Gypsy Jazz

The Death of the Electric Guitar (Slight Return)

Last summer I wrote this fine article on the DEATH OF THE ELECTRIC GUITAR because it was a terrifying, tumultuously timely story, affecting every guitarist in the land, right? Well, kind of, sort of, I guess. I wasn’t sure then, I’m less sure now. Would you like to know my thought process and the various bits of info I have gathered on the subject? Well, you might want to read the original article first, but if you already have (or in your head said “Go eff yourself, I don’t need to do that!”) away we go:

In the original article I tried to point out that many of these articles want to go all DOOMPORN as if the end of a few companies equals the end of rock and roll, the end of music…or the end of the world! It begs the question: Will Alex Jones be commenting on this issue at some point in the near future? Will the collapse lead to the Zombie hordes taking over or everyone living like the Road Warrior? I don’t think Guitar Center going out of business (if that happens) will lead to the end of the world, but WHAT IF? Can’t we just go back to the days when millions of dudes “rocked out” and everybody listened to the cutting-edge, magically sublime sound that was Warrant? I wish we could, but there is lots to talk about, like…

The other issue(s) that I explored rather humorously in the original post were a) how lack of “live” heroes equaled huge loss in revenues for the guitar industry (so let’s use holograms), and b) how Guitar Center and that model of business never resonated with me and finally c) maybe the finance guys and the people writing these articles are kind of full of poop. Well I’ve got new information man…certain things has come to light… In just the past few months there have been articles further detailing the plight of Gibson and Guitar Center. On May 1st Gibson filed for bankruptcy protection, which includes:

The change in control will give noteholders equity in a new company, replacing stockholders including Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz, who owns 36 percent of the company, according to the filing. Those noteholders include Silver Point Capital, Melody Capital Partners LP, and funds affiliated with KKR Credit Advisors. Juszkiewicz and company president David Berryman will continue with the company upon emergence from Chapter 11 “to facilitate a smooth transition during this change of control transaction and to support the Company in realizing future value from its core business,” according to the announcement.

Doesn’t the language in that paragraph make you want to staple your face to your jacket lapel? Me, I’m to-ta-lly convinced turning Gibson Guitar over to companies named stuff like Silver Point Capital is just going to make everything crackerjack okay-fine. I’m not the most brilliant financial mind going, but according to Wikipedia, current CEO of Gibson Brands Henry Juszkiewicz , “acquired Gibson in 1986 for $5m USD with Gary A. Zebrowski and David H. Berryman” and now given that they are looking at about 500 million in debt, I’m going to have to say that financial mismanagement could maybe, probably, be an issue. Either that or somebody sprang for WAAY too many pizza lunches and took WAAY too many cabs to work. Also, as of 6/23/18 this was posted on his Wikipage: Juszkiewicz poor management of Gibson has caused a steady decline in the company, eventually leading to the company filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of 2018. (Holy Glass Ceiling Batman!). Then… there is the Guitar Center saga. A few years ago, Bain Capital (you know that name because Mitt Romney), invested heavily in Guitar Center and they also invested heavily in Toys R Us…that iconic toy brand that just closed all 730 of it’s domestic stores.

WHOOOPS!

In this article, titled Bain Capital Sees Three Investments Stumble, we see what is typically called…I think, bullshit? Right? Right? Because having one company that you are heavily invested in close ALL of its domestic stores sounds more like a full-on face-plant, not a… “stumble”. The other company, Guitar Center, is currently “stumbling” with one billion dollars in debt. *Breathtaking*. Of course Gibson and Guitar Center’s fortunes are intertwined and both companies need people to buy, buy, buy guitars if they are going to reduce their debt loads. So, while a lower number of people buying Gibon guitars at Guitar Center is not a good sign in general, it’s an even worse sign now…because DEBT.

But, of course, the finance guys never admit they messed up. Slow sales is all your going to hear and that isn’t any surprise. Another factor is there are a lot of old people involved in the conversation and you know Old People — They are ANNOYING! Back in the day they were easy to avoid; you didn’t visit except on Thanksgiving. But now old people in the form of so called “music gurus” are weighing in on the fortunes of these companies and it’s a whole lot of LOL. Are these guys genuinely clueless, too old to keep up, or are they full of it because they are heavily invested in the industry mantra that it wasn’t financial mismanagement… it was the lack of new guitar heroes? Let’s go to some quotes and you be the judge:

I would be hard-pressed to name any new ones,” (guitar heroes) George Gruhn, owner of the Gruhn Guitars shop in Nashville, told the Daily News. “You’ve got Joe Bonamassa who is a great player. But he isn’t selling as many guitars as the other big time heroes. And Eric Clapton is arthritic. He’s having difficulty playing and is retiring from touring.”

Gruhn was quoted in my original article and he seems to be the go-to guy for all of these articles. Question: Why mention Clapton? He is 73 years old. People who are 73 shouldn’t be expected to drive youth trends and young people are not going to emulate 73 year olds in 2018. This is not rocket surgery. Personally, I don’t believe Eric Clapton “sold” a lot of guitars to players from the late-80s until now just like I don’t believe Lou Reed sold very many Shure microphones, even though here is an ad that features him trying to do just that. Speaking of Lou, did you know he had a mullet at one point? I had kind of forgotten that. That is a mighty fine mullet. Can’t we just return to the good old days of Lou Reed: The Mullet Years? Actually, no we can’t because George has more to say: Here is another quote from George that makes you wonder if he ever heard the term “cognitive-dissonance”:

Baby boomers are the best customers I’ve ever had. They’ve driven a lot of the guitar trends, but they are aging and many of them are downsizing their guitar collections,” Gruhn added. “This doesn’t mean that guitar sales are dying, but instrument sales in general are under stress.”

He continues:

Gruhn acknowledged that the demand for both acoustic and electric instruments has fallen. “I think the guitar market was built up into a bubble at a pace that was unsustainable,” he said. “It’s leveled off to something that reflects more normalcy. Factories that were designed to produce 100,000 instruments a year may now find that their demand has dropped to 75,000, and that’s a problem because now you have higher overhead.”

Not so fast says Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender Instruments:

Sales of fretted instruments are in great shape and Fender’s electric guitar and amp revenues have been steadily rising for several years,” he said…“electric sales are holding steady, acoustic sales are on the rise, and ukelele sales are exploding.”

MY GOD!! EXPLODING UKELELE SALES! Take that George Gruhn, guy who probably slaps a Trucoat® finish on the instruments you sell. Maybe it’s my mistake for taking these guys seriously. They are being ironic? sarcastic? with all of these articles saying “WE NEED A NEW GUITAR HERO”. What they really mean is “HOLY SHIT WE ARE SO FUCKED!” Because if manufacturers have been cranking guitars out at that volume for years, and you factor in all of the used electric instruments from the 50s through today currently available, PLUS all of the instruments Baby Boomers are dumping (and want to dump) on the market, at what point does every American family need to have 12 kids just to give every electric guitar a home? I don’t think Eric Clapton can fix this! Through the years I think I had 22 string instruments and I only ever bought 4 brand new ones and I started buying in the 70s. Since I have known a lot of guitar players over the years I can say with confidence that my experience isn’t unique. So, in addition to financial mismanagement, a completely over-saturated market (which I alluded to in the original piece) is also a component to this tragedy.

Another interesting aspect to this Los Angeles Times article that wants to address “changing tastes” is the very predictable notion that the solution to too big to fail is…more too big to fail. There’s a three-step progression at work here that’s pretty insidious, unless you find it hilarious; the two emotions are not necessary mutually exclusive. The first step are the sellers with the Muh Generation bullshit. The second step is that this generation can’t do it on it’s own and this is articulated by one Louie Concotilli, owner of Mugzey Music:

The bigger problem, according to Concotelli, is that most aspiring players don’t want to put in the time to become proficient on the instrument…“If they do want to learn they’ll just go to YouTube, but they’re not getting the proper instruction,” he said. “…kids these days, it’s all about instant gratification. No one wants to take six months or a year to learn. They don’t want to do the work.”

Who else is sick of these friggin’ kids at this point? Bunch of lame-bodies for sure. Not only does this generation (unlike prior generations) need guidance and help learning, but they also need A BIG FRIGGIN KICK UP THE ASS SO THEY DO THE WORK! So here we reach the third step. A solution in the form of a chain, courtesy of Corporate America:

One of the brighter spots in the industry these days can be found in School of Rock, a Canton, Massachusetts-based chain of 207 music schools which span 10 countries worldwide. Elliot Baldini, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, said the schools are designed to draw students in by giving them more of what they actually want to learn.

Right…because a chain of 207 music schools is how all of those Baby Boomers, including Eric Clapton, learned how to play. Because no one learns on YouTube, where a search for “Guitar Lessons” pulls up 14 million results and where some instructors (including some I list on this blog) have upwards of a half-million subscribers. Because on YouTube you can’t ever find that song that you actually want to learn, even though it’s designed to be user-driven. Because you need a chain of two-hundred+ schools to teach people music and that’s a bright spot in the industry. I believe that the guy mostly responsible for guitar sales in the Golden Age (the 80s) was Van Halen, not Eric Clapton, although curiously Edward is never mentioned as a driver of guitar sales in these articles. When he and his band came on the scene in 1978 he was playing a piece of crap guitar with one pickup and one knob that he built himself. The industry responded by building and selling a whole bunch of guitars patterned on his design. “The industry,” even when it tries to sell the idea that it “leads,” usually “responds”. Maybe they could respond by doing something else Edward Van Halen did. He donated a whole bunch of his guitars to low-income schools so young people who might not have the finances or exposure in their home have a chance at learning how to play the instrument. If every school in America had some guitars in it that would certainly get rid of a whole lot of inventory, wouldn’t it? That would also get rid of the problem of “nobody” playing guitar. Don’t I have great ideas? They should give me a cabinet position in Washington!

All kidding aside — and that was a lot of kidding you just read through (whew!) — I’m not disputing the charge that fewer guitars have been sold in the past ten years (to 2008), but I don’t think you can directly relate that to whether less people play guitar, especially world-wide. It would be really interesting to see industry sales stats going back to the 1950s when rock n’ roll exploded! I’m not the only person who is cognizant of the fact that instrument sales probably were not a straight-line increase from the time the Les Paul came on the market until 2008 when sales (at least as far as the data we can see) started slipping. If you’ve been around long enough you certainly remember companies and guitar models from back in the day that have no sales stats today because they haven’t existed for a long time. Who buys a Mouse Amp these days? Do you remember the Aria Pro II? That company still exists! See, how bad can things really be then? I believe there have been these peaks and valleys throughout the past half-century, and would be very surprised if there were not some very slow sales in the late 70s and late 90s too. It’s the nature of the world we live in that there are cycles and changes. There have always been people who have tried to make people aware of these facts and what the future might portend and a few of these people were quite famous, including The Geico Caveman…no seriously…David Bowie.

Around the 1:45 mark he talks about brands and subgroups and genres and how the music business has fractured from where it was in the 60s and 70s when definite BIG artists and one or two different ways of doing things were the rule. In the 70s if someone wanted to play music there were limited options compared to now. Of course the business behind those limited options was HUGE because everyone had just those choices, but a whole lot of people wanted to be in the business. Obviously a whole lot of people still want to be in the music and entertainment business, but today there are many more ways to go about that. Saying Eric Clapton over and over again is not going to solve any of the current problems and may in fact be part of the reason these problems arose in the first place. Remember…there were plenty of people who worked at record companies in the 1990s saying “Ho ho ho FILE SHARING is nothing to worry about!” But those people don’t exist anymore. Gene Simmons killed them. So you see…adapting is very important.

The fact is, there are guitar heroes out there who aren’t household names like Clapton or Van Halen, yet they influence people through the magic of their talent, presence and music. Gypsy Jazz players I have written about on this blog, Stochelo Rosenberg and Stephane Wrembel, to name just two, are the reason I bought a new guitar a few years ago. Just have a look at all of these other people and their guitars that they had to buy from somebody because it’s pretty hard to make a Selmer-Maccaferri type guitar on your own. (Although some can people do it). Gypsy Jazz wasn’t even really a genre of music until the 1990s and now people spend some serious coin on guitars and all manner of peripheral equipment so they can go out and get their swing on. I mention this genre because I know something about it. There are many other genres and sub-genres out there (just like Bowie said there would be) that I know nothing about because I’m old or haven’t been exposed to them. The Gypsy Jazzers are not going to get Guitar Center out of trouble, and neither will the players in these other smaller genres, but they certainly make it possible for other people to have a business and make a living. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it has always been! God Bless America! It’s not all about the numbers! It should be about the quality and creative solutions, because they are out there. If I can think of a few, you know there are plenty more. If not, there is always 2112!

Django a Go Go 2017

This was an evening to remember! 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!

Christmas Time is Here — Part I

Wait, what? Christmas is over, right? Well, yes, the holidays have come and gone again. January is always a little bit of a downer, isn’t it? Especially if it was an enjoyable season. The holidays can certainly be a difficult time too, but this year was great for me and I was inspired to write this post and put it up now before I forget or the year gets away from me. You can come back after Thanksgiving and it will be here if you are Holiday-ed out.

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As I said in another post, right before Christmas I played a gig, my first in over a year. It was a GypsyJazz/Jazz type holiday gig and it went very well. Playing the gig got me thinking — musicians are expected to play Christmas songs and holiday music during the holidays, and many do. For some, it’s a chore and a real groan-fest, but personally, I’ve always enjoyed it. This year we played 5 songs in our 3 sets: My Favorite Things, Django Reinhardt’s version of Danse Norvegienne, our own arrangement of Let it Snow, a rowdy version of The Ventures Sleigh Ride (a real crowd pleaser) and a loose arrangement of Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here that I have been playing for years. Since we had a clarinet player sitting in with us there was a very classy and Christmas-y vibe to all of these songs, even the ones that aren’t specifically holiday songs. I also heard a whole lot of Christmas music during the season and I’m sure everyone else did as well. So where did these songs come from? What makes a great Christmas carol? As a musician, should you and how can you work some holiday cheer into your repertoire?

Well, some history. The holiday that is Christmas evolved out of pagan, solstice, end of calendar (or seasonal) year celebrations a long, long time ago. The earliest Carols were sung in Europe thousands of years ago and were probably sung in celebration of all four seasons, but it is really the end of year, (Christmas) songs and styles that have survived. As early as 129 AD, Christians began appropriating these songs of praise and celebration and that year a Roman Bishop decreed that a song called the Angel’s Hymn should be sung at Christmas service in Rome. However, Christmas carols didn’t really take off with ordinary people until the Middle Ages when St. Francis of Assisi started staging Nativity Plays in Italy. Music was part of these plays and an important factor that changed the acceptance of the songs was that instead of the music being performed in Latin, the language of the Catholic Church, the songs were sung in various native tongues, so the idea spread all over Europe as people were now able to more fully participate in the music and celebrations. This was controversial because in effect it adds an element of showbiz to religious rites, but this made the rites a more integral part of people’s lives, whether in church or not and thus began the Christmas Carol tradition. Or probably begat, if we use the language of the time.

The earliest English Carol was written in 1410 and reads and sounds more like a poem or lullaby than what we would commonly think of as a Christmas carol. There were many other similar type verses written during this time. In 1454, with the invention of the Gutenburg printing press, carols could be printed and distributed but, believe or not, severe factions within churches did not encourage such vocal celebrations. Oliver Cromwell actually banned Christmas Carols in England during the mid-1600s. And you thought The Grinch was bad! The first American Christmas Carol was written sometime in the 1640s by a man named John de Brebeurf and was called Jesus is Born (The Huron Carol). Though many churches in Europe would refuse to make carols a part of their celebration well into the 19th century, this was not true of ALL churches and the songs were composed and performed by theater companies, musicians, troubadours, and, of course, by great composers like George Frideric Handel and his very grand and famous Messiah, which was first performed in 1742. Or, from much simpler beginnings came arguably, the most famous Christmas carol of all, Silent Night. In 1818 an Austrian assistant priest named Joseph Mohr composed this three stanza ditty to be sung chorally at Christmas mass because the church organ was broken and could not be repaired in time for the holiday celebration. The first time the song was played the congregation heard the priest and choir director Franz Xaver Gruber sing accompanied by Fr. Mohr’s guitar. As it turns out, the guitar was Fr. Mohr’s favorite instrument! Silent Night would, spread across the world as a great song and would be the central carol to the 1914 spontaneous Christmas Truce between warring factions on the Western Front during World War 1. And it all started basically as a religious singer-songwriter guitar tune. Pretty cool, eh?

Over the course of the last 150 years Christmas carols became an integral part of the Christmas and holiday celebrations and they became ever more popular (and big business too!). Bing Crosby‘s version of White Christmas is the best-selling single of all time according to various sources, with sales in excess of 100 million. Wow! Amazing what grows from such humble beginnings? Can you imagine the holiday season without the music we all know so well? In many ways, on a very emotional level, the music defines what we know and feel about the holiday season; the services, the memories, the presents, the dinners, the parties, the decorations, the celebrations, the stories, in sacred and secular manner. In the realm of modern discourse and pop culture it is no longer necessary or possible to separate the story of Jesus’ birth from the Christmas tree or Santa Claus. Over the years music has helped meld all of these elements together into this one big event that everyone recognizes. This is probably what terrified those early church leaders and why they tried so hard to prevent the secular carols from becoming a part of religious celebrations.

Nothing illustrates the Christmas package better than The Charlie Brown Christmas Special with the accompanying soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This classic from 1965 has entertained millions of children and adults for more than 50 years. Elements of the show include Charlie Brown bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas, Snoopy winning a best decoration competition, Linus reciting the appropriate Biblical canon concerning the birth of Jesus Christ and a very unimpressive tree turned into the season’s most important symbol. It has been televised every year since it debuted and even today ABC currently holds the rights and broadcasts the Special twice in the weeks before Christmas. Guaraldi’s soundtrack has also sold well; over 4 million copies! While most of the people involved thought the show would be a disaster due to it’s slow pacing, simple animation, and weird mix of jazz and sacred (choir) music, it was a hit from the first broadcast. The show and the soundtrack are among the most loved holiday entertainment in the United States and you can check out the rankings HERE if you are interested. As with the Peanuts crew or St. Francis of Assisi’s church, the first few years I was in school we had an annual Christmas pageant. Two of the years I even had speaking roles and this was my first taste of performing. I’m sure this is true for many of you out there and this is what tradition is all about!

The 1950s and 1960s was a very classic time for a certain type of holiday music and nothing better represents this time than this album by Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians — The Sounds of Christmas. Known during his lifetime as America’s Singing Master or The Man Who Taught America to Sing, Fred began with a self-created banjo orchestra that, over time, blossomed into one of mid-20th century America’s great Arts institutions. He also…wait for it, invented the Waring Blender. Because he came from the jazz background of the great bandleaders, there was always a whole lot of SWING and a fair amount of BLUES in the choral presentations, so in addition to perfect vocalizations there is also a whole lot of HIP Daddy-o! While he released many albums and was on television frequently during the late 40s and 50s, that was all way before my time. However, my parents had this record and hearing it instantly takes me back to holidays of yore. Fred Waring was described as a perfectionist and a taskmaster and the performances on this album are flawless. There are many examples of different groups trying to do the same arrangements on YouTube and I haven’t found one yet that is quite as sharp.

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The album covers a wide range of styles: Swing (Ring Those Christmas Bells, Santa Claus is Coming To Town); nostalgia (Opening, Carol Brothers Carol [written by W.A. Muhlenberg, who founded St. Lukes Hospital in New York City and was very influential in the development of early American Education]); Porgy and Bess style blues (Rise Up Shepherd an’ Foller, Go Where I Send Thee); the classics (Silent Night, O Holy Night) and six songs that were written by another jazz musician, unknown at the time, by the name of Alfred Burt. His carols began as a family tradition to accompany the yearly Christmas card to friends and relatives and were first heard outside the family circle in the early 1950s. He composed all of the music for these carols and family friend Wilha Hutson wrote the lyrics and they were a hit with choir groups that heard them. Hollywood recordings quickly commenced, but unfortunately, Burt did not live to see his creations sung and popularized by the likes of Nat King Cole, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Fred Waring. They were very popular at the time and since then the carols have entered the popular Christmas music lexicon and there they have remained. This album contains: Caroling, Caroling, O Hearken Ye, Jesu Parvule, The Star Carol, Come Dear Children, and This Is Christmas.

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While many of these carols, like all carols, are very simple in structure, Waring’s arrangements take them to interesting places and the talent assembled to perform them was obviously top-notch. They do not make albums like this anymore! The Sounds of Christmas is available again so either relive the magic (if you grew up with it like I did) or check it out for yourself! It gets a 5-star rating on Amazon so I obviously know what I’m talking about *wink*!

Okay! Look for the conclusion to follow next week. Like a ride through the woods to Grandma’s house the posts will lead back to the guitar and how you can make Christmas songs your own!

Here is Part 2 of this series.

More Guitar Instruction Media

I thought this would be a good time to explore some of the Guitar Instruction Media I have collected over the years. I’ve already touched on this in various posts, here, here and here, and here. AND HERE. Probably after this post I won’t have anything left to show. I know from checking the links that people do seen to like what they see with regards to some of the products I’ve reviewed before. I hope that you are all happy with your purchases and they have helped you sound better, play better or achieve all of the musical goals that you have. Without further ado —

SRV_covHal Leonard Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Licks This is the oldest item I’ll be reviewing today. It’s Hal Leonard’s Best of Stevie Ray Vaughan for guitar taught by the boisterously funny and entertaining Greg Koch. Greg has appeared in many guitar instruction places and is all over YouTube too. Greg can play his butt off and does a great job with the iconic Stevie Ray, showing not only how to play the eight classics on the disc, but also sound considerations and further ideas for original soloing. Songs include, Ain’t Gone ‘N’ Give Up on Love, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Crossfire, Empty Arms, The House Is Rockin’, Riviera Paradise, Scuttle Buttin’, and Stang’s Swang. A pretty good cross-section of Stevie’s material and songs that end with n + exclamation point!

SRV_discAs I said I’ve had this for a long time, probably 12-13 years now and originally I purchased it to learn how to play Stang’s Swang and Riviera Paradise, two of Stevie’s jazzier numbers. They were fun to learn how to play and served as a nice introduction for the real jazz styles and tunes that I would begin to learn a year later with some of these subsequent books. This disc is still available through online sources, some no doubt better than others. If you want to get the Stevie sound and Stevie licks and techniques under your fingers or learn to play some of his more advance stuff I think this disc is a great way to do that!

pearl_covPearl Django Play-Along Songbook Vol.1 This was the second songbook I bought once I started playing Gypsy Jazz and I can’t say enough about it! The book was put together by Greg Ruby from the band Pearl Django, a Gypsy Jazz outfit formed in the mid-90s by Neil Andersson, David Firman and the late, great Dudley Hill. The songs were out of Pearl Django’s repertoire that included covers of Django Reinhardt tunes, old swing/jazz standards and fresh originals. This was a great book to get early on because it has a CD of various members of the band in a play-a-long setting. Any of the seventeen songs start with a head played by guitar or violin and then there are any number of choruses to solo on with just a rhythmic backing. So cool! So helpful! I’ve spent a lot of time jamming out to Pearl Django and it’s a great product.

pearl4I also like the fact that the song list is way cool — especially the Django standards — Djangology, Minor Blues, Troublant Bolero, Nuages, Swing 42, and Manoir des mes Reves. I also learned and enjoyed guitarist Dudley Hill’s chord melody-based compositions New Metropolitan Swing and Radio City Rhythm. Some of the other covers like Limehouse Blues, I’ll See You in My Dreams and I Found a New Baby are jam session standards that any aspiring Manouche player will want to get under his or her fingers. I bought this book from Djangobooks and it’s still available. At $30 it’s not cheap but you do get a lot for the money: meticulous head/melody arrangements by seasoned pro guitarists with 2nd options for harmony in some cases; all manner of Manouche rhythm chord formation and structure, and as I said above, the play-a-long cd with all songs included. Not only that but it is SPIRAL BOUND!! This definitely adds to the cost, but makes it much easier to use. Highly recommended especially for those starting out.

modal_covJazz Guitar Techniques: Modal Voicings I’ve had this DVD for awhile too and I don’t think I spent more than an hour with it. It was a gift from somebody through Amazon and it didn’t contain whatever booklet was supposed to come along with it. Or maybe there isn’t supposed to be a booklet. I honestly have never been able to figure out what I’m supposed to do when it comes to learning the voicings contained within. This is a Berklee Workshop disc so you would think it would be good, but it just wasn’t. I have subsequently learned a lot of modal ideas and even some modal chords from other sources, so if you want this disc I’ll let it go for $5.99$3.99 $.99! (haha)

Wrewmbel_covMel Bay’s Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar Speaking of Berklee and (guys who went there) this book is very unlike the last offering because it is GREAT GREAT GREAT! Stephane Wrembel put this book together after studying with real Manouche musicians for years and then graduating from Berklee. Not only is it an awesome beginners book for those wishing to dip their proverbial toe into the wonderful world of Gypsy Jazz music, it is also a mind-expanding resource that players can return to over and over again. Stephane covers everything from picking exercises (that include a bit of Indian Music influences) to arpeggios, scales, some music theory and example etudes as well as some stylistic techniques that are endemic to Manouche music. It is a JAM-PACKED resource and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. Originally I bought it in a store (you know one of those things…OUTSIDE) but this book is also available at Djangobooks for a very reasonable price. Learn from one of the modern masters!

wes_covMel Bay Presents Wes Montgomery Jazz Guitar Artistry Speaking of Mel Bay and modern masters, here is a songbook of transcriptions from one of the absolute pillars of jazz guitar. Wes Montgomery completely reinvented what playing jazz meant and this book tackles fourteen of his greatest pieces including, Jeanine, Work Song, Missile Blues, Full House, and Mi Cosa. There seems to be some problem getting this book now, or there was a version with inaccurate transcriptions (allegedly). I don’t know what’s going on. It’s available at Amazon for a reasonable price. But there is another listing here where it costs $30 or $55, which is wrong. There is no CD with this book, but the version I have has very accurate transcriptions. I just played along with Wes from his album cuts of the song I was learning. But I guess buyer beware on this one! The good version takes you headfirst into the music of a guitar legend!

fox_covMel Bay Guitar Arpeggio Studies on Jazz Standards Here’s another book courtesy of Mel Bay and authored by jazz guitarist Mimi Fox.  Mimi is a jazz player I’ve heard over the years and I’ve always like what she’s done. This book, which comes with an accompanying CD, was a gift ten plus years ago. I spent some quality time with this book it (along with the Wrembel book above) and that got me going in a big way on arpeggios and how to use them. Well-known jazz standards are used to illustrate how one may pull out various arpeggios from the harmony to begin the arduous, but fun task of understanding how to play an effective solo. The second half of the book focuses on advanced arpeggio concepts and how players can build their own. I think the book is less than 75 pages, but it is an effective study course for what it sets out to do. It gets very positive reviews on Amazon, but I think there is something weird happening with Amazon’s current pricing schematic because there are “new” books listed for almost $100 and I didn’t pay anywhere near that…so don’t buy it there. Buy it HERE where it is the very reasonable price of $19.99.

Django_covDjango Reinhardt: Know the Man, Play the Music Finally there is this book, which was also a gift from my late friend and leader of Cab City Combo, Paul Rubin, who I’ve written about here, here, here and here. This is an interesting book and one I’ve obviously had for a long time given the shape of the cover. I believe that Paul ordered this for me as soon as I told him about my Manouche aspirations. It was definitely a book I used in the early days and I will always treasure it for sentimental reasons.

Django4The first part of the book (Know the Man) is Django’s biography and is a fairly well-done primer for those who don’t know Django’s story. It’s illustrated with cool pics and considering at the time I received the book I knew 10% of what I know now, it is another one of those books that delivers exactly what it promises. The 2nd half of the book (Play the Music) that focuses on technique and six of Django’s most famous performances including Honeysuckle Rose, Nuages, Bouncin’ Around, and Djangology. An accompanying CD will help you work out the songs. By the time I started playing Gypsy Jazz with other people I had Django’s intro, solo and outro bits to Honeysuckle Rose completely worked out thanks to this book, so I think it rocks! The book gets good reviews on Djangobooks forum, is spiral-bound, and can be purchased here and here. It’s on Amazon too at almost double the price if you’re into giving more money to Jeff Bezos

NEW LINKS!

mango1One great thing about having an awesome blog like mine is all of the spam that comes in as comments hyping products that I never knew existed and are as phony as a winning ticket in a Nigerian lottery. Ok, well, it’s not so great, but WordPress is so adept at filtering out the unwanted mail, comments and lame scams that I don’t really have to worry about it. The latest craze sweeping the world seems to be African Mango Weight Loss…stuff. It promises all of the familiar weight loss results and I guess the more exotic the better. This is one of the main problems with the internet; very serious or sincere people who are looking for information or are desperate for a new way of doing things search or are bombarded with information and it’s sometimes flat-out overwhelming the sheer amount of stuff that is out there. There is also an issue of quality. Not all information is equal, in fact, as we all know, some information is useless, sometimes to the point of being hazardous to one’s health. Naturally the more desperate, the more one has to be skeptical of the marketing promises associated with a certain product, because if you’re desperate enough you’ll believe anything won’t you?

When I first started trying to play Gypsy Jazz I was this kind of desperate so the African Mango is metaphoric if you will, or… as it were. Gradually I learned and things got a little better. What I’ve tried to do from the very beginning of this blog is give anyone who comes here some interesting reading and for players, some worthwhile advice or directions to information I think is important and interesting. One of the benefits of the internet is that I am able to do this and people who are way more skilled and/or are on a similar journey can do likewise. I’m adding some new links to the module on the right side of this page and if you are a PLAYER, especially a player of the Jazz or Gypsy-Jazz persuasion you should find these links pretty interesting. I won’t go a far as to guarantee your money back, but you can definitely pick up a lot of good stuff and it’s not like I’m going to be emailing asking for your address and banking information. Also, it is important to note that I am not affiliated with any of these sites or people in anyway. It is info I’ve found that I’m passing on to you ’cause we all got the hunger! Amirite?

The first new link is Jazzguitarlessons.net. This site is run by a jazz guitarist named Mark and it is really comprehensive…I mean you could literally spend the rest of your life at this website. Not only is there a whole lot of basic info to get you started on jazz guitar, but there are many video lessons, podcasts, diagrams, charts, transcriptions and options for taking actual lessons. What I’ve discovered on this journey is that one should be open to as many avenues of learning as possible. You never know where you might stumble upon a lesson or a trick that will not only give you a good lick or phrase, but also might tie a bunch of related information together. This is an excellent site for beginners and more seasoned players, so definitely check it out! You’ll receive a free e-book by signing up.

JazzAdvice.com is wonderful site that caters to jazz players of all instruments (and can obviously appeal to any instrumentalist). This site has tons of er…advice obviously on playing jazz, which is a difficult endeavor no matter who you are. It is as comprehensive as JazzGuitarLessons.net. You could spend a weekend here and you would only get an introduction to all of the information they are trying to impart. And it’s good quality information. None of that “You can be a guitar star by learning this one simple scale!!” stuff. Learning to play jazz has a lot more to it than just getting a transcription and tackling a tune. There’s a whole pedagogy behind the styles and processes that go into producing the music and the more of this you take in the better you will be. Here’s a video from this site of a guy talking. I know you’re probably thinking “I can’t learn anything from this…he’s a friggin’ piano player fergawdssakes!”

Ignore at your own peril!! This is Hal Galper and he’s amazing. He’s recorded with jazz luminaries like Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderly, Stan Getz and John Scofield. Notice in the following video he’s talking about how the brain learns music. I did a post on that a long time ago HERE. Synchronicity is not just a POLICE album…

The Belltower is a Youtube channel and to quote Joe Pesci….”ok, ok, ok you’re tired of listening and you wanna play ok?—” this is really focused instruction. Grab your guitar and follow along as The Belltower guides you through some cool licks and theory in the style of people like Pat Martino and Grant Green. Simple, clear, and easy-to-follow. I hope this guy keeps making videos because he is a great player and instructor. Here is the Pat Martino lesson:

Patrus53 (Youtube), Patrus53 (site) and Gadjo88 are the final links for the day and what a way to wrap up. I’ve already had something from Patrus w/ Stephane Wrembel, but he just never stops!! His commitment to Gypsy Jazz is unbelievable and because he interviews just about everybody there is a lot to see and do either at his site or on the Youtube channel. I don’t know anything about Gadjo88 as I just found it over the weekend, but there are some great videos on the channel so that’s why I’m linking. Sometimes the best form of learning is just watching and listening to people who can really jam. Not only are they awe-inspiring and fun to watch, but once you reach a certain level in your playing, understanding and facility with the music, it is possible to learn a whole lot from one viewing. I also enjoy the interviews that I can understand because all of these people have interesting insights, not only on music, but also with regard to life itself. I’m going to use video examples from that feature three players who are awesome: Adrien Moignard, Gonzalo Bergara, and Sébastien Giniaux. Totally rippin’ performances and all three of these guys have an original approach, chops and a sense of humor that kills. I also find that everyone is really loose in these informal settings and that sometimes leads to very nice and sometimes (funny) results.

Stephane Wrembel Talks Life and Music

Some very deep and wonderful insights provided by Stephane Wrembel in this brief interview. I had the pleasure of attending a seminar with Stephane a few years ago and his approach to playing and life are very inspiring and something any musician hoping to play and improvise well should at least consider. He helped set me on the path of playing the music of Django Reinhardt and many others. He is a really fun guy. In the interview, he talks about “getting the ego out of the way of your playing” and “reaching a state of ego-lessness” — something I’ve seen before… and it is SO TRUE. Easy to understand, not always easy to do. As players we invest a whole bunch of ourselves in what we do, but when it’s time to play, none of that matters. “We are NAKED” as Stephane says and we must accept and get comfortable with that and let our inner selves (our music) come out. I think it’s a good idea to watch this a few times and be conscious of your state of mind and body in the future when playing. See if what he is saying is something that could help with what YOU’RE doing.

Stephane is an extremely skilled musician and plays live in New York City all the time. His composition Bistro Fada was the theme for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris movie. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live and he is SMOKING! Don’t miss the opportunity if you have the chance to see him play.

Patrus (the interviewer) has an AWESOME Youtube channel. Some of his interviews are in French or German but many are not and he also provides translations on a few. There is an wealth of unbelievable playing clips too. Check it out!!