Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wayne Wright Shared The Whole Notes

On Friday (May 9th, 2008) the world lost a great musician and a wonderful human being named Wayne Wright.

Everyone that came to know Wayne Wright would have their own personal “Wayne’s World” story. Peter Pan must have still left some fairy dust on him, because he was always impish and wanted nothing to do with too serious a world. And yet it was Wayne that would always help someone to look at themselves when things kept going wrong. He gave out life lessons, while keeping his wonderful sense of humor.

Wayne was the rhythm guitarist for Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, George Barnes, Les Paul and a host of others. Many people grew as guitarists by being around Wayne. Wayne never considered himself a teacher as much as he viewed his role as a coach. His art was making people listen to themselves, where the melody was going and how they could support the melody at the same time.

Joe Pass introduced me to Wayne and he told us that we’d probably get along well, because we both have an off-beat sense of humor. Wayne made sure he introduced me to lots of great players, such as Tal Farlow, Martin Taylor, Jack Wilkins, Gene Bertoncini and Billy Bauer.

Wayne was surely a character. The last week of his life he was taken off a ventilator system and it was believed that he couldn’t make it past 24 hours, but it was about 3 days later, he woke up and the first words out of his mouth were, “how far did you park the car from here”. Wayne wanted to make a break for it. The very last day of his life, his wife knew she had to talk to him about the inevitable and she asked if there was anything he would care most to be laid out in, Wayne simply said “Surprise me!” That man was just one of a kind.

As terrific a guitarist as Wayne was, that’s not going to be what all his friends miss most. In Wayne we got to see a man whose love for life was truly great, who took such pride in his friends that it almost popped his buttons. We saw too, someone who spoke lovingly of his children Scott and Nancy, of his beautiful granddaughter Jenny and most of all we saw a man that was truly thrilled to have spent his life with his wife JoAnn.

Wayne helped us all pay attention to the whole notes in life and so we’re thankful for having known him and we’ll all miss him so much for that!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Scott Samuels - The Joe Pass of Pop

Scott was extremely flattered when I told him that he was to pop what Joe Pass was to jazz. But those of us that would rush down to the park (Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NY that is) after work, would all have to agree that there is something special about Scott's playing.

I've personally sat there on those stone walls for 10 hours straight listening to Scott when he never took a break. He didn't do all the singing, but he did most of it as well as playing with different people as they stopped by to join in.

Anyone that is in New York on a warm summer night should not miss being a part of the 100 or so people that will sing background to a massive list of songs. It can be the Indigo Girls one minute, then Prince, then Queen, lots of Elton John and Billy Joel, Hendrix, James Taylor, Christopher Cross, Hall and Oates, The Temptations, Syreeta or even Britney Spears. Hey, just look at the 1500 or so songs on his song list!

Let Me Connect You With Ella's Room

In 1991 Ella Fitzgerald was performing her last concert at Carnegie Hall and I always would get to see her when Joe Pass played for her, since Joe was a terrific friend.

I called the Hotel that both Joe and Ella were staying at looking to speak with Joe. The person at the switchboard told me that they couldn't find Joe and said "Do you want me to put you through to Ella's room?" I couldn't believe that she asked me that. I was thinking to myself what kind of an idiot would refuse talking to Ella, so I said sure. As it turned out Joe Pass had already come and gone from her room to work out what songs they were to perform together.

A few times previous to this date I had met Ella, but very briefly, only talking to her but a few minutes each time, but when Ella picked up the phone and told me Joe wasn't there somehow she started telling me about how she had just gotten over a cold and how she visited Europe and how much they loved her there and we had a really great 10 - 15 minute conversation and here I was at work never expecting to be talking to the First Lady of Song at all. I wasn't the only one that was surprised that I spoke to Ella, but that night her manager saw me and came over and said "how did you do that?" I said "do what?" He said "talk to Ella for so long on the telephone. Because when her soap operas start she doesn't talk to anyone and I mean anyone, she even kicks me out of the room, and I'm her manager!" I can only guess that she felt like talking that day and was thrilled to be performing there at Carnegie Hall.

That night I didn't actually get a seat out front. Somehow Joe Pass seemed to get me the most memorable ways to see his shows. This night he brought me up to Ella's room where they had two small sliding doors which when opened up were right above the stage and I could look down and see the performance from slightly in back of her.

After the show and all the celebrities paraded up to her room, like Carly Simon and Peter Allen and then Tony Bennet and a long line of people, Joe asked if I wanted to join them for drinks. What an amazing night, not only was I with the finest solo jazz guitarist in the world, the First Lady of Song, but at this hotel lounge (I believe we were on 56th Street) Wes Montgomery's brother, Buddy Montgomery was on the piano. Now how can you get a better night in seeing jazz than that!

Oh, and whoever you were, thanks for putting me through to Ella's room!

Jaco Pastorius Finds New Sneakers

The beauty that went on inside Jaco's head never ceases to amaze me. Whenever I heard Jaco play a song his presence was always so strong. He didn't have to overplay or overpower a song to make that presence known either.

I only got to see Jaco play in a group setting 2 times, once with Weather Report in 1977 or 1978 when they played in Virginia Beach and the second time in Forest Hills stadium when Jaco was the leader of Joni Mitchell's Band. Both times were amazing! Up to that point the best electric bass player I'd ever seen was Stanley Clarke, but Jaco had so many more sophisticated harmonies going on and to me his sense of "space" was perfect.

It was in the early 80's that I got to meet Jaco at the 55 Bar where he came down to hear his friend Mike Stern play. I had taken a few lessons on guitar from Mike's wife Leni. Jaco was a Greenwich Village regular and so I met him on numerous occasions just stopping to chat here and there.

One day as I was walking into Tower Records near NYU and there was Jaco yelling at the employees of Tower and saying "You people should be giving me these records, I'm the greatest musician in the world" I could see the employees were kind of intimidated and so I walked up to Jaco and said "hey Jaco what's wrong?" he just turned to me and winked and smiled and said "You know me" - Yeah, Jaco was just trying to get a charge out of these people and nothing more. He was just being playful and didn't mean any harm at all. He asked me where I was headed and I said that my car was about 10 blocks away, because I couldn't find a parking place any closer, he said "well hop in my cab".

Jaco had a cab sitting outside of Tower while he went in there, as we started to walk to the car he looked into this garbage can and saw these old Ked style canvas sneakers with huge holes in the tops and said "hey I could use a new pair of sneakers" and took them out of the garbage. Jaco was such a funny guy. He was always zany and just a one of a kind person. Now who could forget a guy like that!

Jazz Guitarists Should All Know Eddie Durham

I had the privilege of creating a website for a premier member of the jazz world, who passed away over 21 years ago. This guitarist's name should be much better known than he already is. The reason I say that is not because, I worked on the website (although, that might enter into it!) but seriously, it's because Eddie Durham was the first guitarist to play amplified guitar on record.

Eddie Durham played that acoustic guitar on "Hittin The Bottle" with the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra in 1935. He was also arranger for some all women's orchestras and helped mentor them: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, The Darlings of Swing, etc. He also brought pianist Basie into the Moten Orchestra (which was hard to do because Moten was the piano player!) and when Moten died, Basie became the leader and - as they say - the rest is history! So I guess you could say he was Basie's mentor too!

Besides his pioneering in the presentation of sound, he actually mentored Charlie Christian as a guitarist - now that's saying something! Eddie is best remembered as an arranger - if you've heard "In the Mood" it was his song, which he also arranged and Glen Miller made famous. Part of the Count Basie Band and Jimmy Lunceford's Orchestra, Eddie mostly played trombone, and arranged, but he also showed off his brilliant solo work on guitar on occasion. Please check out more on Eddie Durham at the following:

Emily, I’ll Carry You!

For a short while I took guitar lessons from one of the finest female jazz guitarists since Mary Osborn. I never became a great guitarist, but that’s because I never put in the time it takes to be a great guitarist. Emily on the other hand, lived and breathed the guitar.

One day I arrived at Emily’s apartment to take a lesson and there she was in a leg cast and on crutches, having not exactly had the greatest time skiing. I told her Joe Pass was coming to town and he was performing on a double-bill with Jim Hall. She said that she knew about it and she’d really love to go, especially since she was a good friend of Jim Halls, but there’s one problem she said “at the moment I can’t walk”. I said “Emily, you’re not heavy, so I’ll just get as close to the Blue Note as I can and I’ll carry you.” So, sure enough a few nights later I picked Emily up and drove down into Greenwich Village, found a spot on the north side of Washington Square Park and Emily got on my back and I carried her to the Blue Note.

I wish I had a tape recorder with me that night, because up in the dressing room after the first set Emily asked Jim if she could borrow his beautiful cherry colored guitar. Joe told her to play a tune with him. They had one beautiful interchange after another and it was something the rest audience downstairs never got to see.

After playing with Joe, rather than stay for the 2nd set Emily asked me how my back was and wanted to know if I’d mind checking out Leni Stern, because she was playing that night at the 55 Bar on Christopher Street. So, playing horse again, we made our way over a few more blocks.

What thrilled Emily that night was seeing not only two legendary guitarists at the Blue Note, but seeing another wonderful guitarist, who was also a great writer. Emily said “hey, I know I’ve got the chops, but I would love to write like Leni”.

Leni was playing that night with a blazing guitarist named Wayne Krantz and as always her solos were silky smooth. I’ll tell more about Leni another time, but what I saw that night made me realize that every talented individual has something to glean from another. Beautiful music is always an interchange.

If you’re not familiar with Emily Remler than I’d suggest checking out the following.

Where Wayne Wright Went Wrong!

You can thank Wayne Wright for getting Les Paul out of retirement over 24 years ago. It was Wayne that approached Les and said, “Hey, I can get us a gig at Fat Tuesdays on Monday Nights” Les told Wayne, that he was feeling some pain from arthritis and he had already retired, so why would he want to play again. Wayne’s answer is classic Wayne Wright “Because you need the therapy and I need the gig!” So, for about two and a half years Wayne Wright played rhythm guitar with Les at Fat Tuesdays.

Joe Pass introduced Wayne and me over 20 years ago, knowing that we both had a zany sense of humor and he told us, you two will be good friends and he was right. You can’t help but like Wayne. This Detroit Native grew up playing the guitar backwards – yeah, he’s a lefty. And that’s where Wayne Wright went wrong. But without all the books that many of us had for forming chords, Wayne learned to play by ear. The 19 hours a day playing must have helped, because he has played with some of the greats, like Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Junior and seven albums with Ruby Braff and George Barnes.

Wayne opened up my ears to Art Tatum’s harmonies and Carl Kress’ wonderful rhythm playing also. Coming from Detroit gave Wayne some opportunities to play with the great Wes Montgomery.

If you are interested in hearing some really great jazz check out the following.

  • Ruby Braff and George Barnes Play Gershwin
  • Ruby Braff and George Barnes Quartet Plays Rogers and Hart

Joe Pass - Going My Way

In the early 80's, Joe Pass, one of the finest solo guitar players that ever lived, had just finished his last set at Fat Tuesday's. I was alone that night, sitting at the bar. I had my car right outside and I said, Joe "which way do you need to go?" He said, "I'm staying around the corner from the Plaza. Since I lived in Queens, it didn't matter which way I went home, so I said, "sure I'll take you".

It felt so cool seeing this Jazz Great was just a regular guy. As I dropped Joe off, I told him that if he ever needed a ride, I'd be glad to pick him up. Joe told me "you pick me up tomorrow and you can get in for free" So, I did that for the next 12 years.