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ALL THAT JAZZ
I’ve been reading GT for many years and always get something from it. But one genre has always alluded me – jazz. No doubt the articles you write on it are of great use to those already ‘in the know’, but for those of us on the outside looking in they can be a bit over our heads. It’s frustrating, as I’d love to make some ground in this style.
I’ve heard that with jazz you really have to start at the bottom, learning how to comp first, but above all, learning repertoire. So how about a monthly jazz section that addresses that? A new jazz standard each month (or a set of changes based on a standard), along with melody and a chorus or two of soloing ideas covering a couple of concepts. For example: arpeggiating, substitutions, chromaticism, melodic embellishment; starting simple, and getting more involved. The added advantage of this is that learning new melodies is real world practice for those of us who are benefiting from your Reading Music series. I hope this idea is of interest to you, and I can finally start making progress.
John Wheatcroft replies: You’re quite right, one of the best ways to get started with jazz is to learn some pieces from the standard repertoire. You might wish to get hold of a Real Book, which is a collection of jazz standards with just the basic melody and harmony, from which you can create an arrangement in a variety of contexts. Start with a simple tune, such as Autumn Leaves, maybe moving onto a piece like Blue Bossa, before tackling a more complex tune like All The Things You Are. This would help your reading, along with your awareness of harmony and your vocabulary of chord voicings. The trick is to look out for the relationship between the melody and the chords and for the common sequences, such as the II-V-I, I-I7-IV-IVm and so on. There is definite potential for a GT lesson that outlines how one might interpret all this dry academic information to transform the basic notes and harmony into a living, breathing and highly personal form of musical expression.
I want to begin by thanking you and the team of contributors at Guitar Techniques. I benefit from the variety and depth within each section and it truly caters for everyone. But what happened to Theory Godmother? I always looked forward to reading it, picking up all kinds of information in an easy-to-digest format. I’m sure I’m not the only one who mourns its passing.
Anyway, here’s to many more issues. I won’t miss one of them!
We dropped Theory Godmother because David Mead, who wrote the column, took the job as Guitarist’s deputy editor, which left him no time to continue it. I did think of turning this page into another theory Q&A, but then realised we are running several ‘how to’ features at the moment – Chord Camp, In The Woodshed (which replaced Reading Music) and so on, so for the time being we’ll stick with the current format. Who knows though, she may return in some form or other at some point, waving her magic wand!
BIG BAD JIM
I’m proud to say that at the age of 65 I have every single copy of Guitar Techniques, since the very first issue when you whetted our appetites with a kind of, ‘Who’s best, Satriani or Vai?’. I don’t think you reached a conclusion there – how very diplomatic. What I am not so proud of is that, reflecting on my playing since I picked up the guitar at the age of 12, I have not progressed as much as I should have. That is down to a number of things, not least of all in the 1960s and 70s there being no really good teaching methods – apart from Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day book, and much later the Hot Licks tapes. There are those famous players such as Clapton and May who rightly pay great homage to Bert’s book; they were, however, perhaps naturally talented and dedicated. For myself I reached a plateau of reasonable competence and then worked in bands doing covers concentrated on churning out the next popular chart number, which didn’t did test us too much.
Enough excuses! So now I have more time to practise I have turned away from the electric and onto the nylonstring and will try, with the aid of great players in your mag, to strive for excellence in the field of classical guitar in particular, and fingerpicking in general.
So, how about requesting Stuart Ryan to transcribe Maple Rag? I don’t think it’s ever been done in Guitar Techniques. I very much like the version by Hiroshi Masuda on YouTube but any interpretation would be great.
And what about an article on Big Jim Sullivan? He left no autobiography and I don’t think many players realise what a complete player he was. Sadly, I think he will soon be forgotten and that’s a tragedy for those who followed his playing. He has to be considered a pioneer. Big Jim played with Marty Wilde, as you do now, and so I’m sure there must be many stories to tell!
If I don’t contact you again it might be due to the 254 copies of GT stored in the spare bedroom, causing the ceiling in the lounge to collapse on me!
We don’t seem to have done Maple Leaf Rag, it’s true, although Stuart did run a series of ‘pieces’ a while back featuring a variety of solo fingerpicking tunes. So this is definitely worth looking at for some time in the future.
Regarding Big Jim: I knew him, of course, and had the pleasure of working with him on the odd occasion. He was a truly great player but his breadth of ability was so vast that it would be hard to pinpoint a specific style to emulate. Guitarist has been talking about a series on the great session players and he’s bound to feature, should this come to pass. In the meantime I’ll ponder how we could cover this British session legend in GT.
Big Jim Sullivan: London Palladium 2007 with Marty Wilde (playing Nev’s ES-335)!
John Wheatcroft and Pete Callard: jazz columnists present and past
David Mead: now with Guitarist mag