Greg: Hello and welcome. My name is Greg O’Rourke. Welcome once again to another Fret Dojo podcast. Fantastic to have all our listeners join us today. And today I’m joined today by my assistant instructor Vin Amorando. Today we have a very special guest on this podcast, Barry Greene. Welcome to the show, Barry.
Barry: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Greg: Fantastic. Well, let’s get started. Just so you guys get a bit of a sense of Barry’s accomplishments as a jazz guitarist and jazz guitar teacher over the years, here’s a bit about Barry’s illustrious career. So Barry’s been described by jazz guitar legend Pat Martino as:
“… one of the best, not only as a player, but also as a writer and teacher. I agree with others who regard him as a world class musician.”
Well, there you go. That’s pretty high praise, I have to say, from one of the, one of the grandfathers of jazz guitar. Uh, but, uh, Barry got his start on the guitar at age 10 when he was into the Beatles, later Led Zeppelin, before discovering jazz in high school.
Barry attended Berklee College of Music and William Patterson University in New Jersey, where he received his bachelor degree and later attended the University of South Florida for his graduate studies. Barry’s played all over the United States and Europe.
He has eight CDs out under his name. He’s played with a who’s who of guitar greats: Jimmy Bruno, Tommy Emmanuel… Oh, another Aussie… fantastic. Mike Stern, Jack Peterson and many many more.
Barry’s been a professor of jazz studies at the University of North Florida School of Music since 1995. He’s also authored several interactive iBooks, including ‘Playing Jazz Guitar’, ‘Chord Melodies’ and ‘Intros and Endings’, all available on his website BarryGreene.com.
Vin and I feel very privileged and thrilled to have you on the podcast today. So. Thank you, Barry. Let’s get started with a few questions just about where it all started for you.
So, mentioned you came across jazz guitar during school. So do you want to elaborate a bit upon that and kind of where your journey went from there?
Barry: Well, I think like a lot of people growing up in the 1970s, especially guitarists, you know, I gravitated toward people that you mentioned, You know, it was more honestly .. more Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and those kinds of groups in the 1970s, It was such a guitar laden, great…Just so much fun music.
And I had a Fender Strat. I had a Les Paul. I had a Marshall stack and I had a garage in New Jersey where we used to practice. And so yeah, it was great. I grew to love that part of,.. I mean, that kind of music and the excitement of playing for other people.
But it got to a point where I was getting ready to almost graduate high school. I did graduate high school. What I’m saying is that I found myself spending a lot of time not going to school. Mother laid down the law that if you don’t get serious about something, we’re going to kick you out of the house. And you know, a mother from New Jersey, when she said that she really meant business.
But in any case… so I got a guitar teacher in my junior year of high school who introduced me to jazz and introduced me to some of the people you mentioned, like Pat Martino, for instance, and George Benson, Joe Pass. And I was completely, just absolutely blown away. I had no idea that anybody could play the guitar at that kind of a level and I just became obsessed with trying to gain that level of mastery myself.
Greg: Let’s talk about how you got to where you are now. Like, you know, one of the most highly acclaimed jazz guitar teachers, You’ve got a huge profile, You’re teaching at a prestigious university and so forth.
So what do you think are the elements that have made you exceptional, like who, what are your influences or what are the main things that you focused on?
Barry: Well, just as far as the players themselves, I already kind of rattled them off, from hearing guys like both the Pats, to say Pat Martino, Pat McManus as well, George Benson, Joe Pass. All those …West Montgomery, of course, Grant Green,
The long, long list…inspired me, but I think like anything, when you have a desire to do something and you just give it everything, that you have to try to be the best you can be at it. As a … I remember being 18 or 19 years old and transcribing these solos off of recordings by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and absorbing all this information.
And I remember thinking, ‘okay, well, I’m 18. By the time I’m 25 I’m going to be this level, by the time I’m 30 … and always gauging myself to the guitar players and musicians I was admiring. And here I am 62 and I’m still doing the same thing. But that was it. It was just an incredible drive and desire to do it … and a pure love for it. It wasn’t just some obsession. It was a pure love. And I feel that way still today.
Barry: So hopefully that answers your question.
Greg: Definitely. So you kind of… You had that sort of vision as to where you wanted to go. It sounds like you had a lot of clarity as to where the kind of … where you’re aspiring to go.
Barry: Yeah, I think… I didn’t ever expect to be a professor of jazz studies at the University of North Florida. That was definitely not on my game plan at all. At all. It really was just to try to be the best guitar player that ever lived. That was pretty much it. I really, really worked hard.
And then just like anything, when you’re playing a lot, you’re teaching a lot, you’re meeting people, you’re genuine and you’re honest and you’re just ,.. you give off a good energy and stuff just starts coming your way.
I’m not making light of it. It takes a tremendous amount of work and effort, but if you can back it up by the fact that you are an accomplished musician and can add something to a musical situation, the phone just rings for you and things just start happening. Because like I said, the last thing I expected was to be a professor of jazz studies. That’s for sure.
Greg: Amazing. So, Vin, you had a question you wanted to ask Barry about … George Benson .. do you want to elaborate on that?
Vin: Because he had just mentioned it in passing, but I was reading in an interview, I don’t remember the publication, It could have been Jazz Guitar, one of those, where you had actually cited George Benson as maybe the most influential. Did I read that right? Like, if you had to pick one guy that was your big inspiration…
Barry: I think George Benson just personifies everything great about jazz guitar. You know, I’m not going to say that he’s number one or number two in that long list, because how could you really say that about, you know, when you’re citing West Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino … They all have an incredible impact on jazz guitarists. There’s not a guitar player alive today that can say that they haven’t been influenced by those people.
But I think George just has everything, you know? He’s got insane chops, insane time feel, phrasing, sound, vibe. I mean, it’s just incredible. And as a young person, I’d always thought if I can get the line playing, that execution of that line that Pat Martino had, with all of the grace and soulfulness that George Benson has, you would just have the perfect guitar player, you know?
But so when I say that, I do mean that, I mean, he is an astonishingly great guitar player and every time I hear him come on some playlist and I’m listening to Apple music and he did something I hadn’t heard in a while, I think to myself, my God, there’s nobody who’s touching this guy. Yeah, it’s just truly remarkable.
Greg: Amazing. So Barry, let’s talk now about the … you as a teacher, important things that you find yourself time and time again talking to your students about. You’ve come across jazz guitar students of all shapes and sizes. But let’s start maybe from the beginner…
If someone was starting from scratch, what would you say would be the logical progression of exercises or fretboard knowledge or things like that? Like, what are the building blocks that you tend to focus on in your teaching?
Well, because of what I do I’m usually meeting students that have already been playing for quite a while. People are coming into college level and the people that I teach online via Skype, or even zoom like this, even in an older age bracket.
But if I were to go back in time and be able to counsel myself … how I would do things differently, There’d be a few things I would do a little bit differently.
The most important thing is what we’ve already been talking about. Is that you have to be able to connect with some musician that you just feel like, man, I would just love to be able to play like this person. I’m not about copying or emulating them to the letter. Just to say that when I hear this person, it’s just moved me beyond words. I just want to be able to do that and identifying two or three people like that you could just focus on.
I think where the issue lies, especially today with so much information, whether it’s a college or YouTube or even what we’re doing right now, is that people get way too caught up in the whole theoretical part of being a musician.
And it’s … I can’t say this for certain. I’ve had this conversation many, many times. That I can’t imagine the people that we’re speaking about sitting around talking about the Dorian mode. I just can’t, I don’t see it. Even in my own experience, like you mentioned a bunch of guitar players,. I’ve hung out with all the people you’ve mentioned and had conversations. We’ve never ever talked about that stuff. We would say ‘Hey, have you checked out this guy?’ ‘Have you checked out that guy?’ ‘Oh yeah, that was killing.’ But it’s never about the specifics of theory because it has very little to do with the actual playing of this music.
The analogy I’ll give, and maybe it may be something you’ve heard already, but the way I think about it, music in general and learning how to be a good jazz musician, is that by the time we’re five or six years old going to grade school … I don’t know what it’s like in Australia … For instance in the United States, five years old, you’re going to kindergarten. You have complete command of the language. You know how to speak, you know how to ask for what you need. You could communicate without the need for verbs and adverbs and all the things that we learn about later on to go to school. And that’s the way I think about it. I think it’s a matter of just learning phrases from these great musicians that you admire.
That’s what I was saying earlier. And yeah, later on you could say ‘Oh, man, Pat Martino used a G minor arpeggio’ or ‘Joe Pass is using this voicing for a minor seven flat five chord.’ That’s all fine. But … even using Joe Pass as an example, I know for certain that he knew very little technically about what he was doing as far as the theoretical part of it.
There’s even a VHS tape, an old … I think it was called Hot licks or something like that. But I remember him … watching him talking about playing a G blues. I don’t have my guitar all hooked up so I’ll just say that he got to one chord and said, ‘This is an F 13 chord.’ And then another chord. And he was like ‘I don’t even know what the chord is called.’ And then went to the next one.
And it was a clear indication that that was so low on the totem pole for him as far as things that are important. So to answer your question, I think where a lot of students., it’s not that we go wrong, but kind of get misguided on is getting so consumed by the theoretical thing.
And I can’t tell you how many emails I get, maybe not daily, but very often … ‘what scale are you using?’ after playing an entire tune that contains so much harmony to think that it could be whittled down to just one scale! But it’s not about ‘man, who did you check out?’ or ‘where are you getting those lines from?’ …that kind of thing.
It’s just always about theory, theory, theory, theory. So that concerns me a bunch. So to answer your question, I would say number one, identify with people that you admire. Learn solos off the records, note for note. You don’t have to write them out, but just memorize them. Play along with the recordings. Because that builds up such a sense of time feel and groove and all the other things that go with just being a musician that you can’t get from a book.
And then, yeah, if you want to study the theoretical part of things, go ahead and do it. But I definitely will put that further down the rung of things that are important. If you ask me questions about … I can get more technical, not technical, but more specific about things. But to me that, in a global sense, that’s the biggest issue. It’s too much theory, not enough just playing and making music.
Greg: Yeah. It seems so it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I’ve gone through a bunch of different styles over my career. Like, I started … I focused a lot on classical guitar initially. And something that seems quite particular to jazz guitar … I don’t know if it’s like that with other instruments, but it just seems like with jazz guitar there’s as you say … it’s just so much textbook focused, sort of (textbook) learning or emphasis.
It reminds me a bit of that old kind of … there’s an old parable where it’s like … Ok I can talk about an orange. Like an orange is this like sort of nice bright color and it tastes sweet and it’s juicy or whatever. But it’s only actually when you bite the orange that it all makes sense. You know what I mean? Otherwise you’re just kind of talking about this thing the whole time, rather than actually getting in there and doing it.
That’s true. That’s true. I mean, it seems so simple. You know, we’re talking about it. But somehow that message is lost now. And I think it’s just … not that there’s too much information, because a lot of stuff I see on YouTube is great. And that, and my God, the level of musicianship of musicians all over the world right now, it’s just at an all time high, it’s incredible.
But all I can say to you is … for instance, in a couple of weeks I’m going to Colorado and Jimmy Bruno will be there and Sherry (Bailey), Rodney Jones, Pasquale Grasso, all these great guitar players, we’re all going to be hanging out. I can guarantee you that theory will never be the topic of conversation, ever. And that’s all I’m trying to say about this. It’s just that it’s more of a mentorship with the recordings, at least for everybody that I’ve known. It’s going through that process and just basically mentoring through recordings. And just developing their own style from that.
Greg: Fantastic. So because you have an online learning platform, is that kind of your emphasis of what you do when you’re teaching, like focusing on transcriptions and kind of going through those? What’s your process?
Barry: I do, I do make that case a lot. I do, but on the same token, of course, being a professor at a university for almost 30 years now, if I were to take that approach that we just been talking about, I wouldn’t have a job (laughs) because honestly, what I would love to do is walk into an improv class….
I would, what I would love to say is ‘here are four transcriptions I want you guys to transcribe, memorize, and then come back in two months’. And we’ll work it all out because then you’ve absorbed the material by osmosis, picked up the time feel, the sound and vibe and all that kind of stuff.
And then I could say ‘hey, here they use a diminished scale. This comes from the second mode of this scale’, whatever it may be. But it’s secondary, more supportive versus the primary way of learning.
So yeah, when I’m teaching the lessons online there’s a lot of talk of theory but I’m constantly reinforcing the idea that people will say ‘hey, where are those lines … where’s all those lines coming from? Because I’ll say ‘hey, here’s G Dorian….’ I should have had my guitar all set up to play. But if I said ‘here’s G Dorian, play G Dorian’, it’s going to contain a lot of chromaticism, enclosures, all these kinds of things that jazz musicians routinely do.
So when people ask me ‘well, that’s not the Dorian scale.’ It is the sound of Dorian. It’s just incorporating the methods and things that jazz musicians just did with that singular scale there.
And we’ve … I even gave the names. I didn’t even like using those names, like enclosure and all those names. Because I generally don’t think that that’s the way that guys like Charlie Parker thought about it.
Barry: I could be totally wrong, of course I could. But I just don’t feel that that was the kind of way that they approached it. You know, I think it was more of a building these melodies and somebody like Charlie Parker, for instance, understanding and recognizing those colorful tones that are above the seventh of the chord and all that tension that could be. I just don’t think it came from such an analytical thing as that’s become right now. But as a teacher for almost 30 years, to me that’s the biggest issue and I’ll say 1 more thing about it.
And I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, when somebody will make an appointment to meet on Skype or whatever, they have like a stack of books. Some of them my own. I’m even telling them put the books away.
You know, that we just need to get down to the, like I said, the musical part part of this, you know? They probably could speak about the theory better than I could at that point. You know what I mean? It’s just, that’s the part that’s lost is how do you turn all that information that you’ve absorbed from the books? It’s art. That’s really it. It’s the biggest thing.
And you look at a guy like. for instance Wes Montgomery, I mean he was the absolute Godfather of all this. When you even look at him, he’s got a big smile on his face every time he’s playing and it’s full of joy. There’s no way in his head he’s thinking about harmonic minor or anything. He just … I guarantee you that. I would actually bet my soul on for sure. You can just feel it from him, it’s just so natural. Anyway, if I keep coming to the same point I apologize.
Greg: No, no, man.
Barry: But I’m passionate about that.
Greg: I think it really needs to be emphasized a few times because you know that, it was interesting, we recently had a chat with Sheryl Bailey, another fantastic jazz player and teacher. She was very much saying the same sort of thing.
Like when I’m speaking to you right now, I’m not particularly concerned with adverbs or nouns or things like that. It’s probably helpful in some corner of your learning to maybe sort of just understand the structures, especially if you’re gonna compose music and things like that, there might be some good tools there. But I think jazz is very much, as you’re saying, it’s a heartfelt thing. It’s kind of goes into the subconscious. And that’s where the great music happens, is when you’ve really internalized, in a very intuitive way, this music rather than being worried about what scale you have to play next. That’s kind of going around things the wrong way, as you’re saying.
Barry: Right. It’s just, yeah, that’s it … you said you put it perfectly, that’s exactly it. Exactly. But it’s hard to convince people of that, because the one thing that we haven’t talked about…
Is that, you know, some people will say that, in other words, the thought of me being an NBA basketball player ,,, totally out of the question, you know what I mean? I’m not athletic. You know what I’m saying? There’s a conversation about can anybody do this?
In other words, I’ve gotten this conversation, a bunch of online people that… Look, if all it took were you knowing all your modes and scales and have a bunch of chops, then you could be a great jazz musician. Why hasn’t there been another West Montgomery, you know? Because it’s not about that.
It’s about the things that are intangible, you know? So it’s a big message to send. But I understand that when people are getting started, we’re … it’s hard to find yourself in that kind of a head space when you’re looking at an instrument and just trying to figure out how to play it.
It’s going to be very mechanical. And I think the scales and stuff we’re talking about for that purpose are perfect. You’re getting an understanding of your instrument and how it’s functioning, all that kind of stuff. But when you cross that barrier, which is the biggest barrier, that for every student that I’ve ever met is that moment where ‘OK. I understand this machine works and I know how to play it. I know my chords and then my scales. Why can’t I play a great guitar solo?’ An Autumn Leaves or something like that. And that’s the biggest hurdle.
But I think the answer is, what we’ve just been talking about is, you almost have to put all that stuff away and turn the page to a whole new chapter and the way you approach music in general.
Vin: OK Barry I’ve got a question for you. Let’s assume that there was … outside of the jazz world, somebody who isn’t known as a jazz guitarist…
Are there any other guitarists in any genre that you love to listen to, gives you inspiration, maybe new ideas that you like, might not have gotten if you had stayed only in the jazz world when you’re listening for new artists?
Barry: Yeah, yeah. I could say two or three people that come to mind immediately. And it would be for the same reason, though, I’ll have to say for the jazz guys. because it’s …
When I think about, for instance, somebody like Stevie Ray Vaughan, you know? I think just all the passion and just such … it’s so honest. That’s what I’ve been trying to get to the entire time we’ve been speaking. It’s just so honest. It’s surpasses all the (theory) stuff. Obviously he could play the crap out of the blues scale. We know that he learned the blue scale. But man, what he did with that and just the pure energy and vibe and time feel.
And another guy I admire a lot is Steve Lukather, the studio guy from the band Toto. He’s been on like zillions of records. Just his music, musicality and just his ability to … it’s a very difficult thing to do, by the way. just to be in a studio and for somebody to say ‘hey, I need you to come up with a part right now for this particular piece of music’ and just come up with these such memorable pieces of music on the guitar, that in some cases are in the background. But if you took them out, the entire arrangement would fall apart.
So there’s a lot of people I think like that. I can’t cite necessarily somebody that’s blowing my mind other than the jazz guitar players we’ve talked about. But I’m just saying the musicianship from those guys in particular, those who come to mind immediately. And I’ll probably regret that and think that I missed some people after we stopped talking, but like I said what I want to emphasize is for the same exact reasons that I love George and Pat and Joe Pass, all those guys. It was just very honest and it surpassed … I’m trying to think of the other word … it just went above and beyond just all the thought and theory and all that kind of stuff.
I know it’s the same old thing I’ve been saying a lot. But yeah, I think when I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan, I’m like ‘damn, man this guy is just such a natural musician.’ Prince, I feel the same way about Prince. When we sit here, all these names are going to come into my head. But yeah, in other words, it’s a true musical master, you know? Anyway, like I said, I can I’ll probably think of other names, but hopefully that is a good enough answer for you.
Barry: Yeah, you guys know what I’m talking about when I say Steve Lukather?