Jazz Guitar Almanac

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The Jazz Guitar Almanac

June 2019

June 1, 2019 Saturday

Nightmare guitar repair stories seem so common. I had a nice 175 right after I got out of college. At the time I was on the road a lot playing six nights a week in resorts and hotels. After several years of this the guitar needed some work. The frets were shot, the dovetail was loose and the top was starting to cave in. Knowing what major surgery like this would cost and how long it was likely to take, I did the next best thing which was to trade it in as is for a new guitar. Guitars do not last forever. There is no guarantee that you will be happy with the instrument after it has been worked on. There comes a time when a new instrument is the only practical course of action.


June 2, 2019 Sunday

Happy Birthday, Ernie Hood!  [1923]

Happy Birthday, John Morrell! [1946]

Happy Birthday Sonny Kenner! [1933]

I have students bring me parts they are working on. I help them over the rough spots but I'm not exactly sight reading the parts. Often times it's music I'm familiar with anyway. I play gigs as a sideman and am often asked to play various new original compositions. Most leaders send the music ahead of time. This way people can live with it for a few days before the actual performance. I have played in various big bands and ensembles of all kinds over the years. In rehearsals, while looking at new material, the guitar part will sometimes feature melodic material. There is generally an opportunity to look the part over and even run a few of the lines before the director drops the beat. Many directors send the music out ahead of time. Looking at original music at a friendly jam session is pretty common too. These are occasions where people will trot out a new tune or two. It's almost more of a rehearsal than a real jam. There is generally ample opportunity to look over your part, ask questions, play tricky figures, etc. before running it down.


June 3, 2019 Monday

Happy Birthday, Jack Wilkins!  [1944]

 I've played through all the popular guitar amps over the years. Some I like better than others. Everyone has their personal preferences; but there is something about those Fender tube amps that is simply magical. The warmth of the tone and the quality of the eq and reverb are very distinctive. For me it's a little nostalgic too because the first decent amp I ever played through was a Princeton Reverb. I loved the sound of that amp as a kid. That characteristic timbre of a Fender still sounds good to me today too. The feedback issue with open back cabinets is well known. The sound comes out the front and the back and tends to fill the room in a way that is different from a closed back cabinet. With a closed back cabinet you can position yourself so that the sound pressure is not directed in a way that will cause the guitar's top to vibrate to the point of feeding back, The open back situation is a lot trickier.


June 4, 2019   Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Andor Kovacs!        [1929]

Happy Birthday, Fred Baker!  [1960]

Composing on the piano is a revelation for the non-pianist. The instrument allows you to work things out as slowly as you like in a way that fuses the sounds with the geometry of the keyboard and the lines and spaces. This also prevents the technique that an instrumentalist has developed on his primary instrument from getting in the way of the compositional process.  


June 5, 2019 Wednesday

I used to play a lot with a pianist who was older than me. I was in my thirties and he was in his sixties. He kept me humble to say the least. As a younger man he had played solo piano six hours a night, six nights a week in Manhattan. He got to play with a lot of the locals back then too, including Miles Davis. Anyway, the point is that I learned never to pass up an opportunity to play with someone who was older than me. It's a great chance to pick up on a tune or two or just to hear a little of the folklore about some of the heroic figures of music that they actually knew and performed with. The kind of experience that comes with the passing years is like nothing else. There is no substitute for it. Even a chance offhand remark from one of these elder statesmen can be a revelation.


June 6. 2019 Thursday

Happy Birthday, Grant Green! [1931]

Happy Birthday, Paul Bollenback!   [1959]

I'm a big list maker. I have lots of them. I keep set lists from various leaders that I work with. That way when they book another gig I can prepare more effectively. My solo guitar list covers both sides of a 3x5 index card.  I always take it with me to solo gigs. That was working fine until I forgot to bring the list to work with me one night. Things actually went more smoothly than I thought they would. I was able to get through three hours of material with no problem. Maybe the list is more like my security blanket. I may not really need it but it's good to know it's there! 


June 7. 2019 Friday

Happy Birthday, Tal Farlow!  [1921]

Happy Birthday, Royce Campbell! [1952]

There is something about the fluidity of jazz improvisation that pertains not just to the soloist but to the accompanist as well. Often times chord changes will vary from one chorus to the next. The way to understand this is through performance and listening; not so much from fake books.


June 8, 2019 Saturday

I was at a recording studio a couple of years ago. At one point the engineers realized they had no sound output for playback. Then they started checking the cables, the amps, the speakers, etc., but there was still no sound.  Then they went into the software and everything looked ok. The whole room was being fed through a computer and that looked fine too. After nearly half an hour somebody finally decided to restart the computer. That's all it took. The monitors suddenly came to life and everything was fine. You never saw such a bunch of nervous gearheads in your life!!!!


June 9, 2019 Sunday

Happy Birthday,  Jimmy Gourley!  [1926]

Happy Birthday, Mick Goodrick! [1945]

Happy Birthday, Les Paul!  [1916]

One aspect of brand loyalty is at least a little nostalgic. The first decent guitar I owned was a Gibson. I bought it used for $300 back in 1968 when I was in high school. I earned the money mowing lawns in the neighborhood. It was a few years old at the time. It was a solid body with two p-90s and a bigsby tailpiece. The guitar was similar to a Les Paul but due to a contractual problem between Gibson and Les Paul the guitars that were made that year were designated as "SG". When I learned that it was technically not a real Les Paul I didn't care. It looked just like one. I frankensteined that guitar a bit; replacing the tailpiece and the gold finish.   The guitar had a typical Gibson neck profile and to this day that is the way I think a guitar ought to feel. As a result I bought several other Gibsons over the years.


June 10, 2019  Monday

Happy Birthday, Joe Negri!   [1930]

Happy Birthday, Joao Gilberto!!    [1931]

Happy Birthday, Gray Sargent!  [1970]

   [ Sargent is seen here with Dave McKenna.]

 Music is a recreational pastime for many and a profession for others. There will always be a grey area where these things overlap. People outside of any given profession have a poor understanding of how the insiders really operate. Music is no different from anything else in this sense.


June 11, 2019  Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Bob Roetker! [1948]

While software clearly can reduce the elements of music to formulae that can generate sequences of tones and harmonies I'm not sure how musically meaningful these really are. This is perhaps more significant in terms of the actual engineering and the science that it is based on. Will they develop code that will write prose, poetry and plays? For all I know they already have. In terms of engineering the journey seems to be headed towards a destination where human intelligence is artificially replicated. Human artistic expression is such a very highly evolved process though. I'm not sure if software can ever really get there.


June 12, 2019  Wednesday

I think we all remember the first time somebody sat us down and taught us the basics: this is a whole note, this is a treble clef, etc. , etc.   In my case this occurred before I was five. My dad was my first teacher. We played through some Schaum piano books together. The guitar came a year or two later. As an instructor I continue to delight in the opportunity to work with a beginner. To be the one who unlocks a young mind is still inspiring to me. There's nothing quite like it.


June 13, 2019  Thursday

Happy Birthday , Attila Zoller ! [1927]

The issue of being "up against a fairly loud drummer" can be a tough one for guitarists. While a drummer can almost always play louder, the guitar is forced to deal with all kinds of amplification and tone color issues as the volume goes up. My experience is that drummers of limited technical ability tend to play louder than necessary. They have a hard time executing their flashy fills at low to moderate dynamic settings so they play harder. This is also generally indicative of underdeveloped listening skills.  The best drummers are the best listeners. When you've got a guy who is overbalancing the ensemble you've got an issue of musical direction. Try to get the drummer to play more softly or try to get the director to do this.


June 14, 2019  Friday

Happy Birthday, Joe Cinderella !   [1927]

Happy Birthday, Nappy Lamare ! [1910]

Happy Birthday, Tiit Paulus!     [1945]

Melody has been broadly defined as a "meaningful" sequence of tones. It's an admittedly broad definition for an equally broad concept. It is also said that a good melody has that elusive quality of "singability". I believe good improvisation has the same qualities of meaning and singability that we value in a memorable melody line. If you go back to the improvisation of Louis Armstrong you'll find that a lot of his lines are highly singable and overflowing with melodic content. Wes Montgomery made similar improvised statements that were on a very high level in terms of melodic content. Not everyone in the jazz tradition has been able to rise to this level but there are many other examples that are equally significant.


June 15, 2019  Saturday

Happy Birthday, Alan Reuss!  [1915]

Happy Birthday, Turk Van Lake ! [1918]

Happy Birthday, John Hart!   [1961]

Happy Birthday, Talcott Reeves!  [1904]

One of the perennial problems guitar instructors are up against concerns the lack of relevant listening that students engage in. You can work them through various method books, Aebersold materials, and their band music, but without the context of the listening their development will only go so far. This is why it is vital to include discography and repertoire requirements as part of the overall instructional approach. I have always said that the best listeners develop into the best players but the opposite is also a big concern: students who fail to engage the discography are on a road going nowhere. Only in the context of having heard the actual repertoire will the improvisational concepts we teach really make any sense.


June 16, 2019  Sunday

Happy Birthday Al Viola! [1919]

The director of a big band I worked with had a habit of saying "just the band" when he wanted to rehearse a horn soli without the rhythm section. Not "just the horns" or "no rhythm", but "just the band". I went out of my way to point out to him that the rhythm section actually was part of the band too, but he still liked to say "just the band". 


June 17, 2019  Monday

My experience has been that most people in jazz are very supportive and collegial. Naturally there are exceptions. Since jazz is essentially a "team sport" most of the players tend to develop good interpersonal skills and are sociable and friendly. I've encountered much more interpersonal nastiness outside of jazz.


June 18, 2019  Tuesday

What Pat Martino went through is just astonishing. He suffered from a range of symptoms for years and his care givers all got it wrong. At one point they thought he was mentally ill; for god's sake. He had headaches, seizures, mood problems, dizzy spells, confusion, you name it. Pat was fortunate indeed that someone finally realized that he had an arterial venous malformation. This condition requires brain surgery and Pat survived the procedure. He overcame the subsequent amnesia. The story of his recovery is nothing less than the triumph of the will to survive and flourish.  The fact that this occurred in the context of his life as one of the great guitarists in the history of jazz is an inspiration indeed. Long live Pat Martino.  


June 19, 2019  Wednesday

Happy Birthday , Ernest Ranglin!!    [1932]

Now that the outdoor gigging season is upon us it's good to remember a thing or two about insect repellent. Bug spray is nasty stuff. It contains chemical solvents that will dissolve the finish on guitars and other wood surfaces like basses, drums and pianos. Once this stuff is sprayed into the air even the tiniest amount can and will leave a mark on your instrument. Avoid this stuff. Don't be downwind of anybody that happens to be spraying it either.  Have a great summer.


June 20, 2019  Thursday

Happy Birthday, Dennis Budimir!  [1938]

Prodigies grow up in families where advanced materials are presented to them at an early age. Without the instruction and encouragement they receive it is highly unlikely that they would develop the advanced skill sets commonly associated with the wunderkind phenomenon. 


June 21, 2019  Friday

Happy Birthday, Chuck Anderson!    [1947]

Happy Birthday, Andrew Cheshire! [1962]

I've used gig bags for many years. I don't care how expensive the guitar is; it goes in the bag. Since the bag is in my personal possession at all times it is completely safe. I put it on the back seat of the car driving back and forth from the gig; never in the trunk. I have never had any guitar damage or other problems related to using a gig bag.


June 22, 2019  Saturday

The various brain research studies that we have seen seem to confirm what we musicians already know through intuition. Musicians process music much differently than the layman. We are into conceptual levels of subtlety and layers of complexity that casual listeners are pretty much deaf to. Musicians also know a thing or two about focus and concentration. Kids who take music lessons learn to submit to the rigors of the discipline and gather a wealth of skills that are very beneficial later in life regardless of the career they ultimately pursue.


June 23, 2019    Sunday

Happy Birthday, Roddy Elias!! [1949]

I have had students who were unable to develop picking skills on an advanced level in spite of years of lessons from instructors much greater than myself. I have also encountered uninstructed kids with amazing dexterity who couldn't find a Bb on a guitar or the treble clef if their lives depended on it.


June 24, 2019    Monday

Playing a regularly scheduled gig like a show or a certain weeknight at a cafe is pretty common. People who are accustomed to this sort of schedule are also familiar with the tried and true routine of getting a sub to fill in when you've got something else to do. Having been on both ends of this interaction has provided me endless amusement especially as it pertains to the reason someone gives when they ask you to fill in for them. Here are a few I remember:

I'm sick.

My dog is sick.

My girlfriend's dog is sick.

It's snowing and my car has no snow tires.

It's raining and my car has no wiper blades.

It's hot out and my car has no AC.

It's cold out and my car has no heat.

My car died.

My guitar was repossessed.

My amp was repossessed.

My amp was stolen.

My guitar was stolen.

I got a gig that pays more.

I got a gig that pays less but it's with somebody I really like to work with.

I got a gig that pays the same and I need a break from the show.

I've got to baby-sit my girlfriend's kids.

I could go on but you get the general idea…….


June 25, 2019  Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Johnny Smith! [1922]

Happy Birthday, Dave Cliff!  [1944]

Adults guitar students are usually not beginners. They generally have a ton of bad habits, a poor work ethic, unrealistic expectations and insufficient time to practice the lesson material; which adds up to a formula for frustration and failure. They generally stick with the lessons for a year or so, or at least until it dawns on them that their degree of improvement is directly proportional to the hours they dedicate to the music.


June 26, 2019  Wednesday

The nice thing about music is that it is always possible to learn new material, attend a master class, study with a new teacher and or generally continue to expand your horizons. It's the work of a lifetime. In my own case, I don't know if I am playing any better than I used to but I know I'm still learning something new every day.


June 27, 2019    Thusday

Happy Birthday, Jimmy McLin!       [1908]

     [McLin is seen here with Billie Holliday.]

Happy Birthday, Robert Norman!     [1916]

Being away from the instrument for awhile has an interesting effect on one's mental outlook. It can really help you to hear things anew and to reconceptualize some of your thinking with regard to improvisational approaches. One of the problems with playing all the time is that you can get into a rut. Especially if you are playing a show or some other routine presentation, you can get into a situation where you just put things on "automatic pilot", so to speak, and stop thinking about what you are playing. The mental exhaustion that sets in when you play all the time can be a problem. An occasional day off can be quite refreshing.


June 28, 2019  Friday

Happy Birthday, Magni Wentzel!   [1945]

I became friendly with the staff at a restaurant where I had a long standing weekly gig. After the place would clear out and the door was locked they would really let their hair down. They all have a ton of stories about the customers. Anybody who deals with the general public [even some of us musicians] is going to get treated to bad manners, discourtesies, insults, you name it. Some people don't get out much and they don't know how to behave when they do.


June 29, 2019  Saturday

Happy Birthday, Gilberto Gil!  [1942]

I don't tend to get overly sentimental about guitars. I've had dozens of them over the years. They come and go. In the end it's just an instrument; or a tool if you like. If it gets lost, stolen or broken it can easily be replaced. It's no big deal.


June 30, 2019  Sunday

People experience the joy of music without knowing anything about it on a technical level. I tend to notice this when I attend a "serious" concert. Certain modern orchestral works make great demands on the listener. If you look around though, the audience seems to be taking in stride and reveling in the experience.

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