The long road back, classical tones

After my long hiatus from the guitar, it wasn’t easy or quick to re-train my muscles. The carpel tunnel syndrome I suffered from was a road block to my progress, but it did indirectly, re-introduce me to classical music. I was referred to a lute & guitar teacher named Pat O’brien, who had gained some reputation for helping carpel tunnel victims by non-medical means. I went to see him strictly for my physical problems, yet as a result of those few sessions, I became interested once again in classical guitar. On his advice I purchased a book of Tarrega arrangements and began, very slowly, to learn to play them. I loved the Spanish romantic guitar and eventually I learned over two hours worth of solo material. I thought some of the harmony of that music was ‘jazzy’, and the guitar music of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was very nicely voice led. I particularly liked the Llobet folksongs, Tarrega’s arrangements, and Alexander Tansman. The other thing I appreciated about classical music, and particularly working with the guitar music, was the importance of getting each individual note to sing. Dynamics, tone, and timbre seem even more vital when you have to try and give your own unique interpretation to notes which never change. When you don’t have to worry about improvising, maybe there’s an opportunity to focus more on the subtleties. Learning classical guitar was another reason I played with only my fingers, even when I switched back to the jazz style.

You play what you practice

When I resumed my jazz practicing I vowed that if I were going to play at all, I would learn to play melodies with feeling and emotion. Playing with the thumb instead of a pick, gave me a fatter, warmer, and more percussive sound, but it also slowed me down, forcing me to choose my notes more carefully and focus on melody. I avoided practicing technical exercises and scales completely. My philosophy was that just as 'you are what you eat’, 'you play what you practice ‘. So I ‘practiced playing’ by using the Jamey Aebersold ‘music minus one’ tapes. At this point I didn’t have the confidence to jam with professionals, and when I lived in Hong Kong, there were not a lot of musicians there to jam with, so his wonderful tapes allowed me the opportunity to play along with professionals, in the privacy of my own home, slowly building up confidence and 'chops’. But it took years to gain fluidity of technique with the thumb, not to mention the confidence to play again. That was to happen later, in Asia.

School of life

The experience of playing six nights a week in Asia has, practically speaking, been the biggest influence on my guitar playing. Working that regularly teaches you versatility, discipline, and strength.

But one can’t underestimate the influences of life itself on my music, even when I wasn’t actually playing. For example, I suspect my childhood in a dysfunctional family had much to do with my love for music because music was an escape from hard realities.

The periods in my life when I did not play, or when I faced personal crisis, also played a role in my musical development. For example: A) working as a salesman in New York helped me with the business side of music and the art of negotiation. It also helped teach me how to get along with different kinds of people. B) Training as a chef taught me what it was like to earn a regular paycheck! And to be a good cook, you must know about preparation, presentation, and balance, all elements pertinent to being a musician. The experience of working in hotels and restaurants didn’t hurt either, since that’s where I tend to play now, and I feel I better understand the needs of those I work for. C) The personal healing work and soul searching I did after my divorce helped my playing too, especially a marvelous self-empowerment course I took called the Hoffman Process. After completing ‘The Process’, I was better in touch with my emotions, more self-confident and easy-going, all good things for a performer.

Oh please, not another guitar player!

Once jazz replaced rock music for me, I never listened as much to guitar players as I did to sax and piano players. I wanted to play the lines sax players did, and I didn’t like the ‘sound’ of most guitarists’. Even to this day there are few guitar players that hold my attention as much as Wes Montgomery and Hendrix, though I love Grant Green’s style too. It wasn’t until rather recently, after recording my first CD, that I went out and bought a bunch of guitar records, in order to compare the style, sound, and recording quality (I daresay my own records stand up very well)! The Spanish romantic classical guitar style is very beautiful and is a class of it’s own. Now I’m playing so much that I don’t have the time to listen the way I used to, but my recorded music collection is huge. For those interested in learning who don’t share my good fortune of playing every night, I strongly recommend listening to as much good music as possible.

Buy some records

Some of my all time favorite jazz albums are:

"The Stylings of Silver" - Horace Silver

"Live at Birdland, 1963" - Art Blakey

"Rip, Rig, and Panic" - Rhassan Roland Kirk

"Out of this World" - Pepper Adams/Donald Byrd Quintet, featuring Herbie Hancock

"The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery" - Wes

"In and Out" - Joe Henderson & "The Real McCoy" - McCoy Tyner (These two belong together as one, same period, personal, and style)

"1st Bassman" - Paul Chambers (featuring tunes by Yuseff Lateef)

"Luminescence" - Barry Harris (w/Pepper Adams and Slide Hampton arrangements)

"Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderly"

"Hub Tones" - Freddie Hubbard (w/Herbie Hancock)

Equally great:

Dinah Washington, Live in 1963

"Jim Hall Live" (seems to be out of print, on Horizon Label, a trio w/Don Thompson on bass)

"Thrust" - Herbie Hancock

"Gnu High" - Kenny Wheeler, featuring Keith Jarrett

"Pure Desmond" - Paul Desmond, featuring the great Canadian guitarist, Ed Bickert

"Mountain in the Clouds" - Miroslav Vitous, (also released as Infinate Search)

"All the Way" - Little Jimmy Scott (alot of people may not be aware of this great singer who released few recordings)

"Blowin' the Blues Away" and "Finger Poppin'" - Horace Silver Quintet

"Four and More", "Live at the Blackhawk", "My Funny Valentine", and "Porgy and Bess", - by Miles Davis

"Transition", "Live at the Village Vanguard", "Afro-Blue", "w/Johnny Hartman"- by John Coltrane Quartet

"Roll Call" - Hank Mobley, w/Blakey and Hubbard

"The Big Beat" - Art Blakey

"Unity" - Larry Young

"Cannonball Adderly & the Poll Winners", featuring Wes Montgomery

Little known records which are terrific:
Jean Luc Ponty's "Sunday Walk", Sam Jones "The Soul Society" and "The Chant" (These are ten piece bands) Philly Jo Jones big band records, Blue Mitchell Sextet, , And the list goes on..... and on.... and on.... my apologies to all the great records and artists which I omitted! Isn't it an abundant world?!

My favorite jazz groups are:
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver’s group, John Coltrane Quartet, and the groups of Miles Davis.

My favorite jazz composers are:
Duke Ellington, Alec Wilder, Billy Strayhorn, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Tadd Dameron, Bennie Golson, Charles Mingus, Thelonius Monk, Cedar Walton, Wayne Shorter

Some of my favorite soloists are:

Sax: Pepper Adams, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Bird, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Booker Ervin, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton (bone)

Trumpet: Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Fats Navarro, Booker Little, Miles

Piano: Herbie Hancock, Barry Harris, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Phineas Newborn, Jimmy Smith (organ), Bud Powell, H. Silver, Wynton Kelley, Jaki Byard, Cedar Walton, Joanne Brackeen

Bass: Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, Ron Carter

Drums: Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Jack DeJonette

Guitar: Grant Green, Wes Montomery, Jim Hall

Singers: Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Jimmy Scott, Johnny Hartman, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Billie Holliday, Ray Charles

So called young lions:
Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard, Steve Turre, Christian McBride, etc...

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