FingerstyleGuitarists.com

just in case you've never heard of gypsy jazz; our Joscho Stephan interview

 

Popular culture isn't always the most reliable informant when it comes to steering people 
towards good music. That's no surprise. It's been that way for quite a while.

You'd expect a lot a more, though, from the for-profit guitar publications who are supposed
to be the ones that make a living from 'getting it' on this kind of stuff. It really is
quite the head scratcher; why Gypsy Jazz (aka Jazz Manouche, aka Gypsy Swing) goes so
seriously under-reported in mainstream American guitar media? It has everything going
for it that serious guitar enthusiasts would want to learn more about, yet save for the
occasional Django retrospective or little backpage fragments, nigh a peep from too many
American publications on this mind blowing style.

Sure, I realize you have to sell adspace and hard copies (a fate we've carefully avoided)
but Sweet Hosanna, do we really need another "pedal shoot-out", "tone challenge" or
in-depth interview with Guthrie Govan's gardener when there's a meaningful amount of the
North American guitar public who have yet to hear word-one about Stochelo?

Somewhere along the line, the educational entities guitar players rely on to serve up 'the
real deal' failed us in the big way, by letting this genre slip through the cracks and remain
out on the margins. You may or may not dig the musicality of it all but as far as the guitar
work goes? Pound for pound, these cats are without peer.

While this site is (and always will be) fingerstyle-centric, this month, we depart slightly from that
mold and take a cue from a comment made in an earlier interview with Eric Johnson, when he talked
about the importance of exposure in music education; how the people coming to hear Hendrix saw
something meaningful when Ravi Shankar opened the show.

Nine with Joscho Stephan.

Joscho Stephan


Early life, personal background?
I grew up in Mönchengladbach, Germany (still living there). Born in June 1979. What brought you to play the guitar and in particular, Jazz Manouche/Gypsy Jazz? I started to play the guitar at age of 6. Influenced by my father, because he was member of a Amateur Cover Band (mostly Beatles, Santana and Stuff like that). After i´ve learned the first chords from my father, i get classical lessons at a music school. At the age of 11 i started to improvise on Rock and Blues Tunes (Santana, Gary Moore etc.). 2 years later i discovered Jazz (George Bensons, Wes Montgomery) and tried also to play a bit Jazz. Then (at age 14) i heard Django, that really changed my (musical) life. I tried to play that style, but it was so different and difficult, that i needed months to find out how Django played. Other than Django, who are your musical/guitar influences? First Guitar Hero was maybe (still to today) Carlos Santana. Later I discovered Gary Moore. But then i started to listen to more jazzier Stuff. George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass are my favourites. Django of course in Gypsy Swing Style. I also listened a lot to his followers: Stochelo Rosenberg and Bireli Lagrene. First in 2002 at the Chet Atkins Convention i discovered the Fingersytle Players. Top on the list for me: Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Smith. I learned a lot from both of them. As someone who's quite clearly in the top-top-top-top percentile of technically skilled players,
do you feel such ability results more from relentless practice or from innate, natural talent?
I think its both: Of course i praciticed a lot (especially when i started to play Gypsy Swing). Sometimes between 4 - 6 hours a day. On the other side i always had a talent for learning fast, and playing fast. As a child i learned very fast. My classical teacher showed me the Fuge from Bach. I learned faster watching him, then to read the music :-) I never had a big talent to read music. I was always faster with my ears and eyes. Five albums. What are they? Santana - Moonflower George Benson - Breezin Django Reinhardt - Souvenirs The Beatles - Complete :-) Gary Moore - Still got the Blues Away from guitar and touring, what are your passions?
Do you have any hobbies?
To be honest: i never had really a other hobby then music. But i can really enjoy days without playing the guitar. I am still a family man, who loves to be together with the whole family or friends. What are your favorite countries to visit?

I played all over the world, but of course my main work is here in germany. I enjoyed all foreign gigs until now, but my favourite country is Poland. There is a lot of energy, and the audience is really great. Are there any songs you consider too daunting to try?

Everybody has different technical skills. That means: For someone its hard to play the Smoke on the Water Riff, for somebody else its easy to play the hardest classical stuff, Flamenco, Gypsy Swing or whatever. I think the Gypsy Waltes (La Gitane, Djangos Waltz) are very difficult. Also the original Dark Eyes Django Solo. George Benson Stuff like Being with you, or also a lot of Tommy Emmanuels Stuff. But even if i am a technical player, i never need speed or a lot of technic. I enjoy listening to people who playing less notes like Santana or B.B. King the same then listening to Paco de Lucia or Bireli Lagrene. I also dont think that a technical player cannot play with soul. Thats absolutely stupid. Every great player plays with soul. If he plays fast, or technically hard, or just simple things dont matter. Any shout-outs, tour dates or anything else you'd like to mention?

I tour every year a lot.
Dates you can find on my webside: www.joscho-stephan.de

In Autumn there will be a new CD out: Gypsy meets the Klezmer.
It is a collaboration with the german Klezmer clarinet Master Helmut Eisel. Dont miss that CD :-)
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