One might expect me to say that “I should be able to host a taco party and hand out sombreros to all my privileged white guests without any guilt or shaming.” And I do feel that way as a rule. But that’s not my issue. Not today.
To foreshadow, I always felt uneasy at best listening to white rock and rollers playing music of the Mississippi Delta, a region very close to where I was born and grew up. There was no such thing as political incorrectness in those days, but I thought it was phony for rockers, especially rich English ones with hot chicks tossing their underwear on the stage, to play the blues. Something was inappropriate about it but I didn’t have the experience or vocabulary to know what it was. I do now: There is something sacred, or at least extraordinarily special, about southern black musicians channeling southern black misery, and something profane about rich white guys covering it. Not that I’d protest it if I were on one of today’s politically correct university campuses. And yes, Stevie Ray and Johnny Winter get a pass from me on this. Just because. But atheists shouldn’t sing How Great Thou Art, or Tantum Ergo. It’s just wrong, even if they really like the melodies.
Something similar bugs me as I venture lately into the exotic repertoire of gypsy jazz. I sense that Django Reinhardt sounded the way he did in part because of who he was: a real Belgian gypsy who was at his peak in German occupied France. (He once politely resisted, and then fled from an invitation from a well meaning German officer to travel to Berlin and perform. He might have been diverted elsewhere after th performance.) But anyway, I don’t think anyone but a real gypsy can know what it is to be one, or play like one. They still play music all day and all night in those in France and the Netherlands, and the kids are steeped in it from birth.
So my question is, is there any point in trying to learn Django’s licks and phrasing? Many of his licks are just too fast, and so I can’t learn them anyway. But when I do play songs of the gypsy repertoire that are within my reach, my phrasing has an unmistakable whiff of Pat Boone about it. The reason is, let’s face it, I’m no gypsy; I’m a white guy from an upper middle class southern suburb. Popular music of the 50’s is in my marrow. I’ve got to be me! So I’ve decided that when I go to gypsy jazz jams, that I willl just go one and release my inner Pat Boone. Who knows? Any real gypsy in attendance might actually dig it. “Hey man, show me those crazy white chords to ‘Something Stupid’. “