Friday, March 03, 2006

The Advancing Guitarist

I came into jazz backward. I was a Maria Schneider fan long before I heard Bob Brookmeyer's writing — and then it was like, "So that's where she comes from!" I have the same reaction listening to Mick Goodrick. No matter how many times I listen to his solo on "Coral," I can't help but hear Pat Metheny's roots.

Jazz has its share of celebrity performers, but it also has legendary teachers who have been sought out by the most accomplished musicians. It's been said that you can trace 80% of the most successful NFL players to a handful of college coaches — and in jazz, the same is true of Madame Chaloff, Charlie Banacos, and Mick Goodrick.

Unlike the others, Goodrick does perform. On occasion, he even records, albeit not often. His only known disc as a leader was for ECM in 1978. In truth, he actually records every few years, sometimes as a sideman and sometimes on co-led dates, but always for peanut-sized independent labels with zero distribution. He recorded a couple of sessions with an Italian label during the '90s; the discs were hard to find in the United States then, and the company has since gone out of business. You can't find the CDs anywhere today, even used.

And that's a testament to his music, because the people who own copies want to keep them. This is the guy who taught Pat Metheny and John Scofield, so you know there's going to be something heavy in his playing. It's amazing to me that he isn't recorded more often — and when he is, that labels fail to capitalize on his cred with guitar enthusiasts. It's a solid market that's successfully milked by lesser players with pocket change. You'd think a professional label that's signed a marquee name would exhibit more savvy.

Kenny Werner famously told a story about how Madame Chaloff spent months training him to play a single note. Ran Blake reportedly spends entire semesters drilling piano students on simple triads. My favorite story about Goodrick came from a woman at the bar during a set at Scullers; she said that when she studied with him during the '70s, he took her into the forest and taught her to chop down a tree. He said sometimes the best way to learn to play guitar is to do something else.

Theory and technique are important, but they're timber. They can help you cross a lake, but there's a difference between a raft and a ship. You need the other thing, and a great teacher can lead you to it in ways you'd never discover on your own. It's incredibly rare to find those teachers, and it's almost impossible to find ones who are active as both teachers and practitioners. Mick Goodrick is out there. Listen.


At March 03, 2006 1:04 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

I'd add that Chaloff, Banacos, and Goodrick all live (or in Chaloff's case, lived) in Boston. We're an educational Mecca. This city has more schools per square mile than any other city in the world. (You hear that, ancient city of Athens? Suck it.)


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