Legendary jazz musician Jim Hall passed away Tuesday at age 83. Others are better qualified to eulogize the man, but suffice to say modern jazz guitar would sound pretty different absent his influence. He gigged, composed, and recorded well up until the end, which is inspirational in and of itself. Goodbye Jim.
Singer-songwriter Laura Zucker has a good post up on Guitar World, describing her quest for “the one.” No, not Keanu Reeves. Rather, an instrument with the elusive combination of sound, form, and aesthetics that best suited her as a player. She eventually chanced upon a custom Breedlove that fit the bill. Besides maybe concert violinists, whose instruments are an art form unto themselves and routinely command eye-watering prices, I’m not sure many other musicians obsess over finding “the one” so much as guitarists.
I worked in guitar shops throughout high school and college, which is basically indentured servitude for gear addicts. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that the number of guitars I’ve personally owned is in the (low) double digits. That number includes at least three Strats and five Teles, a couple pointy guitars with Floyd Roses, and even a Les Paul for good measure. The vast majority of those guitars didn’t last long before I traded them away. The longest-standing instrument I still possess is a sunburst Fender Mexican Strat purchased in high school, my first “serious” guitar. It was my go-to electric for the better part of a decade, and has gone through innumerable hardware mods and pickup upgrades; just last year I was rewiring it yet again for a bridge pickup blend pot. I traded away a lot of guitars because they just didn’t feel like home in the same way.
Over time my preference shifted toward Telecasters, and I’ve cycled through a few before arriving at the American Special that currently gets most of my attention. While it’s a great guitar, I still can’t say I’ve necessarily found “the one.” Zucker writes that she only chanced on the Breedlove when she wasn’t really in the market for a new guitar. “It just came to me,” in her words. It also helped that she threw monetary caution to the wind, buying “the guitar that I really wanted, and not just the one I could reasonably afford.” My recent experience with a certain Gibson ES-330 seems to validate Laura’s insight. That said, I can think of at least 4 or 5 guitars that I really want, so putting her advice into practice might be an expensive proposition…
The video is a little rough, but NY-based Sheryl Bailey really kills it on this rendition of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Single note lines, chord soloing, dissonant altered tones — it’s pretty much all there in her astonishingly well-crafted solo. Sheryl has a new organ trio album due out New Years Day. I’ve had her big band album A New Promise in pretty consistent rotation since it came out in 2011, and I’m looking forward to the new small combo LP. Bailey is adept in a variety of band formats, while also being a prolific writer/composer. Her instructional material on TrueFire is also worth checking out.
The jazz guitar scene (in keeping with the broader guitar scene) isn’t exactly known for gender balance. That said, beginning with Emily Remler in the 1980s, women have represented some of the more notable and forward-looking jazz pickers. Sheryl is certainly one example, profiled as a “Rising Star” in Downbeat’s 2013 Critics Poll. Avant gard-ist Mary Halvorson (also featured in the Critics Poll) continues to enjoy a great deal of critical acclaim for her chops and abstract compositional approach. And don’t forget Mimi Fox, one of my favorite latter-day purveyors of straight-ahead jazz guitar — whether leading a combo or carrying on Joe Pass’s legacy in solo settings.
The interwebs abound with great guitar content — far more than most of us can keep tabs with. For my latest N.O.S. posting experiment, I’m going to aggregate some of the highlights on at least a monthly basis. Obviously the roundup is skewed toward my preferences, so feel free to submit additions in the comments!
Speaking of famous Fenders, two of the company’s master builders recently had the opportunity to examine two heavily modded Mustangs used by Kurt Cobain on the In Utero sessions. Talk about a dream job. More video please!
Another live preview of Jim Campilongo’s upcoming Dream Dictionary is up on YouTube. I can’t be the only who thinks that a Tom Waits-Jim Campilongo collaboration would be epic. Check out “Nang Nang” to hear why.
Vintage Guitar profiled a 1965 Supro combo amp that may or may not be the same model used by Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin I. It’s a whole lotta amp in an 18-watt package.
Reverend announced several new signature model instruments, including a fifth Pete Anderson guitar. The hollowbody PA-1C features two humbuckers and a fixed tail piece, offering a more conventional alternative to the Bigsby-equipped PA-1 and PA-1RT.
The organ trio of Peter Bernstein (g), Larry Goldings (org), and Bill Stewart (b) was featured on NPR’s “Live at the Village Vanguard.” Killer stuff. Also, check out Peter’s latest album Live@Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club.
Gruhn Guitars has a 1940 Stromberg Master 400 for sale once owned by none other than Freddie Green. The ad for the 19″ acoustic archtop is accompanied by an amazing vintage photograph of the Basie band with electric jazz pioneer Charlie Christian.
Finally, no matter the bond that may exist between picker and ax, perfectly good guitars don’t belong six feet under. Dear Prudie agrees.
No, I didn’t obtain a secret bootleg of Dream Dictionary, the new Jim Campilongo album due out January 21st. But there is a great interview with Jim in the latest issue of Premier Guitar, in which he discusses the album and his creative process. And a live clip on YouTube of the title track. In the interview, Campilongo notes that he was inspired by Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way. The influence is evident on this tune, which reflects the meditative yet dynamic vibe of that album — while still bearing Campy’s indelible sonic stamp.
If you’re as anxious as I am for Dream Dictionary, I suggest biding your time with In A Silent Way. The all-star cast of post-bop and fusion luminaries includes a young John McLaughlin on guitar, whose bluesy lead lines and funky comping are interwoven throughout. While controversial with jazz critics at the time, it’s a more restrained statement by comparison to what followed in the form of Bitches Brew.
Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb and Gibson ES-330 Reviewed
I’ve posted some critical musings lately regarding recent marketing decisions from Fender and Gibson. I scorn because I love. Both companies still churn out some great products and are — for me anyway — still the point of departure for classic American electric guitar design. Last weekend I stopped by Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, and had a chance to put two solid products from both companies through their paces.
Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb
I expressed skepticism a few weeks ago regarding the ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. From the online product specs, it seemed as though Fender was making a questionable decision to resurrect amps from its controversial “silverface” era. So when I saw a shiny new example of the Custom DR at Levin’s, I had no choice but to grab a Tele off the wall and plug in (though it did take some willpower to ignore the boutique offerings from Bogner and Carr sitting to either side).
Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways by the White Buffalo
It’s been almost two years since Jake Smith, aka The White Buffalo, released his outstanding sophomore LP Once Upon a Time in the West. That album, along with a heavy touring schedule, has helped cement Smith’s reputation on the alt-country scene (contributing to the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack hasn’t hurt either). Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways demonstrates that The White Buffalo is staying true to his muse, continuing to deliver gritty and honest — yet thoughtful — songwriting.
…for my lack of posting. Between lessons and ensemble preparation, I’ve been hitting the woodshed pretty hard. Having a day job doesn’t help either. Speaking of which, it feels good to occasionally haul my axe on the bus and prop it in the corner of my cubicle, awaiting evening ensemble practice. Makes me feel kinda like…a musician.
While on the job last week, I happened to spot a keyboard in the office of a fellow D.C. bureaucrat. Who knows why it was there — it could have been a Christmas gift for someone’s kid. I like to think though that it was an individual much like me, holding down a desk job while harboring a secret desire to escape the office permanently and eek out a living playing tunes.
Posts are coming, including recent tuneage from bearded dudes with guitars and a weekend test drive involving Fender’s latest retro retread.
I recently picked up The Complete Jazz Guitar by Jim Hall. The trio date, with Carl Perkins on piano and Red Mitchell on bass, was his 1957 debut as a leader. It’s a solid bop set and an interesting footnote in the development of Hall’s sound. His playing is restrained, melodically grounded, and only beginning to reveal shades of the subtle complexity that would lead him to loom large in the evolution of jazz guitar. From the standpoint of a jazz student like myself, The Complete Jazz Guitar also helps Jim seem a little more mortal; his sound and technique on the album is something I feel I can aspire to and achieve — less daunting than his masterful accompaniment of Sonny Rollins on The Bridge, for instance.
To that end, my jazz instruction in DC is off to a good start. The lessons with Steve Herberman are kicking my ass — in a good way. We’ve been dissecting one of my favorite standards, “Autumn Leaves”, which has involved some painstaking (but illuminating) arpeggio and scale etudes, intervalic exercises with the melody, and even a little transcription (see the Cannonball Adderley album Somethin’ Else for one of my favorite versions of the tune). I highly recommend Steve as a teacher; besides just being a super down-to-earth guy, he’s also very enthusiastic about teaching and accommodating of your personal goals as a student.
I also attended my first “jazz band masterclass” this week; the jazz ensemble program comes via sax player Jeff Antoniuk and his local cadre of master instructors. I’ll have the opportunity to sit in with a full band every other week and receive expert guidance on the ins and outs of jazz performance. This week our guest instructor was Brazilian bassist — and Montgomery College artist in residence — Leonardo Lucini, who shared theoretical and stylistic perspective on navigating the samba standard “So Nice,” among other tunes. It was a good first class, and I’m looking forward to future sessions. In the mean time, back to the woodshed…
I’ve dropped Jana Pochop’s name a few times on the blog. She’s a prolific singer-songwriter and a fellow Manzano High School guitar program alumnae. We rocked the Albuquerque folk scene in college. Now Jana’s based in Austin, making her living as a musician and social media entreprenour She has a new EP on the way, and you can be a part of the creative process via Kickstarter. I can heartily vouch for her first two EPs (see “Resurrection Buzz” from EP2 below), and have no doubt this one will round out an epic trilogy. Think Led Zeppelin I through III — she’s even holding a Les Paul! But fewer Tolkien references. And more emotionally insightful lyrics about the human experience. 11 days left!