Interview: Adrian Holovaty – Gypsy Jazz From Chicago
There are many different styles of guitar playing. You have rock, jazz, blues, country just to name a few. One style that is getting a lot of attention these days is a style called gypsy-jazz which was made popular by the legendary Django Reinhardt in the 1930’s. One player devoting a lot of attention to this style is a guy from Chicago, Illinois. His name is Adrian Holovaty. He has over 50 video clips of his playing with one featured on the YouTube homepage. In this interview Adrian talks about his favorite guitars, his influences and the burgeoning Chicago gypsy-jazz scene.
300guitars: Hi there Adrian. Welcome to 300guitars.com. Please go ahead and tell us a little about yourself.
Adrian Holovaty: Hey, thanks for having me! I’m an amateur guitar player, as I have a day job doing something completely unrelated to music, but I see music as a large part of my life. I’ve played guitar since I was 16 years old in 1997 – I’m 28 now – and I try to play every day for at least a little while.
The main way I share my music is by publishing YouTube videos. I first posted a cover of the MacGyver theme song in January 2007, just for fun, and I didn’t think much of it.
Then YouTube decided to feature it on its home page, and hundreds of people started subscribing to my YouTube channel, so I felt pressure to post more videos. Now I have more than 11,000 subscribers and post a new video every few weeks (sometimes more often, sometimes less often). It’s a great creative outlet for me, and I’ve had some nice things come from it, most notably an invitation to play at somebody’s wedding in central Illinois (which I accepted)!
300guitars: How did you learn to play the guitar?
Adrian Holovaty: I learned from a book that my dad gave me, and he showed me a couple of chords in the very early days. After that I kept teaching myself, picking things up from music books and the Internet. Unfortunately, this was before the age of YouTube, which has become such a great resource for guitar players! Now I spend a fair amount of time on YouTube soaking in new arrangements, new tunes, new styles, you name it.
The reason I started playing guitar was to play Beatles music. I am a pretty huge Beatles fan. Then I progressed into other ’60s pop stuff, then more classic-rock-y stuff like Led Zeppelin. I was really into playing blues for a couple of years (B.B. King and Albert King are my two favorites – I like the style of single-note runs on electric guitar as opposed to messy/chord-y Robert Johnson-y stuff on acoustic).
Some time around 1998 or 1999, I read an interview with Jimmy Page, in which he talked about his influences. He spoke highly of Django Reinhardt, of whom I had never heard, so I picked up a Django CD. I immediately fell in love with Django’s playing, although I didn’t actually attempt to play his style of music (gypsy jazz) seriously until years later.
My first formal lesson was in January 2005, when I began taking lessons in gypsy-jazz guitar with Alfonso Ponticelli (swinggitan.com) at the Old Town School of Folk Music here in Chicago. We’re quite fortunate here in Chicago to have the opportunity to take classes in gypsy-jazz music! It’s a pretty obscure style in the U.S.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken formal lessons earlier, as there were huge gaps in my abilities – basic things like posture and being able to look at another guitar player and immediately determine which chord he/she was playing.
Aside from those lessons, I’ve taken a few single-day masterclasses, like one with Laurence Juber, who’s one of my favorite guitarists. I’ve also attended Django in June (djangoinjune.com), an annual gypsy-jazz camp in Massachusetts that is absolutely terrific.
300guitars: What kind of guitars do you have?
Adrian Holovaty: Until a couple of weeks ago, I owned only one guitar, a Gitane DG-250M. This is the guitar I’ve used in every video I’ve posted to YouTube. It’s a Selmer-style guitar, which is the style used by Django and the style popular in gypsy-jazz music. I just love the tone, the playability, the look and the volume. Highly recommended. And it’s relatively affordable when it comes to gypsy-jazz guitars.
I got my second guitar only a couple of weeks ago. It’s a “d-hole” gypsy-jazz guitar made by a luthier named Michael Dunn in 1993. Here’s a photo:http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrian_h/3418721284/ It’s amazingly beautiful and so fun to play – it’s like butter.
300guitars: Do you play in a band or do you just play solo?
Adrian Holovaty: Right now, I play informally with a couple of bands here in Chicago. I play many Sunday afternoons at the Edgewater Lounge in Chicago with the Chico Malo Trio (mandolin/violin, guitar and upright bass). I’ve played rhythm guitar with Alfonso Ponticelli’s gypsy-jazz band Swing Gitan a couple of times – that’s always a big treat for me. And I play impromptu, ad hoc gigs with some other people here in town from time to time. It’s almost always gypsy jazz.
When I was in college, I had a job playing acoustic guitar at a nice restaurant – I provided background music while people ate. Fingerstyle stuff, Beatles covers, my own compositions, etc. It really was the best job ever, because I got paid to do what I probably would’ve been doing for fun anyway. And I got free food!
Aside from the occasional gigs here in Chicago, I record a lot of music on my own, at home. I have a nice Oktava condenser mic and use Pro Tools to do multitracking. Frankly, I used to use Cool Edit Pro (and recorded an entire album using it) and vastly prefer Cool Edit Pro to Pro Tools, but I’m on a Mac now and don’t have an easy way to use CEP. Suggestions welcome…
I’ve never had the opportunity to record professionally in a studio, but I think I’d drive the production people nuts (and put a huge dent in my wallet) with my perfectionism.
300guitars: What type of amplifier do you use?
Adrian Holovaty: I have an AER amp, which is good at amplifying acoustic guitars. I don’t play enough gigs to justify getting another amp; this one does the job well.
300guitars: Is there a hot gypsy jazz type music scene in Chicago?
Adrian Holovaty: Yes! We’ve got a really good scene here. There are dozens of people in town who play gypsy-jazz music – mostly guitarists, but also folks who play violin, accordion, upright bass and even mandolin in this style. I can think of at least six or seven gypsy-jazz bands in town, and I often get together with people just to jam.
I try not to take Chicago’s music scene for granted. Each year I’ve gone to the Django in June guitar event in Massachusetts, I’ve met people from other parts of the U.S. who lament the fact that they’re the sole gypsy jazz players in their respective towns, and that they never have anybody to play with. Fortunately, the Internet has made it easier to learn and explore relatively obscure forms of music like gypsy-jazz, but there’s no substitute for playing with another human. We’re lucky to have a great scene in Chicago.
300guitars: Who are some of your favorite players that have influenced your playing and you enjoy listening to?
Adrian Holovaty: Nobody tops Django in my book. His expression, his tone, his improvisations, his passion – he can’t be matched. But aside from Django, let’s see…
I love Chet Atkins’ playing, not only for his expression and technique, but for his innate sense of melody. The guy never disrespects the melody.
Les Paul is awesome, and I would love to go to New York to see him while he’s still around. His 1950s recordings with Mary Ford are wonderful. I also love his duet albums with Chet Atkins from the ’70s.
In the acoustic world: Laurence Juber is great, particularly his Beatles and Wings cover albums. He’s another guy for whom the melody is paramount. I can’t get enough of Pat Donohue’s instrumental albums, too.
Classic rock: Jimmy Page, of course, particularly his blues playing (like on the “BBC Sessions” album). Also, ’60s era Clapton, with Cream, but his later stuff I could take or leave. George Harrison, too, of course – the master of “hummable” guitar solos.
Modern rock: Elliott Smith and the guys from Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. All three have a great sense of melody.
Gypsy jazzers: Honestly, not many of the modern-day gypsy-jazz players really stand out to me – most of them kind of sound the same and either play too fast or repeat the same recycled riffs. But there’s a guy named Adrien Moignard who plays with a band called Ensemble Zaiti…man, this guy is amazing. I saw him perform last year and was blown away. There’s a fantastic player called Olivier Kikteff who plays with the band Les Doigts de l’homme. I also really like Gonzalo Bergara from Los Angeles and, of course, my friend and instructor Alfonso Ponticelli.
300guitars: Do you have any plans to release a CD or video in the future?
Adrian Holovaty: Yes! I’ve had a lot of requests from my YouTube viewers for a compilation of my YouTube recordings, and I’d like to put something together. I also have begun working on an album of video game music covers, but I sort of abandoned that once I found out Nintendo doesn’t allow its music to be licensed. (If I understand it correctly, the album would be illegal if I released it.)
I’ve recorded one album in the past – it’s called “Long Story,” recorded in the summer of 1999, and it’s all original instrumental pieces – but I haven’t made it available to the public. I posted one of the songs to Metafilter a few years ago, though: http://music.metafilter.com/354/Happiness
300guitars: Thanks for taking the time for this interview Adrian. You are great player and we will all be on the lookout for more great videos and your CD!
Adrian Holovaty: Thanks again for having me!
Here is a clip of Adrian playing “Schon Rosmarin”
You can check out all of Adrian Holovaty’s videos here on his YouTube channel.