John Wheatcroft returns to the jazz masters with a look at the great Philip Catherine.
Philip Catherine is one of Europe’s finest jazz guitar players, with a phenomenal resume and the well-earned respect of both peers and music lovers the world over. Born in London but raised in Brussels, Belgium, Catherine’s father was a classical violinist for the London Philharmonic and young Philip entered into the family business at the earliest opportunity, studying at the prestigious Berklee School of Music and turning professional while still in his teens.
Catherine’s playing has sophistication and intelligence with a perfect blend of technique and musicality. He is acutely aware of the language and vocabulary of jazz and he creates his phrases and improvisations with a vitality and presence that always sounds fresh, exciting and original while maintaining idiomatic awareness and authenticity. Philip’s playing is held in such high esteem by players of all generations. I recently saw the pair of young and super-talented French guitarists Antoine Boyer and Noé Reine performing one of Catherine’s compositions as a tribute. These two are staggeringly good, so I’d suggest you check them out too.
What follows is a collection of 10 short musical examples typical of the type of things that Philip might play in an improvised scenario against many of the most typical harmonic progressions found in jazz. As you might expect, with a career as long and varied this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’d suggest that you check out his chord-melody playing, his acoustic guitar work and at times he’s been known to kick on his Rat distortion pedal, flip to the bridge pickup and rock out. What would Stephane Grappelli say about this? Well, I’m sure he’d love it.
As usual, once you’ve learnt these phrases as written then it’s your turn to transform them beyond all recognition. Literally throw anything you’ve got at them. Try turning Minor into Major, 16th notes into triplets, phrases in C into new phrases in F. There are no rules and no limits other than where your imagination might take you. In terms of expanding your vocabulary this is some of the most valuable work and best uses of time that you can ever have with the guitar in your hands. Maybe just take one example and stick with this for an entire workout session, auditioning ideas while expanding your possibilities at the same time. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. It’s surely called playing for a reason.
NEXT MONTH John assesses the playing of American jazz legend Mundell Lowe
I LIKE MY SOLOS TO SOUND LIKE A COMPOSED MELODY. I’M NOT ALWAYS SUCCEEDING, BUT THAT’S MY GOAL. IT’S LIKE AN ETERNAL COMPOSING PROCESS PHILIP CATHERINE
Philip Catherine with the tool of many a jazz great’s trade, the Gibson ES-175