Guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan told me he was looking forward to performing at the Paramount Night Club (in Santa Fe). Although he often gets together with other musicians to play privately, he said he has been spending less time performing publicly.
Jordan that this has been a creative time for him on many levels. In addition to returning to school to work on what he called the equivalent of a Masters Degree in music therapy, Jordan has composed a lot of new music, much of which he will play tonight at a sit-down, no-smoking show.
I first heard Jordan at the Telluride Jazz Festival three years ago. It was just Jordan and his guitar on the outdoor stage, yet his sound filled the large space as a symphony might.
NN: Do you play a multi-string guitar that was built especially for you?
SJ: No. I play a six-string guitar. It's not unusual, but it's a good quality guitar. The unusual thing is more in the way I play it. I play the guitar kind of like a piano. Usually I've got both my hands on the neck, playing independent parts. I play one part with my left hand, and the other with my right hand.
NN: How do you strum?
SJ: I use what are called hammer-ons, so you don't need to strum. When you hit the string against the fret the impact causes it to vibrate, so just by hitting it down you can get a note. It's not as loud as if you picked the string, but it has the advantage that you can do two things in one action. You're selecting what note to play, and energizing the note with that one action of the finger. I also use pull-offs -- you pull the finger off to the side, and that finger picks the string on the way off. The technique I use is known as the touch technique, or two-hand tapping. I think because of the way this technique lets you play, it probably sounds like more strings than there actually are.
NN: Does where you play affect the way you play?
SJ: It does. I improvise a lot. I play based on how I feel in the place where I am. The audience does affect my playing. Sometimes, for example, in a place that's really packed and hot, with a lot of young people there who normally listen to rock music, I play a certain way because of how I feel being there. I have a rock background too, and that comes up more if I'm in a rock venue.
NN: What can we expect to hear at the Paramount?
SJ: I've been composing a lot of music, so I have some new stuff that I'm working on. This will give me a chance to play some of it in front of a live audience. It always helps to play music in front of an audience first before I record it. On one of the new pieces I adapted a movement from a Mozart piano concerto. That was interesting, because a piano has 88 strings -- so trying to summarize all that on a guitar was kind of fun. Naturally I don't play all the parts, but I think if you're familiar with the song you'll find I've captured the essence of it. Also, I've got some blues that I'll probably play. I travel around and I record a lot of my shows for my own use. I get ideas when I'm playing, and when I get home I listen to some of those tapes and follow up.
NN: Do you have a new CD coming out soon?
SJ: I have two CDs that will be released soon . . . One is Indian ragas performed live with a sitarist and a tabla player. The other is solo guitar.
NN: Tell me about some of the musicians who have influenced you.
SJ: I would say my favorite is Elroy Jones, who was not a famous musician, but somebody who I had access to because he lived in my neighborhood when I was a teenager. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Elroy was definitely from the traditional jazz school. It was great for me to get a chance to learn from a master. His knowledge of standards was just encyclopedic, and his knowledge of chords all up and down the neck [of the guitar] really inspired me to develop my own harmonic concept. Certainly there were other musicians who were doing other things who were heroes of mine, but the special thing about Elroy was that I actually had a chance to play with him.
About a week ago I got out my record collection. My turntable had fallen by the wayside and I never got a new one. For years I had all my records in storage. I recently got a new turntable, so I started digging out all of my old records. I'm having such a wonderful time. I've been listening to a lot of John Coltrane, also to Earth Wind and Fire. I've got some Ella Fitzgerald singing Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Milt Buchner on organ and piano. Buchner was not really well known, but known by musicians. I think Papa Joe Jones told me about Milt. And Stevie Wonder -- Songs in the Key of Life. I just dug that up. All of that music was inspiring to me. The way that we saw Stevie was not just as a talented musician, but as a leader, both spiritually and culturally -- he was one of the people who took us into the future.
NN: What are some of your future plans?
SJ: There is one thing that is really important to me that I'd like to mention, and that is I've gone back to school to study music therapy. This is one of the most interesting things I've come across in a long time. I'm really excited about it, and I think there is so much potential there of using music in the healing process. The more I learn about it, the more I realize just how important this is going to be. There are pages on my website www.Stanley Jordan.com about it. There are also links to related therapies -- like art and drama therapy.
NN: Do you think you will be moving in that direction and performing less?
SJ: Maybe the lines between the two will blur. I don't know. I haven't really thought about how I'm going to use all of this. I just know that I'm drawn to it because it's a calling that I have. I just know that I have to do it, and I'll figure out how to fit it in.
Natasha Nargis, the JJA's roving Southwestern-based reporter, writes for the Albuquerque Journal and does radio on KSFR.