Guitar Notes From The Underground:
Player Profile: Jimmy Rosenberg
Hello Guitar-Muse readers! This session of Guitar Notes from the Underground features Jimmy Rosenberg. A well known Gypsy Jazz player who’s fallen off the radar in recent years, Jimmy was a child prodigy who played festivals at 12 and recorded the Sinti record (with Johnny Rosenberg on guitar and Rinus Steinbach on bass) for Columbia/Sony at the ripe old age of 15 before touring and recording internationally.
In this lesson, I’ll walk you through 32 bars of Jimmy’s blazing solo on “The FlintStone’s Theme” from the Sinti cd. This is a great vehicle to demonstrate how the right player can use a few melodic and harmonic devices to build an exciting solo.
I Haz Gotz Rhythm?
Before we can tackle the solo, it’s important to know what chords Jimmy is playing over. The song form is based on a series of chord changes with an A and B section called Rhythm Changes (after George Gershwin’s use of the same progression in the standard “I Got Rhythm“).
In the A section, the trio plays a variation on a two-bar I iv ii V chord progression in the key of D.
Dmaj7 B7 Emin7 A7.
While the tune is performed at a leisurely pace for the verses, a key problem with using five and six note voicings for these chords is that the tempo is bumped up to double time for the solo!
Taking A Cue From Django
To work around the problem of changing chords at such rapid tempos, many Gypsy Jazz players take a cue from the father of Gypsy Jazz guitar, Django Reinhart. Django used a series of three note voicings to accommodate the fact that he only had a few working fingers on his fretting hand, and ended up creating a whole school of rhythm playing!
Removing the 5th from each chord voicing leaves the following:
Notice that all of the voicings use the same fingers and a similar shape. In addition to making it easier to physically make the chord changes, using the smaller voicings also opens up more space sonically for the soloist.
The form of the B section of the tune consists of two bars of III 7,
(F#9 in this case):
2 Bars of V7,
2 Bars of II7,
and 2 bars of V7
(in this case one bar of A13 and one bar of A7#5)
Some General Rhythm Tips
You’ll have to listen to the original recording to hear the subtleties of the rhythm style but here are a few general observations.
Rhythm playing in this style involves keeping the strumming hand off the top of the guitar.
The strum pattern generally has the 2 and 4 of the beat muted in a percussive style with metronomic accuracy which his drives the rhythm of the piece in a more aggressive manner. You may want to google “la pompe” for more information on this!
These smaller voicings often use 6th chords (Major 6th and Minor 6th in place of 7 ths) and 6/9 chords and often have a real fluidity with inversions (3rd in the bass, 5th in the bass – I’ve heard players play a 13th chord and add a b9 in as the root!!) Stylistically, a number of chord alterations (such as adding b9 or b13 to 7th chords) or substitutions are also employed frequently.
Keep this in mind, because while I’ve outlined the chords of the song, Johnny Rosenberg is using a number of these devices to generate variations on the rhythm. Gypsy Jazz rhythm is a much bigger study than I can get into here, but if you’re interested in this style it’s an area that is deserving of that study!
The solo is where the real fireworks happen in this tune! Don’t let the 1/8th notes and triplets in the transcription fool you. At cut time, Jimmy is absolutely blazing on this track! In this transcription, I’ll point out some interesting elements and common ideas that come up in the solo so you can adapt them to your own playing.
The opening phrase goes by so quickly that it’s easy to miss Jimmy’s cool phrasing here. First, there’s the way that he weaves the ½ step pattern through the first 3 chords to resolve on the E minor 7. Seeing the second half of bar 2 and 3 as part of the same phrase, I especially dig the A# leading tone resolving into the B minor7 arpeggio in bar 3 over the D maj7 chord.
The G# adds a nice tension leading into the A in bar 4. Note: The be-bop encircling around the A pitch over the B7 chord is a common device in the style as well.
The real moment is the aggressively picked B min7 arpeggio in bar 6 that gets played as an ostinato (a repeated phrase) for five measures. This is a great lesson in building tension in a solo by pushing a melodic idea through series of chord changes.
Bar 11 moves to another repeating pattern but uses a six-note pattern based on an A Aeolian/D Dorian shape superimposed over D maj7 (!?!)
Theoretically, it shouldn’t “work” over the chords there (the F natural acts as a #9 on the D maj7, a b5 on the B7, a b9 on the E min7 and a b13 on the A7), but between the melodic thrust of the previous pattern (and its rhythmic phrasing as 1/8th notes that move over the bar line in an interesting way) Jimmy pulls it off through sheer force of will.
Bar 14 shows a neat way to break out of the pattern by using a chromatic device that leads into the B min7b5 arpeggio (superimposed over A7). This is followed in bar 15 by a D maj7 arpeggio that’s superimposed over the B7 -> Emin7 chord change.
Bar 17 takes us into the B section of the tune to solo over and Jimmy pulls out some interesting ideas here as well. In bar 17, Jimmy starts by playing an F# Major 7 arpeggio (yep! There’s a reason the F natural is written as E# there!) that morphs into an E diminished arpeggio (another common Gypsy Jazz device).
He then uses a cool chromatic device with muted strings to get into the B7 arpeggio in bar 19. A small variation of this idea is repeated in bar 20.
Jimmy superimposes a Bmin9 arpeggio over the E9 in Bar 21 which then morphs into a B7 arpeggio in the following bar. This is followed by an E min7 (add 13) arpeggio played over A13 in Bar 23 and an A6 arpeggio in bar 24.
Bar 25 brings out another ostinato that Jimmy ploughs through over the entire progression. (Note: alternating between the E and the F on beat 3, generating an interesting effect that adds a little variety to the pattern.)
The pattern rolls out into a cool variation on a Django quote in bars 30-32.
A young Jimmy was once asked in an interview about how he got so good at such a young age. He replied that he grew up completely immersed in that music with people playing it all the time and that he practiced for hours on end every day, before going to practice with his band for hours on end and then playing concerts with them into the night. In other words, he lived with a guitar around the clock. There are some challenging aspects to this solo, but if Jimmy (a self taught player at the age of 15) could pull it off, you also can (if you put the concentrated work in)! Start those metronomes ticking! It’s going to take a while to get it down as quickly and cleanly as Jimmy did!
Sadly, in more recent years Jimmy’s life has been more of a cautionary tale. On the official Jimmy Rosenberg page Anthony Williams writes, “The website of Jimmy Rosenberg has been for a long time stuck in a traffic jam, waiting for the green light. Jimmy is not working. At present, Jimmy is officially under care, which at the very least means that he is safe, and under supervision.” This is further elaborated in the 2007 documentary, The Father, The Son, and the Talent which details Jimmy’s meteoric rise and subsequent descent into drug addiction, incarceration and institutionalization. The documentary is riveting and features a lot of great music and playing from Jimmy.
In the meantime, while the guitar world waits for Jimmy’s return again, you might want to check out Sinti (available as a digital release), any of Jimmy’s Hot Club recordings or his dvd, Jimmy Rosenberg is Back.