We’ll have a go at any kind of music!

Gypsy Swing, Gypsy Jazz, Manouche, Django-style…

For example, when Samuel was in his early teens he and I set about figuring out how to play Django Reinhardt/Freddie Green* style jazz chords – the ones you play mainly on three low strings, typically the 3rd, 4th & 6th strings or the 3rd, 4th and 5th. Neither of us is into fast scales and dazzling guitar wizardry but we enjoyed swinging like crazy in a (kinda) gypsy-jazz style on old jazz standards and blues. One of us would take a chorus or two and then we’d switch lead and rhythm roles back and forth. Simple!

DC and Samuel Cardwell with Aria MM20 Maccaferri style (Django) GuitarsThen one day we wandered into our friendly local music emporium, Guitars ‘N’ Things (in Frankston, VIC, Australia) and the owner Rob excitedly showed us two of these Maccaferri (“Django”) style guitars by Aria that he’d just got in – for a low price – less than $300 each. We’d always assumed it would cost a fortune to equip ourselves properly but these were just affordable enough that we could go completely mad and buy two on the spot. One was the MM20 – the “petite bouche” (small soundhole) one, generally used for lead playing, and the other was the MM10grande bouche” (big D-shaped soundhole) which had a floppier sound and was usually used by the rhythm guitarist.

Unfortunately the neck on the MM10 grande bouche quickly started to warp until it was pretty much unplayable. We took it back in to Rob and he decided it was unfixable and very kindly swapped it for another MM20. The MM20s have stayed remarkably true and playable over the five or six years that we’ve had them.

Here’s an iPhone video from 2010 that will give you some idea of what we sound like when we’re totally (s)winging it – this is even more impromptu than normal! We were just testing my iPhone 3G‘s video & audio capabilities.

As you can see,  it actually worked out better having two MM20s because we swap lead and rhythm roles anyway. These are the only gypsy jazz guitars we’ve ever played so we have no idea if they’re good or bad compared to the more expensive ones, but we love them! The sound is markedly different from a standard flat-top acoustic – it’s hard to describe but it seems to emphasise the middle frequencies and there’s less sustain and more bite which makes it perfect for the taut chording and horn-like lead lines that the music features.

Up until now (April 2013) it’s just been a hobby that we’ve mainly confined to home, but we’ve been asked to play at this year’s inaugural Mornington Winter Jazz Festival (June 7th at Mornington Library) so we’d better brush up our skills!

Learning to play with the jazz-style voicing was actually the inspiration for my song I Am Still The Same – it’s not a jazz song by any stretch but the guitar has a very distinctive sound which I would never have come up with if I hadn’t started to play that way.

Marjorie Cardwell – jazz singer?

Our new skills also allowed us to create a reasonably authentic backing for Marjorie‘s cover of the 1939 jazz standard Stars Fell On Alabama composed by Frank Perkins with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. 

She recorded this for Adam Waltemire’s Legacy – A Tribute To Rick Nelson album. Samuel played the cool (in every sense) electric guitar parts and I (DC) played piano, bass, acoustic guitar and swished a brush over a snare drum.


Big Band Swing

And, swinging right back to the early days, Samuel and I played in a local youth jazz band led by the legend that is Gil Askey (see below). Samuel played classy Freddie Green style guitar and I played bass on our trusty Hofner Beatle bass copy. You might wonder what I was doing there – well, they couldn’t get a kid to play bass so I volunteered! We did this for a few years and Samuel and I both agree that this was one one the great experiences of our lives!

“Who is Gil Askey?”, I hear you ask. Well… he lives here in Melbourne, not far from us, but he’s a Texan gentleman who was born in 1925 and he used to play trumpet with people like Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie etc (no, really!) and then worked on some of the seminal rock’n’roll records by artists such as Lloyd Price. He then became an arranger at Motown right through their classic years in the 60s. He was described in The Washington Times as “one of the architects of the legendary Motown sound“. He continued working with Diana Ross and some other big names throughout the 70s and 80s, and was nominated for an Oscar for producing and arranging Ross’s “Lady Sings The Blues” soundtrack. In the early 80s Gil married an Australian and that’s why we have the benefit of him here Down Under! He was the musical director of the famous Motown 25th Anniversary TV Special where Michael Jackson debuted his moonwalk and pretty much kicked off his meteoric 80s rise to hyperstardom. Gil’s an absolutely brilliant person and he puts a lot of time into working with young people. It was a huge privilege and joy to work with him and just sitting listening to his tales and wonderful musical philosophies and ramblings was pleasure enough, never mind playing with him!

I should write more when I get the chance. In fact we often say that someone should really write a book about him because he is the repository of a million incredible stories of 20th century musical history. And he knows how to tell them!

NOTE: Sadly Gil died in Melbourne on 9th April, 2014. Marjorie and Samuel were privileged to be able to attend his funeral.  Along with many thousands of others, from Berry Gordy and Diana Ross down to the youngest music-makers who sat at his feet, we really miss him. Read this beautiful tribute to him from Austin writer, Michael Corcoran :

Most influential Austin musician of all time? Roky? Stevie? Kenny Dorham? It just might be Gil Askey, who passed away Wednesday at age 89.


~ DC Cardwell

* Freddie Green was the undisputed master of jazz chord “comping” (accompaniment) and he swung harder than just about anyone, driving the famously hard-swinging Count Basie orchestra as much as the drummer and bass player. But a number of people have suggested that he only played one-note “chords” a lot of the time! See http://www.freddiegreen.org/technique/chirillo.html for some thoughts on this. And here you can find chord diagrams for the one-note chords! (They’ll also tell you how to play three-note chords.) Samuel and I decided there was a lot of truth in this when we managed to obtain the video of him playing with a Count Basie small group on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual program in the 1950s. You can clearly hear that he really is just playing one note much of the time! He fingers the chords, and perhaps makes a muted “ghost” sound with the other strings, just as you do with the “unplayed” strings in your three and four-note jazz chords. I remember when I was in the audience listening to Samuel in the Gil Askey band (on the occasions when I didn’t have to stand in on bass) it sounded like Samuel was doing the one note thing at times, but it may just be that one note was emphasised above the others.

One Response to Jazz

  1. Wayne Melvaine says:

    Rock on.


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