I first picked up a guitar when I was about seven years old. Apparently my first guitar teacher thought it was all somekind of joke as I was really too small to get my arms around even a child size guitar.
The lessons didn’t last. Maybe I wasn’t getting much satisfaction from playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”?
Flash forward a few years and I’m in my early teens playing (quite illegally but nobody really cared so much about child labour back in the 1970s) in a rock and roll band in the various bars and clubs in the city centre.
We were lucky to have BBC television and especially BBC2 which had a strong focus on the arts. There was a show featuring the Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson where he would play jazz and feature a variety of guests. One night his guest was the solo jazz guitar wizard Joe Pass. I remembered watching, jaw open to the floor, as he performed stunning versions of tunes I remembered hearing my mother singing as she drove along in her car.
I was later to learn that these songs “All the Things You Are”, “Misty” and the like were at the heart of what many refer to as “The Great American Song Book”.
The next day’s water cooler gossip was heatedly centered around Joe’s amazing performance and we all quickly agreed that he was actually from Mars, sent to frustrate us with the impossible and so we moved on with our lives. Almost!
The following years were good to me. I landed a job as a touring session guitarist playing bars and hotels in Denmark, my first professional gig. As I met more and more similar musicians on the road my contacts grew and the phone never stopped ringing. I would end one tour and immediately start on another. This was the high life as far as I was concerned but one thing was bugging me. I knew that I would never be satisfied as a musician until I had, at least, tried my hand as a jazz musician.
So one day the phone rang and I did what I had never done for the previous ten years. I said no! That was the last time the phone rang.
Adjusting from being a, basically pop/rock, guitarist to a jazz player was a life changing experience for me. I had to re-learn the instrument completely, change everything about the kind of guitar I was used to playing. Essentially I had to begin again.
It was worth it. 25 years on and I’m still in the game. Still learning, still growing, still finding new and exciting musical avenues to pursue.
That’s the great thing about jazz. Whoever you are, you’ll always be a student. It will always be bigger than you. Even the greatest of the masters would probably tell you that anybody who says they “know jazz” probably doesn’t know that much at all.
Stay hungry. See you out there!