Jazz Guitar Almanac

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The Jazz Guitar Almanac

January    2019

January 1, 2019  Tuesday

Happy New Year!

Happy Birthday, Slim Gaillard! [1916]

                                   [Oh, Roonie-mo Mack vout-o!!]

Happy Birthday Sonny Greenwich!  [1936]

“The dawn of a new era is at hand. Electrical amplification has given guitarists a new lease on life.”  [Charlie Christian]

Tip of the day:  I can't image what it would be like to experience music from recordings alone, yet this all many people know. I think it gives them a skewed perspective. To me music is something that comes out of a musical instrument. To many others music is something that comes out of a speaker or earphone.


January 2, 2019  Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Curt Sheller!    [1954]

Happy Birthday, Judd Proctor!  [1933]

“When I was playing every night, there wasn’t enough room for me to play all the ideas in my head.”  [George Benson]

Tip of the day: Jazz is a somewhat esoteric art form that will continue to appeal to a select audience. Many attempts to make the music more appealing to a broader audience over the years have only resulted in a sort of watering down of the style to the point where the "select audience" loses interest.  Jazz is all about individual expression and stands on its own intrinsic merits. Marketing is something else entirely.


January 3, 2019    Thursday

Happy Birthday, Eddie Lang! [1904]

Tip of the day: People are playing music for a lot of different reasons. We play because it's what we do. Maybe we've got years and years into it and it's all we've ever done. Maybe we get paid to play. For some there are professional commitments involved, etc. On another level maybe we continue in music for our own selfish reasons. Maybe that's where the satisfaction, enjoyment and fulfillment is for some of us. If for some reason I could never play another note that anyone else would ever hear, I'm certain I would continue playing music just for my own personal gratification. On some levels that is enough.


January 4, 2019            Friday

Happy Birthday, Eugene Chadbourne! [1954]

Happy Birthday, John McLaughlin  [1942]

Tip of the day: Joe Pass was the one that kept me involved when I was in my twenties. The virtuosity he displayed was a challenge and an inspiration. This was my incentive to stick with the music. His way of playing time is still pretty remarkable. A lot of other players seemed to be dedicated to mastering fast mindless patterns but that left me cold. Joe never did this. He never got into musical gymnastics because he had a genuine aesthetic standard and was courageous enough to stay true to it. That's why they still study his solo style. 

January 5, 2019    Saturday

“This music is never going to go away because a large number of our top young musicians always are attracted to jazz.” [Wynton Marsalis]

Tip of the day: If you want to play fast and clean you'll have to begin by playing slow and clean. The combinations of various picking techniques and the left handed hammering, pull-offs, etc. are things that should be articulated smoothly and cleanly. Don't sacrifice articulation at the altar of a faster tempo. BIAB is a good tool for gradually building up your ability to handle fast tempos. Just type in some chords and set the tempo to where you can groove comfortably with clean articulation. Then gradually bump up the tempo as you practice an hour and a half or two hours every day. Over the course of three or four months you should see improvement.


January 6, 2019  Sunday

“Keep listening. Never become so self important that you can’t listen to other players.”   [John  Coltrane]

Happy Birthday, Jack Varney! [1918]

Happy Birthday, Yotam Silbertein!! [198?]

Happy Birthday, Jane Miller!!  [197?]

Tip of the day: The choice of A440 is one that has evolved upwards over many years. Many instrumentalists [soloists in particular] like to tune or play a shade sharp to give themselves a little more brilliance or prominence in an ensemble setting. Previous standards were lower by a quarter tone or so. Early saxophones for example were available as high pitch or low pitch models but after WWII A440 became the standard. The point is that pitch is not absolute. It's a matter of convention and common practice.


January 7, 2019  Monday

Happy Birthday, Al Bowlly!     [1899]

“The four ‘T’s’ [are] Time, Touch, Tone and Taste. Most of the players I seem to get the biggest thrill from have these pretty well covered” [Ted Greene]

Tip of the day: I used to look at the AFM classifieds as a kid. This was before I was a musician. A lot of the "at liberty" ads noted that the guy in question could "read *and* fake". As the years passed it dawned on me what this actually meant. It means being able to play a diatonic tune in any key. It means being able to play a variety of styles as an accompanist or a lead instrumentalist. It means being able to think on your feet and to immediately play things that you have never played before correctly and with stylistic conviction either by ear or off the page. 


January 8, 2019    Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Margaret Slovak! [1962]

“Guitarists should be able to pick up the guitar and play music on it for an hour, without a rhythm section or anything.” [Joe Pass]

Tip of the Day: Art is human expression put forward as such with various qualities such as originality and technical expertise that is meant to resonate somehow with its intended audience. Since people react to the experience of art, it is overflowing with meaning on a multitude of levels. Art is as universal as it is eternal, and many of civilization's greatest achievements are to be found in the arts. Jazz gives us a medium in which to make a statement about our culture, our era and our humanity.


January 9, 2019    Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Bucky Pizzarelli! [1926]

Tip of the day: On sessions I am leading I have concluded that there is no substitute for thorough preparation. The process takes weeks of part writing, practice and coordination. Being ready to lead the band, preside over the session and play your ass off too takes some serious heavy lifting, but if it was easy everybody would do it. As a side man it's a little less arduous. I generally ask to have the music sent to me ahead of time. I'll do a much better job if I can live with the music for a few days before recording it.


January 10, 2019   Thursday

Happy Birthday, Mike Stern!  [1953]

Tip of the day: The four-to-the-bar style is what I call "playing time". That is what we will forever  know as the Freddie Green style even though my students are currently referring to it as "four-on-the-floor". It is also called rhythm guitar. I dearly love playing that way. There is nothing quite like it. I prefer to use my thumb in this context; no fingers and no pick. The amp gives me all the audibility I need.  Freddie used a pick but no amp as you know. He set his guitars up with high action. This gives more volume and increased fretting difficulties. Freddie used the Epiphone Emperor, various Strombergs [19" 400 model] and finally the Gretsch Eldorado.


January 11, 2019   Friday

Happy Birthday, Bud Scott! [1890]

Tip of the day:  Comping is an accompaniment style where a guitar or piano is playing interactively with a lead instrument. Instead of playing straight quarter note time, comping calls for a more sensitive and creative approach that uses a variety of chord subs interjected at opportune moments to support and challenge the soloist. My preference in this setting is fingerstyle. I may also use a pick or the thumb according to what sound I want.


January 12, 2019   Saturday

Happy Birthday, Olu Dara!  [1941]

“I practice based on what my biggest problem is that day or that week. Whatever gives me problems, that goes to the top of the list. It changes from week to week”             [Kenny Burrell]

Tip of the day: Working on even the simplest of tunes can be enjoyable and rewarding. Working on intervals, key signatures, chord tones, notation, theory, etc. is relatively abstract and can turn quickly into drudgery. In private instruction and especially with self taught adult beginner students, it's a good idea to stick with some repertoire. This imparts a feeling of accomplishment and makes progress easy to perceive. It's fun too. The theory stuff can easily be addressed as it comes up in specific musical passages.


January 13, 2019   Sunday

Happy Birthday, Danny Barker!  [1909]

Happy Birthday, Joe Pass!  [1929]

   [Pass is seen here with Ella Fitzgerald.]

Tip of the day: Today’s birthday boy really found his niche in 1974 when he began recording the “Virtuoso” series on Pablo records. To this day these recording set the standard for solo jazz guitar.


January 14, 2019   Monday

Happy Birthday, Nguyen Le! [1959]

Happy Birthday, Charles Bocage!  [1900]

“I put a lot of emphasis on melody. I don’t like complexity for complexity’s sake.”  [Russell Malone]

Tip of the day: It's funny how a "jazz guitar lesson" can somehow turn into a "music theory lesson" without anybody knowing it. Intervals, key signatures, chord tones, and notation are basic elements of all music, not just jazz. A better approach as an instructor focuses on the jazz repertoire. Dealing directly with jazz standards gives the student a context to put all the intervals, key signatures, chord tones, notation, theory, etc. into which also results simultaneously in the learning of new tunes. I like to emphasize that music is a performing art. Even though knowledge of how music functions on a theoretical level is very important to our understanding of it, music is practice not theory.


January 15, 2019   Tuesday

Happy Birthday,  Steve Jordan ! [1919]

Tip of the day:  I have always started left handed beginners on a regular right handed guitar. Since they have never played guitar before this will not present a problem. Besides, the quality of any instruction they may seek out will be better if they stick to a regular guitar. 


January 16, 2019   Wednesday

“ I think anything that separates guitar players from the rest of the music world is bad. Tablature is a certain secret code only for a guitar player. So you have guitar players who can read tablature and not music.”   [Peter Bernstein]

Tip of the day: Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino and many others used a host of left handed techniques to maintain the continuity of the melodic line. The articulation and dampening that we hear on recordings can be a little mysterious; but like they say: the camera never blinks. Their videos reveal the technical aspects much more clearly than words can describe them.


January 17, 2019   Thursday

Happy Birthday, Ted Dunbar!  [1937]

Happy Birthday, Harry Reser! [1896]

Tip of the day: Wes had a great collection of various arpeggios that continue to amaze me. He also had a way of playing up and down the neck that allowed him to insert all kinds of slurs, smears and other left handed ornamentation. This sort of thing is a big part of his style and he performed it in an effortless fashion. This and the great joy he felt in performing jumps right off the screen when you watch him on video.


January 18, 2019   Friday

Happy Birthday, Bobby Broom! [1961]

“George Van Eps did not actually invent unaccompanied solo jazz guitar. It just seems that way.” [Alan DeMause]

Tip of the day: The improvisation in jazz is happening on all the instruments simultaneously. The soloist has a single line improvisation and the accompanist is reworking the changes as the music goes forward. The bass does the same thing in a single line rhythm style. Good drummers improvise all the time. When you get a group of guys that can do this together in an interactive way you really have something special.


January 19, 2019   Saturday

Happy Birthday, Sam Brown! [1939]

Tip of the day:  Sam Brown was an active guitarist on the New York scene in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He performed and recorded with Paul Desmond, Keith Jarrett, Louis Armstrong, Paul Motian, Gene Harris, Hubert Laws, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Gary Burton, Duke Pearson, Carla Bley, Paul Winter, James Moody, Mike Mainieri, Ron Carter, Jeremy Steig, Davis Amram, Mark Murphy, Herbie Mann, Blue Mitchell, Bill Evans/George Russell Orchestra, Astrud Gilberto and Charlie Hayden. He had studied at Julliard and also kept busy with Broadway shows and commercial gigs with the likes of Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, Harry Belefonte, Miriam Makeba, Barry Manilow, James Brown and The Jackson 5.

Sam died December 27, 1977 in New York City.


January 20, 2019   Sunday

Happy Birthday, Steve Rochinski! [1954]

Tip of the day: The chords in a fake book are just a point of departure. It takes some people a while to figure this out. A professional player will be reworking the changes all the time on the fly behind the soloist according to what's happening at the moment. They may also be playing things that have little to do with the lead sheet harmonies at times.The main thing is the root motion and the basic quality of the chord: major, minor or dominant.  Joe Pass used to teach just these three chord types as a concept. It seems like an over simplification to some. When you hear a Pass recording you realize he is applying this concept broadly and with great complexity and nuance. 


January 21, 2019 Monday

Happy Birthday, Jesse Van Ruller!  [1972]

Happy Birthday, Smith Ballew!!   [1902]

“The guitar is a great instrument; it allows for a lot of different types of expression and a lot of different styles of jazz.”  [Randy Johnston]

Tip of the day: As a student I began to notice that bass players, low brass players etc. seemed to have really good ears. In ear training class they seemed to pick up on things more quickly than a lot of the rest of us did. As an adult I notice the same thing. The bassists that I work with all seem to have great ears. My pet theory on this is that it is due to the fact that we hear harmony from the bottom up. The bass is always easy to hear because by definition there is nothing under it. It stands out nicely for this reason. One way to improve your listening abilities in this regard is to spend some time at the keyboard. Play bass with the left hand and chords with the right. The sounds and relationships will be easy to hear, see and internalize.


January 22, 2019   Tuesday

“Johnny Smith was one of the people who made me play the guitar. It was the Moonlight in Vermont record. I wore that record out.”  [Jimmy Bruno]

Tip of the day:  Melody has been defined as a meaningful sequence of tones. This seems vague and is considered controversial by some, yet the very nature of melody seems to justify a broad definition.


January 23, 2019   Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Django Reinhardt ! [1910]

     [Django is seen here with Barney Kessell.]

Happy Birthday Fapy Lafertin! [1950]

Tip of the day: As an instructor I've had students that have gone on to earn advanced degrees and pursue careers in music; and some who never came back for a second lesson. So as far as the ability to connect is concerned I put the emphasis on the student himself. All I can do is open the door. It's up to them to walk through it on their own.  


January 24, 2019   Thursday

“Jazz guitar is an art form that is very now. What you’re playing now is what counts.”  [Frank Vignola]

Tip of the day:  I don’t like to see negativity directed at the jazz community. It saddens me and infuriates me as well. Playing jazz takes a lifetime of dedication. It also happens to be a difficult and challenging profession for those who truly hear the call. It takes hard work and sacrifice to play this music. Those of us who love jazz would like to see it continue to flourish. In addition to this, many of us will not shy away from confronting negativity directed at jazz and the people who play it.


January 25, 2019   Friday

Happy Birthday, Floyd Smith! [1917]

Happy Birthday,  Jimmy Wyble ! [1922]

     [Wyble is seen here with Red Norvo.]

Happy Birthday, Antonio Carlos Jobim ! [1927]

   [ Jobim is seen here with Frank Sinatra.]

Tip of the day:  Almost every guitar player in jazz started out by dabbling in rock or other popular styles. This is because of the nature of the instrument and the history of the role it has played in American popular culture. Some guitarists would like to deny having gone this route, but there it is. This is not so much the case with other instruments. Many wind players, for instance, go the school band route. They play in concert band, stage band, pit band, pep band, marching band, etc. and get interested in jazz later on. There are lots and lots of wind players studying jazz at the college level who have never played rock, funk, r-n-b, etc.


January 26, 2019   Saturday

 “Try to play with players who are better than you. You get the best education in jazz on the bandstand.”  [Frank Vignola]

Tip of the day: I've worked with students in their teens and twenties for years. The best of them are good readers with good technical abilities who get a good sound over the range of their instruments. Some can even improvise convincingly. The major deficit in this age group is the repertoire. The development of a repertoire requires the hand of time. The listening and practicing has to be brought into various performance settings over a period of time until the player becomes comfortable with a good range of material. After a few years of this they may reach a stage where people begin to refer to them as having a repertoire. To me this is a big issue. A student who has great sound, great technique, great reading ability, and improvisational skills, but couldn't play Autumn Leaves without a chart would be a good illustration of this problem. Lots of students fit this description, too. I know it seems like an oversimplification, but one explanation of what a jazz musician "does", is that he plays the jazz repertoire. I've heard this one several times over the years and it has the ring of truth to it. It's hard [impossible?] to separate a music from its repertoire; and I don't see how you can overstate it's importance either.


January 27, 2019   Sunday

“Known primarily as the greatest jazz guitarist of his time, Tal Farlow’s  solo guitar work on ballads was the epitome of good taste.” [Tony Mottola]

Tip of the day: Without getting too hung up on the pro/amateur distinction for the moment, my advice is that you should try to play with the best players you can find. I used to say, "Try to be the worst player in the band." What I meant by that is that by having to rise to the occasion you'll learn more music and learn it faster than any way I can think of.  Consider it "on the job training" or "baptism by fire" or whatever you want to call it. It should prove very beneficial. And don't worry if you're in way over your head with a bunch of advanced players. If you aren't cutting it they'll let you know. It's a valuable and challenging experience either way.


January 28, 2019 Monday

Happy Birthday, Henry Johnson! [1954]

Happy Birthday Fareed Haque!! [1963]

Tip of the day: The way I set up a guitar is pretty simple. I just use a feeler gauge that I got at an auto parts store. It also has a little ruler that swings out and is graduated in 32nds. I use a capo at the first fret, stop the string up around the 16th fret and then measure the relief in the middle of the range around the 5th fret. Some guys like a neck with no relief but a few thousandths works pretty well too. Once the relief is set then the bridge can be positioned and adjusted using a tuner. Most players would agree that an action of two or three 32nds at the 12th fret is pretty comfortable, but my personal preference is towards the low end. Changing string sets will usually mean having to reset the action; especially if the new set has different gauge strings. Even a few pounds of string tension one way or the other makes a difference. It's the same effect as fingering a chord and  pulling the neck back and forth. The resulting change in pitch is due to the added pressure on the neck which is not dissimilar to detuning.


January 29, 2019   Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Ulysses  Livingston ! [1912]

Happy Birthday,  Derek Bailey! [1932]

Happy Birthday, Sacha Distel !   [1933]

Happy Birthday, Franco Cerri!  [1926]

   [Cerri is seen here with Barney Kessell.]

Tip of the day: Tab seems to be of interest only to certain guitar players. I suppose they must get something out of it but there is a downside too. Tablature is for guitars only. There is no trombone tab, no vibraphone  tab, etc. Therefore guitar players who spend time developing their tab chops are just painting themselves into a corner. Why would you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the musical community in this way? The time could be better spend on improving the understanding of regular notation. The whole point of knowing standard notation is to communicate with other musicians.


January 30, 2019   Wednesday Sometimes I feel like the lone ranger. I'm looking for my own means of expression. And I'm just now starting to find it" -Woody Shaw (Little Red's Fantasy liner notes, 1976)

Tip of the day: I think one of the keys to studying music is selectivity. Since there is more music out there than any one person will live long enough to actually play we all have to learn to make choices. Even in terms of simple things like scales and patterns the possibilities are virtually endless. George Van Eps estimated it would take something like 11,000 years [I forget the exact number he mentioned] just to play the major scale permutations. In terms of repertoire development the same problem comes up because of the overwhelming number of possible choices and their variations. Instructors are the same way. We all have our specific approach stylistically, theoretically and technically. The variations are as diverse as the individual instructors themselves. This may not be much help but each of us has to become something of a specialist. In the process of deciding what to concentrate on this sort of specialization is unavoidable. And you wouldn't want to avoid it anyway. All roads lead to Rome, musically speaking; choose one and be happy.


January 31, 2019   Thusday

Happy Birthday, Emmanuel “Manny” Sayles! [1907]

Happy Birthday, Bobby Hackett!   [1915]

Tip of the day: Sight reading a Coltrane solo would be difficult even for a good reader. Being able to hear the solo, getting it correctly down on paper and learning to play it are not the same as reading it. I know I couldn't do it but it's not likely that I'll ever be asked to anyway. Coltrane would not have been asked to read anything like that either. In jazz a big part of the tradition of pedagogy had been carried out through apprenticeship. It still is, but since recordings became available people started studying them as a means of serving an apprenticeship. Learning a solo by your favorite player is a great, great lesson. Nearly all accomplished players have done this sort of independent study. In my opinion it is indispensable.

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