'The discovery of improvisation
through the practice of Jazz has proved to be the most engaging, rewarding and
lasting experience of my musical life.'
The guitar was first used in Jazz as an acoustic rhythm instrument,
replacing the banjo during the 1920's. The invention of the electric guitar,
championed by Charlie Christian allowed it to compete on equal terms with 'front
line' instruments such as the saxophone and trumpet affording it a new status in
the evolving Jazz ensemble. Each successive generation of players has developed
new possibilities for the instrument. The term 'Jazz guitar' today covers a huge spectrum of different techniques,
styles and musical philosophies. Guitarists like Russell Malone focus on styles
of Jazz that were perfected in the 1940's and 50's. Bill Frisell and Pat
Metheney incorporate all of the technological and musical innovations of their
own post 60's generation. Guitarists like Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti have
brought a new acoustic perspective, introducing elements from contemporary
classical composition and world music.
The complexity and variety of approaches to
improvisation present special problems to the teacher. Basic skills such as
reading, scales, arpeggios, chords and theory can be taught in the traditional
way and become the main focus for beginners. Many people come to Jazz after
acquiring some experience in other types of music. Such people often need to
fill in any gaps in the basics mentioned above before moving on to the
development of improvisational skills and to familiarise themselves with the
playing styles of major figures in the instruments history and acquire overview
and appreciation of Jazz as a whole.
I place great importance on intermediate
students learning and playing Jazz standards. This is a tried and tested way to
instil many of the core improvisational skills including listening, group
interaction, phrasing, awareness of form and harmonic function. It
also gives us a body of material which can act as a template for our own musical
evolution I am also a firm believer in the value of transcribing and memorising
sections of recordings of the music of great players and have developed
useful strategies to help students with this.
Unfortunately there are no really satisfactory
grade one to eight exams available for Jazz guitarists. The London College of Music offer
their Electric Guitar syllabus which has some relevance to Jazz
players-especially in the higher grades and the Trinity Guildhall Plectrum
guitar exams are again useful but limited in their relevance to contemporary
The RGT, (London College of Music) has now introduced
four Jazz Guitar Performance Diplomas. (DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM and the FLCM.) These
offer advanced players professional qualifications and are a welcome addition to
the range of qualifications available.
Advanced students are faced with the ultimate
objective of discovering their own musical voice. This is the point when craft
has the potential to transform itself into art. It is beneficial for students at this level to
become mentors for less experienced colleagues and to seize every opportunity to
play and perform with other more experienced musicians.