DJANGOLOGIE – A New Leaf (click on cd image to hear samples)

‘Gypsy Jazz’ continues to win new audiences. Perhaps the primary reason for this is that it has the ‘feel good’ factor in abundance. Created in 1930's Paris, it is a genre of jazz that is uplifting, poignant and packed with energy.

Although its origins are to be found in the Tzigane music played by Manouche gypsies, it was the subsequent adoption of stylistic elements of the French ‘musette’, Spanish ‘flamenco’, Italian ‘bouree’ and American ‘swing’ that led to the crystallization of the gypsy jazz sound.

The most famous virtuoso exponent of the new gypsy jazz style was of course the guitarist Django Reinhardt -  in partnership with violinist Stephane Grappelli.  However, many other players made an important impact on the music, playing with Django at various times as well as recording their own masterpieces. These include Django’s brother Joseph, the Ferret brothers (Baro, Sarane and Matelot), Oscar Allemain and Henri Salvador. In addition, violinists Louis Villerstein, Leo Slab and Henri Limberger all made their mark, as did accordionists such as Gus Viseur, Tony Mureno and Jo Privat.  However, it is the Django and Stephane recordings with The Quintette de Hot Club du France during the 1930s which established the genre at a national and international level, and these recordings continue to be the ‘gold standard’ of the music.

Since Reinhardt’s death in 1953, a succession of great musicians have continued the gypsy tradition, including Jaques Montagne, Tchan Tchou, Fapy Lapertin, Louis Fays, Titi Winterstein, Tchavolo Schmitt, Dorado Schmitt, Martin Weisss and Raphael Fays. Contemporary artists such as Bireli Lagrene, Stocholo Rosenberg and Angelo DeBarre attract ‘new generation’ players such as Samson Schmitt, Joscho Stephan, Richard Manetti and Django’s grandsons - Dallas Baumgartner and David Reinhardt. Thus the legacy of Django, and the past masters of gypsy jazz, is secured and also  extended through new repertoire and new levels of technical achievement.

Djangologie is firmly rooted in the ‘feel good’ sound of gypsy jazz, performing their own interpretations of the traditional repertoire and contributing new compositions in the gypsy style.

Purchase CD- A New xx Leaf - £12-00 including postage

The Virtuoso Jazz Trio – SUMMER   (click on cd image to hear samples)

George MacDonald – Clarinet James Birkett – Guitar Peter Stuart – Double Bass

“Summer” presents a selection of live recordings made during a series of concerts in 2006. Whenever ‘The Trio’ assembles on the concert platform the sense of fun and excitement is palpable . Their repertoire is rooted in the very best of the Great American Songbook, to which audiences of all ages and musical tastes respond with a sense of delight. Their interaction with the trio is a key factor in the shaping of the music, making each performance unique and very memorable. George, James and Peter hope that you also feel ‘part of the performance’ when you listen to these recordings.
Recorded ‘live’ in concert during ‘The Summer Tour - 2006’ by First Flight Recording.

Artwork by Irene Birkett.
Purchase CD- Summer - £12-00 including postage

The Virtuoso Jazz Trio – AUTUMN   (click on cd image to hear samples)

George MacDonald – Clarinet James Birkett – Guitar Peter Stuart – Double Bass

“Autumn” presents a selection of live recordings made during a series of concerts in 2006. Whenever ‘The Trio’ assembles on the concert platform the sense of fun and excitement is palpable. Their repertoire is rooted in the very best of the Great American Songbook, to which audiences of all ages and musical tastes respond with a sense of delight. Their interaction with the trio is a key factor in the shaping of the music, making each performance unique and very memorable. George, James and Peter hope that you also feel ‘part of the performance’ when you listen to these recordings.

Recorded ‘live’ in concert during ‘The Autumn Tour - 2006’ by First Flight Recording.

Artwork by Irene Birkett.
Purchase CD- Autumn - £12-00 including postage


James Birkett and Rod Sinclair – The Jazz Guitar Duo (click on cd image to hear samples)

This is the first CD release from the James Birkett/Rod Sinclair Jazz Guitar Duo. It features several of the classic early jazz guitar duets from their concert programme and the first recorded performance

of their newly-composed "Suite for Two Guitars". By special request the CD closes with "Spain" by Chick Corea. We hope you enjoy the music and look forward to any requests for material to be featured on future CD releases.

The Approach
To date comparatively few of the early jazz guitar duets have appeared in published form. Those that have tend to be 'based on' the original recorded works - sometimes quite loosely. It was therefore necessary to return to the original recordings to make accurate transcriptions, and fresh 'editorial' decisions where necessary. For example, Carl Kress used an unconventional guitar tuning (based upon that of the banjo) and - as one of the prime objectives of the duo project is to bring the music into the standard repertoire for guitar - is was decided to interpret the Kress parts in terms of conventional guitar tuning and appropriate keys. Also, some of Eddie Lang's pieces were originally recorded with piano accompaniment. Here an appropriate 'second guitar' part was created.
Tempos are based on those of the original recordings but not rigidly adhered to - the main aim being to reveal the expressive range of the pieces. Acknowledging that the original recordings should be available for perpetuity, it was decided that recreating the music on 'period' instruments (i.e. using 'archtop' guitars) was not essential. James and Rod therefore opted for the additional percussive, textural and dynamic range of the modern acoustic guitar. (A matching pair of Lowdens were selected for the purpose).

The Musicians & The Music . . . read more
The Musicians & The Music

During the late 1920s and early 1930s Dick McDonough (1904-1938) was one of the busiest session musicians in New York City. In addition to leading his own radio and recording groups he was featured on hundreds of recordings with other bands - including those of Red Nichols and the Dorsey Brothers. Carl Kress (1907-1965) first gained prominence when he was featured with the Paul Whiteman orchestra in 1926. He went on to record with artists such as the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, teaming up with McDonough to record some of the most adventurous of the early jazz guitar duets. Stagefright (1932) is a delightful piece, with a particularly expressive middle section - the melody supported by a series of descending parallel harmonies. Danzon (1934) sounds as though it must have been composed more recently, its extended harmonies underpinned by a driving tonic/dominant ostinato. Chicken a la Swing (1937) is an up tempo piece which is counterbalanced by a 'reflective' interlude based upon rising thirds.
Eddie Lang (1902-1933) is regarded by many as the first great jazz guitar player, establishing the instrument as an important rhythm and solo 'voice' during the 1920s. His recordings with violinist Joe Venuti ultimately inspired the collaboration between Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly. Eddie's Twister (1927, originally with piano accompaniment) opens with an almost Impressionistic series of parallel harmonies and the incorporation of the whole tone scale - the interlude abruptly moving a tritone away before re-establishing the tonal centre. Lang's collaboration with Carl Kress produced the 'My Way' series. Pickin' My Way (1932) maintains a bright tempo throughout, moving from blues-tinged thematic material based in G to contrasting material in D minor/F before the recapitulation. Feelin' My Way (1932) is a slower, more 'down home' piece, fusing elements of blues with some elaborate harmonic filling. Again, an interesting contrast is produced through a key shift and new melodic material in the interlude.
British guitarist Albert Harris was featured on many broadcasts for the BBC, being voted one of the most popular guitarists in the 1937 Melody Maker Readers' Poll. He later settled in the USA, composing and arranging for Hollywood. One of the most notable pieces is Dedication (to Eddie Lang, circa 1937). This is a multi-sectional piece, new melodic material being introduced with each shift of key centre.
The Suite for Two Guitars is an extended work which brings together some of the most expressive elements in the rich language of jazz (i.e. swing, the ballad, the bossa, the blues, the samba). The Suite is unified through thematic and structural ideas which are presented in the Introduction and which unfold in stages, leading to the climax of the Finale. James and Rod include a selection of 'standards' in their concert programme and - by popular request - have included their version of Chick Corea's Spain to bring the CD to a close.

Purchase CD- The Jazz Guitar Duo - £12-00 including postage


James Birkett and Rod Sinclair: The Jazz Guitar Duo

For this – our second album – we have again selected pieces which trace the development of jazz guitar repertoire over time. The aim is to acknowledge and celebrate its historical roots and stages of development over nine decades, and at the same time to introduce new material and new performance challenges. Our concert performances and broadcasts show that there is a fairly universal interest in guitar, and we continue to be delighted with the ‘cross-over’ interest in this music – audiences being drawn from jazz, blues, rock and classical orientations.

Taking the listener on a carefully planned ‘journey through time’ seems to be a particularly effective way of organising a full concert programme for the guitar duo format. This CD is assembled with this in mind, and includes repertoire classics, lesser known gems and newly-composed material written for the duo by Martyn Harry (Grace) - a particularly imaginative and challenging piece. Our collaboration with composer Keith Morris was sadly curtailed by his sudden death in 2005. It seemed fitting to include one of the repertoire items that he introduced to us (Paraguayan Tune) and to conclude the CD with a short musical eulogy to a much loved and respected British musician (Morris Dance).

The Musicians & The Music . . . read more
Purchase CD- Timeline - £12-00 including postage



1929                Eddie Lang (aka Blind Willie Dunn) and Lonnie Johnson      Blue Room
The early collaborations of the highly polished session musician Eddie      Lang with the authentic blues guitar of Lonnie Johnson produced a series of highly important recordings of the early jazz guitar duo format. Although this is a sixteen-bar progression (rather than a twelve-bar), it is none-the-less shot through with the language of the blues. For purposes of authenticity, Johnson’s part is played on a twelve-string guitar.

1937                John Cali and Tony Guttuso        Satan Takes a Holiday
Apparently used originally as background music for “magic acts and midnight spook shows”, this piece was picked up and recorded by a number of big name bands of the day – notably that of Tommy Dorsey. This is a multi-sectional swing piece, very effectively arranged for two guitars by Cali and Guttuso.

1940                Django Reinhardt       Nuages
Django was of course one of the great forces in guitar, defining his own branch of the ‘swing’ through his recordings with his various Hot Club ensembles. This is perhaps his most memorable composition,      continuing to be one of the most frequently requested pieces in any jazz guitar programme.

1955                Dave Brubeck        In Your Own Sweet Way
Although not originally conceived as a guitar feature, this piece is often included in the concert repertoire,  having a compulsive melodic structure which draws upon the ‘cycle of fourths’ to weave a path from the home tonality of Bbmajor to that of Gbmajor within the ‘A’ section. It is therefore always a challenging piece to improvise upon.

1959                Brazilian  Luiz Bonfá          Uma Prece (a prayer)
The Brazilian guitarist/composer Bonfá was a true phenomenon. The directness and beauty of his compositions continue to have a universal appeal. His solo guitar recordings often sound as though they have been performed by two - or even three - players. This piece is a duo arrangement of one such solo performance.

1959                John Lewis         Skating in Central Park
It is always good to introduce something ‘in three’ in a concert programme. John Lewis (of The Modern Jazz Quartet) clearly appreciated great guitarists. His composition Django is a testament to this. Skating in Central Park - a jazz waltz - is again constructed with a nostalgic, wistful melody and incorporates a particularly interesting harmonic scheme for the ‘B’ Section.

1965                Luiz Bonfá        Gentle Rain - from the movie of the same name.
The special contribution that Bonfá has made to guitar repertoire through his unique and evocative composition is excuse enough for including another piece by him. No guitar programme would really be complete without a bossa nova, and this was of course one of his big movie theme ‘hits’. The compositional interest lies in the juxtaposition of the key centres of Aminor and Fmajor, and the design of the melodic and harmonic sequences which connect the two.

1979                Biréli Lagrene      Fisco Place     
This piece is a salute to Lagrene – who burst onto the jazz scene as a child prodigy - and is basically an excuse for a guitar ‘romp’ (a Hot Club-style ‘blitz’).  Rooted in Aminor, it incorporates the classic ‘Spanish’ modal progression with a couple of additional harmonic obstacles (i.e. the move to Bb in the ‘A’ section, and the descending tonal centres which end in Abmajor in the ‘B’ section.

1992                Pat Metheny  Always and Forever        
One of the great contemporary guitarists and composers, Pat Metheny has            vastly extended the repertoire for the guitar. In particular he has produced many powerful ballads, of which Always and Forever is a favourite in the concert programme. This piece incorporates the descending harmonic movements (through a series of inversions) which are a particular strength of his compositional style.

2003                Martyn Harry Grace     
As part of the move to extend the repertoire base for the jazz guitar duo, this piece was commissioned from contemporary British composer Martyn Harry. Grace is conceived as musical pointillism, the point of focus continually shifting through the semi-quaver interplay of the two instruments. Drawing upon a number of idiomatic reference points it is a very different kind of musical journey and is a great addition to plectrum guitar repertoire.

2004/08           Keith Morris – uncompleted collaboration  2004       Morris Dance
British composer Keith Morris was also commissioned to write a new piece for the duo. However, his untimely death in 2005 prevented the completion of this collaborative project, and so the final piece on this CD has been created through the incorporation of fragments of his some of his thematic material in order to produce a musical homage to him.

                        Paraguayan Tune (Trad.)
The statement of thematic material followed by ‘improvisation’ is a compositional format common to many times and traditions. Thus it is felt that the inclusion of a ‘World Music’ piece is appropriate to (and adds variety to) the repertoire of a ‘jazz guitar’ duo. The piece is a traditional melody (of unknown origin) passed on to the duo by Keith Morris.

James Birkett and Bradley Johnhston – Together (click on cd image to hear samples)

The duo format is one of the most challenging and rewarding for jazz musicians. It is a very intimate ‘dialogue’ that requires moment-by-moment awareness, sensitivity and responsiveness from both players in equal measure. A shared emotional landscape is essential in creating, shaping and sustaining the different character of each piece and, bearing in mind their forty year age difference, James and Bradley ‘commune’ with the music completely. At the heart of this communication is the love of the repertoire that has been handed down from the giants of jazz improvisation. James and Bradley hope you enjoy listening to the results of their first recordings together as much as they enjoyed creating them.

Purchase CD- The Jazz Guitar Duo - £12-00 including postage
  (Click here to stop and close)                     Suite for Two Guitars (Birkett/Sinclair)
1 Stagefright (McDonough) 9 Introduction
2 Danzon (Kress) 10 Part 1
3 Pickin’ My Way (Lang/Kress) 11 Part 2
4 Eddie’s Twister (Lang) 12 Interlude 1
5 Dedication (Harris) 13 Part 3
6 Feelin’ My Way (Lang/Kress) 14 Interlude 2
7 Chicken a la Swing (McDonough/Kress) 15 Part 4
8 Finale 16 Spain (Corea)