Another in a series of guest writers: Fermin Navascués on learning guitar.
I used to come home from playing guitar in bands at functions and the like, playing pop music and soul tunes and my wife said to me “How come you go out and play pop tunes but come home and listen to jazz?” Well, true enough, I was disillusioned with contemporary music on commercial radio. A friend had referred me to PBS radio 106.7 and I discovered not only a plethora of jazz but also, Latin, funk, soul, world music and even doo-wop and progressive metal to mention a few. The key ingredient here was passionate and enthusiastic announcers who not only sourced significant and rare recordings but who could also tell you about the artist, the recording sessions, the impact of the music and some great anecdotes that brought these artists to life.
Where did the interest in jazz start? When I was 15 one of the senior boys at school who played great clarinet and admired Benny Goodman, encouraged me to jam with him in the science lab during lunch times. This led to playing rhythm in his 13 piece swing big band with guys averaging 16 years old. After that, I had tried to learn jazz guitar from a tuition book but found it hard going.
After listening to PBS and building up a CD collection of jazz artists, I found a CD at the library that brought it all home (No pun intended!). It was The Artistry of Barney Kessell with chord solos that seemed impossible to execute and improvisation that said something and makes every note count.
Eventually I signed up for jazz guitar lessons, with Bruce Clarke who at 80 years young was as sharp as a tack. In true Bruce style he gave me a time slot to decide if he was going to teach me. I practiced up in anticipation and when I arrived he asked me who was I listening to? Well, I said Barney Kessell and rattled off a few others like Joe Pass and Herb Ellis. He then asked me if I could read and put an exercise in front of me to prove it. He said he had heard enough, pointed to the photo on the wall of him playing with Barney Kessell and the other one next to it, playing with Herb Ellis and said, “See you next week”.
For me, the Jazz Jammers has provided the opportunity to transition from learning the music to playing it. It provides a safe haven to play with a wonderful array of musicians and instrumentation, and a great network for collaboration.