Podcast: Star On The Rise – Conversations With Jazz Guitar Virtuoso Rob Luft

Podcast: Star On The Rise – Conversations With Jazz Guitar Virtuoso Rob Luft

Podcast: Star On The Rise – Conversations With Jazz Guitar Virtuoso Rob Luft

On today’s podcast, Carl Orr gets us behind the scenes with one of jazz guitar’s hottest young players, Rob Luft.

Rob is an award-winning 26-year-old jazz guitarist from London whose virtuosity has been compared to that of six-string legends John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola & Paco De Lucia. Praised by The Times for performances with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in 2015, who said he was destined ‘to achieve great things in the future’. Rob was subsequently the recipient of the 2016 Kenny Wheeler Prize from The Royal Academy of Music in association with Edition Records, and he also received the 2nd Prize in The 2016 Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

His debut album, “Riser”, was released on Edition Records in 2017 to widespread critical acclaim from the European jazz media. John Fordham wrote in The Guardian that it’s a
“very sophisticated debut, but given Luft’s old-soul achievements since his early teens, we should have heard it coming”.

On the back of the success of his first album, Rob was nominated for a string of awards – Breakthrough Act in the 2018 Jazz FM Awards, Instrumentalist of the Year in the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards & Instrumentalist of the Year in the 2019 Jazz FM Awards.

In May 2019, Rob was selected as BBC New Generation Jazz Artist 2019-2021, an accolade granted to “some of the world’s most exceptional young musicians”.
“Guitar virtuoso makes enticingly vivacious debut” THE GUARDIAN (UK)

In this relaxed yet captivating interview, Rob shares his beginnings, the importance of versatility and what it’s like playing with some of the world’s best! During the show, Rob also shares a couple of his latest tracks from his new album, Life Is The Dancer. I think you’re going to love this one! Take a listen here:

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Check out Rob’s newest album ‘Life Is The Dancer’ here: https://robluft.bandcamp.com/

Find out more about Rob at his official website here>>

Transcript:

Greg O’Rourke: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. Greg O’Rourke here, the founder of fretdojo.com, and in today’s episode, Carl Orr, my good friend who’s currently the Artist In Residence for Fret Dojo, had a great conversation with Rob Luft. Rob is an award winning guitarist from London, whose virtuosity has been compared to that of guys like John McGlaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Paco de Lucia. He was the recipient of the 2016 Kenny Wheeler prize from the Royal Academy of Music, and was also a prize winner in the 2016 Montreux Jazz guitar competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival. His debut album, Riser, was released on Edition Records in 2017, to widespread critical acclaim. On the back of the success of Rob’s first album, he’s been nominated for a string of awards since, including the breakthrough act in the Jazz FM Awards, instrumentalists of the year in the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, and instrumentalist of the year in the 2019 Jazz FM Awards.

In May 2019, Rob was selected as BBC new generation jazz artist for 2019 to 2021, which is an accolade granted only to some of the world’s most exceptional young musicians. I think you’re really going to enjoy this conversation that Rob and Carl had recently. It’s a fantastic insight into what’s driving this exceptional young musician, and how he really is creating a dynamic new sound in the jazz world, and, strongly recommend you to check out his albums. There’s a link to his album in the show notes for this episode. And I should mention, Rob actually recently recorded a very special video workshop for Fret Dojo in my online academy, and you can get access to that by heading to my website, fretdojo.com. And, in this workshop, Rob goes through a variety of compositional and improvisation approaches that he leans on when he is creating music, and I found it really fascinating and quite refreshing to see some really groundbreaking new ideas when it comes to composition and in playing jazz in general.

And, he also actually goes into a bit of classical music, and how that’s influenced him as a composer as well. So, it was a fascinating workshop that one, so make sure that you check that out by heading over to my Fret Dojo Academy. If you aren’t a member already, you might be interested in signing up. Okay. Well, without further ado, hope you enjoy this very special conversation with Carl Orr and the fabulous Rob Luft. Enjoy.

Carl Orr: Hi Rob, great to see you.

Rob Luft: Hey, Carl, it’s lovely to meet you online at last.

Carl Orr: I’m very happy to meet you too. So, I’ll just start off with a couple of really basic questions. So, where were you born, Rob?

Rob Luft: I’m not proud to say it, but I was born in the depths of Southeast London in a very strange place called Sidcup.

Carl Orr: Okay.

Rob Luft: It’s near Bromley.

Carl Orr: Yes, I know Bromley.

Rob Luft: So, I’m not proud to say it’s really the depths, the dark depths where there are no stars and no moons, unfortunately, in Sidcup.

Carl Orr: Oh, well, they needed you to play some music to brighten up the place then. And so, how old were you when you started playing?

Rob Luft: I think I was around six or seven years old.

Carl Orr: Wow.

Rob Luft: Basically, my stepfather moved in with my mum at that time, and he really changed my whole enjoyment of music and of the arts, I guess. He’s a guitarist himself, and that kind of plays in pop rock bands around Southeast London and Kent, and he does that kind of scene. And he brought a guitar into the house when I was six or seven, and the rest is history as they say.

Carl Orr: What about your musical education? Did you take lessons from a young age, or did your stepfather teach you songs, or …

Rob Luft: Yes, basically, it’s a bit of both. I took violin lessons from a really young age. My primary school where I was at, there was the public, the state violin or peripatetic teachers were coming in as part of the council music lessons. And so, I got-

Carl Orr: Right.

Rob Luft: It was brilliant. I got violin tuition from four or five years old, and learnt to read music there. And then my stepdad came when I was six or seven and started showing me, like you say, teaching me rock and blues stuff, showed me the classic Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson angle through the blues, and got into just learning about that side of things. And those two parts of classical violin and rock and blues, and rock and roll guitar slowly merged, and somehow met in the middle at jazz.

Carl Orr: Excellent. That’s great. So, you start playing the guitar when you’re six and you’re playing the violin. So, do you still play the violin?

Rob Luft: I have been known to pick them up, especially as it was my first instrument, right the way through even high school and secondary school until I was 16 years old. I did all the grades, and I did the local orchestra, and I led the school orchestra, and all that kind of stuff playing classically, and I just never really got the hang of playing improvised music on it. I could do some basic folk improvisation, but when I realised I could improvise on the guitar, something about the layout of the instrument, I found easier without the bow and without a few of these obstacles that the violin presents.

Carl Orr: The visibility of the guitar on it?

Rob Luft: Yes, the frets, everything. I mean, the lack of fixed pitch on the violin also made it slightly difficult to improvise for me in the way … The mechanics of it, it’s slightly more challenging, and I was so taken with the way the guitar was laid out for improv, it was just perfect, and it took over.

Carl Orr: Okay. Great. I’m a big fan of the violin. I wish it was used more. I mean, I must say, I quite like the sound of string instruments together, like guitar and guitar, and even electric guitar and acoustic guitar, or electric guitar and acoustic violin, or double bass violin guitar like cello, all of … I love the sound of the string instruments together. It’s something we don’t really hear enough in jazz, in my opinion.

Rob Luft: Absolutely, yes. One of my first … We’ve already talked about it a bit on the telephone, but my first loves in jazz were an infusion music, one was, there’s a great Frank Zappa album called … Is it called, Weasels Ripped My Flesh?

Carl Orr: Yes.

Rob Luft: And it’s got an incredible violin, kind of jazzy, bluesy, violin solo in the middle of a track called The Little House I Used to Live In. And I thought it was … For many years, I thought it was Jean-Luc Ponty, but it’s definitely not. It’s a chap called, I think-

Carl Orr: I think it’s Sugarcane Harris.

Rob Luft: Someone like that, or Jerry Williams, or someone like that.

Carl Orr: Oh, okay. Carry on.

Rob Luft: And then I got this DVD of Mahavishnu Montreux in 1974, I think, is their legendary set they did.

Carl Orr: Oh, the big band with the string trio.

Rob Luft: Yes. And that was when I was quite young, those two things that I heard and saw, and that was already with violin and guitar, obviously. The Zappa band with a violinist, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra with McGlaughlin on the double neck, and the violin there, of course, it must be Jean-Luc Ponty at that stage.

Carl Orr: Fantastic.

Rob Luft: And that, already I love that sound of violin and guitar, but I went down the guitar route, of course, it’s been more glamorous. I don’t know.

Carl Orr: Well, yes. Well, I mean, it’s something cool about the guitar, isn’t it? But anyway, I really completely see what you’re talking about. So, the thing that really turned you on to jazz was John McGlaughlin then, which turned a lot of rock people on to jazz actually.

Rob Luft: Yes, I mean, coming from a love in my early teens of Hendrix, and of the blues, and also of that British blues sound of the Clapton, and the John Mayall band, and Cream, and then getting hold of Bitches Brew, obviously, is quite a good way into jazz. I mean, there’s some of that stuff on Bitches Brew that McGlaughlin plays. It’s so … There’s a pretty clear link between the rock music of the late ’60s and, and fusion, I guess. I mean, it hooked me straightaway.

Carl Orr: Anyway, I could talk about that music all day, but that guitar playing on that doesn’t really sound like rock guitar playing, but it doesn’t sound like any jazz guitar playing I’ve ever heard either. It’s quite otherworldly, isn’t it?

Rob Luft: It’s crazy, especially, like you say, at the time it was recorded in ’69 or ’70, or whenever it was recorded, it was … Like you say, it doesn’t sound like jazz of the ’60s, and it doesn’t sound like Clapton. So, I don’t know where it comes from.

Carl Orr: He was really searching. He was really, really searching. Anyway, I feel like it’s a good example of just kind of … It’s like he stripped it all back, all the cliches, and/or any kind of semblance to anybody else, just stripped it right back, and somehow went his own way, but … I mean, that’s something I think we’ve all … Everybody sort of … If you really want to develop an original style, there’s a kind of definitely a degree of unlearning involved, isn’t it?

Rob Luft: Absolutely, yes. I mean, playing in different bands and different projects, you’ve got to adapt your playing to that particular context, and that particular moment, and that particular gig, wherever it is.

Carl Orr: Can you give me some … Because one thing that’s unusual about you is, when we spoke before … When I was growing up, one of the things the musicians always said, I mean, great musicians, all they said was you’ve got to pay your dues, and there are famous examples of that, such as, well, I guess Miles Davis, paying his dues playing with Charlie Parker, and then all these people paying their dues subsequently with Miles Davis; Coltrane and Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, and then on to younger people like McGlaughlin, and then Chick Corea, Herbie, and then on to younger people still like Kenny Garrett and so on, and paying the dues, learning on stage, as well as your individual practise and study, but the onstage learning, and, I guess, mentorship of older musicians. You’ve done quite a lot of that, haven’t you?

Rob Luft: Yes, I’ve grown up as a sideman, basically, and learning to play in, whether it’s a big band like we talked about. The first time I actually heard you play live, Carl, was when I was playing in the Loose Tubes big band at Ronnie’s, and you have to adapt loads to play in that context, but it still requires when you’re playing music by people like Django Bates and Eddie Parker, there’s some serious fretwork involved. It’s also, like you say, unlearning involved in that, because you can’t just play whatever. It’s totally context dependent how you play, and that that kind of mentality has spread right through my work over the last five years playing with other musicians, Jason Yard, Byron Wallen, a friend of ours, Adam Glasser who I’ve played with a lot, playing a lot of township jazz from South Africa. And that’s, again, a totally different world of triadic music, and it doesn’t come directly from that Bebop tradition, I guess, where there’s loads of changes and long cycles of chord sequences, it’s much more about the primary three triads. I guess.

Rob Luft: So, that again requires a degree of unlearning, but it still requires a lot of skill to play that with a stylistic awareness. So, I’ve just grown up over the last five years in London, such a colourful city with so many different masters of their style, that, if you put yourself out there, I guess you get a chance to play with lots of these different experts in their own fields. So, I just, I’ve been really blessed and lucky to dip into those worlds a little bit.

Carl Orr: I mean, for me, when I was in those situations, because I really pursued them myself a lot, I always looked at it as a learning experience, and I had, without wishing to tell my own story in this situation, but I had three mentors, musically. Well, three on-stage mentors, and I had a few at school in my school years as well, but I learnt specific lessons from each one. Like the first one was Jackie Orszaczky, a great musician in Sydney, and he taught me about playing in the rhythm section. And then I played with Dale Barlow, he’s a great saxophonist, and he taught me about, not just playing the same stuff on every solo, but really making it variable. And then Billy Carbone taught me about projecting on stage, and also about how to play my instrument better, actually, even though he played …

And so, I’d learned specific things from each one. Can you tell us a few specific things, what did you learn from playing with them? Who’s the mad flute player guy?

Rob Luft: Eddie.

Carl Orr: Eddie, wonderful Eddie. Is there anything he said, or something he did that you learnt from?

Rob Luft: Well, Eddie Parker is a master jazz composer in my opinion. He has created his own sort of world of harmony, and I almost jokingly refer to it as English jazz, because it’s inspired by English classical composers, his harmony, by people like Frederick Delius, William Walton, people like Vaughan Williams, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and these English composers of the 20th century. And Eddie’s a … He’s, like you say, he’s a master flautist, but he’s also a brilliant keyboard player, and he also shares, like us, a great love for the Mahavishnu, especially the early Mahavishnu albums, The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire, those first, first records, ones probably with Billy on drums, I would imagine.

Carl Orr: Sure.

Rob Luft: Exactly. And Eddie … I mean, he brings in these whole suites of compositions that he’s composed, and they’ve got these incredible harmonies in them, and I could show you literally on the guitar some of these incredible sounds that he gets us working with. And he’s composed a, for example, recently, a suite based on a 12-tone row like Schoenberg. Like Schoenberg or any of those Viennese … The second Viennese School, Anton Webern, and he composed a jazz quartet suite of about 45 minutes in length, which is entirely based on a 12-tone chromatic row, and he’s used the same concepts as them in terms of retro grade, play the row backward, reverse it, invert it, and then also in terms of how to stack it up with harmonies. And, when we play it on stage, it sounds like a jazz/rock fusion quartet sound, but actually, when you look at the foundations of the suite, it’s all based on a 12-tone row.

Rob Luft: So that’s an example of something that I would personally never have come up with myself,  just picked up on the bandstand or in rehearsals, rather than in lessons or in a music college. Like you say, it’s very much a mentorship, almost, being on stage with him.

Carl Orr: Excellent. He’s a great guy. And I think the other thing that’s really important to me is, Eddie’s a very funny guy, isn’t he? He’s very serious about the music, but he’s got that humour. And to me, if you’re really serious, having a sense of humour is really important. He’s got that lightness about him, which is a really important thing.

Rob Luft: Absolutely. And I think that’s something, again, that a lot of people in that generation of The Loose Tubes cohorts.

Carl Orr: Plenty of that.

Rob Luft: Loads of humour, some might say it’s almost verging on Monty Python in…

Carl Orr: Well, it is. Well, my generation where we used to memorise chunks of Monty Python,..do these dialogues in the playground. Great way to not impress girls, let me tell you.

Rob Luft: Exactly. That’s why we all started playing the guitar, of course.

Carl Orr: That’s right. A lot of good it did as well.

Rob Luft: Exactly, exactly.

Carl Orr: If you’re a nerd, you’re a nerd. A nerd with a guitar is still a nerd.

Rob Luft: Exactly.

Carl Orr: That’s how I found out. I don’t mind being a nerd. It’s all right, I can live with it. That’s really great. Okay. So, you learned that from Eddie Parker. Someone else you played with, Ian Bellamy, as well. He’s a funny guy too, and a wonderful musician.

Rob Luft: He’s got the scariest set of ears in the UK. I mean, playing with him, it’s sort of terrifying. We would do gigs together with this trio of his, with a bass player, wonderful young bass player called Conor Chaplin, and we did quite a few gigs over the last few years, and we’d combine two very disparate styles. We’d play on the one hand, I’d get my nylon string guitar out, and he’d get his tenor out, and we’d play Bossa nova trio stuff, music by Getz Gilberto kind of Bossa nova standards from Brazil, and on the other hand, he’d get his alto or his soprano out, and I’d get my pedal board and my electric guitar out, and we’d play free improvs. And we’d do gigs where we just juggle these two totally disparate worlds. And Ian, he’d, without even knowing the changes to any of these Bossa nova tunes, or without setting a theme for our free improvs, he could just follow my line of harmony, or follow it, whether I was playing the changes to Desafinado by Jobim, or whether I was playing a free improv with a bottleneck slide and a ring modulator.

He would seemingly be able to follow with his ear, a melodic line through all of these things that I was playing, and it was, again, such a lesson. It’s all there, it’s all unspoken. We never talked about what we were going to do, and it was just about creating a convincing performance for listeners without really ever talking about what we’re going to do, and after a few gigs, we realised that all we were doing was playing Bossa Nova, and free improv.

Carl Orr: You’ve hit on a very important point there, which is, jazz lives or dies on the ability of the musicians, or the willingness or the awareness of the musicians to listen to each other.

Rob Luft: Absolutely.

 

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Carl Orr: I mean, actually, I’m a big believer that actively listening at all times is as much a part of your performance as the notes you play, and if you’re actively listening all the time, then there’s going to be a certain amount of holding back most of the time. Most of the time, you’ll be holding back a percentage of what you’re thinking of, because you’re listening to the other people. And then now and again, you’re just going to zoom in and play a lot of stuff. I must say, I think a lot of musicians, even in the world of jazz, are really not aware of it, and a lot of jazz that I’ve played, it feels like being involved in a chimpanzee’s tea party with people just throwing notes at you, and it’s like, “Man, we’re playing music or we’re having an argument.”

Rob Luft: Exactly.

Carl Orr: I find that really frustrating the way a lot of people play, and I just think, you don’t have to change what you play, you can play exactly how you play, but if you just do the same thing, and actually listen, then we’ll all have a good time.

Rob Luft: Absolutely. I’d go so far as to say that’s the most important thing I learned from Ian, but maybe the most important thing I learned from all of the times I’ve ever played a sideman gig, I think. And Ian himself always used to talk to me about pro-action versus interaction.

Carl Orr: Oh, wow. Go on.

Rob Luft: So, proactive jazz is people just putting out fresh ideas that don’t come from their surroundings on stage. They’re not coming from your fellow musicians. You’re just generating, like you say, information and chucking it out there, and it’s proactive, it’s not come from anywhere around you, whereas an interactive jazz performance would be ones where the other musicians on the stage are all listening to you, and you’re listening to them, and the ideas that you generate as a group all come from that sense of interaction. And of course, there has to be … Usually, there’s one proactive member, for example, the soloist in the classic jazz band, the soloist is proactive, and the supporting musicians, the side men are interacting. So, whether that’s the Coltrane Quartet, Elvin’s super interactive on the drums, and McCoy is super interactive with his modal kind of dense piano accompaniments, and by the same token, Jimmy Garrison’s bass playing, and Coltrane is generating all this sheets of sound information proactively, and they’re interacting, and those two in counterbalance heighten the intensity of the performance.

And I think, if we’re all aware of that balance between proaction and interaction, at least this is what Ian is always talking about when we play together, when we rehearse, I think it definitely, like you say, it stops this sense of this being chimpanzees in a room, or anyone not listening. I think that’s the best lesson we can learn.

Carl Orr: I mean, because when I hear you play, I must say, every time I’ve heard you play, you really dig in, and what I call dig in, you physically dig into the string, and you’re really physical with the guitar, and I really love that.

Rob Luft: Thank you.

Carl Orr: But you really dig in, you play quite ferociously a lot of the time, but it’s sensitive, and it’s fun, and you’re always looking around, and you’re very aware, and you’re smiling and you’re interacting, and that actually, as heavy as what you’re playing is, can be quite ferocious, the music gets a kind of lightness about it.

Rob Luft: Exactly.

Carl Orr: That’s what I really like about your music a lot, man, is that combination of digging in, and that lightness that comes from people really listening, and really respect … It’s actually respect. It’s the sound of mutual respect. That thing of that jazz thing where people are just throwing notes around each other, it’s actually, I believe, a lack of self respect, and a lack of respect for the other people completely unconsciously.

Rob Luft: I totally agree.

Carl Orr: Nobody’s intending disrespect, but actually, that’s what it’s a result of, whereas what you do, I think it’s tremendously respectful. So, speaking of Rob’s wonderful, light, airy, innovative, original, respectful music, I’d like you to hear some of it now. So, can you please choose a track from your new album that you’d like us to hear and announce it?

Rob Luft: Sure, absolutely. It would be great. I think, a great track to listen to, to give an overall perspective of what the new album is about is perhaps the sixth track which is called Synesthesia, and it is a blend of my love of modern jazz, and my love of … We’ve been talking about the great fusion artists, and it’s a co-composition I wrote together with an Italian drummer called Enzo Zirilli, who’s full of wonderful, rhythmic exercises that he’s showed to me being on the road with his quartet over the last few years. He’s a huge fan of people like Steve Gadd, and drummers of that generation, Vinnie. And he showed me this exercise, this rhythmic exercise, and I wrote a tune with it, and it’s the sixth track on the new album and it’s called Synesthesia.

(Synesthesia track playing) [00:27:32]

Carl Orr: Okay, thanks for that, Rob. That’s a really great new album. I love your album. It’s very interesting.

Rob Luft: Cheers, Carl.

Carl Orr: I’ve seen you playing a couple of different guitars, the three, three … Is it 335 with a Bigsby?

Rob Luft: That is my main act, yes.

Carl Orr: That’s your main guitar. The Bigsby is not standard on a 335, is it, or did you get that added?

Rob Luft: I very much was persuaded by my old teacher, John Parricelli to put the Bigsby arm on it.

Carl Orr: I see. He doesn’t use one himself though, does he?

Rob Luft: Well, he for years used this curious Paul Reed Smith Guitar.

Carl Orr: Oh, the 24 fret.

Rob Luft: Yes, and it did have a whammy bar on it, and then, about five years ago, I believe that John switched to playing a Collings 335 style guitar, and he had a Bigsby on put on. And I tried his Collings out and I thought, “My word, this is too good to be true.” And he told me all these wonderful anecdotes about why having a Bigsby is the best thing ever, and I fell foul to his temptation.

Carl Orr: That’s great.

Rob Luft: And I love it. I don’t know, do you use one?

Carl Orr: I used a whammy bar for years. I played the strap for a long time, and I always had a tremolo bar, but it’s not really tremolo, is it? Tremolo’s volume. It’s a vibrato bar, isn’t it?

Rob Luft: Yes, it’s-

Carl Orr: I used one for a long time, and then about 10 years ago, a friend of mine said, “You’re still using that whammy bar, Carl.” And I said, “Yes.” And he just looked at me as if, “Time for something new.” And actually, he didn’t say anything. He’s actually a really good mate. And so, I just thought, “I wonder what he’s talking about?” And then I just stopped using it, and started playing a Gibson with a stop tailpiece, and I was like, “Ah, I’m perfectly happy without it.” But I had 20-odd happy years with one.

Rob Luft: It’s a great sound, and I also, when I’m playing in situations without bassists or drummers, I don’t use the 335, I use a Gibson L-5.

Carl Orr: L-5. That’s a great sound, man.

Rob Luft: It’s a great sound, and, of course, no whammy bar in sight. And, I love the sound of the L-5, because it has this warmth and resonance with … There’s just harmonics ringing out all over the place, where you can really hear the overtones, and I find it a bit too much with bass and drums sometimes, because it’s so round.

Carl Orr: Yes, you lose that purity of sound too when you turn the guitar like that up, really, past a certain volume.

Rob Luft: Exactly. And, I think that the 335 with bass and drums, it’s almost like there’s a filter on the lower end of the instrument that just leave this space for drummers and for double bass or electric bass. I mean, I could tell you a hilarious story about why I put the whammy bar on it, which is that, John Parricelli himself said to me, “I spent years playing with Django Bates who could do … He had 88 keys, he had a synthesiser, he had one of those,” I can’t remember what the name is, a classic synth from the kind of ’70s and ’80s. It’s a Prophet. He had a Prophet-5. Django played on these Prophet-5s with lots of synthesised options, and he also played piano at the same time, so he was doing these two manuals, and he could do all this world of sound, and John just felt totally incompetent in comparison to Django’s world of sound that he was creating.

And so John said, “Well, the only thing that I’ve got on Django’s piano playing is the fact that I can play a chord, and I can bend the whole chord a little bit.” And that’s what the Bigsby arm or the whammy bar can do, is that you can play a whole chord and just put that little bit of vibrato on it to give it a bit of wobble, and a bit of shine. And he said, “The only thing I’ve got leftover Django Bates’s mastery of the 88 keys is to play a chord and make it wobble.” And I thought that is true. We’ve got to have one advantage over piano here, otherwise it’s not fair.

Carl Orr: That’s great. Okay. What kind of things do you practise?

Rob Luft: These days, since we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve basically just been playing Bach for the last two and a half months. I’ve not really thought much about other … I’ve learned a couple of standards, and I’ve … Well, I mean, we talked on the phone, I’ve also been digging into a bit of old McGlaughlin, Shakti.

I’m trying to get my fingers around Joy, the first track off the first Shakti album, but really, I’m just working on Bach cello suites and violin party to the.

Carl Orr: So, on the classical guitar?

Rob Luft: No, just with a Bertram.

Carl Orr: All right. Do you play classical guitar or acoustic guitar much?

Rob Luft: I love the sound of classical guitar, and I’ve got a really nice nylon string that I bought off a Brazilian friend who lives in Portugal. I bought it off of him when I was out there visiting him, and I have got a beautiful instrument, but I would say that I basically just use it to play Bossa nova and samba accompaniments, which I’ve spent a lot of time studying that accompanimental style of people like Joao Gilberto and Joao Bosco. I love that, but I’ve never done the Spanish classical guitar tradition. I’ve never really got my fingers around that, my right hand. What about you?

Carl Orr: Oh, okay. Me, I did a bit of classical guitar in school, and then I left it alone, but actually, I’ve written some pieces for classical guitar and acoustic guitar over the last 15 years, and I’ve actually, every day, the first thing I do for my practise is I practise classical and steel string guitar for a while, but it’s not jazz at all. I don’t like playing it with a pick, it’s too loud and ferocious, on my own. On a gig, I’ll do that, but at home, I just play these things that I’ve written, and I’ve got arrangements of some standards and pop songs that I play through as well, but I love the instrument. I started to feel discontented with just playing the electric guitar at home about 15 years ago, because that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time, and I’ve been playing the acoustic and classical guitar at home every day for a year since then.

Rob Luft: Fantastic. I love the sound of … I mean, for me, there’s nothing like Joao Gilberto accompanying his voice on the nylon string guitar. That is just … I would happily listen to that every day for the rest of my life.

Carl Orr: Sure.

Rob Luft: I’ve played with quite a few of the Brazilians here who live in London, and I’ve always tried to really be attentive to that right hand style of playing samba properly, and I think it’s a pretty crucial part of the jazz and the world music language on the guitar, isn’t it? That style of Bossa and samba. I love it.

Carl Orr: So, just briefly, we’d like to choose another track from your new album.

Rob Luft: Definitely. Yes, happily, happily. I think maybe we should go with the title track, which is called Life is the Dancer.

Carl Orr: Okay. This is Life is the Dancer from Rob Luft, the title track from his new album, fantastic album.

(Life is the Dancer track playing) [00:40:57]

Carl Orr: That was Life is the Dancer from Rob’s new album, wonderful new album that you should all buy.

Rob Luft: Please.

Carl Orr: Certainly, you won’t regret it. It’s a great listen. I certainly find it very uplifting, and original, and inspired.

Rob Luft: Thank you, Carl.

Carl Orr: And I love to have it wafting around the house, cheerfully wafting around the house,…

Rob Luft: Fantastic.

Carl Orr: …which is great. Just to sum up, you’ve obviously got a lot of experience, played with a lot of people, got a great interest and a great diversity of music, and that’s a funny thing to ask in this time of lockdown, but what are your plans for the future? What are you working on now?

Rob Luft: Well, at the moment, I’m here in South London with my partner whose name is Elina. She’s a wonderful Albanian jazz singer. Her full name is Elina Duni, and she’s been working with a great German record label called ECM for the last few years.

Carl Orr: Oh wow.

Rob Luft: And, we actually, just before the lockdown hit, we recorded an album. Most of it is a duo concept, but we’re augmented on the recording by a wonderful Swiss trumpet player called Matthieu Michel, and an English pianist and drummer called Fred Thomas, and those two, we think of them as painters over the top of our duo canvas, and they bring their colours and their ideas to our original songs. And we recorded that in February, and we’re hoping to release it in November on ECM.

Carl Orr: Wow. Okay.

Rob Luft: At the moment, we’re just trying our best to plan out how we go about getting the music out there, whether touring will be back by November or December, whether some countries in Europe will have us for concerts. So, we’re not totally sure we’ll be able to perform live in the UK this year, but we’d love to think that we can play around the continent, and we’re working on some new music here at home, we’re composing some songs. We’ve been listening to loads of stuff together. I’ve got seriously back into Nick Drake after a long time.

Carl Orr: Oh, wow. Okay.

Rob Luft: And just trying to think about how I can maybe write some music which incorporate some of Nick’s guitar sounds. He’s such a distinctive thing going on, and his harmonies, I love his harmony, and just try to incorporate some of those sounds with some of my other jazz tastes at this time, and also with that, she’s a singer, and I’m a guitar player. I’ve been listening to some of those English singer songwriters like Nick and John Martin, and trying to fuse that maybe with some of my jazzier ideas, and thinking about that … A bit like Matthieu and you did back in the ’70s, which is-

Carl Orr: Sure, with the American sound.

Rob Luft: The Americana sound. I’m just thinking about, there’s a way of doing that here.

Carl Orr: Sure. Well, I think that’s really great. You are who you are. You’re not from the Mississippi, man.

Rob Luft: Unfortunately, if only, maybe in a previous lifetime.

Carl Orr: It doesn’t matter, man. It doesn’t matter. That’s great. Anyway, it’s been really wonderful talking to you, Rob.

Rob Luft: Cheers, Carl.

Carl Orr: Okay, Rob. Bye for now. Thank you.

Before you go…

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Podcast: Les Davidson – Carving Out The Rocky Road To Jazz

Podcast: Les Davidson – Carving Out The Rocky Road To Jazz

Podcast: Les Davidson – Carving Out The Rocky Road To Jazz

Les Davidson has been in the music business for over 30 years. He’s worked extensively in studios across the world and has been on countless world tours.

He’s been a member of both East of Eden and Sniff ’n’ the Tears, and has also worked as a session player/sideman for Rumer, Laura Mvula, Joan Armatrading, Mick Taylor, Donovan, Pete Townsend, Leo Sayer, Tina Turner and Bill Wyman, to name but a few. Les has worked in West End shows, written music for TV, radio and viral media, and currently runs a commercial studio in Hoxton, London.

Today, Carl Orr, FretDojo’s current Artist In Residence, shares a generous interview with world-touring guitarist Les Davidson, where they share deep insights on the process of developing your skills in jazz – and some critical ingredients that are at the forefront of a rock guitarist’s mind but often overlooked by jazz players.

Check out the podcast here and listen to Les Davidson’s story and incredible guitar journey:

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Get Les Davidson’s Album!

cd album coverCheck out Les’s newest acoustic album ‘Jump’ with his band Sniff ‘n’ The Tears here: https://www.sniffnthetears.com/jump

Transcript:

Carl Orr: Hi, I’m Carl Orr, Artist in Residence at FretDojo. Greg is very busy at the moment doing a new chord melody course, so I’m taking over the podcast for awhile.

I’ve got a fantastic guest for you today, a guitarist of a very rare degree of experience, many decades in the music business, playing with some of the top musicians in the rock and pop world, but has always had a great fascination and their great dedication to jazz guitar. Anyway, lucky to meet him. This is Mr. Les Davidson. Hi, Les.

Les Davidson: Hi, Carl. Thank you very much for asking me to come on the podcast. That’s amazing. Thank you.

Carl Orr: Yeah, so Les and I have been friends for a long time. We met through a mutual friend who recommended me to guide Les with his jazz guitar playing a bit, but actually, we had met many years before that, in very unusual circumstances.

I’d been to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and I got the plane to San Francisco. And then I was flying from San Francisco to my home in Sydney, Australia. And I happened to sit right in the middle, for some reason, of Joan Armatrading’s band.

There was me and there was, the whole row of this jumbo jet was basically the members of Joan Armatrading’s band, including her road crew. And Les was apparently one of the people in the band.

We must have met briefly at that time. And then, anyway, we figured out we’d been on the same flight, sitting in the same row, 20-plus, 22 years beforehand. Anyway, so we’d got this kind of deep connection in a way, so-

Les Davidson: Yeah, absolutely.

Carl Orr: And we’d become, we just automatically hit it off, and become very good friends in a short space of time.

Les Davidson: Yeah.

Carl Orr: So Les has had a really had an amazing career in the rock world, he’s now teaching a lot at, is it called BIMM now, B-I-M-M?

Les Davidson: Yeah, it’s called BIMM. It’s a BIMM Institute. It’s going to be BIMM University, I think, this coming September, if we all survive. If we all survive the C19 chord.

Carl Orr: The C-19 chord? My least favourite chord.

Les Davidson: Exactly.

Carl Orr: God. So Les, can you please give us some background, tell us how you started playing the guitar, and the things that you’ve done as a musical career, to start with?

Les Davidson: Yeah, well, very briefly, I’ve got an older brother, Tom, who is a singer in a band, and played a little bit of acoustic guitar, to be able to learn the songs that he was performing with the band. He never performed playing guitar, as such, but there was a guitar in the house. I wasn’t allowed to touch it. He’s nine years older than me.

But strangely enough, here’s another weird coincidence. He went to Australia. He went to Perth, to Western Australia on, I think, probably in those days, the 10 pound and six ticket, or something like that, to work for awhile. And at that time I think I was about 10, maybe nine years old, I’m not quite sure. And so, he left a guitar.

There’s only three strings in it. So I started with three strings, and I vaguely think that I probably had a paper round, or something like that. And I managed to purchase one every Saturday, for the next three weeks, another string, got six strings.

I didn’t know how to tune it. And then, I think, when I was in the music shop, somebody said, “Bert Weedon’s Play in a Day.”

Carl Orr: Ah.

Les Davidson: I think I saved up for that, bought that. And then, I’m pretty sure in that book, it tells you how to tune a guitar using the fret system. So that was it really, but I’d been singing from the age of six, and playing a little bit of piano.

But although the piano was wonderful, and I had a great piano teacher, it wasn’t pressing my buttons for, at that particular point, rock and roll. I’d worked with that guitar, learned to tune it, learned a few of the chords from “Play in a Day”, and then, met a couple of other people at school, who were into it, and then met some people outside school.

And I really got serious. I started to really want to learn to play the instrument. And I can’t even remember where I got this connection, but I was brought up in a farming community. And not far from the farm, there was a guy.

Carl Orr: Is that, where was this, Les?

Les Davidson: This is in Edinburgh, in Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland.

Carl Orr: What’s that? This is outside of Edinburgh?

Les Davidson: It’s not anymore. But in those days it was on the outskirts, yeah, yeah.

Carl Orr: What’s the name of the place?

Les Davidson: It was just called Bridgend Farm. And that was where my dad and my grandfather had a farm. And so, not far from there …

Carl Orr: Because, sorry, my wife’s family are farmers from outside of Edinburgh.

Les Davidson: Oh, right.

Carl Orr: Who moved to Australia, yeah.

Les Davidson: No, don’t tell me. The connection will be too weird, yeah.

Carl Orr: Hey, you might be my cousin.

Les Davidson: I’m probably your cousin, yeah. My brother might even be your father, for all we know. Anyway, we digress. Back to the odyssey.

Somebody recommended a much older, retired BBC radio orchestra guitar player. I didn’t know he was a radio orchestra guitar player at the time, a guy called Jimmy Elliott, who passed away in 1978. But I had started going to him when I was about 11, maybe 12 years old, every Friday.

He was a Django Reinhardt freak, absolute killer player, and loved Joe Pass and Jim Hall, and Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith, George Barnes, all those sort of people. And he was amazing, because of what he did.

I was starting to listen to Peter Green, and Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page, and all those players and all the blues players. I’d been listening to blues music. I’d been listening to Muddy Water, and Howling Wolf, and Robert Johnson, all these people beforehand.

So I went there, just to learn how to play the guitar, and what he did was amazing. He turned me on, he opened my mind to other styles of music. So he would give me a Jim Hall album, or a Joe Pass album, or a Stravinsky album.

I remember him giving me them right … He said, “Do you like classical music?” I said, “No. No, not really.” And so he gave me a Stravinsky album. He said, “Take it home, have a listen to it, and bring it back next week. Tell me what you think.” So I did.

Carl Orr: What did you think?

Les Davidson: I thought it was amazing. I’d never heard classical music like that before. So it blew my mind.

Carl Orr: I still listen to it, actually.

Les Davidson: Yeah. Oh, it was incredible. So he was very clever. He didn’t tell me to do anything. He just suggested.

And so, I got a love for jazz guitar, because right in front of me was this man, who was 60-odd at the time, if I remember correctly, playing this incredible music right in front of me, playing … I think I’ve told you that he tried to teach me Girl From Ipanema, and I could never get the bridge.

I was always fumbling about, couldn’t remember the chords. And he would play it, and it just sounded wonderful. So it instilled in me this real love of jazz guitar, and jazz music.

And it’s an easy connection, if you think of it, because of the blues. The next step is jazz. So, and then a little bit later, I got into a semiprofessional band, which eventually became a professional band, and there was horn players in that band, a three piece-horn section.

They were bringing Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, a million other players, and Lester Young. So I was listening to that as well. And it was a fantastic musical education. But all along, I’ve talked to you about this, Carl, all along, I was still very interested in playing rock ‘n’ roll, and rock music.

So I was spending half of my time trying to nick Hendrix and Clapton licks, and the other half of my time trying to figure out altered dominance, and diminished chords, and going, “I don’t know where I’m going to use these, because I don’t really hear them that much in the rock music, but …”

In fact, years later, it was very useful. Because years later, when I got into doing some sessions, occasionally I would see an altered dominant, and I would know what it was supposed to be. Because I didn’t know how to solo over it, but I could play the chord.

Jimmy was so powerful in his education. And then another guy, who’s only about 10 years older than me, a guy called Lachlan MacColl, who’s still around in Edinburgh, great sort of Jim Hall style player, who wonderfully says he’s never played a minor pentatonic in his life, which I love.

And he taught me a lot of stuff, as well. So that’s how I sort of got kicked off, you know?

 

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Carl Orr: That’s great. Very interesting. So yeah, so you talked about the common, the commonality between blues, rock and jazz, right?

Les Davidson: Yeah.

Carl Orr: That’s a common thing, isn’t it? And I think a lot of the more jazz guitarists who’ve been become very popular, their very pronounced blues feel, not all of them, but, for example, Jim Hall. Not Jim Hall. Kenny Burrell.

Les Davidson: Kenny Burrell, yeah.

Carl Orr: Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, John Scofield, Mike Stern. So yeah, it goes all the way from Kenny Burrell, back in the ’50s, with that beautiful, clear sound, playing with strong blues flavour up to Mike Stern, the kind of very modernistic rock-blues approach.

But there’s this commonality between rock and jazz, which is this blues connection. So that’s the thing that’s in common, but what are the differences between playing rock and playing jazz?

Especially, well, talk about various aspects, if you like, but particularly in terms of soloing, because soloing in rock guitar is a massive part of being a rock guitarist. But it’s a very different approach to soloing in jazz, isn’t it?

Les Davidson: Yeah. And in fact, that was one of the reasons that, at a certain point in my life, when I was doing fairly well as a rock player, getting work and touring the world, etc, and working on people’s records … I found that my ability to be able to solo through changes was not as strong as my ability to be able to sit on a vamp, maybe two chords, using minor pentatonics and major pentatonics, and be able to still make up lines like jazz players do, and connect the lines, and have tension and release, and questions and answers.

But they were quite limited. Penta means “five,” five notes, so with these, proficient in five notes-

Carl Orr: You’re bloody good with the five notes, then.

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You make a lot of noise with five notes. And I think the main difference to me is, a lot of rock players really focus on the vibrato, their tone, the sound.

Carl Orr: Right.

Les Davidson: Whereas when I listened to, for instance, some of the early Jim Hall records, or even some of the early Grant Green and Kenny Burrell records, that sound is, anyways, the sound is quite clean.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: Because a lot of the time they use half wound or wound strings.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: You wouldn’t necessarily be bending notes that much. They wouldn’t be vibrating in the same way.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: Like BB King would, though, BB King would, and Albert King, and …

Carl Orr: Oh right, okay. Yeah.

Les  Davidson: But it was a very different thing.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: So I think the two main components are the sound, and then the ability to be able to play through changes.

Carl Orr: Before you go any further, Les, you’re talking about rock. Playing rock is a kind of amorphous thing. I think it would be good for people to know who you played with, because you’ve played with some of the finest people in rock and pop music. Would you mind giving us a list of people who you’ve played with?

Les Davidson: Well, I’ll give you a list of a few of them. Yeah, I mean, I played with Joan Armatrading, who’s been mentioned. I did two world tours with her.

I also played with some interesting people like Mory Kanté, the African artist, who was very big in the 80s. Played with Leo Sayer when he was a massive star in the late ’70s. Labi Siffre, who’s a crossover between pop songwriting and blues and jazz, Tina Turner, Pete Townshend, Paul Rodgers. Yeah, loads of different people, like Taylor.

Carl Orr: Mick Taylor?

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Played with Mick, as well, so …

Carl Orr: So you’re kind of an executive rock guitarist, Les.

Les Davidson: Well, thank you very much. Anyway, so yeah. Yeah, my sleeves were rolled up, and I was definitely in the middle of it, in the thick of it, yeah.

Carl Orr: So yeah, you were saying about the … I think this, I mean, for myself, I remember, as a young guy, I knew a lot of rock guitarists. Because that what most people were.

And they would often say, “Oh, a lot of you jazz guys, you don’t really have your sound together. You don’t have your tone together.” And I always thought, “Yeah, there, well, if everybody’s saying that, there must be some truth in it.” So I’ve really tried to work on getting a good tone.

Les Davidson: Oh yeah.

Carl Orr: Because, as you say, with rock-

Les Davidson: That’s one of the things I love about your playing is, you’ve got a great tone, you got a great sound.

Carl Orr: Oh thank you. But so that, but in rock, I remember a guy saying to me, “In rock music, you don’t have all the clever chords and the fancy notes. You play simple chords, you play fifths.” So your guitar has to be perfectly in tune.

Les Davidson: Yeah.

Carl Orr: Like if you play a C major seven, sharp 11, sharp nine, if your guitar is very, very slightly out of tune, you don’t even really notice it.

Les Davidson: No.

Carl Orr: But if you play a G5, which is just G and D, you really notice it if it’s out of tune. So the whole thing of making sure your guitar is really in tune, and concentrating on getting a good tone.

And also, what about projection? I always feel projection is a massive part of playing rock guitar. And I’ve tried to bring that into my jazz playing a lot.

Les Davidson: Yeah. I think people, for instance, I was very much into John McLaughlin when he came along with Miles.

Carl Orr: Yeah, yeah.

Les Davidson: I think it was on In A Silent Way, I think, was the first time he played with him.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: Then, of course, he was on Live-Evil as well. And then, of course, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. And that was a big projection thing, mixing his jazz ability … Well, I didn’t even know, for instance, at the time that McLaughlin was a good straight bebop player, I didn’t know at the time that McLaughlin had been a big session player.

But I’d just heard in London, which he had. But I heard this mixture of, he was one of the first that seemed to be able to grab that rock sensibility. You’re talking about that projection, but play a different bunch of notes, that melodic minor and harmonic minor, and Indian type scales, and all sorts of stuff.

But yeah, I mean, I think, if you look at Hendrix, the whole thing about Hendrix, for instance, apart from being an amazing rhythm guitar player, and a great songwriter and a sort of musical visionary, it was all about performance and projection, and trying to get that stuff across.

It wasn’t so much in the head. It was more in the body as well as the head. That was part of the rock music thing. Whereas, I think, maybe in the ’20s and ’30s, when you went to a jazz club, people were up dancing and shouting and jumping around.

But mostly, my experience of going to jazz situations is, mostly people sit and listen. So it’s more in their head. Even though they might be projecting, like Scofield projects, he plays more like a rock player, and Mike stern certainly does.

I remember asking him once, actually, I chanced to speak to him when he came to the school to do a master class. And I said, “What do you listen to and work on?”

He says, “Charlie Parker and Hendrix.” And actually, if you listen to his playing, you go- “Yeah, I sort of hear it. Yeah, that’s about right, yeah.”

So I think there’s been a crossover, obviously from maybe the early ’70s, where the modern jazz guitar player has taken on the projection rock thing and the sound. And I must say that some rock guitar players have crossed over the other way, and taken on the ability to be able to play through changes, and understand about harmony and theory.

Carl Orr: Yeah. Some of them do it extremely well.

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah.

Carl Orr: Like Greg Howe.

Les Davidson: Yeah, Greg Howe is fantastic, yeah.

Carl Orr: My God.

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah. And Robben Ford’s another one. Robben Ford has been doing it for years. Playing with the Yellowjackets, There’s some serious changes going on, and with Miles, of course, and it made perfect sense to them. And it-

Carl Orr: But he’s an authentic blues guitarist as well, isn’t he?

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he could. I think it’s down to hearing, because one thing that-

Carl Orr: It’s down to what? To hearing?

Les Davidson: Hearing, being able to hear the changes. To hear the changes, as opposed to see the changes. A minor II-V-I can be written down, but can you really hear the connection between the chords?

Carl Orr: Okay.

Les Davidson: And for me, my biggest change was being able to actually hear the sound of that movement.

Carl Orr: Okay.

Les Davidson: That’s the big thing that changed for me. And that came about, from actually coming to you, and you opening the door, lots of doors that you opened, and then also going and doing jazz jams, and getting up there and going, “I’m really not very good at this, but I’m being invited back.”

People were saying, “Well, you play great. So okay. So maybe you don’t hear the changes, but you will.”

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: These little things were really important to me, because it meant, “Okay, well, they think I’ve got something to offer, so I’ll go away and work in it.”

Because I think, for me, the biggest problem for most rock guitar players is, it’s a big step to go from playing five-note pentatonics, to playing around Autumn Leaves.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: To make sense of it, it’s a massive step.

Carl Orr: I always think of people as having a kind of a voice, or even a kind of accent. You know, I’ve got an Irish friend, and every time he picks up the guitar, he sort of, I say to him, “You’re playing a guitar with an Irish accent.”

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah.

Carl Orr: Which is, actually, he does. And it’s a beautiful accent.

Les Davidson: Yeah.

Carl Orr: But I think you, your natural accent or natural voice, as a guitarist, is this rock-blues kind of rock thing.

Les Davidson: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Carl Orr: So you play jazz, almost from that viewpoint. And then, the natural sort of rock phrasing comes out, but it’s not in a tasteless, kind of inappropriate way, where it graffitis all over the jazz.

It’s like, you’ve just got, compared to somebody like myself, you’ve got maybe a more pronounced blues feeling in what you do. So while what you’re doing is jazz guitar, your roots are so strongly in rock-

Les Davidson: Absolutely.

Carl Orr: But that comes out, but in a way that’s idiomatically appropriate, jazz wise.

Les Davidson: I agree. Because I think, an interesting thing, we talked about this, which was when I came to you after talking to Pat, our mutual friend Pat, was that I’d made a decision, at that point, that I would, I really wanted to … I’d found a way to stop telling myself that I wasn’t musically intelligent enough to try and learn to play through changes. Yeah.

And that took me many years. Because I would see great guitar players, luckily by travelling the world, and I would see these amazing players. And I would say, “I’ll never be able to do that”. So I didn’t. That was the easiest route. “I don’t think I can do it, so don’t bother.”

Whereas in fact, I was wrong, I was completely wrong. And by, eventually, persuasion or suggestion and encouragement from people like yourself, Paul Stacey, who’s a mutual friend of ours, Jim Mullen, another London bass guitar player, who’s Scottish, a great player, just people saying … And a couple of sax players, Ian Ritchie, and Pat, as well, in actual fact.

Saying, “Yeah, you can. And because you have,” as you’ve pointed out, “this sort of bluesy sound, stick with that. Use that as your main voice, and just learn how to play through the chord sequences.”

So the way I did that was by getting a few people like yourself to open doors and show me things, that, I was confused. What are these Mixolydian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, dominant, what’s all this? Greek.

What’s that got to do with the blues and jazz? How’s a Greek person involved in this? And obviously, when you go to people like yourself, who are experts, and have been doing it a long, long time, you start to realise that it’s like playing the blues, in the sense that it’s just like floating over the chord sequences.

Once you know that the chord sequences are more than three chords or four chords, there’s a few more, but they’re connected, and this is a major sound. I mean, one thing I learned a long time ago is, there’s major, minor and dominant, and that’s it. That’s it.

Once you simplify it like that, then it basically becomes more doable. And I think that’s the thing that changed in me, was I realised that, from my inner self, I needed to attempt to do it.

And so I started to attempt to do it. And yeah, it was hard. And it still is hard. And unfortunately, I’ve opened a can of worms that’s going to be ongoing forever.

But as every year goes by, I feel I’ve got a little bit more of an understanding of what playing through standards is about, and what playing through modal type of music is about. And what, through playing through more modern, post-bop, Pat Martino is a big influence on me.

Joyous Lake, when I heard that, first of all, I was like, “Whoa, this is amazing.” Because I loved that fast type of technique, well, not type of technique, the fast hard bop technique he has. And bless him, he’s not been very well, I believe, recently.

Carl Orr: No.

Les Davidson: So I hope he will be. But also, the sound of that record was much more rocky, and sort of punchy.

Carl Orr: Yeah, with the electric piano and electric bass, yeah.

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah, Gil Goldstein.

Carl Orr: Gil Goldstein.

Les Davidson: And Will Lee on bass, Kenwood Dennard on drums.

Carl Orr: Yeah. Yeah.

Les Davidson: Amazing. So, yeah, arpeggios, lots of arpeggio work, thirds and sevens, the strong chord tunes, all that stuff, just working, working, working, keeping it simple. I’ve done a lot of work, and I’m doing a lot of work at the moment on melodic minor. I’m just spending a lot of time working on melodic minor, and all the arpeggios over the chords.

That was the thing. Most rock guitar players, no, that’s unfair to say, most rock guitar players. Sorry, I retract that. You can edit that.

Some rock guitar players cannot play you the seven chords of a major scale in seventh chords. They can’t do it. They don’t know how to play that.

So if you don’t recognise that these chords are connected from one parent scale, how are you ever going to look at a chord sequence and go, “Oh, that’s C major,” how would you do that? You wouldn’t.

Maybe your ear would help you, but essentially, it would be very, very demanding to be able to make that connection. And then, the relative minor? I mean, Autumn Leaves is an example.

Some people will say it’s in G minor, some people will say it’s in B flat. So B flat is the parent major scale and G minor is the relative minor scale. So it’s stuff like that, but it takes work.

And I think, you’ve got to, have to have a love for the music, whether it’s on your instrument or not, yeah. And you got to listen to a lot of it. And then you’re going to try and play a lot of it. And you’ve got to experiment.

You’ve got to get up there on the stand and say, “I think that idea I’ve been working on might work,” and mess it up, and go, “Oops, that’s not working,” or, “Ooh, that worked really well.”

And then, yeah, enjoy it. Enjoy it. That’s the thing, enjoy it.

Carl Orr: Yeah. Yeah. We don’t have much time, but I-

Les Davidson: No.

Carl Orr: But I grew up in Australia in the ’70s, when I started getting, really getting interested in the guitar. And everybody who picked up a guitar, seemingly of my age, at a rock sound, and a rock feel, because that’s what they heard.

That was just the feel. And I do feel that, I do think that jazz, whatever else it is, it’s a feel. It’s a feeling, and a particular kind of way of grooving in the music. And I think, as you said, it’s only by listening to a lot of it, that you just pick up on the feeling.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about you is that you have a good jazz feel, like a natural … Because, let’s say, people would talk about somebody like Muddy Waters, “Oh, what a great feel,” and it is. Or James Brown, or some more, BB King.

But actually, Pat Martino has a great feel, as well. It’s a particular feeling, you know?

Les Davidson: Yeah. That’s a different feeling.

Carl Orr: That daring sort of daredevil chromaticism, you know?

Les Davidson: Yeah.

Carl Orr: And that’s, but that’s as much of a feel as BB King, or Muddy Waters.

Les Davidson: Absolutely.

Carl Orr: And I think that’s what you’ve got. Whatever your knowledge or lack of it was, you always had that feel.

You always were able to, even from the very first time I heard you try to play jazz, you had this Pat Martino-ish kind of snakey chromaticism, which was a feel, every much as playing some kind of blues lick, with bending.

Les Davidson: Yeah, yeah. Well, yes, it was, as you say is, because I suppose I’ve been listening to it for a long, long time, listening to basic blues music, from the age of about 11 or 12, and then jazz, not long afterwards. And I’m always very grateful to the fact, as I’ve said, that that first serious band I was in had three horn players, who were all bringing into my world, lots and lots of jazz music, on a different instrument, not the guitar.

Carl Orr: Yeah, that’s great, yeah.

Les Davidson: Yeah. And hearing the way that drummers would approach a boogaloo, or a swing, and what a blues swing was, and what a jazz swing was, and understanding, there’s a different feel.

And they’re both as relevant as each other.

Carl Orr: Yeah.

Les Davidson: I got to a point as well, which is the thing I found about trying to play through standards like Stella, or All The Things You Are, or something like that, especially Stella, is just trying to … The challenge of trying to make good music is hard.

Les Davidson: I had a great statement. I went to one guy, a great teacher, Dave Cliff. I don’t know if you know Dave Cliff, right, but-

Carl Orr: Yeah, I love Dave. Jolly, funny guy, too.

Les Davidson: Yeah. Yeah, oh, he’s great. Here’s, this is what he said to me. I went for some lessons, and we played through, I think it was Stella.

And he said, Yeah, your brain surgery’s really good, but you’re stitching’s shit.” Excuse me. And I thought that was a wonderful statement.

What he was trying to say was that it was basically saying, “Stitch your cords together. Worry about the brain surgery later.” And he was right. The best piece of advice I’d ever had about playing through changes.

Carl Orr: Yeah. Awesome. Okay. Well, that’s been really fascinating, Les, as I knew it would. Wonderful to hear your story, and your unique perspective, and your great passion for music and the guitar, and your broad-mindedness.

And it’s really inspiring. So, before we finish up, is there anything that you would like to let people know about, any project or projects that you’re working on at the moment?

Les Davidson: Yes, there is Carl. Thank you, Yeah. I’m still in a band with the dodgy name of Sniff ‘n’ The Tears, who had a hit with a thing called Driver’s Seat in the late ’70s, and we just made an acoustic dual album.

Although it’s not jazz, the reason I think it’s important is, the sensibilities and the musicality that has been brought to me through playing jazz, and working on playing jazz, I’ve been able to bring to bear upon very simple rock songs. And it’s allowed me to be a lot more musically creative, which I think I perhaps wouldn’t have had the ability to do, if I hadn’t been involved in that part of music.

So if people are interested, it’s called Jump. It’s Sniff ‘n’ The Tears, it’s out on our website, Sniff ‘n’ The Tears’ website, and I think it’s on Apple and Amazon.

Yeah, it’s worth a listen. We were going to do some gigs, but obviously, with the dreaded C-19 chord, we can’t do them. Maybe next year, as an acoustic duo, which has been fun.

So yeah, that would be great for people to listen to that. That’s something that’s we finished only about four, five months ago, something like that, which is fun to do, so …

Carl Orr: Excellent. Well, that’s really great. I’ll definitely have a listen to that, and I’ll recommend everybody else does. So thanks a lot, Les Davidson.

Les Davidson: Thank you, Carl Orr. Thank you very much. It’s great to see you …

Carl Orr: Yeah, great to see you. I look forward to catching up in Perth.

Les Davidson: Yeah, absolutely. I owe you a pizza still, actually. Remember? Before all this happened, I said, “I’ll buy you a pizza,” but it’s this good Scottish way of getting out of it, by bringing a virus upon the world, so I don’t have to pay for a pizza.

Carl Orr: It’d save you money.

Les Davidson: Exactly.

Carl Orr: Ah, that’s great. Well, thanks a lot, Les. See you soon. And thanks everybody for listening, and see you next time. Thank you very much. Bye.

Les Davidson: Yeah, thank you, Carl. Bye.

Before you go…

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Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

On today’s Podcast, Carl Orr,  FretDojo’s current Artist In Residence, shares his insights into the magic of chord melody and the power that comes from tapping into the strength of guitar as a solo instrument.

Check out the podcast here and listen to Carl’s story, as well as some very moving chord melodies he plays throughout the show:

Join FretDojo’s online jazz guitar academy here

Carl Orr

Carl Orr

Carl has performed and recorded with some of the finest musicians on the planet including Billy Cobham, George Duke, Ernie Watts, Randy Brecker, Gary Husband and Bennie Maupin.

He is a regular at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in his own band and as a member of drummer Mark Fletcher’s supergroup “Fletch’s Brew”.

Carl has taught guitar at The Australian Institute of Music, Brunel University, Middlesex University, London Centre Of Contemporary Music and The Academy of Contemporary Music.

A prolific composer, Carl has recorded eight albums as a leader and is featured on albums by Billy Cobham, Fletch’s Brew, Geoff Eales and Nathan Haines.

His latest album, Forbearance is a dramatic departure from his jazz and fusion recordings of the past and with the aid of producer Tim van der Kuil and arranger Grant Windsor, Carl has crafted a truly unique acoustic guitar-based album exploring pop, rock, folk, Americana, and classical styles.

He regards his music as his public contribution to creating a peaceful, harmonious world.

“It is not enough for me for my music to merely be a manifestation of the chaos and disharmony of the world, but instead it must be a potent influence on creating peaceful relationships between people. My aim is to make the listener feel calm, optimistic and invigorated.” ~ Carl Orr

Transcript:

Greg O’Rourke:

Hi, and welcome to the podcast. Greg O’Rourke here. We’re very lucky at the moment to have Carl Orr as the Artist In Residence here at FretDojo. He’s been busy recording shows lately with a whole host of guest artists that he’s planning to bring on the show in the near future. Today though, I’d like to share with you a very intimate solo session from Carl, all about his journey with solo chord melody, and how it’s impacted his relationship with the guitar as he’s gone through his musical journey. I really hope you enjoy today’s show. I really enjoyed listening to this one, myself. You’re in for a real treat, and quite a moving look at what chord melody can do for your playing.

Speaking of chord melody, a quick heads up that at this time of this recording, we’re actually releasing a brand new FretDojo course all about chord melody essentials. This is called the 30-day Chord Melody Challenge. There should be a link to get the course on the FretDojo homepage at www.fretdojo.com. If you’re interested in checking that out, go to that page to enrol. It will be open for this week, at the time of this recording. So, hope you catch that. But anyway, this is a very special show from Carl Orr, and I really hope you enjoy this session.

Carl Orr:

Hi, this is Carl Orr, Artist In Residence at fretdojo.com. I just want to talk about the magic of chord melody guitar, solo guitar. This has always been a big part of my life. The first live guitarist I ever saw was the esteemed classical guitarist, John Aaron. This was in a church in Newcastle in the north of England in 1971 or ’72. I don’t know what he played. He just played this hour lunchtime recital of mesmerising music, and I was really taken in by the unique quality of a solo guitar.

In this case, it was in the classical context, but there’s something about solo guitar, the struggle of the person doing it. There’s a kind of noble struggle to get from one end of each piece to the other without making a mistake, without falling off, and there’s a kind of intensity about that, which is very compelling. I always was very drawn to that kind of thing.

Indeed, my first guitar lesson, which was just a few months before, was actually a lesson in very rudimentary chord melody playing. I remember the first thing we did at our first test, and I still remember how to play it. It was an arrangement of the American folk song, My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean. It went like this. Pretty cute.

Right from my very first guitar lesson, I was aware that the guitar was a self-contained instrument that could create interesting music by itself. I remember my mom listening to me practising . She said to me, “You’re very lucky playing the guitar because you can make a complete sound.” She said, “Some other instruments, like the bass for example or the clarinet, you can’t make a complete sound. Whereas the guitar, you can be completely self-contained.” And she said, “I understand why you’re so keen on playing for long stretches of time, because you’re making this self-contained sound.” Anyway, I was always very fond of that.

I went on to study classical guitar with my teacher at school, a man named Mr. Paul Kay. He went through classical repertoire with me. I knew right from the beginning that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I always loved classical guitar music. We did pieces by Fernando Soares in particular, I remember quite a lot, and Bach. I was always greatly attracted to Bach. I remember my absolute amazement when I could play this famous Bouree by Bach, the one probably most people know. You know that one. I remember being amazed that I could do this kind of complex thing with these independent lines going. It really got me interested in playing in an unaccompanied way.

By the time I was 14 or 15, I was showing some interest in jazz. I think I was 15 when my dad bought me a book of solo jazz guitar arrangements by the Australian guitarist, Don Andrews. I remember opening up this book and just opening up the first page and just starting to play this song. I was just amazed that something that sounded like jazz was coming out of my guitar. It was his arrangement of How About You, which I don’t remember completely, but it was something like this. Something like that. I was just shocked to hear myself playing something that sounded so much like real jazz and I was hooked from then on.

Then I became aware of Joe Pass. He would play solo electric guitar. He made these famous albums, virtuoso albums. Played solo electric guitar. Great, beautiful arrangements with great solos in them. Sometimes he would play on the classical instrument, which I was playing. It was quite revealing for me to see the classical instrument used in a way that had nothing to do with formal classical repertoire, but was in a very informal, individualistic way, in a very jazzy sort of way.

He didn’t sound like he was using conventional classical technique; he sounded like he was maybe using bare flesh rather than fingernails. But it was a great sound and I loved the intimacy and the quietness of it. It was so quiet you could hear his foot tapping. He sounded like he maybe had bare feet or socks. You could just hear this foot in a sock just gently tapping time. He was so quiet you could hear this gentle tapping of a sock underneath it. Really great stuff. I just loved that kind of quietness and intense kind of intimacy of that.

I grew up in Australia and when I was in my early twenties, the great Ike Isaacs moved to Australia. He’s a great solo jazz guitarist and a mentor to many people including most famously, Martin Taylor, who’s gone on to become one of the leading solo jazz guitarists in the world. Ike was a delightful man. He was so gregarious and just wanted to be friends with everyone. He was very likeable, quiet-spoken, highly intelligent man with a fantastic sense of humour. I just remember this combination of Ike’s warmth, and his fascinating stories, and his sense of humour, and his wonderful guitar playing.

He had been a successful studio guitarist in the ’60s and ’70s in London, played on lots of pop records. He enjoyed his work, but it’s quite a hard job, quite a stressful job. He said that thanks to having an understanding wife, a lovely lady named [Moira 00:10:26], he was able to come home from a long day in the studio and do what he loved to do best, which was to play his solo guitar arrangements of standards and his original songs. He became a real master of that and a world authority on that. He went on to finish off his performing career as a member of the great Stephane Grappelli’s band, but he always had this solo guitar passion underlying everything.

 

If you’re keen to have a structured, step-by-step approach to learning jazz guitar, it might be worth checking out my online learning system, the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy.

Here’s what you get when you join up:

  • Detailed step-by-step video lessons on new classic jazz tunes and essential jazz guitar skills added to the club website each month. Includes listening recommendations, demonstrations of the melody, analysis of the harmony, and detailed explanations on how to solo over the tune.
  • Key improvisation concepts and techniques for soloing, and classic licks and example solos that relate to each tune, so you can continue to expand your jazz vocabulary and have more options when it comes to soloing.
  • Detailed comping ideas to suit the style of each jazz standard covered
  • Lessons on how to make chord melody and solo jazz guitar versions of tunes featured – play a complete jazz standard completely on your own like Joe Pass!
  • Members only forum – A worldwide community of jazz guitarists from all around the globe.
  • Regular workshops, masterclasses, and Q & A Sessions – get direct answers from me on anything holding you back in the practice room. Replays of all sessions are available to access for all members even if you can’t make it live.
  • Massive searchable database of jazz licks and soloing concepts – the ultimate idea “grab bag” for your solos.
  • Optional monthly challenges where members participate to get feedback on their playing, reach new milestones and be eligible for cool prizes.

Go here for more info: https://www.fretdojo.com/signup-offer

 

Carl Orr:

I met him when I was 23. We were talking and I said, “I can’t really do solo guitar very well.” He said, “Well, you just need a few guidelines.” And he said, “Just think of a song that you know. I said, “Well, I’m learning how to play Duke Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss.” He said, “Well, do that then.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know what to do.” And he said, “Well, first of all, play the melody and just play the bass note under the melody.” So, I did that. Let me try and remember this.

And I just did that. I probably didn’t do it very fluently, but he said, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s where you start. Play the melody and play the bass note of each chord under it.” Then he said, “Okay, now flesh it out a bit.” So I tried it.

He said to me, “Play the melody clearly, play the bass note clearly, and just grab whatever notes you can in between the melody note and the bass note. That’s basically all you need to know about playing solo guitar.” At least it’s all you need to know to get started. So, that was a great introduction for me. Every time I do a solo guitar arrangement, I’d just say to myself, “Get the melody nice and strong, play the bass note, and grab what you can in between.” It’s a great way to approach it.

Anyway, as time went on, I neglected my solo guitar chord melody playing very much and really pursued my passion for being a virtuoso improviser, which I doggedly worked very hard at for a long time. They say life begins at 40. When I was approaching 40 … When I was 39, I felt myself changing quite a bit. One of the things that changed was my desire to play chord melody guitar, to play solo guitar was reawoken. I suddenly found myself playing little classical pieces that I’d learned as a kid and figuring out little chord melody arrangements. The whole intimate side of playing the guitar just would not be ignored anymore.

I was making an album at the time and I recorded a couple of solo original pieces. Since then, it’s been growing and growing. And then in the last few years, it’s been something that I do every day. I start my guitar practise every day with about 45 minutes to an hour of solo guitar, which can be anything from that little Bach piece that I played earlier on, to arrangements of jazz songs and pop songs in a jazz chord melody style. For example, I do an arrangement of Carol King’s So Far Away. I’ll play a little bit of it for you, like this kind of thing.

I love doing things like that. Just adapting songs and do them in this jazz chord melody style. This is something I do every day. Actually, unless I do play some chord melody guitar every day, I do feel a bit weird. It kind of grounds me. There’s something about the sensation of making all the sound yourself, which is very satisfying. So yeah, I do that every day. As I said, I feel a bit lost if I don’t do it. Every time I practise, I play solo guitar for, as I said, 45 minutes to an hour, and then I pick up my electric guitar and work on some technical stuff and improvisation. But it’s always the chord melody and various solo guitar things that get me started every day. Anyway, I think it’s a unique area of musical satisfaction.

I’m not somebody who’s, like what you would call a real guitar head. I’m somebody who’s interested in music in general, whether it’s Beethoven symphonies or Bill Evans playing the piano, or Ry Cooder playing slide guitar, or Bonnie Raitt singing a beautiful song. I don’t really care about musical styles and I’m not really that bothered about whether the guitar is part of what I listen to or not. I would love to listen to Glenn Gould playing the piano or Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello. That’s great. But increasingly, the guitar is very important to me. I’ve always practised a lot, but it’s something about playing solo guitar that just brings the guitar so close to you because it’s right next to your body, and it’s kind of vibrating.

Probably the most important thing the great Ike Isaacs said to me. He looked at me really seriously in the eye and he said, “Carl, the guitar is your friend.” It took me a long time to really figure out what he meant by that. But I think what he really meant was, if you play chord melody guitar, concentrate on, at least some of the time, playing solo guitar. The guitar really becomes your friend in a way that’s utterly unique.

Last year, I played with a wonderful pianist called Jesse Milliner, who is well known for playing with Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour and many other people. He looked at me and he said, “You’re so lucky playing the guitar.” And this guy’s a master pianist. I said, “Why am I lucky playing the guitar?” He said, “Well, you get to hold this instrument and you embrace it.” He said, “No piano player gets that sensation from their instrument.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s something I’d never thought of before.” So, enjoy your chord melody playing. Remember, the guitar is your friend. Have a great time with your friend.

Greg O’Rourke:

Wasn’t that an amazing look at solo guitar? I really enjoyed listening to Carl’s story then, especially when he was talking about that book he found of Don Andrews, because Don Andrews was actually one of my earliest and most important guitar teachers, myself. And so, it’s cool that Carl and I have that connection there. I really hope you enjoyed this session. Make sure that you check out my website fretdojo.com. As I mentioned at the start, there is that chord melody challenge course that’s being released this week. If you’re keen to learn a few techniques to get some chord melody approaches into your guitar playing, then it might be worth a look. Okay guys. Well, until next time, thanks very much. My name’s Greg O’Rourke. I look forward to sharing another episode of the FretDojo podcast with you soon. Bye for now.

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Big News – Carl Orr To Be Artist In Residence For FretDojo!

Big News – Carl Orr To Be Artist In Residence For FretDojo!

Big News – Carl Orr To Be Artist In Residence For FretDojo!

Exciting news today:

Carl Orr is going to be the official Artist In Residence at FretDojo for the next few months!

Which means Carl is going to be collaborating with me on courses for the FretDojo Academy membership, as well as bringing on fantastic guests artists for the podcast, recording Youtube videos and more.

Carl has performed and recorded with some of the finest musicians on the planet including Billy Cobham, George Duke, Ernie Watts, Randy Brecker, Gary Husband and Bennie Maupin.

He is a regular at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in his own band and as a member of drummer Mark Fletcher’s supergroup “Fletch’s Brew”.

Carl has taught guitar at The Australian Institute of Music, Brunel University, Middlesex University, London Centre Of Contemporary Music and The Academy of Contemporary Music.

A prolific composer, Carl has recorded eight albums as a leader and is featured on albums by Billy Cobham, Fletch’s Brew, Geoff Eales and Nathan Haines.

In this special podcast, I introduce Carl to FretDojo so you can get to know about his incredible career – and he also gives some great tips out of the gate that you can instantly apply to your own guitar practice.

Check out the podcast here:

Join FretDojo’s online jazz guitar academy here

Transcript:

Greg O’Rourke: Hi guys, Greg O’Rourke here from the FretDojo.com podcast. Visit my website FretDojo.com for a whole bunch of free resources, tips, and other stuff to get your jazz guitar playing to the next level. I’m very happy to have a special announcement today actually, that the fabulous Carl Orr, for the next few months is going to be the artist in residence at Fret Dojo, and I actually have Carl on the podcast with me here today. So welcome Carl to the Fret Dojo podcast once again.

Carl Orr: All right, Greg. Great to be here.

Greg O’Rourke: Yeah, it’s really exciting that you’ve agreed to be an artist in residence. So over the next several months, we’re going to be working on collaborating on some courses together. We’re going to be doing some podcasts with some really fabulous guest artists from around the world, and a few YouTube videos, and all sorts of stuff. So if you guys are keen on working with Carl in the upcoming series of courses that we’re doing, make sure that you look at the FretDojo Academy, which is where it’s all going to be published. So today Carl, I thought it would be good to have a bit of, just a little introduction basically. I know you’ve been on the podcast before, but let’s kind of hear the backstory, like where did guitar playing start for you? And maybe it’d be good to hear a bit about your career and some of the amazing players that you’ve played with over the years?

Carl Orr: Yeah. Okay. Thank you. Yeah. Well, the guitar for me, I suppose like a lot of people in my generation started with Beatles. I was born in 1960, and the earliest thing I can remember in my life of any kind, is of attempting to play a toy guitar. I can’t remember anything before that, I must have been about two, playing this sort of plastic toy guitar and singing I want to hold your hand, and this quiet, little, horrible cacophony coming out of the guitar and thinking I’ve got to figure this out, that’s the best thing I can remember. And I basically haven’t had any other thoughts since, that’s kind of been my whole life-

Greg O’Rourke: It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Because you started with that little toy guitar and you’ve gone on to play with some of the biggest names in jazz and other styles as well. So you’re based in London now, aren’t you? At the moment. Yeah, so tell us about some of the guys that you’ve played with over the years?

Carl Orr: Well, yeah. I played up in London for 24 years, and I’ve played with Billy Cobham. I know I’m getting a bit old and like old guys over the age of 50, I think I’m a fascinating storyteller, so here we go, get ready to be fascinated J So when I was 14, I started to get aware of jazz and I went to this secondhand record shop in Adelaide where I grew up, and I picked up an album of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. And I looked on the back cover and there were pictures of the band, the album, Birds of Fire. And there was picture of Billy Cobham playing the drums and I thought, he looks like a nice guy, I’d like to be his friend and play in his band. I was just a kid, I’d never kissed a girl, I’d never done a gig, I was just this kid, and I felt, wow, I must be out of my mind, what am I thinking?

Well, when I was 17, I said to these friends of mine, again, I was still really naive and done much. I said to these two friends of mine, who I was having a jam with, I said, “I really like to play with Billy Cobham.” And they looked at me like, what particular drug are you on today? I just had this real clear thought in my mind that I wanted to play with Billy Cobham. One thing after I worked really hard on my music, really practiced a hell of a lot, and went to Berklee College of Music.

Came back to Australia, wind up playing, I played with Jackie Orszaczky, he was the guy to play with in Sydney, sort of the closest thing Sydney would have to, Miles Davis or something like that, the guy to play with, and I wind up with him after a lot of effort. And then through him, in 1989, late 1989, I got this phone call from Jackie’s manager saying, “How would you like to play with Billy Cobham, is coming up to Sydney?” Yeah, it was unbelievable. And I was really scared, I thought, well, this is what I’ve always wanted, and it was like 15 years after I had the original thought of playing with him. So then I played with him and he really liked me, and really like my character, and he liked playing a lot enough, and he gave all of us his business card. I stayed in touch with him and I sent him a CD.

My first CD was released in 1990, I send him a copy and then kept in contact. The thing that surprised me was, he was responding to my contact, he is replying, he send me a Christmas card or whatever, just some sort of communication, and then I thought, I got to stay in touch with him. Then I sent him my third album in 1994 and he rang me back and he said, “Carl, I really like this music, I want to come down to Australia and play with you again.” In early 95 we did that, we did Australian tour and I’d made up my mind to move over to London, he said, “Well, make sure you stay in touch.” I promised myself, I was going to ring him every two months until he either gave me the gig or tell me to go away, it was really terrifying.

I moved to London, October 95, and I rang him in October. And then two months later, two months later, two months later, and I think about the sixth phone call, he sent me a fax saying he wanted me to do a tour of Switzerland and Austria with him, which I did and then I was in the band for a while, and we played with some fantastic people as guests. Randy Brecker, did a UK tour with us, he’s a really great guy, he’s just as wonderful a person as he is a musician. Billy and I went to Los Angeles in 99 and played with the great Ernie Watts, who played in Charlie Haden’s band of course. The biggest one of all was the great George Duke. We played at Monterey Jazz Festival with George Duke. So that was sort of the top of the mountain for me really, so that was incredible. Yeah, I’ve recorded with these people, as well recorded four albums with Billy Cobham, and Billy’s on a couple of my albums as well.

Another highlight was two years ago, I got the call to play on Sting’s show, The Last Ship, and Sting basically loves the guitar, he’s crazy about the guitar. If you listen to Sting’s music, you’ll notice there is guitar on everything and very little piano or not much keyboard, especially recently. He just loves the guitar, and I was told this is a guitar based show, the guitar is the center of the band.

Greg O’Rourke: Awesome.

Carl Orr: Yeah, it was a really hell of a gig and Sting wasn’t performing much, but he oversaw the band and he sat in on performances and he talked to us and he was really great, very exacting how he wants things. But a total gentleman and a really, really great guy, I must say, I really enjoyed his company a hell of a lot. I just wanted to do my best for him, because he’s just such a lovely person, and I just gave a 100%. I think he just brought that out in all the musicians, everybody, he wasn’t too radical or superior in any way, just won people over with his warmth, and everybody just did their best for him, so that was a really great experience. And I’m glad I came away with a good impression of him because you don’t know with famous people, if their greatness ends once they put their instrument down…

 

If you’re keen to have a structured, step-by-step approach to learning jazz guitar, it might be worth checking out my online learning system, the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy.

Here’s what you get when you join up:

  • Detailed step-by-step video lessons on new classic jazz tunes and essential jazz guitar skills added to the club website each month. Includes listening recommendations, demonstrations of the melody, analysis of the harmony, and detailed explanations on how to solo over the tune.
  • Key improvisation concepts and techniques for soloing, and classic licks and example solos that relate to each tune, so you can continue to expand your jazz vocabulary and have more options when it comes to soloing.
  • Detailed comping ideas to suit the style of each jazz standard covered
  • Lessons on how to make chord melody and solo jazz guitar versions of tunes featured – play a complete jazz standard completely on your own like Joe Pass!
  • Members only forum – A worldwide community of jazz guitarists from all around the globe.
  • Regular workshops, masterclasses, and Q & A Sessions – get direct answers from me on anything holding you back in the practice room. Replays of all sessions are available to access for all members even if you can’t make it live.
  • Massive searchable database of jazz licks and soloing concepts – the ultimate idea “grab bag” for your solos.
  • Optional monthly challenges where members participate to get feedback on their playing, reach new milestones and be eligible for cool prizes.

Go here for more info: https://www.fretdojo.com/signup-offer

 

Greg O’Rourke: So in summary, you are obviously a musician in high demand Carl, and one that has huge amount of experience in the jazz genre, but obviously in other styles as well. So, we’ve got a lot to learn from you in your capacity as artist in residence here for Fret Dojo. So, we’ll obviously get into that into the coming weeks and the courses that we’re going to do, but just for now, can we have sort of a big bird’s eye summary. What do you think are the most important things for a jazz guitarist, an aspiring jazz guitarist to focus on when they’re actually practicing? Because of course, just by spending a lot of time on the instrument doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get results. So what are the things that do you think students should be focusing on the most when they practice?

Carl Orr: Okay. I think, the older I get, the more I realize the importance of really, really basic things. So first of all, make sure you play an instrument that you like, it doesn’t have to be an expensive instrument, but make sure it’s an instrument you physically like the feel of, and you like the sound of. It could be a £7,000 pound handmade guitar, or it could be a really nifty Chinese made thing for £300, but just make sure you like the sound of the instrument and the physical feel of the instrument. I’m not a big collector of guitars, I don’t have many, but I know what I like to play. So that’s the thing, it’s not specifically to do with jazz, but I think it’s extremely important to have an instrument that you look forward to playing.

Secondly, again, not specific to jazz, the two most important things are to produce a good tone, with your hands. I play the electric guitar, unplugged a lot of the time to make sure my plectrum is doing all the work and the amp is just sort of amplifying what I’m doing with my hands.

Greg O’Rourke: Oh, that’s interesting.

Carl Orr: Yeah. So, and I play acoustic guitar more than half my practice time as well, I really concentrate on projecting a good tone, so good tone and also playing time. When people tend to play out of time, it’s usually because they’re trying to do too much. When people drift out of time, play too fast or too slow, it’s usually because they’re overexerting themselves. One of the things I learned, the biggest lesson I learned from all of these great musicians I played with is, don’t over exert yourself, always play within your limit and if you stick within your limits, as you continue playing, your limits will expand. Whereas if you overshoot and make mistakes continually or repeatedly as a result, then your limits don’t grow, they don’t, they just kind of wind up in a deadlock, so always play within your limits.

So anyway, specific to jazz I think the important thing is, learn songs, and especially concentrate on songs that you like. You know what? All the standards, there standards because they’re of a certain standard, but I’m a big believer that you like, what you like, and it’s well written as they all are, where I like some of them more than others as we all do. And I would definitely encourage you to concentrate on the songs you like best because you’ll learn them a lot more quickly and more thoroughly. So that’s the thing, is I think learning songs is the important thing. I think, to me the basics are, be able to play the chords fluently, be able to play the melody fluently, and if possible memorize both the chords and the melody before you start to improvise on the tune.

Some people don’t work like that, I have a friend who is an amazing jazz pianist and as amazing as he is, he’s not capable of doing that, but if you hear him play, he’ll just blow your head off. So I don’t say one thing applies to everybody, but I think generally, memorizing is a good thing for most people. But as I’ve said, I do know people who are amazing or certainly know more than one musician, who’s absolutely amazing, who likes to have the paper in front of them as a reference and it actually helps them to play better. But I would say get really intimate with the tune, so you can play it off by heart or nearly off by heart with just minimal referencing to the notation.

I always feel if you’re improvising and reading chords, you’re doing two things at once. Whereas if you know the chords that one, you maybe just have to glance at them. If you know the chords and you’re not looking, you’re only doing one thing, your brain is just doing the one thing of improvising. So I think obviously it’s not ideal for everybody, but I think the closer you can get to just improvising without reading that’s a good thing.

Greg O’Rourke: I think it’s a good practice technique, even if you feel you know the music on stage. I definitely think it’s something everyone should try to do, at least in the practice room, like turn the page over and just see what happens sometimes. You’ll be surprised, you think you know a song until you turn that page over, then you realize you still have a little way to go.

Carl Orr: Yeah, and I think it’s, I don’t know about you. I mean, one of the things I love about music is the effect that it has on your brain. When you’re doing that, you’re memorizing something that active memorization, your brain just kind of goes… and it’s really amazing. I think it’s quite interesting that a lot of musicians look very interested in neurology, and there’s a couple of leading neurologists who are actually ex recording engineers, like Daniel Levitin, who’s featured extensively in Stewart Copeland’s recent documentaries about music on the BBC. He was a top notch recording engineer in the USA and he got more and more interested in what music is doing to the brain and his now a neurologist.

And another one is that I don’t remember her name, but she was Prince’s full time recording engineer for seven years, working around the clock with Prince as a young woman and she is now a neurologist.

Greg O’Rourke: Yeah, really.

Carl Orr: I think people become so fascinated with the effect of music on the brain, and I think there’s something about that thing of memorizing your brain just goes, Oh yeah, give me more of that, I love that. It’s really tremendously beneficial, your brain just is like singing.

Greg O’Rourke: I think what’s interesting, about what you said then about the link between the study of the brain and music, is that… I guess as a musician, when you really deeply get into instrument, you start getting very interested in what the brain responds to. It’s sort of your practice room is your laboratory, and you try this and then you notice the effect that it has. Because in the end, that’s what it is basically, it is a way of studying the mind and sort of learning to work with your mind, and so I could really see that connection really clearly with myself anyway.

Carl Orr: Anyway, I don’t want you to think I know anything about neurology because I know nothing, but I do know that my brain likes it when I learn a new song. And I do think it’s interesting that people who are accomplished at music are interested in neurology, but mine is not an expert opinion.

Greg O’Rourke: That’ll be the next podcast. Carl Orr talks neurobiology.

Carl Orr: That’d be a good listen, yeah.

Greg O’Rourke: All right man. Well, I think just a little short and sweet introduction to everyone. Carl’s going to be connecting with a little high profile players that he’s connected to, I’m going to bring them on the show. I’m going to be taking a little time out here and there because I’m in the midst of creating a brand new chord melody course, that’s going to be coming out hopefully in just a few weeks, so stay tuned for that, I’m going to knuckle down over the next few weeks. So it’s great to have you as an artist in residence Carl, and yeah, we’re really looking forward to learning from you and you can share your wealth of, a lifetime of jazz guitar, knowledge and experience with us, and I think the students of the Academy, as well as all the subscribers from all around the world to Fret Dojo, are really going to benefit from you being with us. So thank you so much.

Carl Orr: Thank you, Greg. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Greg O’Rourke: Okay guys, we’ll leave it there. Check out the website FretDojo.com, as I mentioned before, to get a lot of free resources to get you started on your jazz guitar journey. And make sure you check out the FretDojo Academy, which is the complete collection of Fret Dojo courses by myself and other wonderful guest instructors like Carl. Okay guys, until next time, look forward to hanging out with you on the Fret Dojo podcast. I’ll talk to you soon.

 

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The “Passy-Doble” Joe Pass Jazz Guitar Lick

The “Passy-Doble” Joe Pass Jazz Guitar Lick

The “Passy-Doble” Joe Pass Jazz Guitar Lick

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Welcome to this replay of episode #1 of FretDojo LIVE! In this session I’m looking at a cool ii – V – I Joe Pass lick and approaches.

Video Sections:

00:00 – Introduction
04:24 – Passy Doble ii – V – I Lick Playthrough
05:56 – Fingering tips for the lick
10:16 – Concept 1: Double Approach Notes
16:42 – Concept 2: Dm7b5 Sub on G7
22:15 – Concept 3: Dmaj Triad Sub over CMaj7
27:06 – Summary and Next Steps

This material will instantly spice up your jazz guitar improvisations to make them sound more authentic, and will help you open up the creative soloing possibilities on guitar.

Make sure you subscribe to this site to be advised when future live sessions will be happening.

Now the exciting bit:

If you're keen to have a structured, step-by-step approach to learning jazz guitar, it might be worth checking out my online learning system, the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy.

Here's what you get when you join up:

  • Detailed step-by-step video lessons on new classic jazz tunes and essential jazz guitar skills added to the club website each month. Includes listening recommendations, demonstrations of the melody, analysis of the harmony, and detailed explanations on how to solo over the tune.
  • Key improvisation concepts and techniques for soloing, and classic licks and example solos that relate to each tune, so you can continue to expand your jazz vocabulary and have more options when it comes to soloing.
  • Detailed comping ideas to suit the style of each jazz standard covered
  • Lessons on how to make chord melody and solo jazz guitar versions of tunes featured - play a complete jazz standard completely on your own like Joe Pass!
  • Members only forum - A worldwide community of jazz guitarists from all around the globe.
  • Regular workshops, masterclasses, and Q & A Sessions - get direct answers from me on anything holding you back in the practice room. Replays of all sessions are available to access for all members even if you can’t make it live.
  • Massive searchable database of jazz licks and soloing concepts - the ultimate idea "grab bag" for your solos.
  • Optional monthly challenges where members participate to get feedback on their playing, reach new milestones and be eligible for cool prizes.

Go here for more info: https://www.fretdojo.com/signup-offer

What did you think of this jazz guitar quick tip? Leave your comments below…

Peace,

Greg O’Rourke

Founder, Fret Dojo

Innovation in Online Jazz Guitar Education

FREE Course:
The BIG Secrets of Jazz Guitar Improvisation

•  3 part video series - a step-by-step guide on building improvisation skills

• Learn the biggest mistakes made by aspiring jazz guitar improvisers and what you should be doing instead

• Instant access - completely FREE!

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