(Editor's note: Ed Parsons, aka Archtop Eddy, is a guitarist from Colorado who plays in Mango fan Django. This year he took his first trip to Samois. In the article below, he offers advice to guitarists for their first-time travel to the festival. Ed can be reached through the website mangofandjango.com)
There are two types of guitar players that go to Samois. Those that play and those that watch.
The thought of jumping into a jam session with all those incredible players can be daunting. Every time you pick up a guitar, you're surrounded by a crowd of expectant on-lookers.
This year, I took my first trip to Samois, and my guitar spent too much time sitting in the gig bag. This won't happen to me next time. And if you're prepared, it doesn't have to happen to you either.
Here are my suggestions for first-time pickers going to the festival. If you follow these very basic tips, I guarantee you'll be ready to play at the next Samois!
First, take your guitar. Don't let anxiety stop you from making the most of your experience. If you don't have a guitar, stop by one of the luthier booth such as Gerome or Dupont's. They have a fine variety of instruments for you to try. Keep I mind though, if you don't have your own guitar you may not be able to join the spontaneous jam sessions at the cafes and campgrounds.
Second, be ready to play rhythm. This is especially true if you aren't dead-ready to tackle lead. I saw a lot of players standing around watching, perhaps not ready to solo in the company of some of the best gypsy jazz players in the world. Could you blame them? The problem was they couldn't play rhythm either because they didn't know the chord changes. I'm not talking about reading chord charts; I'm talking about knowing the chord changes.
After checking numerous jam sessions, I noticed something else. Some of the same songs cropped up time and time again. This made me think of this next suggestion.
Memorize the chord progressions to the most popular "jam session" songs. Be ready to play them as confidently as you can play Minor Swing. The top contenders during the three days included: Sweet Georgia Brown, All of Me, Nuages (in G), Honeysuckle Rose, Djangology and Dark Eyes. (I'm assuming you know Minor Swing but if you don't, add it to the front of the list.)
If you're already familiar with these songs, great! Just make sure you're playing them in the proper keys and with absolute confidence. Make sure you're using the correct gypsy-style chord forms. And above all, make sure you're doing it all from memory. (They don't use no stinkin' chord charts at Samois!)
Remember, and I can't emphasize this enough-the trick is to really know these songs. Don't worry about knowing a whole head-full of songs. The songs in the above list will pop up often enough to give you plenty of time to play. Your goal is to be the absolute rhythm master of these songs.
Afterward, if you've got the chops, brain-cells, and the time, lock in other songs. A safe bet would be popular Hot Club standards such as Swing 42, Daphne, or Belleville. At the jams I heard quite a bit of Autumn Leaves, Bossa Dorado, and I Can't Give You Anything But Love.
Some of you may be saying, "I don't want to play rhythm, I want to play lead." In that case, I'd say, "Go ye forth guitarist and blaze your own path. Be true to yourself." However, remember a great rhythm player is always appreciated by both soloists and bass players alike. Playing rhythm is a sure ticket at Samois.
Six of the songs mentioned above are included in Paul Meader and Robin Nolan's Gypsy Jazz songbook which comes with a play-along CD. You can buy this product from their website at www.robinnolantrio.com. I bought the book and CD in Samois and love them. The CD contains 15 tracks and is a great way to work up rhythm and lead skills. The songbook identifies correct gypsy-style chord forms and provides sound advice to both rhythm guitar and bass players.
My next suggestion is that you get in some time with your guitar before the festival. This year, my fiancee and I visited Paris before going to Samois. Paris was wonderful but all the sight-seeing limited my practice time. Next time, I'll take a couple of days off before flying to France and be more mentally and physically prepared. Not having the "up-front" time greatly added to my reluctance to play publicly in Samois.
But play publicly in Samois I did! And, while I wish that I'd played more often, the times I played were very rewarding. One personal highlight was playing with Robin Nolan, Paul Meader, Paul Mehling, Andy MacKenzie and other great players at a hotel lobby and later, at an outdoor cafe. Both Robin and Paul Mehling were very supportive of everyone who joined in. Additionally, it was also great meeting Paul Meader, Andy, Frank Forte, Ian Cruickshank and a host of other fine players-Europeans, North Americans, and gypsies alike. Tony Green of New Orleans took the time to run me through some new material; and my fiancee Laura, my friends Pascal (aka the Waffle Kid), Wayne-O and Barbara; Patrick Saussois and his wife Laudie, and Mary and Peter Honcoop - all added greatly to my experience.
My final suggestion is to know when to play and when not to play. Keep your enthusiasm in check. Don't bulldoze over other players. Keep your head clear about the situation around you. Several times I saw interlopers intruding on a jam session, playing poorly, playing out of context, or just plain playing when they shouldn't have. Sad to say, this usually happened after the intruders had imbibed in excessive alcohol. I witnessed some delicate and beautiful jam sessions disintegrate into mediocrity thanks to a few thoughtless participants. Trust me, these "players" were noticed - and not in ways they wanted to be.
One of your goals at Samois ought to be to learn something new. You can't do this if you focus all of your energy on only your playing. Make the most of your trip. Spend some time listening, watching, and talking with other players.
Being in Samois was like being at one big family get-together where everyone was supportive and generous with their time, knowledge, and friendship. I hope some of these suggestions will be helpful to you, and hopefully the next time I'm at the Samois festival, we'll get a chance to do some jamming.