Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Conversations With Myself

Who is Nuno Marinho, after all? Nuno is a guitarist, composer, Portuguese Gypsy Jazz promoter, researcher, journalist, pedagogue, NBA-Chess-Cosmos lover… and Peaceful Warrior.

My new mantra is: I just want you to be happy 🙂

I can only hope the effort I’ve invested in world-class contents may bring you joy and fulfillment. Thank you for your support, appreciation and respect.

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

I started listening to my older sister’s cassettes. Back then Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Metallica really made an impact on me, especially Slash’s ability to make the guitar sing so strongly.

It was the 90’s, the world was a different place, an era of social mutation, people were affirming their rights, their feelings, their wants and needs. We were heading towards the Technological Era. Music books were rare so we needed to search and share them and the closest we could get to a guitar was by looking at them on the only local store in town.

Looking back at my teens the Rock and Roll lifestyle and what it represented – the Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll thing – mixed with Mr. Miyagi’s Karate Masterful teachings and the possibility of time travelling in a DeLorean at 88 miles per hour completely sparkled my imagination.

I started playing with my left hand broken. I was at a friend’s house and I still had the casket on my arm. I had the opportunity to pick it up and a few months later, when I turned 14 years old, my mom bought me a Classical Guitar.

Right away I felt this was going to be a lifetime experience.

2 – What motivated you to keep practicing?

My practice days only started in 2006 when I moved from Coimbra to Lisbon. I was 25 years old and a graduated lawyer with a very promising criminal carer ahead of me.

My main motivation was to be a better musician, to understand music, to study harmony and to meet people and form bands. I always had the tendency to write songs. It came natural to me. Also teaching was something I really liked so it all made sense.

I felt there could be so many possibilities to play music that I just needed to understand them all. That’s my biggest motivation: to accomplish musical mastery.

3 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Prejudice, misunderstandings, impairments, apathy and incompetence in the music business were (still are) very hard for me to handle. I used to think I didn’t quit my stable life as an attorney for “this”.

It’s hard to feel the pressure to catch up the lost years. It can wear you down and in the end you’re not building healthy and respectful relationships with the musicians and pub owners.

Growing apart from a harmful community takes its toll. But we’re always learning and Peace eventually settles in.

4 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

Looking back it is pretty clear to me that the biggest missing part of my musical progress was the lack of a practice process. How to study? What is the process? How to accomplish goals? How to develop and grow skills?

This has made me dedicate my life to pursuing the best methods and practices to develop creative musical habits. The process has grown hugely and it is a constant working process based on measurements, experience and lots of practice.

5 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like? 

Since I teach a lot (guitar, music for kids, music for grown ups, English class, Pilates and Yoga class) and perform in the afternoon or in the evening, my days hardly look the same. I’m being able to keep some level of consistency, which I find very important to keep me on track. Unconsciously and intriguingly the clock keeps me sharp. Check this out:

09:09h – Wake up, read the news, have breakfast, personal hygiene (which always includes meditation after brushing my teeth).

10:10h – Start practicing (two “Pomodoros”, 25minutes each with a 5 minute break)

11:11h – Take a break, resume my daily mental exercises (chess puzzles included) and take care of any appointments for the day (rehearsals, classes, repertoires, etc)

12:12h – Keep practicing (two more “Pomodoros”, 25minutes each with a 5 minute break)

13:13h – Lunch break

14:14h – Back to practice mode (back to my Pomodor Technique 😉 )

15:15 – Short breathing break and time to prepare leaving home

16:16h – Look at the clock and say to myself: “I got to go to school, my students are waiting… 5 more minutes… Ten minute latter I’m still with the guitar on my hand 🙂

17:17h – Prepare to end the kids class and start preparing my individual students classes.

18:18h – Go to the gig.

19:19h – Intermission and resume the gig.

20:20h – Go home, have dinner with my wife and catch up.

21:21h – Time to shift the brain to neutral a little bit.

22:22h – Listening to music… Mindfuly (paying attention to detail)

23:23h – NBA time

24:24h – The 25th hour 😉 

6 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses? 

I’ve been devoting these last years on the Maximizing Performance Process and particularly over the most productive strategies to be on the edge of one’s abilities.

Thus, I schedule a 4-hour mindful practice, usually divided in 4 hours (25 minute + 5 minute break each hour = 8 Pomodoros), every day, except weekends. Now I find break time extremely important in order to rejuvenate the creative flow. 

7 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

Through the years I’ve come to realize that what knocks me out of my feet is the element of surprise. The spontaneity, the novelty, and the passion on interpretation can really capture my attention even when I’m distracted doing something else while music is playing in the background.

Also structure is very important to me. A sense of direction, as opposed to random ideas glued together. The music has to tell a story, has to have some drama, some intensity, some unexpected twists of faith. If it’s unpredictable, beautiful, heartfelt and passionate it will definitely catch my ears.

8 – Do you meditate?

I don’t know if I ever meditate or if I never stopped meditating. Any kind of practice or activity that pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state is meditation.

Recently I’ve been investigating on the subject and I consider it to be as fundamental as personal hygiene. This is, certainly, something I’d wanted to had started sooner.

9 – What would you consider to be the most important advice, quote or reference someone ever gave to you?

I love quotes 🙂 I keep several journals of quotes from the masters and some of my own also. An original one I particularly like is this:

“If you don’t follow a Master become one.”

You know that a torch will light up quickly by the help of a flaming one. Nowadays the Internet gets you free access to whatever you think of but is still hard to personally connect with a real Master. And if that’s a meaningful thing to you – to excel, to create opportunities and to strengthen your talents, then there is no other way then to build your own level of Mastery.

10 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

Relentless strive for mastery, righteousness and a warrior’s strength on his convictions. No human is flawless but you have your whole life to overcome your limitations.

If people remember me as a good-humoured, helpful, friendly, caregiver, relentless, hard-working, focused, driven and kind human being, then I know my life was serviceable or inspiring.

11 – What would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation to Django?

I would offer him my albums. I think he would appreciate my ballads for the heartfelt character that he always put to his songs.

Regarding musicians I had to show him Biréli Lagrène for his excellence, Robin Nolan for the impact that his work had on me over the years and Pat Metheny for being one of the greatest musicians ever.

To pick a song is usually a hard task but I would definitely choose “The Truth Will Always Be” by Pat Metheny. The title says it all!

12 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?  You are my Master and I’m your disciple. Please teach me 🙂

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Brad Brose

Brad Brose’s “Cat-A-Strophe” album is setting the tone for a new world of possibilities for the XXI century Gypsy Jazz genre. Original compositions blend in La Pompe like no other.

In this greatly humorous interview Brad talks about the masters and the fundamentals, the old and the new. Try not to smile reading along these lines, if you can. I dare you! 🙂
1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Who where your biggest influences and teachers?

I’ve been playing music since I was in high school but never took it serious. It wasn’t until I first listened to Django that I really wanted to take guitar seriously and learn what this diabolical instrument is all about.

2 – Who do you consider to be the best known and also the lesser-known teachers?

In my opinion, the best teachers of this style out there are Robin Nolan and Samy Daussat. It’s a very different skill being a great teacher and being a great player. What I love about Robin and Samy is they can make anything fun and accessible. When you watch a class of Samy’s and notice that everyone is laughing while at the same time learning some very important lessons, well that’s just magical.

3 – Who are the musicians (inside or outside Gypsy Jazz) you study in greater depth?

In the past year, I’ve really been going back to the roots and listening almost entirely to Django and the old hot club recordings. There was a time when I noticed that I listened to Django only about 10% of the time with the other 90% being more modern players. That felt really bizarre to me so I started hitting the old recordings more and more and I’m constantly blown away by new things I find in them.

I’ve also been really into Louis Armstrong whom I try to learn as much as possible from. Aside from jazz I also listen to quite a bit of Americana music and folk music, songs with really simple melodies about old times! I guess it’s not so different after all.

4 – What motivates you to never quit and always keep practicing?

Playing with other musicians and seeing how much they’re practicing and then progressing always helps me to push myself to practice playing over coquette for the 967th time.

Everyone is constantly getting better so I’m just following the crowd. Kind of like when you’re asked: “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” I would essentially be mid-air at the point.

5 – What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Burn out: those little periods where you just don’t feel like playing anymore. Maybe for a few days or a week I’m not really getting any fun out of playing gypsy jazz. But of course that’s when maybe I’ll take a short break so then when I come back to it, it’s fresh and fun again.

Being around other musicians that are much better than you is also crucial. I’ve been rather lucky since I started learning this style in Los Angeles, which has a fairly decent gypsy jazz scene for the US.

I lived in Madrid and in the south of Sweden and both places didn’t have too big of a scene. Now I live in Paris so this helps a bit with that issue 🙂

6 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

When I first started I was looking at things very systematically and I was very organized. “Ok, today I’m gonna work on this 2-5-1 progression over this tune and then try working with the metronome”.

Now, I’m more focused on learning new songs and absorbing more of the repertoire. To me, this is a better and more pleasurable way to go about learning the style at this point.

7 – What do you consider to be the most important practice exercises one should always use? Do you rely on a specific progression of exercises?

I wish I could say that I’m that organized and that I wake up at 7:30am every morning and play diminished scales while I’m taking a shower but I really don’t have too many practice exercises.

I usually will warm up before playing with friends (chromatic runs, soloing over a few songs, etc…) and then before concerts I just rehearse the material that we’ll play that night. So basically playing through songs is more of my practice.

8 – What are you favourite instructional books and resources for self-taught musicians? Do you feel like these methods can overcome the lack of a good local supportive community of musicians?

YouTube is the most incredible source imaginable. It still blows my mind when someone messages me from the US asking me if I saw a concert nearby my apartment in Paris. They have seen the entire concert through YouTube videos and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Also I think Denis Chang is doing the Lord’s work – Amen Django! – with DC music school. The recently remastered hot club de France release by Label Ouest is a great tool since all of the hot club recordings are in tune meaning we can simply along with it.

I use amazing slow downer and go over Django’s lines all day, every day, with these tools.

9 – What are your key principles for better and most consistent musical results for lead and for rhythm players?

To always listen to the rest of the band. If a band sounds killer but the rhythm guitar sounds a little off, it’s ok. If the rhythm player sounds beautiful (like tears in your eyes beautiful) but the band sounds horrible, well then that’s a big problem.

Make sure everyone is respecting and following each other, and not only thinking of themselves (which is more common than most would think).

Keep the energy of the music in mind too. The main reason all of those old hot club recordings are so magical is because of the amount of energy they were able to build up to. They could make even an old fashioned tune like “Lady Be Good” just rock your socks off. The lead players would really have an arc of energy and ramp things amp and the rhythm would of course follow them.

10 – What do you find to be the biggest misuse or waste of time in practice, rehearsal and studio sessions? What about the biggest or most common mistake from novice and expert musicians?

Focusing on minute details such as exact chord shapes or exact melodies rather than focusing more of energy and song development.

I get students all the time that stress so much about playing a melody EXACTLY how it’s written or how Django played it. What’s more important is the feeling behind it.

I also feel that producing a nice tone is often overlooked. The gypsy jazz guitar can be one of the most abrasive sounding instruments out there so extra care really needs to be taken to make it sound pleasurable to the ear, which is totally possible! I swear!

11 – How important was your participation in Django In June Festival in your development and establishment as a Gypsy Jazz musician? How did it work and where is it leading you?

For the past few years I’ve been quite lucky to be part of the Django In June Festival and I still consider it to be the best gypsy jazz festival/camp out there. It allowed me to trade ideas with so many people and just get to hang out with incredible musicians from all over North America and Europe.

Also when I moved to Paris, it was great to bump into familiar faces that I already saw at Django in June. I’ve gotten to interview and play with lots of killer musicians here in Paris due to the festival. In my mind it really brings everyone together all over the world.

12 – You’re teaming up with Christiaan van Hemert in one of the most interesting online dialogues around. How did you build on this idea, how do you select your topics and what more do you guys have in store for us?

Christiaan and I are addicted to Internet videos and we always wondered about how cool it would be if we mixed commentary with live gypsy jazz playing. We saw commentators break down sporting events, gaming events, etc… and thought how helpful it would be to jump into the head of some of the best players in gypsy jazz to see what they’re thinking.

Now it’s developed more into an interview format where we get to learn about who these players really are and how they look at not just this lick or that specific lick but the music in general.

13 – How does a regular day in your life looks like? Tell us about your routines.

I don’t really have a typical day but when I’m not on tour and in Paris then I wake up early and grab a coffee outside at my local brasserie and, sometimes, if I’m feeling like a slob then a buttery pain au chocolat.

Then I’m back home and possibly teaching a couple of guitar students during the day. Then I might have an English student or two. Then the rest of the time is devoted to working on my own band’s material and concert planning or arranging gigs.

Then, in the evening, I’m out about with friends, playing concerts, or going to jams. There’s never a shortage of things going on at night in Paris, that’s for sure.

14 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

They aren’t balanced that well at all actually 🙂

I have moments where I’m working every minute of the day and then moments where I’m not working a lot. It’s always difficult to adjust to both but so far it’s been working out.

The less busy times give me a much-needed break from the crazy-run-here-run-there times.

15 – How do you prepare for an important concert or studio recording? What would be your practice regime a week before the gig? What about on the day of the gig?

I’ll usually play the songs of the set list, not just on my own or with the group I’ll be playing with but also with other musicians, to get as comfortable with the material in as many different settings as possible.

If it’s my band “Cat-A-Strophe!” I have to work on the arrangements since they can be a bit particular and I also work on the concert presentation.

When I go on tour or play a really big concert then usually a week before I try to spend just a little time, but each day and consistently, on the set list. I prefer 10 or 20 minutes every day for 6 days then 2 days of 18 hours!


16 – What do you value the most in the music and musicians you love to listen? What are the key ingredients that catch your ear?

Energy, Energy, and ……..? Oh yeah, Energy! I love it when this music is played so energetically that you can just feel the swing coming right out of the record and straight into your face.

Also a good rhythm section stands out to me and really hooks me in. That swinging accompaniment, if it’s good enough, could let me listen to my cat play the lead guitar for all I care.

17 – As playing the rhythm guitarist part what do you think is the most important aspect of its role? How does your posture need to change to be a great accompanist or a great soloist?

The rhythm players’ most important job is to match the dynamics and energy of the soloist. Of course it’s also to keep time, but that goes without saying!

One thing that always bugs me is when I see a soloist really go out there and try to take the energy level through the roof and the rhythm section just stays flat so the soloist sounds really out of place when they play really high or loud.

And to always play at an appropriate volume. If the soloist has to smash the strings with a hammer just to be heard clearly then the rhythm section is not doing it’s job!

18 – Do you meditate or use any technique for focus, clarity and balance?

The closest things I have to meditation is taking a long metro or train ride. Usually I just think to myself the entire trip about what’s going on during the week. This is something I didn’t do before while living in LA and driving everywhere.

Trains really give me a nice reflection time to actually stop and think about everything that’s flying past.

19 – What would you consider to be the most important advice, quote or reference someone ever gave to you?

To always look like you know what you’re doing in front of the audience and not to noodle around on stage. They’re very unconscious and common things for beginners but they have such a strong impression on the audience (especially if they paid for tickets!).

20 – Django had left hand crippled fingers. Pianist Horace Parlan had right hand disability. And Keith Jarrett had unusual small hands for playing the piano. Despite poorly built for their instruments they all succeed. How can one transform limitations in advantages?

Find a place where the limitation won’t affect you anymore. I always thought if I had a problem with my wrists then I could take up playing a horn. Or if got my hand stuck in a blender, then I’d really have to take up singing. Or if my vocal cords burnt out then I’d just have to stick to playing Django, phew!

21 – Gypsy Jazz guitar technique is well known for being physically demanding. Do you know cases of unorthodox or ungifted musicians that made proper technique seem irrelevant?

Rory Hoffman is a massive inspiration to me. He just dumped all technique out of the window and his playing is unlike any other because of it.

22 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I’ve been trying to do something new with Jazz Manouche and expand it outwards but while still being very faithful to the style.

I’d also like to be remembered for that one time that I ate two kebabs in a row and didn’t die.

23 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him? What would be the record, the musician and the song you’d mention to him?

If I could meet Django I would shove a video camera in his face and try to film him playing as much as possible. Like make a reality TV show following him. It’s such a shame that there’s a huge shortage of video footage. Nothing an MTV reality TV show can’t fix!

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Dario Napoli

Italian Gypsy Jazz guitarist, blogger of “Diary Of a Gadjo”, teacher and composer Dario Napoli opens his heart and mind in this thoughtful, conscious and inspiring interview.

Here it is: “Cotto a puntino” 🙂

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

My first inspiration to play music was my brother, he’s two years and a half older than me and introduced me to all the first music I listened to. At 12 he then brought me to my first live concert, which was Eric Clapton, where I absolutely decided I needed to learn how to play.

And so for the following 3 years I started by ear on a very cheap classical guitar, copying what I could from the Beatles, Eric Clapton, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, etc.

The years I began playing I was living in Milan which was very alive as a music city, and so there was a lot of inspiration from concerts, great musicians and started getting into jazz thanks to my first “real” teacher, Gianpiero Spina.

At 18 I went to college in New Orleans and immersed myself in jazz but always continued with blues, rock and fusion, and then came Django, who revolutionized my world 🙂

2 – What are your current projects and future goals?

My main project is my solo project, Dario Napoli Modern Manouche Project, with which I have recorded 2 albums and now working on a third.

I also have various collaborations, a duo with a singer (closer to a Joe Pass-Ella Fitzgerald idea) and an electric quartet with drums and hammond/electric piano.

But gypsy jazz is my main thing and my goal is to have a successful touring and recording career.

3 – You’ve spent a lot of time and energy on transcriptions. What would you consider to be the greatest impact of transcribing regarding ear training and technique?

I’ve basically never stopped transcribing since I was 12 years old, only in the last few years I’ve been able to share my transcriptions but it’s something that I’ve been doing for myself and continue to do for myself constantly as I believe it is the more efficient way to learn.

If we think back on how we learned our own mother language, we basically copied our parents and our friends and then in school they explained the grammar, but we already knew how to speak based on whom we copied or heard.

The same in music, if we want to learn a language we have to copy and then we can develop our own vocabulary over time.

4 – You have studied “The Boss” Bireli Lagrene’s language like no other. What makes Bireli sound so distinctive and appealing to our ears? What are his trademarks and aspects one must be aware?

Well, ever since I started playing I’ve been attracted and inspired by many different kinds of music and so I’ve always tried to develop as much versatility as possible.

Bireli for me is the most amazing example of versatility and proficiency in many different styles (and actually, even many different instruments!), so I felt very naturally attracted by his style and his ability to incorporate all the music that he has listen to over the years.

The thing I really like the most of him is his timing and his rhythmical ideas (not only strictly Le Pompe rhythm which is obviously great), but his comping, where it’s always a surprise in terms of harmony and rhythmic fills and patterns, both on electric and acoustic.

5 – Jazz musicians often fear transcriptions because of the risk of loosing their own musical personality. But in Gypsy Jazz probably every note played by Django has already been transcribed. What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I believe the best thing is a balance. Transcribing is inevitable because it’s just like learning a language: you have to copy whoever speaks that language to get started. We all do it, whether it is language of music.

As we get more proficient we will naturally develop our own unique feel and language. Even Django wasn’t born in a vacuum, he played with great accordion players and he also copied and was inspired by the great American Jazz musicians of his time, as well as Debussy and Ravel and other classical masters. Then he filtered everything through his sensibility and experience, but all those influences are very important.

6 – Regarding your online business teaching and transcribing site, how did it happened? How do you manage a successful teaching site?

It all started with the idea that it was easy with the Internet to share what I was already doing for myself.

A few years back I started studying and reading about music business and the importance of having a website and it was pretty natural to simply share all that. I was studying through the website. This got people interested and started inquiring about my teaching.

Teaching is something I’ve always enjoyed doing honestly also for selfish reasons 🙂 it makes me a better musician. It makes me focus on details and constantly review what I consider the important elements of music.

This year, here in Tuscany, from May 19-23, I will be also hosting my first gypsy jazz guitar camp and I’m very excited that several people are participating. I cannot wait to be there!

7 – About your guitar practice what motivates you to keep going?

I understood many years ago that you can start your path in music but there’s never an arrival point if you truly want to keep improving, so it does not scare me that I will never be truly “satisfied” 🙂

I really enjoy the process and attaining my goals on the guitar is one of the greatest satisfactions in life. Being able to share them with others then is paradise 🙂

8 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

In reality I am very bad at balancing work and rest in the sense that music pretty much never makes me tired.

Of course, I have to be careful with my hands to not overplay but luckily being a musician today is not just about playing and practicing many hours a day but also being an entrepreneur and dealing with technology, website, marketing, public relations etc.

So basically, when I’m not practicing, which is still several hours a day, I’m doing all the other aspects of a musician’s life.

9 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

When I started, it was all about hearing and reproducing. Although I still do that, I also have phases when I give more importance to one aspect of music or another, it can be harmony, or rhythm, or an element of a different style or just simply, a technique.

10 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

So, assuming I don’t have a gig or I’m not teaching (which changes things) I will typically start out the day working on a specific technique or a series of specific techniques.

Afterwards I would pick one standard and work on that, arranging, improving, chord solo, trying to look at it from all aspects possible, and changing keys. That usually takes up the whole morning.

Early afternoon I usually go for a walk or a bike ride or something physical and then if I have the time, I will repeat the same process of the morning or get into composing or arranging.

If I don’t have time in the day I will do the website and the music business stuff in the evening.

11 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Well, although I have been playing and practicing intensely since I was 12 years old, I only accepted internally to be a full-time musician around 30. It took me a while to get over the social conditioning that music is something that is hard to live on and hard to pursue.

Once the decision was made, the hard part is to understand that music is only one element necessary to make it; just like an entrepreneur there are many things that one must do away from the instrument in order to create the foundation to continue playing the instrument for a living.

12 – Do you feel that balancing musical skills and the entrepreneur and social aspects around the music the hardest thing to handle? I mean, there’s always excellent musicians that aren’t able to persevere because they don’t know (or enjoy) how to sell their music; others are excellent businessmen lacking musical qualities.

Yes, but for me also doubts, self-doubts creep in at times, but daily practice and faith help!

If it were up to me, I would simply wake up and play guitar all day, which I still sometimes do 🙂 but the reality is that I have to carry out, or delegate tasks, and that means time away from the music and that’s not always easy.

13 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

The thing that I’m most attracted to when it comes to music is actually harmony. A close second is rhythm, and so when I listen to musicians I notice I’m attracted to musicians that have an evolved sense of harmony and that are very versed and confident rhythmically.

14 – Do you meditate? Do you perform any kind of practice or activity that pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state?

I feel like my meditation is my practice; when I’m on the instrument through repetition my mind stays in one place and time becomes absolutely irrelevant.

So I don’t meditate per se but I believe I can relate to the process. Otherwise, playing tennis, basketball or biking, when I have the time, are important for me mentally and physically.

15 – You’re the first GJ musician I meet that actually plays Basketball! Are you an NBA fan? Who are your top 5 players ever? My personal choice would be John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon :p

SO COOL, I love basketball!! I played some intramural in the US but my main sport was tennis, where I played NCAA championship. When we meet I would be thrilled to shoot around and steal some tips form you!


16 – What would you consider to be the most important advice someone gave to you? 

To listen carefully to the voices that comes up in your mind, to key into one’s emotions and take them seriously, and not repress them.

Also, to find the strength to believe that you can create the life that you desire and imagine for yourself.

17 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

That, against all odds and contrary to popular belief, one can become an accomplished musician, jazz and gypsy jazz guitarist even later in life. That it’s not just words when they say it’s never too late to become what you were meant to become, if you truly believe (and follow with the actions) that something was meant for you.

18 – Like myself, you started as full-time musician at about the same age then I: LATE! Personally I fell there is some prejudice and/or disbelief in the Jazz community about this subject, but not so much in the Gypsy Jazz community. The preference and attention seems to go easily to young talented kids. On the other hand, there’s a lot of great, inspiring “older” musicians playing at top level with little or even no recognition at all. A penny for your thoughts on this? 🙂

 I’m really hoping you’re right on this one (for us “older” folks)!

19 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?

First of all, if he were not aware, I would let him know that he had a much greater influence than even he probably expected on guitar and music in general, and I would thank him for that.

I would also ask him a lot of questions in terms of composition, improvisation and also life in general.

20 – What would be the song that you would always refer in a conversation with Django?

The song I would refer to would be “Melodie Au Crepuscule”.

I asked Dario if he had any “Melodie Au Crespuscule” version of his own. The next day he recorded and uploaded this tremendous video and sent it back to me. Wow! Thank you Dario, you’re fantastic!




Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Irene Ypenburg

Irene Ypenburg is something special… What a thoughtful, kind and wise human being. Gypsy Jazz really has a place for everybody, regardless of their origins, backgrounds or social environment. In this (maternal tone) interview Irene will guide you into some reflecting subjects and life experiences. “Clean your life” and remember it’s never late to follow your dreams.

1 – When did you to start playing music? What has inspired and influenced you?

My parents both played piano really well, and my father played the violin as well. I always loved to sing and dance and was begging my parents for a recorder and for dancing lessons when I was 4. Somehow my parents thought it better to wait till I was 5. So when I was 5 I got my first plastic soprano recorder to play on and started with ballet lessons. The recorder sounded quite awful but I was happy with it. Later I changed to alto recorder, which I kept playing till I was about 35.

My father and I loved to sing and make music together. Often when we had family friends over we would play a game of cards or dice, meanwhile all of us singing in harmony. Silly songs, a lot of fun. So singing, dancing and making music was a natural thing for me. I played piano, alto recorder, guitar, I sang and I danced. My parents are my main inspiration and influence. They taught me the basics of each instrument and I worked out the rest by myself.

My father suddenly brought a guitar home for me when I was 15. He taught me the three chords he knew. Then I worked out the rest by myself by playing records of Joan Baez over and over again until I got it. When I was 17 I performed in so-called ‘Jazz and Poetry’ clubs all over Amsterdam. I played a few simple chords and fingerpicking and sang about the entire Joan Baez repertoire.

Since then I did not develop my guitar playing. Later I lived in a town where music was hardly present. No inspiration, nobody to learn from, nowhere to go. I gave up music entirely, I was just getting worse at it. And then I did not play or sing at all for at least 25 years, till three years ago. Unbelievable in fact!

I moved back to Amsterdam a few years ago and there I got in touch with people who played gypsy jazz. I loved it. They pushed me to pick up my guitar again. I swore I would never play anywhere where other people could hear me. I was absolutely convinced that my playing was terrible and could never get better.

Kevin Nolan (Robin’s brother and incredible rhythm guitarist) kept offering to teach me though, he really believed in me. I turned it down for a long time, and when I finally gave in, I just took one lesson, and the next would be about three months later. Then during almost a year I took regular lessons with him. Now playing guitar has become my most loved and most important activity. Today I mostly learn from playing with musicians who are way more advanced than I am. Which is actually everybody I play with.

2 – Beyond playing guitar, you’re also a web designer, photographer, journalist, painter… Am I missing something? 🙂  How do you manage all those activities and how do you combine them together?

I published several books on psychology: about highly gifted children, about the connection between culture and identity, and a self-help book with exercises to connect with yourself. I translated (from German) and rewrote books as well.

I write a column and articles for Robin Nolan’s Gypsy Jazz Secrets Magazine, which I illustrate with a drawing. I’m also a Reiki master and have taught meditation. I founded and was editor in chief of a magazine for elementary schools about gifted education, helped organize conferences on gifted education, and was the manager of a once word famous opera singer, for whom I organized master classes. Later more and more classical musicians wanted to be represented by me. I did that for a while, but in the end I chose being creative myself over trying to find work for other artists.

I don’t find it hard to combine different activities. Actually, kids in high school are supposed to study many subjects at once, for many years. After high school suddenly everybody wants you to choose for one single field of interest. I never understood why that would be better. I walk on many legs, if one doesn’t go very well, I still have other legs to move forward. I have many ways now to express myself and it really makes me happy. It feels like it gives me total freedom.

3 – What are your current projects and future goals?

Currently I help organizing two guitar camps: one with Dario Napoli in Tuscany in March, and one inside the gypsy camp where Paulus Schäfer lives. Paulus and Fapy Lafertin are the teachers. We did that in 2015, and the next one will be in June 2016. An amazing experience!

Also the design work always continues: posters, CD covers etc., as well as the writing, drawing and photography for Robin Nolan’s Gypsy Jazz Secrets Magazine. Recently I started a new YouTube channel, as an extension of my column, it has the same name: Irene’s Gypsy jazz Adventures. Since I travel a lot and get to meet interesting people and see interesting places, I want to share it with the world, it is simply too good to keep for yourself.

I have a few regular gigs in Amsterdam and play in general as much as I can. This year I will be traveling a lot, so a lot of video editing will be waiting for me.

My main goal now is to learn to play better and become better at photography and videography, so whenever I share things, it will be nicer to watch, and whenever I play, it will be nicer to listen to!

4 – You’ve been working with top musicians like Robin Nolan, Paulus Schafer, Dario Napoli, etc. How does it feel to be so close to the center of it all?

People like Paulus, Robin, Dario and also Christiaan van Hemert and more musicians I know, are not just very good musicians, they are also people with a very good heart, and that is why I love them.

I have a lot of respect – in general – for people who work hard, I really like that. And I very much prefer people who have a heart for others, who are genuinely honest and kind. The combination of great talent, hard-working, good sense of humor, intelligence and kind heartiness I find most attractive in a person. They all have those qualities.

I never think of myself of being in the center of it all, I just feel grateful and lucky for everything that is currently happening in my life.

5 – Do you feel you are a driving force of the Gypsy Jazz scene nowadays?

It would actually never occur to me that I would be a driving force in the Gypsy Jazz scene. I am not even sure what that is. I did notice though (mostly because other people keep telling me) that the combination of the things that I do helps to bring other musicians to get to know more about each others existence.

There is an inner journalist in me. Whenever I see interesting people or things, I feel that it should be documented. Without thinking twice I do that and share it with the world: “Look at this great 17-year-old kid in Boston! Look at this amazing sunset and listen to Wawau Adler’s music at the same time! Look at this city and the people in it! Wow! Have you ever seen people in the Philippines hand build guitars?!”

That compulsory journalism keeps me quite busy, making all these photos and videos and edit them. I just can’t help myself. Also when I meet people, I automatically think of what would be great for that person to do, or whom he should really meet, if that would be good for both of them. And then I immediately take action upon that.

6 – There aren’t many women playing Gypsy Jazz Guitar. What are your feelings about the subject?

Actually I don’t have feelings at all about that. At first I didn’t even notice that wherever I was playing, I was almost always the only woman with a guitar. Every girl is totally free to pick up a guitar and start playing gypsy jazz.

If women in general are not that interested in doing so, that is their choice. Making music is what it is about for me, I don’t care with whom I play as long as I love to listen to them.

7 – How do you motivate yourself into practicing guitar?

When you practice, you are mostly doing something that you are not good at yet, so I don’t like hearing myself practicing.

Stephane Wrembel once said: “Practice is practice. Leave out the judgement, just go through the routine.” And that really helped.

Also I know that the first ten minutes I seriously dislike it, and after a while I am actually enjoying it.

What motivates me is that I have these nice opportunities to play with guitarists who are much more advanced than I am, and I want one day to be really worthy of accompanying them. My greatest motivation is that I really want to play better than I do and I know I have it in me to still make quite some progress. So when I find it difficult I tell myself: Look at what you achieved in not even three years… Just keep practicing and you’ll get better.

Also from all the other things I learned in the past I learned that as long as you work hard and structured towards a goal, you might just get there. Studying is like possessing a magic wand: just wave it around enough and miracles will happen. I have faith in that magic wand.

8 – Does playing professionally (meaning: main activity) feels differently than playing just for fun? 

No it doesn’t. When I do something, whatever it is, I always take it seriously. I don’t pursue something if I don’t like doing it, and I know I won’t enjoy it if I don’t get the best out of myself. I am not there yet, I hope some day I will!

9 – Have you ever had a practice process? Did it changed through the years?

I have only been playing for three years. Due to my living circumstances I did not make any music at all for 25 years, and never had formal music education. For gypsy jazz I had about one year with Kevin Nolan as a teacher.

I made a routine for myself, which of course changes from time to time. In general I try to work on ‘sounding good’, more than on ‘knowing much’ at this moment.

At this moment I start with practicing some chords that I find hard to grab. Then I practice different rhythms La Pompe, Bossa, Rumba and so on. And then I go through the repertoire I have to play at the next gig.

I play with different people, and always adapt to their repertoire, because I can learn so much from them. That means that with one person I play entirely different things than with the other, so I keep learning new tunes and forgetting tunes as well unfortunately.

After that I allow myself free doodling on the guitar, which I think is also very useful, to start feeling free and at home with your instrument and get a more relaxed and natural sound.

 10 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

First thing in the morning is coffee and answering emails and Facebook messages. A lot of my work goes through Facebook.

Then usually I go out to a coffee-house nearby where people bring their laptops. There I do computer work like organizing or writing or design I have to do, because there I am surrounded by other people who are working and that helps me to focus.

Then I go home, take a lunch break and do some other chores. After that, usually around three or four in the afternoon I practice guitar, at least an hour, sometimes two or three.

Then cook, eat and go out to play a gig somewhere, which lasts mostly around three hours. Of course not every day is the same, and I don’t play a gig every evening, but quite often.

The very end of the day often is for having a coffee or dinner with friends, that gives me something to look forward to. Often in the evening if I am at home I just put on the television for background noise and either practice or do design work, till late at night. Drawing on my iPad comfortably in my little corner on the couch till 1.30 in the morning is not unusual for me.

11 – As a sideman (or should I say, side woman) one experiences the stage and the musical process differently than being the soloist/star. What do you consider to be the fundamental aspects of a master sideman (personality and musicality)?

Of course it is important not to have the desire to be on the foreground. Kevin Nolan is for me a good example of a very good rhythm guitarist who is a good sideman as well. He stays in the background still displaying lots of imagination, never dull or repetitious. Incredibly steady and pushing without speeding up.

What I admire so much in Kevin Nolan’s style is that he never draws attention to himself, his playing is in perfect control and he can bring in many variations, without it being disturbing. His playing is very supportive and makes the soloist sound better. That is probably what it is about: the rhythm player is there to make the solo come out best. I think Kevin and Robin Nolan are both at their best when they play together.

For the side(wo)man it is important that you like other people to shine. And you must like rhythm and have a feeling for the tune that you are playing. I personally don’t like it if people play everything the same way: sad tunes, happy tunes, all sound the same, only a bit faster or slower.

Some soloists prefer the rhythm guitarist to just keep playing like a machine, no variation at all. I am not very happy when someone expects me to play like that. Some others like it when they start to play with fire, the rhythm player should be more fiery as well. I understand and appreciate that approach better.

12 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Maybe for everybody the biggest challenge is your self-image. Especially in the beginning I found it hard to imagine that good musicians would really like to play with me. That reflected on my playing. It is like when you are telling somebody a story and deep inside you think he is not at all interested, you start to mumble and cut it short, instead of making it the interesting story it really is.

I didn’t dare to be audible, I thought every stroke on my guitar would irritate the hell out of everybody who heard it. No difference whether I was practicing at home or playing with others. I told a friend at that time that my biggest goal was to play with others without them getting mad at me! Not that anybody ever did, I just thought they probably should…

I tried to teach myself to enjoy practicing instead of dreading to hear myself play. I always find it hard to hear myself; I would love to play so much better than I do…!

13 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients do you cherish the most?

I love it when they can really swing, Wawau Adler often really swings like crazy! I love that!

I also appreciate it very much when a musician dares to follow his own path, without trying too hard to be different. When they distinguish themselves just by being themselves. Robin Nolan and Stephane Wrembel are good examples.

I like a sensitive, musical approach of the music, with a beautiful tone, whether it is genius warp-speed playing or a slow ballad. Fapy Lafertin has an amazing tone, and the different ways he bends the strings and brings out every tone individually, giving each tone its own character, I admire a lot.

I like a musician who listens while he plays.

So in short: to be yourself, to swing, to be sensitive, to listen. And of course a good technique is crucial to sounding good.

14 – Do you still practice meditation or any activity alike?

I am a Reiki master and have taught Reiki as well as meditation for many years. Nowadays I do not really practice meditation, but I regularly sit down to make contact with what I really feel and think and reflect about that.

15 – You know I love inspirational quotes and epiphanies. I bet you have a lot of wisdom to share with us. 🙂

In my life it was important to ‘clean up my life’, like you clean a house. Get rid of what bothers and blocks you.

Make positive choices instead of negative choices: go for what you love to do and people you love to spend time with, instead of fighting what and whom you dislike.

Everything you do, say or even think has an infinite stream of consequences. And every consequence multiplies into new consequences, and those new ones again, like a cauliflower effect. So making very deliberate choices is incredibly important.

Create harmony in your life, without sacrificing your own happiness. Your choices should create harmony within yourself as well as with others. This means you too have to clean up your life.

16 – What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

Probably what I just mentioned above: Be aware of the fact that all your choices have an expanding, infinite stream of consequences. So clean up your life and create harmony within yourself and with what and whom surround you. Then ultimately that will multiply as well.

17 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him? 

“Thank you for the effort you took to become the musician you are, to be this great inspiration and example for thousands of people all over the world.”

In fact I would probably scream: “Are you really Django Reinhardt?! I thought you were dead! May I offer you a drink in this nearby cozy café? I’d love to spend some time with you!”

18 – What record, musician or song would you give Django for him to hear?

A song becomes interesting because of the interpretation musicians give it. I’d like to know what he’d feel upon hearing “Sitting On The Top of The World”, by Ray Charles. And the version of “Stardust” Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond recorded in 1975 – the way the saxophone opens up the sky as a door to a different world.

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Antoine Boyer

Starting at a very young age, getting recognition from his pairs and being an awarded musician is always both surprising and worth to talk about.

A bit of an introvert, this young man overflows his musical talent into Classical music as well as into the Gypsy Swing. What’s your secret Antoine?

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

In my family we always listened to Django’s music, Francis-Alfred Moerman, Angelo Debarre, Bratsch, etc. One day my father asked me if I wanted to start playing guitar. So we started learning together… Since this moment we played together until about 2014.

2 – When you started learning Guitar with your father, who was your mentor, how did you learned the music?

We learned a lot with Mandino Reinhardt and we did a large number of his Master class. Although in other way, we also learned a lot from Francis-Alfred Moerman. We recorded my first CD exclusively with his compositions.

3 – Did you started with Classical, Jazz or both at the same time?

I started Manouche style at 6 years old but I only started classic five years ago.

4 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

The biggest challenges were big concerts like Samois (in 2011) or the one for the Homage to Francis-Alfred Moerman. Other big challenge was the classical guitar competition this year (I won!) that really pushed me to work with a lot of accuracy over a few tunes.

Each new project or event is a sort of challenge. Like now I am working with the Flamenco guitarist Samuelito. We have a duet that mix gypsy and flamenca guitars, that very new and challenging. And for example, Classical guitar competitions are also very challenging. That really pushed you to work with a lot of accuracy over a few tunes.

5 – What it was like winning the Montigny Classical Guitar Contest?

Very encouraging !!

6 – About the Classical Guitar contests, how much does that changes your habits, what influence it take on your mental focus and your stress management?

Actually, It doesn’t change my habits a lot. I just have to work a little longer each day when the date of the contest is getting closer.

7 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

Honestly, I don’t remember, but I know that my way to work changed a lot after I started playing classical guitar. It is a very different (but also very good) approach to the practice process.

8 – What similarities and differences do you find in the process of practicing and playing Jazz and Classical Guitar?

What I like is that both jazz and classic help each other. What I mean is that one prevents me from being bored by the other. They are very different languages and that’s very interesting to learn from both at the same time. You don’t really find Jazz like improvisation in Classical music, for example, and so I can’t work on jazz like I work on classic.


9 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

Since I have to work both jazz and classical guitar, I dedicate a few hours a day for each subject. I usually work around one hour, then take a break, resume another hour, and so on.

10 – Do you consider yourself to be more at ease on a contest or on a jam session/local concert?

These are completely different! The contest tends to be a little bit more stressful because you play alone… In jazz I usually play with other musicians, so it feels very different.

11 – What do you value the most in the musicians you love to listen?

What I value the most, I think, is what we can feel when we hear a musician. I’m driven by their musicality! But it is difficult to say… there is no specific rule.

12 – Do you meditate, practice your focus or cherish a clear state of mind?

Yes… more or less. I try to do things in a simple way but the best way I can.

13 – What does it feels like to have the opportunity to play with some of the greatest Manouche musicians (Stochelo Rosenberg, Robin Nolan, Adrien Moignard, Paulus Schafer)? Tell us about those experiences.

It is very nice of course! Each time you get the chance to be around these guys you receive something different. It makes me learn a lot.

Let me give you an example. I’ve worked with Philip Catherine for 3 concerts. I had to work a lot because his musical universe is completely different from what I knew (it is not Manouche at all), and so I’ve grown a lot!

And Stochelo, for instance, I met him the first time in Seattle. He is such a very, very nice guy!

14 – Do you remember any specific advice these guys gave to you?

I have received a lot of small important hints or advise from a lot of different people, and that builds my way to see and understand the music I listen or play.

15 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I usually don’t think about this aspect. I simply try to do the best I can, in different styles of the guitar. Then we’ll see what happens!

16 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him? What would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation to Django?

To meet Django?! That would be awesome… I think I would just stay put without talking. It would be better for me to just listen to him! But I would refer to him a lot of very good musicians. It’s hard to know which one to choose, but I really love a lot of musicians in different kinds of music: classical, jazz, flamenco, balkan, african, and so on.

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Gonzalo Bergara

Gonzalo Bergara is one of my favorite musicians ever. His music is pure joy and his funny, outgoing personality makes it even better to hang out with him.

Here’s the full story. And remember… “Never Give Up!” 😉

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

I was 11 years old and I saw a Guns and Roses music video. Slash was being elevated from under the ocean playing a Gibson Les Paul, and making all these whale sounds with it. 🙂 Right then I decided I was going to play the guitar. I have yet to do that particular scene, though.

2 – What are your current projects?

The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet is finishing our 4th CD, “Claroscuro” coming out in November 2015.

Back home in Buenos Aires Argentina we started a new electric project called “Zalo’s Blues”. It’s a power trio where I play guitar and sing a bit with very strong Texan blues and Hendrix influences.

We are also doing a show in a few weeks that feature 12 of our compositions arranged for string quartet and guitar, a CD we will record next year.

3 – Since you’re an Argentinian guy one must ask… what about Tango? Do you dance? 🙂 And do you relate Tango with Gypsy Jazz, in any way?

I don’t dance, and there is very little tango I actually like today. But it’s been in my life since the beginning, one way or the other, so you can hear it in my music even when sometimes I can’t.

The drama, the intensity, the passion for a lack of better words, that’s where it comes from.  Astor Piazzolla’s music, call it tango or not, really motivated me to try to write better stuff all the time.

4 – Can you identify what key elements motivate you to practicing guitar? 

I have a bit of an obsessive personality, and jazz in general allows you to travel an endless road.  I think it’s all about the constant gift to have the possibility of learning or discovering something new.

I’m very good at hearing my deficiencies too, so that puts me to practice quite often.

5 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

I would say finding new ways to go, to not get stuck in one place with your same 8 phrases. It’s very easy to get bored playing the same things over and over again. This might lead you to not having the desire to practice.

When you find something new you start growing that ability, energy and imagination that will, in some way, make you almost completely fall in love with your instrument all over again. I look for that everyday and it’s tough.

6 – You team up with Adrien Moignard in one of the most exciting new projects in Gypsy Jazz (Classico). Tell us about how this partnership was born and it’s dynamics and accomplishments so far.

I think in gypsy jazz, like it probably happens in all styles of music, there are many different styles inside that one style.  Adrien and me spoke the same language, liked the same particular things in gypsy jazz.

It’s always a lot more fun to play with somebody you can connect that way. So it’s easy, we like the same things, so we get together and jam, and have a good time.

7 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years? 

I think the more I grew as a player and a person I started being a bit more thoughtful. Perhaps, as we get older we don’t have the time we had before, so now I try to use my time a bit more wisely.

Today, if I’m about to sit down and practice, I’ll work on one of the things I know needs work.  I think about what I’m going to practice before I sat down. Then I just play and let myself having a good time without thinking so much about the outcome.

(Gonzalo is actually talking about 2 of the most important aspects of productive practice: PLANNING and DIFUSE THINKING. More on those subjects on future posts 😉 ) 

I still do that, but I also like putting my time to specific areas where I feel I could improve.

8 – How does a regular day in your life looks like?

If I’m traveling with the band, it’s waking up, getting in a car, going to the airport, getting in another car, getting to the hotel, going to sound check, eating, playing the show, hopefully a fun gathering afterwards and hotel again. Tomorrow, same thing all over again.

If I’m home, I could spend a lot of the day practicing, or not practicing at all. I try to exercise, mess my mind, and feel better, like reading, hanging with friends, drinking wine, nothing extraordinary. Listening to music probably always.

9 – How do you balance work and rest?

Today I respect my desire, however I feel. If I don’t want to play the guitar I don’t. If I want to play it all day I will.

10 – What are your future plans and goals?

This has been a very busy year for me, working on three full projects.  I’d like to slow down next year and maybe enjoy other things, just to make sure not to get burned too much.


11 – The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet (re) introduces the vocal and violin element in the Manouche Music, showing that this is not just a virtuoso guitar playing style. Was this something you deliberately looked for or just happened?

I try to feature the best about everybody that works with me, Leah Zeger joined the band and she had a fantastic technique and great vocal chords, so I just let things naturally go where they sound good. Whatever that may be.

12 – What key ingredients you love to hear in the music you love?

I must say: time, tone, imagination, passion, fire, and sensitivity.

13 – You moved from Argentina to France, worked with Denis Chang (Canadian), played with Andreas Oberg (Swedish), Joscho Stephan (German), amongst other “foreign” players. Everybody is from different places but manage to gather for the music. What are your feelings about this globalization of Gypsy Jazz?

I think music has always been this way, it’s a universal language, it’s a human thing. We are all one organism in some way and it seems perfectly normal that the same thing moves us all.

14 – You’re also part of an uprising community of Gadjos (non Gypsy) Manouche players in France, including Benoit Convert, Sebastien Giniaux, Adrien Moignard. Where does this burst of vitality, good taste and energy come from?

I think somebody who is responsible for that today would be Bireli Lagrene. To have the opportunity to strive in order to be that good, one day, gets all of us with the desire going.

15 – Do you meditate?

I like reading. A lot of the books I like are not necessarily about meditation or Tao or religion, but touch on those areas a bit.

16 – Is there any ritual or habit that you feel it pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state?

I like going to the beach every tiny chance I got. There’s something about the ocean and the sun that clears me up.

17 – What would you consider to be the most important advice someone gave to you? 

I don’t know if I’d call it “advice” but I have one vivid moment clear in my mind. I was having a great time playing a show and somebody just yelled at me as they were leaving: “never stop”.

At that time I thought: “why would I ever stop?”

Since then I have been faced with difficult turns, stressful moments, where I would think, ahh, this is what he meant. It’d be a lot easier to give it all up. “Never stop.”

18 – What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I’m not sure I have an answer for this. I would like to make sure that I gave my best in all while I enjoyed every bit of time I have.

19 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?

I heard he was a difficult person, so maybe I’d be curious about this personality aspect more than music.

20 – And what would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation with Django?

I think classical music has been my biggest love since I can remember, so it would be some Debussy or Ravel piece, knowing that he liked those guys too.

21 – By the way, since you’re Argentinian and I’m Portuguese… Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? 🙂

No soccer here man sorry. I’m sure they are all great! 🙂

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Raphael Fays

Raphael Fays is one of the few successful musicians with the ability to play Flamenco and Gypsy Jazz at world-class level. Here is a true gentleman, devoted to the masters who preceded him and a heart-felt human being. Thank you for your words Raphael!

1 – What have influenced and inspired you to start playing music?

My father was my biggest inspiration because he played the guitar very well. He was a soloist and outstanding accompanist for Django Quintet of the Hot Club of France with Stephane Grapelly.

2 – What motivated you to keep practicing?

My motivation was Django’s jazz music, and also classical guitar and its repertoire. Then I became a composer of classical works for guitar and flamenco. I am very passionate about Flamenco, of course, because of Paco de Lucia.

3 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

The fact of being extremely stubborn helped me a lot, but also the passion I had for the guitar and music in general. I have always listened back to my own playing and I never had regrets about my guitarist performance.

Up to this day, I have overcome a lot of challenges. Along the way, there are always positive or negative reviews and we must deal with it. But what matters the most are all the people who are standing up to applaud me at the end of each concert. After that you have those who just talk about music and those who actually play music.

4 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

I have always worked between 3 and 6 hours of daily guitar practice. Nowadays it’s a little quieter and sometimes I only play for 2 or 3 hours. Over the years we start to let the focus over technique to flow into more thoughts about music and compositions.

5 – How does a regular day in your life looks like?

I get up, take a cup of coffee, listen to music, then play an hour or two and work on new songs.

6 – How do you balance work and rest?

After I have long periods of work I feel the need to move away. I live in the forest and I love it. It allows me to change my mind. Nature is made for this. It’s super great!

7 – What’s your favourite style of music and musicians?

I listen to a lot of flamenco, Paco de Lucia, for sure, but I also love to listen to Vicente Amigo, his way of playing, how he breathes and what he does rhythmically.

8 – Do you meditate or practice any related activity?

I have faith. I believe… (Long pause) I think that in order to do this job, you must have great faith. It’s a difficult job with lots of competitive jealousy. So we even make enemies, of course, unintentionally. We must, therefore, disregard all that and live our own life.

9 – What would you consider to be the most impactful advice or quote you get in your life?

Surely I would quote Segovia when he said: “The more I write the more I erase; and the more I erase, the more I write.”

10 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I clearly think that we would all like to be recognized for the work that is carried throughout our lives. What I would like people to remember is the sincerity and determination that I always revealed in the music business, for I have come to Earth to play and hear my guitar. This is my main mission.

11 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?

I would have to say “Thank you” – a big thanks to this genius called Django. He was very important in my childhood and in my life.

12 – What kind of music would you refer in a conversation to Django?

Since I was very affected by Paco de Lucia’s death, another great guitar genius, I would have to refer his music. I think Django would have liked to hear him play.

What is extraordinary with the guitar is the global culture it has engendered. All these beautiful colours from South America, Spain, Jazz etc. all of this played with just six strings. The guitar is not just an instrument, it’s a universal language that make us all just gather around a fire by a beautiful starry night.

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Romain Vuillemin

Guitarist, composer, bandleader and singer Romain Vuillemin is one of the most versatile and busy Gypsy Jazz musicians around. In this interview we get a chance to know him and his projects from the musician’s point of view and, most of all, from his human side who ears the universal characteristics of sound. Music is the best gift a musician can offer to the people, don’t you agree Romain? 

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

I started playing when I was 11 or 12. I was a big Iron Maiden fan, and rock in general. I discovered Jazz way after that despite my parents sometimes listen to some jazz big band music.

My parents are not musicians but I have a cousin who played the guitar, mainly rock blues stuff… One of my neighbors also played some electric guitar and my brother was also an amateur funk rock drummer. Automatically I ended at my neighbor’s door telling him “man, show me how to play some nirvana stuff”.

It was really basic but I started this way. I bought a cheap electric guitar and amp, and my parents took me to the town’s music clinic. I spent a week playing with other kids. One morning the guitar teacher shows a pop tune to every guitar player. The drums students also learn it with their teachers, and so on.

In the afternoon bands were put together and we were given a room to practice the song… Only two minutes have passed by after the supervisors got out of the room and we were already playing some Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins stuff!

We ended up originating a metal band with these kids for a few months. I guess I was 13 at the time.

2 – What are your current projects?

Currently I’m working on my own Django project, the “Romain Vuillemin Quartet”. We’ve just released the album “Swinging in Paris” were we are paying tribute to Django’s music, mainly his prewar period.

We focused this album on playing slower tempos than what is commonly played in modern’s gypsy jazz scene. Django played a lot for dancers and these guys used to dance medium to up tempo tunes, which are confortable to dance along.

Guillaume Singer is on violin, Stephan Nguyen on the rhythm guitar and Jérémie Arranger on doublebass. We’ve also invited Sylvain Hamel on one track on the clarinet, and I’m also singing one song.

I really like Guillaume’s playing because we inspire each other. We’re huge fans of the Django/Grappelli period, so we are aiming for spontaneous solos, without much attention to technique, putting musicality first… but it’s a tricky exercise.

I’m also a huge fan of the big band era, and have the incredible chance to work with the Umlaut Big Band, were 14 musicians pay tribute to the prewar European Big Bands (mainly 1928 to 1940). The album “Euro Swing” was also released this year.

All the guys are fantastic players. They are more into modern and experimental music, but all decided to form a big band to party, and it sounds great!!! We did a concert with them in a church in Paris, and we’ve decided to extend the number of musician to 38 (with strings, percussions, singers, etc.) and play the repertoire of the 50’s.

We’ve called it for the occasion the “Umlywood Big Band”. We were supposed to play only this gig, but the experience was so cool that we’re hoping we’ll do more!! Also I sang two songs. Believe me, singing in a 38 piece band is such a pleasure.

We’re also working on some kind of Nat King Cole trio project for which we don’t have a band name yet with my friend Edouard Pennes and the drummer from the big band Antonin Gerbal. It all started as a way to practice other repertoire and other instruments.

Edouard and I are guitar players, and Antonin is a drummer, but in that project Edouard and I play double bass, guitar and also sing, while Antonin is either on drums or piano (mainly piano). This way the same 3 guys can form several different trios: Edouard on bass, Antonin on piano and me singing and playing the guitar and play some Nat Cole trio tunes; or sometimes Edouard could be on guitar, me on bass and Antonin on drums and play some Wes Montgomery stuff.

I’m also playing rhythm guitar in Ritary Gaguenetti Trio. He is a Gypsy from Jura (East of France) who played mainly some Rosenberg music at the beginning then he went more into some electric guitar learning a lot from George Benson’s albums.

We’re also working on some stuff with Swedish guitarist Gustav Lundgren for a tour in Spain. He invited me to play Stockholm Jazz Fest with him last year. We’ve enjoyed the gig, he’s often in Spain, as I am, so we’ll be working on it!

3 – Gypsy Jazz has had a huge international growth all over the world in the last years. How do you see this evolution, considering you are from Paris, the heart of it all?

Arguably, Gypsy Jazz has grown a lot but I think the “big moment” really happened after Biréli Lagrene’s “Gypsy Project” in 2002 up to 2007.

Although Paris is still the spiritual center of this style you can now feel it came back to a more aficionado kind of music. It’s great to live here because Paris is where a lot of great players live.

Here you get the chance to get your ass kicked every evening in jam sessions, so you have got to go home to practice. When you’re the best in town you don’t have the same motivation to practice your instrument.

The interesting thing is that when you’re in Paris you always see some guys coming from the other side of the world spending all their savings trying to learn as much as possible. They take lessons, go to every jam session and gigs. I guess that if I were a bebop guitar player I would do the same: Travel back to its roots and go to New York.

4 – Can you identify what key elements motivate you to practicing guitar? 

I would say that taking a good cup of coffee right after waking up and listening to some good music you would normally feel the need to play.

But it doesn’t always work that way. That’s why playing with better musicians always challenges you and gives you greater motivation. You will remember that you were quite bad in the past, and you will try to be better for next week’s jam session.

5 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

In my practice, getting my ass kicked at jam sessions was a great challenge to overcome.

About the musical career, recording your own album can be a challenge. You have to manage the repertoire and arrangements. Then you have to manage rehearsals, studio sessions, and even some conflicts inside the band.

On top of that there’s this crazy process called “finding gigs”. It can be pretty challenging to balance the organizers low pay with the band members complain about not enough paid… And if you’re the bandleader, you’re stuck right in the middle.

6 – You’re one of the few guys around that play Gypsy Jazz and also sing! Tell us more about that.

Singing is not my main thing. Although my singing it’s not at the same level as my guitar playing I enjoyed it very much, for the music, and the audience also enjoys it, I guess.

Singing gives another atmosphere to a Manouche gig. The voice will automatically touch people. It’s such a strong instrument. And it affects the playing of the other guys in the band. I think every chorus that follows a singing melody will automatically aim to be less virtuosic and more musical, and in some way more universal.

I think it’s good to sing maybe 2 or 3 songs in a gypsy jazz concert but I wouldn’t consider doing an entire gig around singing songs.

7 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

My practice started when I was playing Rock, Pop and Blues. Back then I just grabbed a guitar and played a bit at home or with some friends.

Then I discovered Django Reinhardt and decided I wanted to play that style. I was 18 years old and I realized that I had to practice a lot. That’s when I started working properly: arpeggios, chord shapes, hear training, transposing, harmonic substitutions, etc.

Along those years I understood that one of the most important things to practice is time. Nowadays I’m focusing my practice on the rhythmic aspect of the music…

8 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

After 7 or 8 hours sleep, I wake up, drink a gigantic cup of black coffee, listen to some music or watch some players on YouTube to get my motivation flowing.

Afterwards I grab the guitar, play 1 or 2 hours in the morning, stop for lunch break, and in the afternoon I either teach my guitar students, or I call a friend to come play home.

I guess you won’t play the same way alone in your apartment then in a jam situation with some people. That’s why it’s better to be able to do both.

At night, either I have a gig, or try to find out where my friends are playing and I go see them, or I find a jam.

9 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

I know that I can’t keep my concentration too long, so I try to play a bit every day. This works best for me instead of playing 8 hours a day during the week and nothing during holidays and weekends.


10 – What are your future plans and goals?

My goals are trying to find some nice gigs with my 4tet. I officialized it with an album because the music I hear in my head is a 4tet. The thing is that a lot of places in Paris only book duets, or trios, so it’s a way to play less gigs, but to offer more quality music when we play them.

Regarding my future plans, I’d like to work more on the band with Edouard. It’s a tricky exercise, and I’m really in love with the American Swing music.

11 – There’s a lot of different ways to play Manouche, and your sound, playing and projects seem to be different in style, concept and approach. What makes it so special? New compositions, arrangements, attitude, the community, other aspects?

I’ve started playing this style listening to Django and Tchavolo Schmitt. Later I’ve got more into the Rosenberg playing to gain a bit of technique. Finally I’ve listened to Biréli’s playing because he’s got a fantastic time, sound and great harmonic ideas.

I’ve also listened to a lot of Chet Baker and Louis Armstrong and I was amazed to see that they manage to play greats solos with fewer notes, whereas sometimes in gypsy jazz there’s A LOOOOT of notes.

I try to keep the sound of the guitar that I like from the guitar players I’ve mentioned and, at the same time, play nice and easy melodies who could reach everybody, not only guitar players.

Well that’s my objective. I guess I’ll be able to do it in a few centuries if I practice enough! 🙂

12 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

I like to value the universality of their music. I ask myself “does this reach me as a guitar player (because what the guy is playing is really complicated), or does it reach me because it’s simply beautiful and everybody would like?”

I got to admit that sometimes I also value a machine like musician, with great technique, time, harmony, etc. But that’s because I’m a musician. I’m amazed at Jacob Collier’s videos on YouTube cause he’s incredible, but maybe I wouldn’t have watched them twice if I were not a musician.

13 – Do you meditate?

Actually I don’t meditate. I’m not that kind of person. I’m more the opposite, an hyperactive guy who’s afraid to do nothing during 5 minutes. But I should try someday, because I know that music is way better when the player is really relaxed.

14 – What would you consider to be the most important advice someone gave to you? 

“Ne te reposes pas sur tes lauriers”

This is a French expression that means that you may be OK because you’ve practiced a bit and some people play worst than you, but there’s always some guys who will come and be better than you, so don’t ever stop practicing.

I guess I would prefer being the bad player among the good ones than the contrary.

15 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him? What would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation with Django?

Wooow, if I could meet Django I think I wouldn’t even be able to say a word to him. I would just beg him to take the guitar and start playing.

But if I managed to talk music with him I suppose I would ask him how he felt when he heard Louis Armstrong, what did he liked in his playing, if he liked Armstrong’s singing etc.

I think Louis must have influenced Django since they both have this magic “easy, relaxed, beautiful and universal” core in their music.

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Remi Harris

I must confess I found Remi’s music almost by chance. Zapping through YouTube I’ve found this amazing version of one of my favorite standards – “There Will Never Be Another You” – where he plays a Carolan Guitar.

He’s musical good taste is exquisite and his personality calm and gentle. I hope you’ll enjoy Remi Harris insights as much as I liked pulling these interviews together for you 🙂 

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

I started playing guitar when I was 7 though I had toy guitars before that. My Dad played and listened to a lot of guitar-based music so I grew up surrounded by the sights and sounds of guitar playing. My early influences were mainly 60s and 70s guitar based blues and rock music. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Eric Claption, Peter Green, Chuck Berry and many more.

2 – How come a British guitarist like you, with so many great Rock influences, started playing Manouche?

To me the guitar has always been about improvising, that’s what I love about many of the early rock and blues bands that I grew up listening to. They were really jamming and interacting with each other in the moment.

Jazz appealed to me because it’s all about improvisation, freedom and experimentation. It was a natural progression for me having just spent my teens playing in rock and blues jam bands.

Manouche was the route that appealed to me the most at the time because of its up beat, fun-filled nature. I also love the sound of gypsy jazz type guitars and they sound best with a Manouche style rhythm section (rhythm guitar and double bass).

 3 – What motivated you to never quit practicing?

For me the guitar was (and still is) my favorite toy. Practicing is something I really enjoy doing, I would have given it up years ago if it ever felt like a chore.

I feel that there is always something new to learn and explore.

4 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

The biggest challenge for me in my career, so far, was learning to speak on stage. I’m naturally quite shy but if you want to lead your own band you have to be able to engage with an audience, talk about the tunes your playing, maybe get a few laughs etc. Public speaking was one of my biggest fears growing up.

5 – What are the main differences and/or similarities you find in Manouche and Rock genres, regarding technique, sound and feel?

I guess gypsy jazz is a high energy/up tempo form of jazz and you could say rock’n’roll is a high energy/up tempo version of the blues so both genres are naturally up lifting in their nature.

I find the gypsy jazz line up very versatile. You can play blues, swing, bebop, bossa, funk/hip hop grooves, classical melodies, world music, pop tunes, even rock tunes in this format and it works. Nothing really sounds out-of-place so for me it gives me a lot of possibilities.

The technique involved in playing gypsy jazz guitars is different to how most people play other guitars though and can take some time getting used to it, depending on how you played in the first place. But not everyone uses the gypsy type technique and it’s not essential. I know great Manouche style players who don’t play with this technique.

6 – What was your practice process in the early days? Did it change through the years?

I just used to play everyday. I didn’t have a specific process. If I liked something I would try and learn it. That was it. I have a bit more structure to my playing these days though, as now it’s my profession I have to take it a bit more seriously.

7 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

On average I would say I play between 2 and 4 hours a day. This is divided up throughout the day into shorter sessions. I like to play for between 30 minutes and 1 hour before breakfast, then maybe another hour or two after breakfast. Then I go out, exercise, play football, do some admin work, etc., and come back to the guitar later in the day.

8 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

My playing sessions can vary but average at about 30 minutes with breaks in between. It really can depend on what I’m working on though.

9 – What key ingredients you love to hear in the music you love?

I like musicians who have their own approach. I prefer to hear people doing things their own way with their own unique twists.

 10 – Do you meditate or perform any kind similar practice?

I used to meditate but found my guitar practice and exercise has a similar effect on me as meditation, so I haven’t done it for a while. 


11 – What about the best advice, quote or reference you keep close to you?

Look after the music and the music will look after you.

12 –What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I’d like to be remembered for always trying my hardest at everything I do.

13 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?

I don’t know what I’d say to him. Probably “Thank you”.

14 – What would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation to Django?

I don’t know what record I would mention. I know he had a broad taste in music so I guess we could strike up a conversation about anything. I would like to see his reaction to the System Of A Down though. I have some friends who have tried some heavy metal type tunes in this genre. I think it can work. Anything is possible really.

Gypsy Jazz Interviews: Andreas Oberg

When we think about musical virtuosity amongst guitarists, the name Andreas Oberg immediately comes to mind. The Swedish is one of the most balanced and versatile musicians, ranging from super blazing speed runs to soft melodic passages along the instrument, and Gypsy Jazz is just one of the multiple styles he played throughout his career.

Like the musician, the person is as clear and objective has one can be. Thank you Andreas, for your time, sincerity, and golden insights shared in this interview.

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

My grandfather played me a lot of records when I was young, everything from classical to pop. Then later on when I started with guitar I was lucky to have a guitar teacher who loved fusion music and blues so that was my introduction to that world which a few years later led me into jazz.

2 – What motivated you to keep practicing?

It was fun and I felt I was making a lot of progress. Also playing a lot with other musicians was probably another reason why I developed fast.

3 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career? 

The biggest challenge as a young aspiring guitarist in Sweden was to make myself heard outside the country to be able to have an international career. Back then I think sites like MySpace and YouTube helped me a lot to get recognition and gigs all over the world.

4 – Do you feel that those sites allowed you to be found by influential people or the masses? How did it happen for you?

Yes I would say both. A lot of people from all over the world discovered my clips and videos who otherwise maybe wouldn’t have heard me. But I was also contacted by an American record label (Resonance Records). With them I recorded and released a few albums that led me to a solo career in the US.

5 – How do you see the web nowadays, considering there’s a lot of good content but also a lot of noise?

These days there is so much material on YouTube that it’s quite hard to discover the really good stuff because all of the other more mediocre stuff that people upload. But it’s still a great resource for all genres of music. If something is extremely good though, like Dirty Loops or Jacob Collier, it will sooner or later become big.

6 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

I have always practiced a lot of songs, and foremost how to outline the changes of a song within a single string line. This is one of the most important things to know if you want to become a good soloist, I think. I used to practice that and I still do.

7 – “How to outline the changes of a song within a single string line”. You mean building a solo using only one string or something else?

With this I mean the ability to outline chord changes and harmonies through a single note melody. J.S Bach and Charlie Parker were both masters of this, even though the styles and genres were different.

Just from the solo line you can hear the chord progression. This is something I really think is important and a lot of instrumentalists are lacking this ability.

8 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

These days I don’t tour much since I do a lot of writing/producing for the big K-pop and J-pop artists on the Asian market. So on a regular day I have a writing session with my co-writers, making a new song… often following the leads I get sent from the labels and publishers.

9 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

I often take some time off during the weekends. Then I do a lot of sport activities like hiking, running, tennis etc. When I work in the studio it’s often daytime, like 10 am to 7 pm etc. Trying to cut down on the night sessions 🙂

10 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

I value the ability of a good improviser, someone who surprises him/herself and the listener. Players who can combine a great sound with technique and feeling have the right ingredients. I also like musicians who have a great understanding of chords and harmony.

11 – Do you meditate? Do you perform any kind of practice or activity that pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state?

I don’t meditate but I think that training all those other sports activities mentioned take my mind off the music while I do it.

12 – What would you consider to be the most important advice, quote or reference someone ever gave to you?

Imitate, Integrate, Innovate… learn from the history/tradition, mix it up with what you already know and then, after that, try to do something brand new. 

13 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

I would like to be remembered as a guy who managed to do everything from playing advanced jazz for a smaller audience to writing/producing big pop hits with millions of sold records. That’s actually where I’m at right now. I want to show that one thing doesn’t exclude the other and you can try to do everything you do with quality. Quincy Jones is a grand example of this. He’s one of my role models.


14 – Tell us more about that Asian Pop Market experience. How did this opportunity come up and how are things going for you and your artists?

The Asian pop music market is amazing. The fans are very devoted and they still buy physical albums to support the artists.

The musical taste over there is sometimes more advanced than in the west. As a writer you are not as limited when it comes to the possibility of using more intricate chords and harmonies.

I have now been fortunate to have had many (close to 20) Number 1’s on the single/album charts in Japan/Korea combined as a writer and I really enjoy writing the songs for the artists.

It started happening for me when I wrote a song with a few Swedish friends, which was close to getting placed over there. Even though this song never got placed it gave me many connections over there and in 2012 I got my first big placement. To this date I have sold around 5 million physical albums (+numerous downloads) as a songwriter, which is a quite good number these days.

15 – What about Django and his music, what would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him and which kind of music would you show to him?

I would probably just want to play a song with Django if I got the opportunity.

I’m sure he would have loved to hear Coltrane. They both had that unique tone with so much feeling and depth to it.