The im­por­tance of mu­si­cal lit­er­acy

Pasatiempo - - Music And Performance - Paul Wei­de­man The New Mex­i­can

In his new book, Jazz Études: Stud­ies for the Beginning Im­pro­viser, gui­tarist Joshua Break­stone takes a stand on a some­what con­tro­ver­sial topic among gui­tarists and stu­dents of the gui­tar. The lessons are pre­sented in stan­dard mu­si­cal no­ta­tion. There is no tab­la­ture, a “short­hand” form of tran­scrib­ing gui­tar mu­sic that typ­i­cally in­di­cates notes but not rhythm. “So many peo­ple to­day rely on tab­la­ture,” Break­stone told Pasatiempo. “Maybe I’m hurt­ing my­self com­mer­cially, but we de­cided not to have tab.”

In late Novem­ber, six weeks af­ter its release by Cherry Lane Mu­sic Co., Jazz Études was do­ing well. The au­thor said he has had pos­i­tive feed­back from as far away as Rus­sia and Hun­gary, as well as from the United States.

Break­stone’s chops will be on dis­play in sev­eral New Mex­ico con­certs, start­ing at the Taos Inn on Fri­day, Dec. 11, with Earl Sauls on bass and John Trenta­costa on drums. The trio plays the Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute Satur­day, Dec. 12. The SFAI gig is part of the jazz-con­cert se­ries be­gun by Trenta­costa in Au­gust, hosted by the in­sti­tute, and spon­sored by KSFR-FM 101.1. Sauls and the gui­tarist play as a duo on Wed­nes­day, Dec. 16, in Truth or Con­se­quences, and then Break­stone is back with the trio for a per­for­mance in Al­bu­querque at the Out­post Per­for­mance Space on Thurs­day, Dec. 17.

“This will be a re­union of sorts,” Break­stone said with en­thu­si­asm. “Earl is also from New York, and he’s some­one I’ve played with since just about the beginning. We go way back with John, to when John was on Staten Is­land, be­fore he moved to Santa Fe.”

Break­stone is known for his mel­low tone, sin­glenote play­ing style, and in­ven­tive im­pro­vi­sa­tions. And im­prov— not ba­sic gui­tar in­struc­tion— is the main fo­cus of Jazz Études.

“They called them ‘ études,’ but that just means a study, and in jazz this means a solo over a set of chords to a pretty well-known stan­dard,” Break­stone said. “So you have the études, but also you have lots of more in-depth looks at dif­fer­ent parts of the études to see what we’re do­ing melod­i­cally, what we’re do­ing with de­vel­op­ing the melody, and deal­ing with is­sues like how to pick th­ese lit­tle pas­sages and how to fin­ger them, where to play them.”

Th­ese things can be hard to get from the page alone, and the pub­lisher wisely opted to in­clude a com­pact disc on which the au­thor demon­strates all 12 études and gives dozens of mu­si­cal ex­am­ples. This book is the first in a planned se­ries of three.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween each one will be ... in the level of read­ing of the stu­dent,” Break­stone said. “Each one has 12 études, but the first is called ‘ Be­gin­ners,’ be­cause ev­ery étude reads in just one po­si­tion on the gui­tar, just one place on the neck. It’s not as easy as you might think to write a full étude, a full solo, in just one po­si­tion, be­cause in jazz, even the most ba­sic stan­dard song goes through many keys and many har­monic cen­ters. In the sec­ond book, there’s a lit­tle jump­ing around, and you get into how to move be­tween dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the gui­tar and why and when to do that. The third I wrote with no reser­va­tion. You’re go­ing to have to be able to move around the in­stru­ment to fol­low the lines of the études.

“Th­ese books will be re­ally great aids to read­ing [mu­sic]. So this is an­other in­ter­est­ing thing I have go­ing on. I went back to teach­ing three years ago, so now I have this other life with pri­vate stu­dents and the books.”

Break­stone also has a new al­bum out. No One New, his fifth record­ing for the Capri la­bel, was re­leased in Au­gust. It’s a trio ses­sion with bassist Lisle Atkin­son (who played with Nina Si­mone and Betty Carter) and drum­mer Eliot Zig­mund (Bill Evans and Gary Pea­cock) that fea­tures more of Break­stone’s pretty, im­prov-rich gui­tar work.

Two cov­ers cho­sen by Break­stone are Joe Hen­der­son’s “The Kicker” and the bal­lad “The Pea­cocks” by Jimmy Rowles. “That Rowles song is one of the most beau­ti­ful songs I’ve ever heard, and ‘The Kicker’ is re­ally in­ter­est­ing— Joe Hen­der­son’s take on the blues— and also a song that was as­so­ci­ated with Grant Green, one my fa­vorite gui­tar play­ers,” Break­stone said. His mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tions also in­clude pi­anist Barry Har­ris, the great horn play­ers Char­lie Parker and Lee Mor­gan, and gui­tarist Kenny Bur­rell (al­though when he was com­ing up, he was into Jimi Hen­drix and Frank Zappa).

Break­stone first recorded with a star-stud­ded band: sax­o­phon­ist/clar­inetist Glen Hall, pi­anist JoAnne Brac­k­een, bassist Ce­cil McBee, and drum­mer Billy Hart on Hall’s 1981 de­but The Book of the Heart. Since that time, Break­stone has led 19 al­bum ses­sions, some of which of­fered guest spots for late greats Jack McDuff, Pep­per Adams, Tommy Flana­gan, and Den­nis Ir­win as well as liv­ing mas­ter Kenny Bar­ron.

The gui­tarist has a long and jazzy re­la­tion­ship with Ja­pan. He first toured the coun­try in 1986. “I go once or twice a year,” he said. “I recorded four records over there for a Ja­panese record com­pany and de­vel­oped some­what of a fol­low­ing. It’s a very good au­di­ence; it’s a beau­ti­ful coun­try; and there are many places to play. They’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in jazz, and the peo­ple have a love for cul­ture. When you travel there, you see groups from Ja­maica and African groups and groups from Rus­sia. They seem to have a very high re­gard for other cul­tures.”

Break­stone, who com­poses songs on the gui­tar, of­fers five orig­i­nals on his new disc. It opens with his “Over-Done,” a tune based on the har­mony to Dizzy Gille­spie’s “Be­bop.” “Usu­ally I write songs quickly,” he said, “but on this one I kept com­ing back to it for over a week, and fi­nally, when it was done, I wrote on the page, ‘ Over-Done.’ It wasn’t re­ally a ti­tle.”

An­other Break­stone song on No One New that bears a ref­er­en­tially ob­scure ti­tle is “The Un­known One.” “Peo­ple have asked me if that means God or what­ever, but it’s just a song,” Break­stone said. “I was looking through my note­books be­fore we did the record­ing, and I found a song I had writ­ten in France a few years ago, and I thought it was nice. It was fully writ­ten. I’m al­ways writ­ing, com­pos­ing and tran­scrib­ing, and com­ing up with lit­tle phrases. That’s ex­actly why be­ing able to write mu­sic, rather than just be­ing able to read tab­la­ture, is so im­por­tant. The whole idea of writ­ing mu­sic is to have a way to hand some­thing to other peo­ple so they can play it, and it’s also for us, to write down an idea or a song, and you can come back to it years later, and you know ex­actly what it was.”

Joshua Break­stone

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