without having listened to a lot of it.

At first, coming from classical music, I didn’t understand what was going on in a piece of gypsy jazz (because before modern jazz it was with gypsy jazz that I started, more traditional and more accessible to my ears).

Start by listening and being attentive to structures; in general, a piece begins with a theme: it is a melody played over a chord progression, usually coming from a song, a tune from a musical… These songs have evolved into what are called jazz standards, which therefore include a melody with a sequence of chords. So the song starts with the theme, then each musician improvises on the chord grid that accompanies the melody and repeats in a loop until everyone has finished improvising, and at the end of the solos (improvisations, also called chorus), the theme is replayed by one or more instruments.

We find this structure in gypsy jazz pieces and jazz standards. Gradually, your ear will develop and you will begin to distinguish the sequences of chords as you learn them. But for learning to happen you need hours, hours and hours of listening. I recommend that you start with Stéphane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt. The recordings are real gems, and the “old school” style is very informative for the beginning jazz player’s ear. Here is Minor Swing, the first piece I listened to and learned, by Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt.