Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Art of the Jazz Guitar

Since the age of 16, I've been fascinated by the Jazz Guitar. I can't tell you why ... why I didn't want to be a Rock star or the Lead guitar player in a famous Rock, Blues or Country band.

The fame held no appeal to me nor did the promise of money. My interest seemed to be in something less tangible but more important. I eventually began to understand what aesthetics were and why creating art was central to my own identity.

My first influence was Wes Montgomery. I saw him perform at Pep's Musical Bar on North Broad street in Philadelphia when I was a teenager. Not only did I watch and listen to him but I also had the opportunity to meet him. I can say with a measure of pride and distinction that Wes himself taught me his famous octave technique. He also encouraged me to study guitar and music. He said "Don't do what I did. I couldn't find a teacher in those days. I had to "teach" my self." I think his words were significant in my determination to study the guitar and ultimately to teach it.

As I began to develop on the guitar, I began to consider music as a career. At the age of 19, I began studying with Dennis Sandole. Dennis was an enormously influential teacher in Philadelphia whose students included John Coltrane, James Moody, Pat Martino and many others. What Dennis taught was the aesthetics of music. By looking at his students, it was clear that he was more than a guitar teacher. But Dennis was a jazz guitarist and certainly had special insights into the instrument. He encouraged me to pursue music as an art form but not as a commercial form. That created both a sense of confidence and simultaneously, a sense of confusion in me.

By the time I graduated from college, I had established the beginnings of a reputation as both a player and a teacher. At the age of 21, my first major break came from an opportunity to become staff guitarist at the famed Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. See a You Tube video on the ChuckAndersonGuitar channel called "The Latin Casino Story".

The Latin was the East Coast's version of Vegas but without the gambling. It was here that Sammy Davis Jr, Bobby Darin, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and a host of other show business luminaries performed on a nightly basis. We played 14 shows a week and rehearsed the next show on Monday afternoon. It was grueling schedule but I loved it. The need to make money to support a family was essential. I felt a sense of conflict between doing this prestigious but clearly commercial work and the advice that Dennis had given me. Vivid in my memory was him asking me why I was wasting my time playing "commercial soirees when I should be giving concerts for the Kings and Queens of Europe?" That and his well known disdain for "touching" money sent me into a state about the contradictions between making money and pursuing art for its own sake. Necessity won since I had a family to support.

After four years at the Latin, I decided to leave and form my own jazz trio. The Chuck Anderson Trio was anchored by Al Stauffer, the legendary upright bass player. Al, I and Ray Deeley formed the group, recorded our first album "Mirror within a Mirror" and began giving concerts. Throughout the Trios' life, Jimmy Paxson and Darryl Brown also contributed outstanding drum and percussion work. During this period, I began writing concert jazz. I still perform many of these pieces today. All of our recorded output has been captured on a compilation CD called The Vintage Tracks. Last year, I had the entire recording re - mastered by Allan Tucker of TuckerSound in New York (formerly Foothill Digital). It's now available at www.ChuckAndersonGuitar.com under CDs and DVDs.

It's now 2009 and I've focused my attention on my first love, the Jazz Guitar. What is it about this art form that captures me? In the first place, I dislike lyrics. I love abstraction in painting, in sculpture and in music. Instrumental music speaks to me in a unique way. Vocal music has never spoken to me. I think I enjoy my own story coming from the inspiration of instrumental music. To me, interpretation of mood, attitude and feel are what I enjoy in music.

Improvisation, the cornerstone of jazz, springs from life itself. It seems to represent the way we try to live - spontaneous and free. Of course, there is structure. There can be no freedom without structure. But within that freedom is the place in which we live and grow.

The earliest stages of musical development involve simple structures. As we grow, we seek advancement and growth in our pursuits. Jazz Guitar to me offers unlimited potential to grow. It can be technical, creative, spiritual, emotional, aural and includes any measure by which you might monitor growth in an individual.

The unlimited palette of colors available at the harmonic, melodic, structural and rhythmic levels offers endless fascination to me in the pursuit of my own horizon.

Chuck Anderson
Jazz Guitarist