Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar

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  • World ofFingerstyleJazz Guitar

    featuringMartin Taylor, Jim Nichols,

    Tommy Crook, Duck Baker & Woody Mann

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    The World ofFingerstyle Jazz Guitar

    From the beginning, the guitar has played a centralrole in the development and expression of jazz.Its evolutionas one of the musics most ar ticulate and powerfulinstruments could not have taken place without the tasteand precision of Eddie Lang, whose plectrum guitar workwith Joe Venuti and Bing Crosby in the 1920s and 30sdrafted the original musical blueprint for jazz guitar playing.The simultaneous proliferation of phonograph records alsowas crucial to the process. Langs early recordsundoubtedly provided the basic direction and vitalinspiration for guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, Oscar

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    Aleman and Charlie Christian, who in turn advanced theevolution of jazz guitar by a quantum leap.

    Records by Reinhardt (with the Quintet of the Hot Clubof France) and Christian (with the Benny Goodman Sextet)beckoned to an entire generation of new Americanguitarists such as Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, TalFarlow, Les Paul, Wes Montgomery and so many otherswho contributed their remarkable creativity and expertiseto the instrument. Jazz guitar soon became a highlysophisticated genre with a host of genial exponents.

    The vinyl tradition of learning to play was now well-established. Aspiring guitarists bought records by the artiststhey admired, learned to play better by repeated listeningand practice, which helped them find their own voice onthe instrument and ultimately to perpetuate the evolutionof jazz guitar with their own new ideas, innovations and, ofcourse, new records.

    The evolution continues today with Martin Taylor,Tommy Crook, Jim Nichols, Duck Baker and Woody Mann.Each player has developed a distinctly different approachto interpreting and writing jazz for solo guitar by listeningintently to numerous other musicians and composers pianists, horn players, bassists, and singers as well as manyguitarists in jazz, blues and other styles. What distinguishesthem from more traditional jazz guitarists (who more orless function as a linear voice in an ensemble) is their abilityto play (or imply) all aspects of the music rhythm, chords,bass, and melody without accompaniment.

    Records by Charlie Byrd, Lenny Breau, George VanEps, Laurindo Almieda, and Joe Pass have set a very highstandard for solo fingerstyle jazz guitar, and it is from thisvantage point that the solo flights of Taylor, Crook, Nichols,Baker, and Mann take wing. Their performances not onlydemonstrate their technical brilliance and imagination, theyare a testament to the enduring power and beauty of jazzguitar in its current evolution as a major instrumental forcein American music.

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    Martin Taylor

    When Martin Taylor picks up a guitar, his intent is notmerely to play music. He wants to entertain, if not dazzle,you. He doesnt joke or prance on stage, but insteadchannels all his wit and agility to the fingerboard, wherehis fingers fly through dizzying passages and caress elegantchords in ways that command the attention of anyone witha pulse.

    In addition to a series of outstanding solo albums andvideos beginning in 1984, Taylor has also made recordswith jazz luminaries such as Buddy DeFranco and StephaneGrappelli. In 1995 Taylor teamed up with mandolinist DavidGrisman for a superb, all-acoustic recording of vintage jazztunes called Tone Poems II, and his latest outing featuresTaylor in a trio with Ron Carter on bass and Max Roach ondrums (The Three Bosses on Tristan Records).

    Taylor grew up in the English countryside of Essex,about 30 miles outside of London. His father, William

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    Buck Taylor, was a jazz bassist who worked in a band onweekends. Mr. Taylor also played the guitar, and he andhis musician friends would gather at the house and listento records by Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the HotClub of France, and also Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti.

    That was the kind of guitar playing he really liked,Taylor says. Those were the first things I ever heard.

    At age 4 his father gave him a red ukulele with a palmtree painted on it, on which he learned to play chords. Awhile later, his father presented him with his first guitar abattered relic with terrible action purchased at a local fair.

    It should have put me off for life, Taylor says. But Iloved it and loved playing it.

    By age 10, Taylor often accompanied his father towedding gigs and village dances, where he would play tunessuch as Sweet Georgia Brown as a novelty with the band.At age 13, Taylor was the bands regular guitarist.

    Taylor says living close to the city was fortunatebecause his father often took him to see jazz concerts, andthat he and his brother would often take the train intoLondon and hang around the music stores. Later his brotherturned him on to Jimi Hendrix and took him to see Hendrixperform at the Albert Hall. Shortly thereafter, he also sawSegovia give a solo concert. Taylor said that while bothconcerts were night and day musically, they were oddlysimilar in that both were unforgettable vir tuosoperformances that forever broadened his own musicalhorizons.

    Ive never restricted my appreciation of music to whatwould fall into the category of jazz, Taylor said. I alwayssee myself first and foremost as a guitar player. It justhappens that Ive always been in this sort of jazz tradition,so I guess its accurate to call me a jazz musician. But Isee myself as a guitar player who plays jazz, as opposedto a jazz musician whos chosen the guitar as hisinstrument.

    A major opportunity in Taylors professional careerbeckoned in 1975, when he met Stephane Grappelli, thebrilliant French violinist who played on all the Djangorecords Taylor listened to as a youth. Ike Issacs was playingguitar with Grappelli at the time, and he introduced Taylorto Grappelli at a concert in London. Four years later,Grappelli, who by this time was familiar with Taylors

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    reputation as a bright young talent, invited him to play aseries of concerts with him in France and Belgium.Grappelli liked Taylors playing enough to ask him alongon the next tour. Their rapport was such that Taylor endedup playing with Grappelli for 11 years.

    I was always very conscious of what a very specialthing it was to work with Stephane, Taylor says. Stephaneand Django were, really, the first European jazz musicianswho gave jazz a European voice and European sound. SoI really felt honored and fortunate to be with someone whowas such a big part of that.

    For those who find the notion of playing bass, chordsand melody at once mind boggling, the video opens withTaylors demonstration of how he puts together the basicelements of I Got Rhythm as a guitar solo. Many ofTaylors arrangements, including his version of ShinyStockings and Ellingtons Squeeze Me, seem to drawmore inspiration from pianists such as Art Tatum and BillEvans than from other jazz guitarists. However, transferringpiano concepts to the guitar isnt exactly a verbatimprocedure.

    You cant play on the guitar everything Art Tatumplayed, Taylor says. What you can do on the guitar issuggest a lot. Thats actually the whole idea of the guitar I suggest more than I really play, which has a lot to do withhow I voice things, and rhythmic things that I do that givethe impression of playing a whole lot more.

    Taylors Brazi l ian-flavored take on My FunnyValentine is a good example of how a well-known standardcan be practically re-invented by arranging it in a differentgroove. He says that although he rarely plays a tune exactlythe same way twice, each arrangement has a basicstructure thats flexible.

    Ive always enjoyed the arranging side of it, and sojust about every tune I play solo has some kind of anarrangement as a framework, Taylor says. Its not a strictarrangement I always like to have some kind ofintroduction, and an ending, and a key change or a twistin the middle. Of course, that doesnt necessary mean thatIll play all that its really like a bit of a safety net. Illalways remember what Stephane told me. We spent somuch time together, travelling together, wed sit and talkabout everything from the weather to politics. Once we

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    were on a plane and he said Ill give you a bit of adviceabout playing. Its a piece of advice that Maurice Chevaliergave me. He said Start well, and end well, and the middlewill take care of itself.

    Tommy CrookDuring an appearance Chet Atkins made on The

    Tonight Show in the early 1980s, Johnny Carson askedMr. Guitar if he knew of anyone who played as well or betterthan he did. As guitarists around the country who werewatching held their breath, Atkins uttered the followingendorsement: Yes Johnny. Tommy Crook in Tulsa,Oklahoma.

    Watching Tommy Crook play the four classic jazzstandards included here, its easy to see why Atkins wasimpressed by his mastery of the instrument. Playing a 1957Gibson Switchmaster modified with two heavy gaugestrings tuned an octave below regular pitch, Crook oftensounds like a bass and guitar duo. His creative, fullyharmonized arrangements make full use of the fingerboard,with pyrotechnic flourishes such as artificial harmonics thatpush the range of the electric guitar further than CharlieChristian ever dreamed of.

    Music seems to come naturally to Crook, whose fatherplayed guitar in a weekend square dance band. Around1950 Crook began learning chords from his dad, whoeventually taught him his entire repertoire of old songsfrom the 1930s and 40s. By the early 60s Crook was inhigh school and had a band of his own with three otherbudding musicians David Gates, J.J. Cale, and LeonRussell.

    We played a lot of supper clubs, Crook says. He alsorecalls the group playing as an opener for national acts att