August 24, 2017

John Abercrombie, 1944-2017

John Abercrombie, in 2001
One of the finest guitarists in jazz, John Abercrombie, passed away this past Tuesday, August 22, 2017. John’s recording career was as varied as his early guitar influences, which included Chuck Berry and Barney Kessel. His work ranged from heavy fusion with the band called Dreams, to introspective recordings on the ECM label. John explored the possibilities that electronics offered, employing the guitar-synthesizer combination, but eventually found that his guitar and one amplifier was all the resources he needed. In our interview conducted before a concert at Hamilton, he took note of the proliferating number of young musicians entering the market, and offered sage advice for newly minted music school graduates:
MR:         If you had the opportunity to address those thousand plus guitar students at Berklee, what would you say to them about how to prepare for the future of where this music is at?
JA:         Oh man, I mean you could just tell them don’t quit your day job, you could say, I mean the hardest thing is with a lot of players, and what I always tell the ones, I mean and I can’t address a thousand of them at a time, but even with the students I have, if they play really good I just tell them look, I hope you really like this music, because if you don’t I mean there’s a lot of you guys around right now. I mean there’s a lot of good young players. I have a couple of students at the New England Conservatory where I teach now about eight times a year. I mean they can really play.  I’ve had a few that you kind of go wow, this guy can play. Really play. And when he gets out in the real world and he’s more of a — he’s really going to be able to play. But where are all these guys going to work? And I always try to tell them, I always try to say look, keep yourself open to all the aspects of music, whether it’s being a jazz player or maybe it’s writing songs, maybe it’s as a producer. I mean there could be a place in music for a lot of people but there’s only so many places that people who are going to be quote unquote performers, especially jazz performers, are going to be able to play. I mean the amount of venues haven’t changed dramatically since when I was starting to play and there’s like a hundred times more players out there. I’m lucky I have a record label and a reputation. To be a young musician coming now, it has to be tough from that point of view, because there’s so many guys and there’s just not enough places to play. So I just tell them make sure you really love this stuff because you’re going to have to be doing it for that reason if you want to be a jazz player because there’s not going to be, and don’t even worry about anything else. Just only do it for that. As long as you can get by and then if you’re really true to what you do things will come your way probably, you’ll make a living and you’ll be able to play your music and hopefully maybe you’ll get very successful.
Fresh from the Fillius archive, here is a link to the full YouTube interview I conducted with John on April 19, 2001.

August 8, 2017

Jazz Centennial

The centennial of the first jazz recording by the Original Dixieland Jass Band titled “Livery Stable Blues” is observed this year (see our blog dated 2/26/17) . If an extraterrestrial had heard their rendition they could never have imagined the diversity and the artistic heights that jazz would accomplish in the hundred years that followed. A significant portion of that history began coincidentally in 1917 with the birth of an impressive number of future jazz stars. Most significant were the innovators of bebop, Thelonious Monk, born on October 10, and John “Dizzy” Gillespie, born in the same month on the 21st. Two other notable artists whose technical skills have never been surpassed are Buddy Rich, born on September 30, and Ella Fitzgerald, born on April 25 (see our blog dated 4/25/17). Those four musicians alone qualify 1917 as an important year in jazz history.
Other notable musicians who were born in 1917 include vocalists Lena Horne (October 4), Jo Stafford (November 12), and Dave Lambert (June 19); pianist Tadd Dameron (February 21); bassist Curly Russell (March 19); and Latin percussionist Mongo Santamaria (April 7). Perhaps a future jazz artist has already been born in 2017 and will contribute to the ever-evolving story of this music.