The Best of Both Worlds!
Updated: Mar 10
In the first blog of this series I Used to Disrespect Tribute Bands, I proposed 2 types of musicians in terms of how they relate to music and other musicians.
I defined Type 1: They consider the iconic recording of the song to be the goal. They are concerned with recreating the sound of the original recording as close as possible. The original recording is to them what the written score is to the classical musician. These are the guys who transcribe and memorize parts and solos note-for-note and play them perfectly every time. The parts are set in concrete and not to be messed with. That's the mind-set.
In the second blog of this series, Being George, I talked more about Type 1 musicians and gave some examples of where that type of musician is most comfortable; well-rehearsed bands with defined presentations, tribute bands and, on a higher level, as hired guns in worldwide, big-name acts, playing the parts required to support the big name, whoever it might be.
In the 3rd blog of this series, An Improvisational Attitude, I defined Type 2 as musicians who consider the iconic recording of the song to be the starting point, not the goal. The tune-as-recorded is the springboard or launchpad for taking it somewhere else, maybe somewhere the original artist never even thought of. It's an improvisational attitude - I call it a jazz attitude, as opposed to a classical attitude. Type 2s are ALL about improvising, being in the moment, taking chances and performing without a net. They thrive on the drama and danger of doing that in front of an audience.
This post will be about how each type crosses over into the other's territory.
In general, it's easier for Type 2's to cross over into Type 1 territory rather than the other way 'round..
Generally, Type 2's are capable of copping parts exactly, they just don't like to. But there are many Type 1's who are incapable of improvising - at least onstage. They just can't do it. Some Type 1's can improvise but they simply don't like to; it makes them very uncomfortable.
However, there is a place for Type 1 in Jazz - mainly big bands. The Jazz Big Band, while completely different in sound, is similar in concept to a classical orchestra. Think about it. Everybody's reading charts, the parts must be played the same way every time. Whenever there's an improvised solo, the soloist is restricted to a definite number of bars within which he can improvise - then he has to go sit back down! There are usually 2 or 3 main soloists in a big band, the rest of the guys are reading parts.
I was recently reading an article on George Van Epps; a great jazz guitarist and a pioneer of the 7-String guitar. I ran across this paragraph:
In 1934, he held the rhythm guitar chair in the Benny Goodman Orchestra, but didn’t keep it long, due to constantly receiving the famous Goodman “ray” for taking harmonic liberties with the charts.
"Harmonic liberties" - ha! - that means he was always messing with chord voicings, extensions, alterations and substitutions. He was a Type 2 in a Type 1 environment. At that time the Benny Goodman Orchestra was one of the biggest acts around. Apparently Van Epps was unwilling to play the part (pun intended) so he didn't last long.
There is more motivation for Type 2's to cross over into Type 1 territory than vice verse - namely, MONEY! And also the experience of playing for huge audiences in support of a big name. Improvisational-type music (like jazz today) doesn't have a broad appeal so the market share is smaller and the financial payoff is smaller. Therefore Type 1's have no compelling reason to leave their comfort zone and cross over into Type 2 territory.
Let me give you another, more modern example of Type 2 in Type 1 territory;
Several years ago I went to see James Taylor. I guarantee you 99% of the people in the crowd had no idea who was in the band.
The drummer was Steve Gadd. The bass player was Jimmy Johnson and the keyboard player was Larry Goldings. All 3 of these guys are monstrous jazz musicians.
Both times I saw Allan Holdsworth live Jimmy Johnson was his bass player. Holdsworth's music is extremely complex and as a musician and composer Holdsworth is in a class by himself. Everyone in the band is given lots of room to solo - definitely a Type 2 situation. But Holdsworth is a small, niche market. Both times I saw him was in a club, not even a small theater, and the band was traveling in a van with a U-Haul trailer. I can guarantee you Holdsworth - the "name" guy - didn't make what James Taylor pays Jimmy Johnson - so Johnson was making orders of magnitude less money playing with Holdsworth, but that's what he wanted to do when not touring with James Taylor. Why? Because he's a Type 2 and LOVES the challenge of playing Holdsworth's music and the room Holdsworth gives his musicians. He's played with Oz Noy, Stan Getz, Sergio Mendez, the Rippingtons - all Jazz guys.
When not touring with James Taylor, Larry Goldings plays with jazz artists like John Scofield and Jack DeJohnette. His tunes have been recorded by Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Toots Thielemans, Jim Hall, Gaby Moreno, Bill DeMain, Jane Monheit, Spencer Day, Curtis Stigers, Mike Viola, Lea Michele, Sia, and others. These are all "name" Jazz artists, but most people have never heard of the them because, well, they're Jazz. With the exception of Pat Metheny, I'd be willing to bet that Larry Goldings makes more money playing for James Taylor as a hired gun than the name jazz artists make that he works with when not touring with James.
Steve Gadd has played with everybody. Literally. I've seen him in Eric Clapton's band; Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, Jim Croce, Sting, Carly Simon, Bon Jovi, the Bee Gees...the list goes on and on. Guess what? He's also worked with Al Jarreau, Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez, Manhattan Transfer, Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Michel Petruccianni, Charles Mingus - all Jazz guys.
And there they were, all three of them in the band backing up James Taylor! Don't get me wrong, I love James Taylor's music. He's been a very strong influence on my songwriting and my acoustic guitar playing. I've been listening to him since the early '70s. I'd never seen him live before and was super-excited to finally catch him. I didn't even know who was going to be in the band.
When you are in James Taylor's band, you play the parts to James Taylor's songs that you're hired to play, and you play them perfectly - every time. Jimmy Johnson did not play a single solo. There was no improv whatsoever from him. He played the bass parts to James Taylor's songs perfectly. Ditto Larry Goldings and Steve Gadd. As much as I love James Taylor, about half-way through the show I found myself thinking, "C'mon James, take a break. Go get a Frappuccino and let the band have 10 minutes - it would be unbelievably awesome!" Not gonna happen - and I get it; the people were there to see James Taylor; they had no idea who was in the band.
Take a look at this video. This is what Steve Gadd and Larry Goldings like to do when not playing the parts to James Taylor songs. This is just the two of them playing a Latin-Jazz standard, Chega de Saudade. Larry Goldings is playing bass with his left hand and playing the head of the tune and then improvising a solo with his right hand. 90% of the performance is either Goldings or Gadd improvising within the form of the tune. Gadd takes 2 solos - one with Goldings playing syncopated rhythms that Gadd improvises off of and then later, Goldings quits playing and Gadd solos through the form unaccompanied. Right before that happens they make eye contact and Gadd tips his head. That indicates Gadd's unaccompanied solo wasn't planned. Notice all the eye contact throughout the performance. Especially Gadd - he's watching Goldings like a hawk. They are cueing each other as what they'll do next. This is Type 2 all the way. I'm sure that Gadd's empathy is one of the reasons he's in such high demand among the big names - besides the fact that he's one of the most monstrous drummers alive.
In a previous blog I spoke of eating lunch with Bob Dylan's guitar player, Stu Kimball. He told me he's on the road with Dylan about half the time. I asked him what he does in his downtime; does he play elsewhere or have any side projects going? He said, "Well, I try not to do anything." He lives in Boston where it ain't cheap, but apparently Bob pays him enough that he can live and only work half the time. So if you're a type 2 (I got the impression that Stu was mostly Type 1) you can use the other half of the year to play amazing, improvisational and challenging music - for bad money, because your Type 1 situation subsidizes it.
Keep in mind that throughout this blog series I've spoken in categorical terms - Type 1, Type 2. This is for the sake of clarity and getting the point across. In reality, what I've called Type 1 and Type 2 are just the extreme ends of a continuum along which individuals reside, some more of one than the other, to greater or lesser degrees. Just because I've categorized Steve Gadd as Type 2 doesn't mean he's only in James Taylor's band for the money and hates being restricted to the parts. Maybe he likes playing the parts to James Taylor songs, I don't know. Playing James Taylor songs for 3 or 4 months a year sure ain't a bad gig.
Tell James if you see him I'd suck it up and do it for half what he's paying Michael Landau!
In the next blog I'll talk about my own experience with these types and how the construct applies to my teaching.
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