Archive for the Players Category

ShortRiffs — April 2017

Posted in Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the April issue of ShortRiffs! I hope everyone out there is doing well and getting his or her guitar thang on! I have a couple of items for this month, including the news of Allan Holdsworth’s passing. As always, thank you for your continued patronage!

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Allan Holdsworth Legendary British shred king and all-around influential modern guitar hero passed away at age 70. He came on the scene in the 70s, playing with bands like Soft Machine and Tony Williams Lifetime and from the beginning it was obvious that his unorthodox, self-taught style was in a league of its own. He cited John Coltrane as his main influence and I think you can hear (and see) that in the clip above, or pretty much any Holdsworth performance. He really came into his own in the 1980s and it didn’t hurt that big-time players like Edward Van Halen and Frank Zappa sang his praises. Edward cited Holdsworth as an influence on solos like Fair Warning‘s Push Comes to Shove. You can read more about the Van Halen/Holdsworth relationship here.

While Allan never achieved wide fame and fortune, he kept true to his ideals as an artist and was a major influence on many a guitarist over the years. His credo was always about live musical excellence as he said in 1987: My music is written with one goal in mind: to improvise. It’s like explaining a great story in words, but without words, much faster than you could with words. It’s like a direct line of instantaneous communication where you don’t have to wait for the end.” This awesome talent and commitment he had for the guitar life is definitely what prompted his fans to come up with 6X the amount needed for his Crowdfunded Funeral Campaign in just 3 days! Pretty sad we live in a world where a virtuoso of his caliber could be in such rough financial shape, but there it is. There are many great live videos on YouTube, as well as some instruction stuff and it’s worth checking out. RIP to a great guitarist and musician!

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I had an opportunity to peruse Bill Wyman’s book Rolling with the Stones recently. Not only was Bill the bass player for the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World for 30 years, he was also a meticulous diarist, so the book is jam-packed full of fun and interesting facts and anecdotes. Well worth the price if you have been thinking about picking it up! One item that really caught my eye as I leafed through it was this quote in reference to the Gimme Shelter movie.

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I have never seen this before (which is surprising) but it actually confirms quite a bit about what I wrote in the post on the movie a few years ago. Attributed to Albert Maysles, this quote is from March of 1970, 4 months after the notorious Altamont concert. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of two well-known 60s counterculture movies: Easy Rider, a Peter Fonda-imagined scenario of “a modern Western, involving two bikers traveling around the country and eventually getting shot by hillbillies” and the Maysles reactive documentary of the Rolling Stones on their 1969 American tour. The obvious difference between the two is that an imagined scenario is not factual in the sense that most people define it, while the Rolling Stones tour of 1969 actually happened. So what was Maysles implying by this quote? Did the directors use the Easy Rider scenario as a framework for how the movie would handle the Altamont concert? Was this a commentary on the state of affairs of 1969 United States of America? Typical movie promotion?

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As I noted originally, it is important to realize that the Altamont concert that everyone got came about in part because of a dispute over film rights. The locale had to be moved at the last minute and that was partially the reason for how the Stones “found” America or why there was an “Easy Rider” angle in the first place. The Maysles quote equates the real violence, chaos and hippie bad vibes of Gimme Shelter with the scripted violence, chaos and bad vibes of Easy Rider, but a better-organized concert (that may or may not have included a film) might have gone off without a hitch and there would’ve been no tragedy to document and a different America to find. (If you are looking for a modern equivalent, look no further than the FYRE Festival). Gimme Shelter would have just been a concert movie with some backstage and studio moments with the band. Here is a quote from an excellent piece by film guru Godfrey Cheshire:

If the Maysles brothers are vulnerable to any charge, it’s that Gimme Shelter includes several scenes of Stones lawyer Melvin Belli (who had defended Jack Ruby for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald) and various management types negotiating the site of the concert yet never mentions its own influence on the events it chronicles. — emphasis mine

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So why I bring this up again is that I think it’s important to view this whole thing as two things; the Altamont concert (1) and, Gimme Shelter, the movie (2). They are not the same thing even though they have been interpreted as such. A similar idea might be Alfred Korzybski‘s the map is not the territory idea. Over the course of the last almost 50 years the Alamont concert has become synonymous with the downfall of the Love Generation. I recently read two items online that alluded to this well-accepted Bye Bye American Pie idea. However, the intention of my original post was that 1) some of what we understand about Alamont from Gimme Shelter and other sources is wrong; 2) the movie did not explore any of the complicated relationships that existed in the Bay Area counterculture; and 3) the counterculture was well on its way to imploding long before the Stones left for the ’69 tour. The fact that people still give much more weight to the event as the problem and not a manifestation of something that was already collapsing speaks not only to the power of the film, but also to it’s inadequacy. There were crucial elements left out of the narrative which make it’s standing as some kind of explanation for what went wrong in the late 60s lacking because (as Cheshire says above) of what it neglects to mention. We also will never know what visuals were not spliced into the finished reel. I’m not trying to go all Grassy Knoll Zapruder Film on this topic but the fact is no one who draws these huge conclusions about what Altamont MEANS was in the first 50 rows or backstage at the concert. Those conclusions have been drawn from this movie or from other people’s conclusions or the commonly-accepted conclusions drawn from this movie. That it might have been the desire of the film makers to make a definitive piece of 60s cinema (maybe or maybe not) in the vein of Easy Rider is understandable; that is what artists do. The problem occurs when the audience and the culture accepts the art as reality, which it isn’t. Gimme Shelter sort of aspires to reality, and many people accept it as reality, but at the end of the day, it’s only a movie.

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Here’s something else from the writing angle that I stumbled on while surfing: rockcritics.com, a (obviously) rock critic website that happens to include many former writers from Guitar Player Magazine. Good stuff — all of it! Lots of great reading and many clickable links! As I was reading through Jas Obrecht‘s entry I see that he has a new book coming out called Talking Guitar and it looks splendiferous! I always like Jas’s writing and remember many of his interviews vividly. He was the first guy to sit down with Edward Van Halen on his first assignment (after Pat Travers blew him off!). But he has also interviewed many others over the years and he always asked the right kind of questions and understood what people like me (and many others) out there wanted to know. In his twenty-year Guitar Player career he always delivered, so I think this book will be great! When I went out and did my own interviewing for a few years I know I was heavily influenced by what I read in the pages of Guitar Player. I was always determined to find out the choicest guitar player nuggets my subject could provide because that is what I wanted to hear and I knew that is what the readers wanted to read. I feel I owe a bit of a debt to guys like Jas and the others because they really showed us how it is done and done well, and I try to maintain those standards even today with this blog project. There is some really entertaining and informative writing at the critics site so have a looksee!

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Finally, a musical appreciation of sorts. I recently found a cassette of The Cars first album I’ve had forever. Great stuff. Always loved it. Back in the 80s I worked at a store in Soho and Cars’ guitarist Elliot Easton lived on the same block. I used to see him walking around a lot. We never had any involved conversations, just nodded or said “hey”. He was always friendly and pleasant, which was a rare commodity in 1980s New York.

The Cars had lots of great songwriting, fine ensemble playing and vocals and plenty of compact brillanté guitar. (Here is a great retrospective from Elliot). Easton was and is one of rock’s preeminent lefty guitarists and he comes from what I think of as the George Harrison School (he even quotes licks from I Will on My Best Friend’s Girl); use the solos and guitar parts to create either a song within a song or cool little counterpoint melodies. Fine stuff too, always very inventive. Plus, he and Ric Ocasek had lots of really cool guitars — they even made Dean Guitars look smart and respectable!

The store I worked in was pretty hip and it attracted a lot of celebrities. One afternoon Ric Ocasek came in with his girlfriend/wife, Paulina Porizkova. He stood at the door looking very ill at ease while she shopped. It was a bit funny because he is really tall and looks like Ric Ocasek. There are a lot of celebrities who can blend in, women without the outfit and make-up especially. I used to walk by famous people in Soho all of the time without doing a double-take. But you couldn’t miss Ric. He looked like he really didn’t like being there, so I never bothered him, but he kind of looks like that all of the time. Maybe he really enjoyed the place. Whatever. For ten years he, Elliot and the rest of the band provided a great soundtrack to a generation of people and all of that music still holds up. It was simultaneously familiar and futuristic in a very New Wave way and I can count many great memories while The Cars music was playing on the radio. Good Times!

ShortRiffs — March 2017

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the March issue of ShortRiffs! Winter is almost over and Spring has sprung…sometimes. As always, there is some guitar-related stuff in the news, including some sad stories for us older folks. But it’s to be expected… I guess. Time keeps on slippin’ into the future and all that.

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CHUCK BERRY One of the founding fathers of rock and roll has died at the age of 90. What a life! What a legacy! There will never be another like him you can be sure of that. Anyone who has ever read his autobio or seen Hail Hail Rock and Roll knows what an iconoclastic character Chuck was; a driven, intelligent and very dangerous guy! It’s not hyperbole to say that pretty much every guitar player who came after owes some debt to Chuck’s jazzy, rocking guitar style. This was explored and best explained by none other than Eric Clapton in the Hail Hail movie. The patented Chuck Berry double-stops, slurs and bluesy bends formed the basis for many an early fledgling guitar player and on certain songs or in certain situations they actually sound better than other guitar options. While Chuck didn’t invent any of this technique, he certainly popularized and took it out to the mainstream and sold it well. Who else from the early days of rock and roll casts as long a shadow? Chuck’s style and music continue to be an influence on countless rock and rollers all over the globe. He’s the guy who launched 5 million bands, easily. Interestingly, he has said that “rock and roll paid the bills but his heart was in the big band era”. This is something I have alluded to in a number of posts on this blog: The big band era never gets the credit it deserves for its influence on the rock and rollers who came along in the 1950s, and then everything else that followed.

But Chuck Berry was much more than a singing guitar-slinger. He was a songwriter par excellence and his music was quintessentially 1950s post-war America; hot cars, juke joints, pretty girls, hamburgers, dancing, wide open highways, falling in love, and rock and roll. It was the music of a country that had plenty to offer and was a testament to the belief (especially at the time) that there was no greater place on earth. That’s what I see in all of Chuck’s performances and hear in his music, even the difficult personal relationship music. As long as life gives me the opportunity, I will make something of it! That can-do attitude, immense natural scope, and awesome lifestyle possibilities that made America the envy of the world really helped create the soundtrack we all know as rock and roll and nobody personified, enunciated and delivered it better than Mr. Berry. In time many other entertainers, including Brian Wilson, Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney would expand on the very fertile ground that Chuck had tilled to create their own vision and version of the land of dreams and opportunity, but they all acknowledged the debt they owed to the original rock and roll Shakespeare! I am not unhappy that Chuck has left the building though the world is much poorer without him. Chuck always did what Chuck wanted to do when Chuck wanted to do it. If he is gone now, it’s because that is what he wanted and who am I to question what Chuck wanted? Long Live the King!

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Speaking of dreams and opportunities — Back in this post on Jimi Hendrix, I mentioned an old book in my possession, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. This book, Rock Dreams, one of the campiest and most far-out books ever done on the subject of rock and roll, has been in my possession for just as long. I recently found it at the bottom of a closet full of stuff. The book was written by Nik Cohn and illustrated lovingly, controversially and very gay-ly (for the time) by Guy Peellaert, an artist and illustrator probably best known for the David Bowie Diamond Dogs and The Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock and Roll album covers. The book had been put together the year before (1973) and according to Wikipedia it reportedly sold a million copies after it was published the following year. The book consisted of Peelaert’s visual illustrations which celebrated and exaggerated the rebel heritage of pop music and, particularly, rock and roll, with commentary by Cohn. Many of the original artworks were bought by actor Jack Nicholson. While the exaggeration is full-blown in some slides (as only the 1970s could be) the compositions and settings of some of the artists are really good. They transmit all of the visceral power that rock and roll promised and sometimes, delivered on. There are pics all over the web of this book, and it’s still available if you want to get your inner Rebel Rebel on!

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If you missed it, here is my review of the Django a Go Go concert that was held at the beginning of March at Carnegie Hall. My girlfriend and I had a magnificent time and we saw Stochelo Rosenberg (and Al Di Meola, Stephane Wrembel and many other great musicians)! It was totally a blast and we got our money’s worth of almost 3 hours of great guitar entertainment. Originally it was going to be part of the March ShortRiffs, but I go into a lot of detail. Check it out!

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Brian Setzer won Vintage Guitar Magazine Featured Artist of the Year. John Jorgenson came in right behind him in the same category. Both players stay incredibly busy and are at the top of the guitar-playing game so it’s great to see they are recognized! Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot tour is happening in the USA in June of this year.

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Unfortunately, according to his wife, Glen Campbell, who I wrote about here, has now lost the ability to play guitar because of his Alzheimer’s condition. While everyone knew this was coming, it is a bummer and as someone who saw a loved one die of a degenerative brain illness I can relate to the pain and frustration of the family and loved ones, and, of course, Mr. Campbell himself. I only hope that until the end he remains somewhat cognizant of how important he and his music were to so many people for so many years. As a guitar player, he was just fantastic and some of his songs are very memorable moments in the American pop song lexicon.

Django a Go Go 2017

Posted in Education, Music Business, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by theguitarcave

What an EVENING! As I mentioned last month, I was psyched for this concert and I can say now that I had a fantastic time at Django a Go Go and saw some GREAT live Gypsy Jazz in one of the best venues in the world (Carnegie Hall)! It seems the accompanying bandcamp and smaller concerts out in Maplewood, New Jersey were also well-attended and a roaring success. While talking about it from the stage, organizer Stephane Wrembel described the whole idea as “CRAZY”, but it worked out beautifully. Stephane has been playing/promoting these concerts since 2004 so he is definitely adept at pulling all of the necessary elements together and had all of the right kind of help. Gypsy Jazz is more popular than ever in New York City!

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My girlfriend and I arrived at Carnegie Hall, had a nice glass of wine, checked out some of the history in the place at the museum and then made our way to our seats at about 7:30. Together we have seen some great shows at all of the big venues in New York over the years, but neither of us had ever been to Carnegie Hall. What a great place. So much history and a part of a very different time, yet it remains so functional in the modern era. The view from our seats was awesome — completely unobstructed, which is just what I was going for. While I’ve seen people say that the show was sold out, that isn’t completely true. Our area of the balcony was not, which was GREAT! We could really stretch out and enjoy the show and the others who were around us were cool and likewise had plenty of room. I knew the sound would be amazing. It’s Carnegie Hall! While the above pic might make it seem like the 2nd balcony is too far away, it really wasn’t. As I have mentioned on this blog in the past: it was Django Reinhardt’s 1953 version of Night and Day, this video of Stochelo Rosenberg and seeing Stephane Wrembel live that inspired me to learn Gypsy Jazz. I’ve seen Stephane in many incarnations over the years, but have never seen Stochelo. I have also never seen Al Di Meola live and so this was what I was psyched for going into the concert.

Stephane started the show to great cheers from the hometown crowd and after acknowledging the importance of the night and his thanks to the fans, began the show solo with his sublime version of Django’s Improvisation #1. His band joined him on the next tune, the very kinetic original number, Prometheus. As always, Stephane’s playing was brilliant and his band was great. They totally nailed the tunes and then provided great backup for everything else over the course of the evening. Nick Driscoll joined in on saxophone for a great Coltrane-type version of Django’s Troublant Bolero. Totally cool. There was some singing from David Gastine who did a Jean Sablon tune and then related that his dream had always been to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads at Carnegie Hall. Hmm. Not what one would expect at this show, but he nailed it, had people singing along (including us for a chorus [blame the wine]) and got a big ovation for a job well done. Stephane also played Bistro Fada, his very well-known theme for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris movie. Then they were joined by guitarist Larry Keel who played some serious Doc Watson country style guitar. The show reminded me of an old-time variety show or maybe Prairie Home Companion. Stephane explained that this has always been the theme behind this concert; bring many divergent styles and musicians together and make it happen!

Then it was time for Stochelo Rosenberg and he did not disappoint. He was CHARGED! He explained before starting that he hadn’t been to Carnegie Hall since 1993 when he was invited by the great Stephane Grappelli. Twenty-four years later he returned thanks to another Stephane and completely burned through his original, modern Gypsy Jazz classic, For Sephora. To see and hear him play this song live was an incredible experience. Everything I wrote about in this post regarding Stochelo’s incredible technique; his strength, touch, tone, and articulation was on full display. Even the other musicians onstage were just shaking their heads as he blazed through 4 choruses of the tune. It was brilliant! It was awesome! They followed up with a Django-era classic, Coquette that also sounded great! I could see everything Stochelo was doing and he was very animated and having a good time, which is a bit unusual for him. Usually he lets his hands do all the moving. Al Di Meola came out next and related that he too had played the hall 42 years ago with Chick Corea and also hadn’t been back since. He launched into a very dramatic classically-inspired solo piece that went through many movements before coming to a big climactic ending and then the ensemble finished with a blazing version of Indifference. During this tune, Stochelo, Al, and Stephane did all kinds of tag-team soloing and comping that was a prelude of the great things that awaited us in the second set. It was a pretty amazing first set and the show had already run more than an hour and a half. And it only got better!

After a short intermission, Stephane, Stochelo, and Al came out alone and Stephane related before they began how influential the Friday Night in San Francisco recording of Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin from 1981 was to him and to many guitarists he knew. (It was to me too). I was expecting they might do this and as soon as I saw the three of them come out I knew they would! They launched into Mediterranean Sundance and it was EPIC! No, really, it was so good they all hugged at the end of the 12-15 minutes worth of awesome playing. I am not even going to describe how epic it was, but the playing from all three was magnificent! They followed it immediately with a great version of Chick Corea’s Spain joined by Keel and bass player Ari Folman-Cohen. Crazy good. For me everything that had happened between when Stochelo appeared and the end of Spain alone was worth the price of admission. But there was more! A great swinging version of Django-era Georgia on My Mind, with Stochelo playing all of Django’s brilliant lines and chordal fills and It Don’t Mean a Thing with sublime Freddy Taylor-type vocals on both by Ryan Montbleau. Then there was a great guitar hero version of Nuages (with a solo intro by Stochelo to open) that also featured some more great sax from Nick Driscoll. Finally, there was the big rave-up at the end with the Gypsy Jazz anthem, Minor Swing that included the great Paulus Shafer and Stephane’s student, Sara L’Abriola, that succeeded in bringing down the house!

The week after the concert I saw this page of the program (didn’t look at it the night of) and this review from Downbeat and both show a program I totally don’t remember in spots, but I think I’m remembering correctly. I know that Coquette was played because Stephane briefly introduced it as a song Django wrote (which he didn’t) and that had Stochelo shaking his head no (because he didn’t) while if they had played Djangology, that would have been true, since that is a Django Reinhardt composition. Minor Blues was definitely not played and neither was Dark Eyes and if Double Jeu was played it was worked in as a part of Indifference because I know Double Jeu from that awesome Romane/Stochelo Rosenberg DVD that I have raved about on this blog a number of times. Anyhow, I’m sure there had to be some alterations and spontaneity and that is what jazz is all about!

Finally, as I wrote here, I lost my mother almost a year ago to the day of this concert. She was always my Number 1 musical supporter and over the years I was able to take her to many different cultural events in NYC, which she always enjoyed. We never saw anything at Carnegie Hall though, but I like to think she was with me for this great night of music. My girlfriend lost her father about six months ago. He lived to the ripe old age of 94 and while that is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, the fact that he was stationed on Iwo Jima with the Japanese army when he was but a lad of 22 makes it all the more amazing. He was wounded in an air raid and was evacuated from the island before the final American assault. One of the bullets that struck him remained in his leg for his entire life. He passed away just after I bought tickets for Django a Go Go and bequeathed the field glasses from the his army days to his daughter to use for the concert. We were able to get up close and personal to some of the action on stage and that was great! After all of these years, and so many miles, they still work and he would’ve appreciated that they were put to such good use. Swords into plowshares and all of that. I felt very fortunate to have been a part of this evening with so much great music and great playing by all of the musicians. Of course, it was a monumental night on a personal level for me to see Stochelo! I am also glad that Stephane took it all on and set up such a great program of events and hope to see more in the future!

ShortRiffs — February 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, Playing, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the February issue of ShortRiffs! This is the second consecutive month of the series and I think this idea is going to work out pretty well. There is no shortage of music news over the course of the average month and there is also the occasional personal item that I hope at least a few people out there will find interesting and/or informative. So, let’s get to it!

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Unfortunately, the biggest news of the month is not good news — Guitar Icon and Certified Master Larry Coryell passed away in his sleep a few days ago at the age of 73. He had just played a couple of shows in New York City and was planning on having a pretty busy year of work according to this obituary/tribute in Guitar World. While he was known as the Godfather of Fusion, Coryell was comfortable playing any style and adapting the feeling and groove of all types of music into one seamless bag of awesomeness. His long and journeying career began in the 1960s and over the years he moved easily through rock, psychedelic, jazz, fusion, latin, classical and even operatic styles of music. He worked with such greats as Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Ron Carter, Chet Baker and many others. Back in 2011 I shared in this post, Larry’s lesson on the Jazz minor scale and how he applied it in various situations within the standard Stella By Starlight. Since then this has been a popular post and if you have never seen it, I am sure it could add a dimension to your playing that you may not know existed. There are other lessons with Larry on YouTube and I’ve seen them all! Definitely worth the time spent. A brilliant artist and teacher and by all accounts a great guy too!
Travel well, Maestro!.

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As I related last month a new piece of equipment I had just purchased, the Audio-Technica Pro70 mic, stopped working suddenly at a gig in December. Well the company has repaired and returned the mic and I played it at home for a few hours yesterday and no problem! I really like how it sounds and at some point will record a demo video. At the moment (See below) I live in a construction zone and it is almost impossible to sync up quiet time and guitar recording. That is why GuitarSong #6 is also delayed. Soon! Anyhow, the outside housing of the Pro70 had to be replaced so it was obviously faulty somehow. It does comes with a two year warranty so I hope I get some pain-free, great-sounding use out of it. HURRAH to Audio-Technica for a great job of customer service! Another set of videos that was real influential to me purchasing this is below — Romane and Stochelo Rosenberg playing back in the early 2000s. I just watched my disc of this performance again recently. I love these two guys together! Of course they could play through a tin cup/string combination and it would sound good, but I like they are using these mics! My friend and I play this tune (For Wes) together and it’s always a gas! Demanding to play at tempo, but great fun at the same time.

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Speaking of Stochelo Rosenberg — in less than a month I will behold his awesomeness in person at Carnegie Hall. I am so psyched! I have been waiting a long time for this! The presentation, for Django a Gogo 2017, was organized by the great Stephane Wrembel and also includes Al Di Meola! This is going to be awesome! For people who want to go to guitar camp, there is almost a week of classes scheduled with a bunch of great players. Hopefully, all will go well so this will be an annual event. It looks like there are still a whole lot of seats available and while the weather on the East Coast has been verifiably wacky this year (it was just 60 degrees one day with almost a foot of snow the follow day) there aren’t any forecasts of impending big storms. So that’s good! You can all be sure there will be a review of the concert in next month’s ShortRiffs.

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Eddie Van Halen made news as part of a program that gives disadvantaged kids musical instruments. In this clip he stresses the importance of music and having music education be a part of everyone’s schooling. I DEFINITELY AGREE! EVH donated 75 guitars from his personal collection to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which delivers almost 2,000 instruments to low-income schools every year. A great foundation and well done Mr. Van Halen!

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The drain pipes on several blocks in my neighborhood have been replaced recently. The crews doing the work are total pros and they really do have what is a pretty large-scope operation down to a science, but it’s been a very noisy couple of months with frequent interruptions of heat and hot water. Hey, that’s New York! Supposedly these excavated pipes are almost one-hundred years old, but I dunno about that. They look like they are in pretty good shape to have been put in place in 1916. It is pretty amazing to think how much has happened with the world in the space of time that these pipes served their usefulness. For example, my girlfriend’s block is home to the boyhood address of notorious New York gangster and the Godfather of Organized Crime, Charles “Lucky” Luciano. He would’ve still been residing on the block as a teen when these pipes went in. According to legend he and one of his partners, Meyer Lansky, used to meet around the corner and hash out plans in DeRobertis Caffe, which sadly is now closed. Over the years there were other allegations and a few busts involving Mob activity at DeRobertis. How many canolis did they serve over the course of 110 years and how many gallons of stuff was carried through these pipes in roughly the same amount of time? Mind boggling! Incidentally, John Travolta has been around filming for the upcoming biopic on John Gotti, whose crew had a big presence in the neighborhood back in the late 70s and early 80s. John as the Dapper Don…never would’ve thought it.

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Thanks to my friend and neighbor Tom, I was able to check out Jimmy Page…by Jimmy Page. ZOSO baby! As always, anything Jimmy Page puts together, especially if it has anything to do with Led Zeppelin, you know the final product is going to be fantastically well done! While I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, I did peruse several chapters and came to the conclusion that the book is great and the pictures alone are totally worth the price of admission! There are several pics that I had never seen before. Like this one:

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There are a few of these coffee-table type books out there that I have had a chance to check out over the past month and I will be talking about and showing stuff from them in the future. hugoboss_pageLed Zeppelin was obviously a monstrously influential band that I have written about a few times over the years. I’ve also reviewed the Orange Album in the right column on the main page of the blog. As a matter of fact, the very first post on The Guitar Cave had Jimmy as the subject matter. He has definitely earned the title of Guitar Hero and all of the accolades that have come his way. If you were considering picking this book up, I would say Go For It! There are almost 300 reviews on Amazon and the book gets a perfect 5 star rating. That’s pretty impressive ladies and gentlemen!

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Coming very soon GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.

Christmas Time is Here — Part II

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

So in Part I of Christmas Time is Here I briefly described some of the history of Christmas carols and popular holiday songs with the idea in mind that as musicians we are sometimes called to play them and shouldn’t shy away from playing them or enjoying the rich history and tradition they symbolize. In this post I will cover actually moving on to making these songs a part of repertoire. The first step in that direction is, of course, deciding on, and building up an arrangement of a song that you like, that works with your abilities as a musician, and will fit the performance you are going to give. This can be an arrangement you learn or one you adapt from either a vocal or instrumental arrangement that is already out there. Every musical number I do, Christmas song or not, even if it is based on someone’s version of a song, I like to change it a little bit or add something to it. That is just a way of personalizing the music or performance and jazz musicians especially do this all of the time.

If you are inclined to a the classic era of Big Band and vocal performances, you can never go wrong with any of the masters from the Golden Age of jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosby to name a few. Their interpretations of holiday music are still heard regularly today — I heard Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) in 3 different stores during the buildup to 12/25 this year. The arrangements are usually pretty involved but they are also accessible and can be very inspiring in what you add to the song or (if you also sing) how your vocal arrangement will sound.

Speaking of Chestnuts and roasting on an open fire… We’ve all heard Nat King Cole or someone else sing this song, but how many people have actually seen a chestnut? Have you ever wondered about that? There was a time when chestnut trees were almost 25% of all hardwood stock in some areas of North America and recipes for everything from roasted chestnuts to chestnuts and sausages were typical fare. But a blight, introduced by planting a strain of Asian chestnuts in Long Island, NY in 1904 wiped out literally billions of trees. That’s right, Billions! It’s estimated there are only a few dozen pre-blight trees still alive in North America today and, of course, hardly anyone eats chestnuts during the holidays and almost all of the chestnuts that are eaten have to be imported. By the time The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) was written in 1944, most of the nation’s chestnut tree stock had already been wiped out. What an ecological nightmare! The things I learn blogging sometimes.

Many great instrumentalists from the 40s, 50s and 60s made holiday albums: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, George Shearing, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd all made Christmas albums. So did swinging 60s style artists like Herb Albert, and so have newer jazzy/poppy superstars like Wynton Marsalis, Diane Krall and Nancy Wilson. There are literally weeks worth of instrumental and mood-type Christmas music on YouTube and possibly something on one of these albums could inspire you in a certain direction.

Some people may be more inclined to the rock and roll side of things but keep in mind that the lines of where Golden Classics leave off and rock and roll begins is a fine one indeed. Elvis Presley recorded a whole bunch of Christmas music and his tastes range from gospel, to rock and roll to straight pop. His interpretations of the classics (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Town of Bethlehem) are as good as anyone’s because his gospel background and religious convictions give such sacred songs a depth that many secular vocalists just don’t do as well. It’s very easy to reduce a whole lot of the religious holiday music to camp and sentimentality, but Elvis never does this. He also recorded the definitive version of Blue Christmas. On the original version his vocals are awesome and the arrangement, including the background vocals by The Jordanaires, was inspiring and musically groundbreaking for the time. Was this the first rock and roll Christmas Song? Hmm. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I will chime in. Of course there was a whole lot of rock and roll Christmas after 1957 including: Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Phil Spector’s Christmas (including The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, which is also a classic), The Beatles, who released lots of Christmas craziness through their fan club and then later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s So This Is Christmas and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, both of which still get HEAVY airplay during the season. They are modern standards for sure. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also has a modern standard with his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has also been covered by everyone from Mariah to Bieber. José Feliciano, who I wrote about here, has the awesome Felice Navidad song that still gets yearly airplay and the recently-departed George Michael had a big 80s classic hit with the holiday favorite Last Christmas. Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to catch the Johnny Cash Christmas show when it rolled through New York City. That was a lot of fun. Brian Setzer has had a Christmas show/revue for years and he has covered a whole ton of great songs. Like this one:

So, depending on your preferred style of music, you can adapt and arrange any song you see fit and spice up everything from musical performances to family gatherings. Christmas songs, carols and melodies lend themselves to a wide variety of possibilities; they can have a very bare bones arrangement that you may sing along with, or they also can be turned into an instrumental mind-blower like what the always amazing Ted Greene does below. When I was in a punk band we used to do a twisted, Black Sabbath kind of take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. When I got old and settled down, Christmas Time is Here was the first Christmas song I learned to play as a solo improviser and I have played it every year since and performed it at numerous gigs. This past year I worked up an arrangement that was based on The Ventures version of Sleigh Ride and tweaked it to work with gypsy jazz, rehearsed a couple times with the fellows, and away we went at a gig 4 days before Christmas. It was one of the best songs of the gig(!) even though no one had either a vibrato bar or copious amounts of delay since we were playing amplified acoustic. As always: If you are playing the songs instrumentally MAKE SURE you can play the melody without screwing it up! That means going over it a bunch of times. You should be able to play it 3-5 times in a row without a mistake. If you can’t, you will probably fudge it at the gig or in front of people. So beware!

There are about 7-8 songs that I can play pretty well solo and I start getting them together in the fall and play them through the season. Christmas songs are great vehicles for learning to play in an unaccompanied style (especially if you are new to unaccompanied playing), because the melodies are so well-known and the arrangement you can begin with can be very simple, but still very effective. As always take it slow and work your way through it a couple bars at a time. Since most songs do not have many different parts or modulations (unless you add them, which you can certainly do!) you will find that they will come together pretty quickly. Learning to play and perform these tunes is also a great test of what you can add to the performance every time you play it once you become comfortable improvising with yourself. I blew off a version of White Christmas while a few of us were sitting around one day in December and it sounded pretty flippin’ good! If you’re comfortable with the arrangement and comfortable improvising (throwing in some wacky chords and riff choices) you can turn the song into a really special and personal thing…and it can be a little bit different every time! So maybe give that a go later on in the year. Here is a list of jazzy, snazzy solo guitar instruction to get you started. If you’re not up to that yet, try these. You will become part of a long and very storied and important tradition that has involved the guitar and other string instruments for the better part of a millennium. Even if you play in a punk or metal band — everyone likes Christmas songs if you play them well and it’s November or December. Whatever you do, don’t even try this in July man!