Conversations with Great Jazz and Studio Guitarists

March 18, 2012 by  

Author Jim Carlton has done a wonderful service to the jazz guitar community with this collection of conversations with a number of outstanding guitarists from the jazz and studio fields. Jim, an industry “insider,” has known a number of his subjects for many years. This friendship and familiarity made them more likely to open up as they never had previously with interviewers. We also get to hear many “inside baseball” anecdotes from the folks who were there, playing in historical sessions, and whose dropped names range from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra to Bill Haley’s Comets to Barbra Streisand.

I’m particularly reminded of the interview with the late Billy Bauer, who pulled no punches when discussing some of the newer players on the jazz scene–something that’s almost unheard of among musicians, at least not in a public forum. We also get to hear the humility and gratitude for a great career by luminaries like the extraordinary Johnny Smith, whom I had the honor of meeting back in the 1970s.

Carlton had the honor of being the final interviewer for a half-dozen players before their deaths, including Al Hendrickson, who was probably the most-recorded guitarist ever, from the golden years of studio playing. It was also the final interview for Art Ryerson, who had a brilliant career in the active New York scene of the 50s and 60s.

There were plenty of funny moments, too, when some of the most famous studio guitarists opened up about how much they hated the rock and roll sessions that were their bread and butter, but that they were professionals who had to feed their families and did what they had to do, and did so very well, indeed. You hear how studio playing, like so many other things in life, is 99% boredom, and 1% sheer panic.

If you have heard any jazz, pop, or rock recording from the 1950s through the 1970s, you have heard at least one of these fine players, and probably several of them. Many of the finest jazz guitarists got their start, or at least paid the bills, with lucrative studio work.

Did you know that five or six of the top New York City guitarists pooled their money and bought a number of custom-designed amplifiers which were pre-positioned at some of the biggest studios in the city so they wouldn’t have to deal with the issues of parking and lugging these heavy beasts from one session to another? They called themselves the Manhattan Guitar Club. Volumes of stories could be told just from those pros. Among these players were Bucky Pizzarelli, Al Casamenti, Al Caiola, Art Ryerson, and a few more.

One of the biggest lessons one can learn from this book is directed toward those who might consider a career in the studios. That lesson is that you need to be able to read music well enough to walk into a session, sit in front of your music stand, and perfectly play music from handwritten scrawls on a lead sheet that you’ve never seen before, with little or no rehearsal–rehearsals cost money, after all.

Full disclosure considerations dictate that I mention that Jim Carlton is a close personal friend, who honored me with a mention in the book’s acknowledgments.

That said, I recommend this book very highly to anyone who is a fan of great jazz music and for those who enjoy hearing great stories from some of the great insiders of the music industry.