What Inspires You to Play?

February 28, 2009 at 10:37 am 3 comments

A day or two ago, this question was posted on a listserve to which I subscribe. My response was so lengthy it reminded me of a blog post. So here it is:

Short answer:

1. Music is endlessly interesting. If you feel like you hit a brick wall or dead-end in one direction, there are countless other directions to go. Plus you can always later revisit a prior brick wall and likely discover a way around it.

2. I am always trying to improve, because I know it is possible and I definitely do improve when I work at it. This allows me more options in avenues to explore and helps take down brick walls (see above).

Elaboration of short answer for those interested in my long-winded, boring history and opinions:

1. Music is endlessly interesting: I started playing the guitar in the early-mid sixties because I thought the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary and other guitar-driven groups were totally cool. Through the sixties I was also inspired by B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield. It was also during this period that I realized it made sense (for me at least) to learn the guitar in a disciplined way and so I started studying classic guitar. This direction eventually became my primary focus for the next 15 – 20 years, though I always maintained my interest in and played popular music.

In the mid 70’s I discovered jazz & fusion and was inspired by the likes of Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, George Benson, Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell. This type of music occupied more and more of my time. While maintaining classic guitar as the core of what I did, I spent less and less time with the classic repertoire — finding it less and less satisfying.

From the mid-eighties through the early part of the 2000’s various jazz styles became my total focus, with smooth jazz becoming the dominant style for me through 2006, when I released my CD “A Step Along the Way”. It was my 5th smooth jazz CD and I thought it pretty good (and still do). I actually spent some money promoting it and it got some airplay, but never really went anywhere. At about this same time I began feeling that the new releases of even major smooth jazz artists had become little more than stale re-hashes, and the newer artists had relatively little new to say — more likely they weren’t allow to say anything new by the record labels.

This frustration with the Smooth Jazz genre led to my almost completely setting smooth jazz aside and starting on my “Vintage Instrumentals” project, which spanned almost two years. I learned a great deal about the music I grew up with, and also developed new areas in my playing. While I am no longer focused on new arrangements for this project, I still play those I’ve done and what I learned has significantly influenced my musical vision and playing overall.

My next project — continuing the rejection of the heavily produced smooth jazz genre — was a revisiting of some of my more rock-based fusion material, rearranged for a quartet and specifically designed to be playable live. This led the the CD “(could be) *LIVE* (but isn’t)” which I released last year.

My current project is an even more basic extension of the prior one — jazz-rock-fusion for a guitar/bass/drums trio. Influencing me heavily here is Johnny A, who really opened my eyes to what more the guitar can do. This is presently ongoing, and involves both new tunes and repurposed older ones. I am having a great time doing this, and am learning more about the guitar and myself as I go.

Never in my life have I worried that I would run out of music to explore.

2. I am always trying to improve: I definitely believe that I am a better musician and guitarist now than at any point in my life. True, my classic guitar chops are far from their peak, but for the music I am currently exploring, they are the best they have ever been. I also have no shortage of skills to improve, from facility and clarity to improvisation and reading. I very much feel I have made progress in all of those areas over the past several years. How can that not be motivating?

Entry filed under: Guitar, Jazz, jazz fusion, Music, Oldies, Smooth Jazz, Vintage Instrumentals.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dr. Tom Bibey  |  February 28, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Chet Atkins said the man who thought he knew it all from the nut to the bridge was a fool. It is all about the journey and in music it never ends.

    Keep on picking, brother.


    • 2. shufflocity  |  February 28, 2009 at 8:02 pm

      And Chet was one of the best. I didn’t discover him and how great he was until relatively late in my musical development…my loss.

      Perhaps another way to put things is that anything that you can actually finish isn’t nearly as worthwhile as something you cannot.

  • 3. The Lost Sugarbeat  |  March 11, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Yes. It’s the journey, not the destination. I play because I can lose myself in the sound. Also, I am so bad that it takes very little to make me sound lots better!


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February 2009


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