Jazz Guitar Almanac

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The Jazz Guitar Almanac

February 2018

The collection of 400 odd jazz tunes that emerged from The Berklee College of Music in 1975 is still with us today. While some of the selections by Weather Report, Frank Zappa, The Mahavishnu Orchestra or Stevie Wonder may seem a bit out of place in today’s world, the classics of Ellington, Porter, Gershwin, Coltrane, Shorter, Kern, Rollins, Monk, Mancini, Silver and a host of others have helped to give the collection an enduring quality that has kept it around now for over forty years.

The inclusion of tunes representative of swing, bop, blues, Latin jazz, jazz-rock, and other styles gives us a snapshot in time as to what college kids were listening to in the 1970s. The charm and good taste of the original collection has allowed it to endure in spite of the appearance many worthy and legal rival collections.

It’s interesting to note the many fine recorded performances of  tunes from The Real Book that have been put forward by our fellow guitarists over the years. The unlikely canonization of these songs in what was destined to become a kind of jazz bible also serves us as a worthwhile listening guide.

With that in mind this month’s Jazz Guitar Almanac features a small sampling of titles from The Real Book complete with references to a recorded example of the tune played by a prominent jazz guitarist.



February 1, 2018 Thursday

Happy Birthday, Gianfranco Continenza! [1968]

Happy Birthday, Mark Stefani!  [1951]

Tip of the day:  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.


February 2, 2018     Friday

Happy Birthday, James “Blood” Ulmer [1942]

Happy Birthday, Tony Gottuso! [1917]

Happy Birthday,  Louis Keppard!  [1888]

Happy Birthday, Bob DeVos! [19??]

Tip of the day: I teach fingerstyle guitar. It is hard to overstate the importance of nail care. My approach is to show students how I trim my nails. Then it's up to them to do it themselves.


February 3, 2018     Saturday

Tip of the day: This for all the amature guitar neck adjusters out there. The truss rod on most guitars is made of steel and the adjusting nut is generally made of brass; a much softer metal. This is so if in the process of adjusting the rod you manage to destroy anything it will be the nut [cheap] and not the rod [expensive].


February 4, 2018     Sunday

Happy Birthday, Maurice J. Summerfield! [1940]

Tip of the day: It's hard for me to think of a perormance situation where I don't have the amp right where I can reach it. Still, it's usually possible to reposition the cabinet or adjust the controls to satisfy others on the bandstand. Once you get a sound man involved my experience is that things tend to get more complicated and you have more complaining about balance issues. 


February 5, 2018       Monday

Happy Birthday, Steve Cardenas!  [1959]

Tip of the day: I was a TV play along guy as a kid. I had a Les Paul and would sit in front of the TV with the family night after night for years. They said the amp was too loud so this was the only option. This continued until I was off to college at age 18. I got to where I could play just about anything pretty much immediately. I don't think this had anything to do with jazz in particular; but in terms of ear training it was huge. My college ear training classes were a breeze in comparison.


February 6, 2018       Tuesday

Happy Birthday, John Pisano! [1931]

Happy Birthday, Roy Smeck! [1900]

Tip of the day: I practice without the amp more often than not. To me the purpose of amplification is just to make things more audible for the sake of the listeners.


February 7, 2018     Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Ray Crawford! [1924]

Happy Birthday, Barry Zweig! [1942]

Tip of the day: Jazz continues to honor it's traditions. Senior players like Tyner and Rollins continue to command top dollar. They are the ones headlining the festivals and major concert venues. I do not see that they are compromising with the audience. On the contrary, they continue to meet the audiences' expectations by performing the material they are well known for in the style people expect to hear. 


February 8, 2018       Thursday

Happy Birthday, Lonnie Johnson! [1889]

Happy Birthday, Gene Lees! [1928]

Tip of the day: Larry Coryell was born in 1943. His long and productive career is a study in eclecticism and contrast. He  performed and recorded in a variety of styles including jazz, rock and classical. He even recorded as a vocalist. His 1974 album "Spaces" with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Miroslav Vitous, and Chick Corea turned out to be one of the seminal recordings of the emerging fusion trend in jazz. 


February 9, 2018     Friday

Tip of the day: George Benson was born March 22, 1943. Even though he went on to a great career as an entertainer and pop singer that seemed to eclipse his remarkable guitar work, he has had an enormous influence on generations of guitarists. 


February 10, 2018        Saturday

Happy Birthday, Perry Lopez! [1924]

Happy Birthday, Frank Potenza! [1950]

Happy Birthday, Leroy Kirkland! [1906]

Tip of the day: Wes Montgomery was born in 1925. Although it was never my good fortune to have met him or even to hear him play live, not a day goes by when I do not feel his presence in my playing. His tunes are regularly on my set lists and I can't get his riffs out from under my fingers. His octaves ring in my ears. Montgomery is very much alive for me. Long live the great Wes Montgomery. They say he never cursed. They say he didn't drink. They called him the Rev and they called him the Thumb. He played jazz in a way that transcended the vocabulary of the guitar. He was "married with children" as they say; and he drove a Caddy.  


February 11, 2018      Sunday

Happy Birthday, Russ Freeman! [1960]

Tip of the day: Charlie Christian was born July 29, 1916.  He was present at Minton's when Bird, Monk, Diz and others began experimenting with a new sound. Christian himself has been credited by some as having coined the phrase "be-bop" to describe this emerging style. He was also fortunate enough to have been around when pickups and amplification came on the scene. Lucky for us to have had such a great player become the father of the amplified guitar. As Charlie himself observed "The dawn of a new era is at hand. Electrical amplification has given guitarists a new lease on life." 



February 12, 2018    Monday

Tip of the day: Schools today have better music programs than ever before. Jazz is well represented. Beginning in middle school students have the opportunity to play in a stage band and get lessons. There are great numbers who go forward to study on the conservatory level. In my view today's young players are better than ever. As an instructor of long standing I can tell you that this is clearly true; especially on the technical levels. 


February 13, 2018      Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Brad Shepik! [1966]

Tip of the day: The tried and true classical approach continues to be taught simply because it works. You cannot play something fast and clean if you cannot first play it slow and clean. This is not to say that you will not be making mistakes as you gradually push the envelope of your technique into faster tempi. You will. The key to the whole process is to move forward in slow, steady increments. If you can do this for four hours every day I can guarantee that you will be playing faster and cleaner in a year or two. Good luck. Keep practicing. 


February 14, 2018      Wednesday

Tip of the day: When I play with a combo I almost always stand. With a big band I sit on a low chair like the horns and on a solo gig I prefer to sit on a stool. 


February 15, 2018      Thursday

Tip of the day: Musicians should not be donating their services to restaurants, bars, clubs or other commercial venues.  Most conscientious musicians understand this. This sort of thing is highly detrimental to an already marginal marketplace. There are plenty of worthy causes to which you can donate your time if you are so inclined. 


February 16, 2018      Friday

Tip of the day: Jazz standards are tunes written by jazz artists that get recorded and are subsequently performed by other jazz musicians before an audience. Impressions by John Coltrane or Windows by Chick Corea would be well known examples. The other kind of standard is a song that was originally written for tin pan alley, Broadway or motion pictures. A lot of these tunes became more widely known after they were sung by popular artists such as Sinatra or Julie Andrews. Many subsequently found their way into the jazz repertoire. My Favorite Things and The Song is You are examples that come to mind. 


February 17, 2018        Saturday

Tip of the day: When I teach guitar I am also teaching musicianship. When a student begins to question this on a basic level the unspoken subtext is usually that they will be discontinuing their course of instruction in short order. This is fine with me, by the way. The way I look at the answer to the big "why" question is simple: do any of us really have to do things we really do not want to do? In general I encourage students to get in touch with their passions and enthusiasms and to let this guide them towards work that they will find rewarding and fulfilling. I hate to lose a student but when their energies would be better focused elsewhere it is time to move on.


February 18, 2018    Sunday

Tip of the day: Excellence in non conservatory styles is a cultural issue. If someone can immerse themselves in the folklore of rock, blues, or country music, etc. at a young enough age they can absorb the essence of the style and perhaps eventually perform it with something approaching credibility. As an instructor I do not pretend to be able to do that. I do not alter the material I teach or the way I present it to suit the student.



February 19, 2018      Monday

Tip of the day: The thumb wheels on the bridge can be very difficult to turn when the strings are up to pitch. You can wrap the wheel with a small piece of leather and then turn it with needle nose pliers. The leather prevents the wheels from being damaged by the pliers. 


February 20, 2018      Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Oscar Aleman! [1909]

Happy Birthday, Uwe Kropinski! [1952]

Tip of the day: A lot of people fill in the nut slots with paper when they are too deep. A better solution is to fill the slot with a mixture of crazy glue and baking soda. Once the glue sets it can be filed down to the proper depth. The baking soda makes the repair all but invisible and it does not dampen the string vibration like paper does. 


February 21, 2018    Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Eddie De Haas! [1930]



Tip of the day: Keep some scraps of emery paper handy. You can touch up the fret crowns as needed during restringing. Use masking tape to protect the fingerboard. 


February 22, 2018      Thursday

Happy Birthday, Napoleon Snags Allen!!! [1915]

   [Allen is seen here with Dizzy Gilespie.]


Tip of the day: Keep an automotive feeler gauge/ruler in your case. This is used to quickly and accurately measure the action and the neck relief.


February 23, 2018      Friday

Tip of the day: The bridge should be positioned so as to create a straight line from each nut saddle through each corresponding bridge saddle and tailpiece stop. The Bridge can be knocked out of alignment by hard strumming or even by accident. Check this by sighting down the neck. The strings should be centered properly over the fingerboard. If not, adjust accordingly. You are unlikely to "screw up" the bridge. It is designed to move so don't worry. The bottom of the bridge is carved to conform to the contour of the top. 


February 24, 2018      Saturday

Happy Birthday, Freddie Robinson! [1939]

Tip of the day: As anybody who does any teaching will tell you, there are *tons* of great young players out there; even at the high school level. It's inspiring to work with energetic, motivated kids like this; very gratifying too. This is why we need to remember to try to see things from the perspective of the student himself. We have a huge impact on them and this is sometimes an easy thing to overlook. I'm not sure how significant I was to some of my teachers. I'm sure most of them forgot about me pretty quickly yet their voices still ring in my ears all these years later. 


February 25, 2018      Sunday

Happy Birthday, Ryo Kawasaki! [1947]

Happy Birthday, Rene Thomas! [1927]

   [Thomas is seen here with Paul Gonsalves.]

Tip of the day: I have found it helpful to use a small electric fan on outdoor jobs where the humidity is a factor. I keep the fan aimed at my left hand. This keeps the hand and the guitar nice and dry which makes things so much more tolerable. 


February 26, 2018      Monday

Tip of the day: I think it's a good idea to settle on something and stick with it. It's better not to continue to be distracted by string gauges or pick thicknesses and to devote your energies towards things that really matter; like repertoire, style, improvisational concepts, etc .


February 27, 2018      Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Chuck Wayne! [1923]

Tip of the day: Django Reinhardt was born in 1910. It's hard to overstate the importance of his impact on music. He was a player of great technique and creativity and could rhapsodize slower tempos like no one else.


February 28, 2018      Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Pierre Dorge! [1946]

Happy Birthday, Marty Grosz! [1930]

Tip of the day: I'm not so sure you can practice the guitar unless you actually have your hands on one but listening and reading music are worthwhile activities away from the instrument itself.



The Jazz Guitar Almanac

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on the first of each month.

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