Interview with Chris Standring
(Recording artist and author Play What You Hear)

G.P: Chris, you seem to have a busy life as a guitar player but also as an editor/publisher of the Play Jazz Guitar home study methods. And on top of that you run your own website Chris How did you come up with the idea to combine it all?

C.S: I have written several books that got published back in the late 80's/early 90's. The last hard back book was called "The Essential Studio Guitarist" and was published by Hal Leonard. Once that deal was closed I got quite excited to write another book soon after as I felt I had a calling, or so I thought at the time. I knuckled down and spent a number of weeks writing "Play What You Hear". I wanted to focus on getting guitar players to improve their aural facility as I felt that horn players had the edge when it came to hearing melodies and instantly being able to execute them. I also came across a lot of guitar players who had a technical facility but clearly did not understand harmony. They did not hear it in their head, something that limited them melodically as they often didn't recognize the difference between strong sounds and weak sounds.

Anyway, I wrote the book and sent it to a few publishers. I had a mixed reaction at the time. Whilst all thought it was an excellent book, most publishers were nervous about publishing it as they felt the market was too small. They also thought that the book was a little advanced for their demographic. Somewhat despondent I shelved the book and pursued my guitar playing career. A couple of years ago I got heavily into the internet as a marketing tool and I thought I could maybe adapt my jazz course to be read on the computer. However, I remembered what those publishers had told me and I fully expected to sell about 5 copies! Well, to my amazement the course took off in a big way and is extremely successful today. Ironically, I wouldn't even entertain going through a publisher now as the deal is never in the author's favour. So I am very grateful publishers refused me way back when. I think the course has worked because I have addressed issues in a way that others have not. It amazes me what is marketable and what is not. Sometimes you don't know until you throw something out there. The world is a strange place.

G.P: Tell us about your album Groovalicious, and about The Street Team marketing plan you have.

C.S: Groovalicious is my latest album and without a doubt the strongest statement I have made so far. I think most artists will say that about their latest records though so I am no different here! I have always been interested in taking elements from different styles as well as different time periods and fusing them together. My co-producer and I wanted to focus on the infectious soul-jazz flavors of the 70's, a time period that is closest to me as I grew up during that time. I love hypnotic music from a rhythm section standpoint and I wanted to really make a feel good album. We took elements from bands like Parliament, Average White Band, Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Cameo as well as groovy jazz influenced groups from that time like Stuff and Johnny Guitar Watson etc. With that as a backdrop we added my jazz guitar voice on top, threw in some funky horn arrangements, invited some guests and what came out came out.

As far as the Street Team thing is concerned, I am very interested in helping independent artists market themselves, especially at a time when record deals are very rare and frankly not a wise route to take right now. I wrote a document called "Street Team" which is essentially a blueprint for artists to get more fans to their shows and sell more CDs. You can find it at I have of course adopted all these principles to my own artist career and have my own fans working on my behalf.

G.P: How important is it to find your own voice as a guitar player?

C.S: Not important at all unless you want one! There are two routes to take as a professional player. You can pursue a career as a sideman and tour with established artists or you can become an artist and make records on your own. Each route is as admirable as the next, both of course having their own trade offs. As a sideman if you want to be hired by lots of artists and have a good amount of work, then it may not be in your interest to have a unique voice as you are in essence playing a backup role to the artist. A clearly defined voice is not important. However a very high standard of musicianship is required and you will need to know many styles.

As an artist I think it is extremely important that you find your own voice because you need to stand out from the herd. It takes a conscious effort to commit to finding one and it also requires a sense of abandonment, letting the voice naturally come through without forcing it. It is a fine balance. From my first solo album I had decided to focus on one signature guitar sound. I wanted it to be clean and fat with a singing tone. That decision helped greatly in finding and developing my voice. Over the years of sticking to that focus and making several records, I have managed to hone that voice and make it into a somewhat recognizable guitar sound, or so people have told me. I also think that a voice will start to emerge once an artist decides that he or she is no longer interested in emulating their heroes. I decided that long ago. For example, as much as I admire someone like Pat Metheny or John Scofield, it does me no good at all to learn and re-hash their signature licks. They belong to them and frankly I want my own! I think it is much more important to understand harmonically where a musician is coming from. Sure rip off a good phrase but make it your own.

Another thing that I have found since becoming an artist is that as a front man I have to not only connect with the audience but I also have to translate my sound to the back of the audience. This is difficult for me to articulate here but it is not a matter of just playing loud. I am talking about projecting a sound, articulating phrases so strongly that they translate offstage and tell a clearly defined story. It is the difference between a guitar player with a voice and a guitar player who plays well. As an artist you are forced to project, much like a vocalist has to project rather than just sing. You have to make a statement.

G.P: Which guitar players have influenced you when you were starting to play Jazz?

C.S: I came to jazz kind of through the back door. I have somewhat of a rock ‘n roll background despite a kind of harmonically sophisticated one. Sounds like a contradiction but not really. I grew up playing in pop and rock bands and during that time I studied solo classical guitar. I was always attracted to more progressive music, perhaps because of my generation, and I was drawn to guitar players who were searching for something musically. Jan Akkerman from a dutch band called Focus was my first idol. I had no idea what the music was but I just thought it was extraordinary. Jeff Beck came along and released Blow By Blow and Wired and I was floored. I still listen to those albums today. Larry Carlton came along with his first Warner Bros album in 1979 and once again my life was turned around. After that I realized where I was headed and opened myself up to the fusion gods of the 80’s, eventually coming around to Pat Martino who is still musically with me at all times. Whilst I am happy that I don’t sound like Pat, his harmonic knowledge and technical skills are otherworldly and I'd like them frankly!. I also made a point of listening to great players of all instruments as I knew that listening only to guitarists might not be too healthy. Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Miles, Cannonball Adderly, Keith Jarrett etc. all got good air time on my stereo system. Still do.

G.P: What kind of music were you listening to at that time? And what about now?

C.S: Aside from the jazz artists I have mentioned, I listened to pop music avidly back in the day. I was a huge David Bowie freak. Got all his early albums. Earth Wind & Fire etched their way into my head, Steely Dan probably got the heaviest rotation on my record player. Aja, Royal Scam and Gaucho were classics of their time.

These days I am constantly searching for new music that makes me excited. It ain’t easy. I gravitate towards electronic progressive club music coming out of Europe as I find it the most refreshing, but not always. I like much of the earlier straight ahead jazz from the 50's. Sonny Stitt, Miles, Herbie, Wes - you know, all the groovers. I'm a big Stan Getz fan. I just got an Ipod which may revitalize an interest in music for me. I am a little tired of buying an album and finding one track that I like so downloading single tracks from Itunes is great for me. Once in a while I come across a new pop band or singer songwriter that gets my attention. I think John Mayer is an extraordinary talent. I also love Coldplay. Very cool.

G.P: Which of your Jazz methods that you have developed would you advise to young kids?

C.S: Actually I have only developed one method and that is my “Play What You Hear” course, so I guess I would advise that! However, it is not for beginners but more for intermediate players looking to get to that next level and open up new doors so to speak. I’m not sure what I would recommend for young kids. I never studied from any jazz methods per se. I spent a little time with Ted Greene’s single note soloing book volume 2”. Ted of course is one of the finest jazz guitarists living and I did get some good vocab out of his book. I also quite religiously referred to The Charlie Parker Omnibook for years and years. I think my advise to the young kids is to have fun with the guitar for a while, get some rock and pop licks under your belt and gravitate towards learning 2, 5, 1 progressions in all keys. That might open up the doors for a while. Other than that I wish I had a better answer for your question.

G.P: What is the essence of your course?

C.S: The essence of my course is to train a guitar player’s ear so when given a certain chord to improvise over, they understand the relationship between the melodic pattern (scale) and the chordal backdrop. There are many audio files with long chords repeated along with scales and melodic pattern examples so the student can get the sound of the chord and scale in their head and learn some vocabularly which can be used in a practical situation. Once these chords are isolated with examples, it opens up a wealth of information and possibilities. Vocabularly is limitless once this principle is adopted.

G.P: We see currently a lot of talented guitar players that are fully trained by video, CDs, books and play really well, read TABs but do not read scores. What do you think about this?

C.S: I think it is perfectly fine provided they are not hindered reaching their goals. For instance, if I got a lot of calls as a studio player to play on movie dates I might be a little restricted if I couldn’t sight read. On the other hand, if I was touring with the Rolling Stones I’d have just as much fun if I couldn’t read a note. Personally, I am not into the whole TAB thing. I barely even understand it. It is not recognized in the profession and you will never come across it in a playing situation. For this reason alone I never learned how to read or write it. I hear it isn’t that hard but personally I find reading music a great deal of fun. I remember finding sight reading difficult in the early stages only because I was never taught to read the notes correctly. I never really grasped time values as a kid. In my early 20’s I bought a book called “For Guitar Players Only” by Tommy Tedesco, one of LA’s premier session guitar players up until his death a few years ago. He discussed reading in different positions for different keys and everything just clicked all of a sudden. Everything made sense. So of course I got a few calls to play on movies. Ahh the good old days…

G.P: Is it tough to survive as a full time professional guitar player?

C.S: Yes and it gets tougher. As an artist and sideman you are faced with different trade offs. A sideman is constantly living in fear of losing his or her job, quite rightly as their livelihood depends on the success of the artist they are working for. Sidemen get hired and fired when artists get temperamental, need new inspiration and of course the sidemen get sick of playing the gig too. Then of course you are starting all over again looking for a new gig! It gets old. As an artist you have to keep having hit records otherwise promoters are nervous about booking you. If you are smart you can build a career and bring your audience along with you, but most artists assume that record companies are there to do all the work for them and they get a horrible wake up call when they are dropped from that label. I think one has to take the desperation out of the music business. I have just turned 43 and I am slowly figuring out what works for me. Even when I was busy touring as a sideman I was never rich doing it and always frustrated that there was never enough work and certainly never paid well enough. Once I got my first record deal (I am now on my 3rd) I assumed that life might be tough for a while as I wasn’t going to get the calls as a sideman anymore. That was a correct assumption! I decided to delve headlong into the internet thing which has been a wonderful gravy train for me, is also very creative in a different way and my music career has as a result taken on a more graceful path. I have taken the desperation out of the music business. I also still have a full head of hair!

G.P: Tell us about your Benedetto? Amps?

C.S: Bob Benedetto made me my archtop jazz guitar a few years back. My friend Ron Eschete was kind enough to go out of his way to call up Bob and recommend he make a guitar for me and have me endorse it. We talked about problems I might have playing a little louder and so Bob built the guitar with a block down the middle, kind of like a Gibson 335. He managed to retain it’s acoustic quality but I can turn up to a nice volume if I want. And I do because my band tends to get a little excited sometimes!

My amp set up is quite simple. I play through a Fender twin reverb ’65 re issue which I bought from my friend Marc Antoine. Now I have all festival promoters rent Fender twins wherever I go. I love them. I built myself a cool and groovy retro pedal board with funky pedals and a digitech voice box. I go nowhere without it!

G.P: You have had a busy schedule both in California as well as in the UK. Are those two places good guitar player environments?

C.S: Well I can’t totally recommend the UK because I left there in 1991 in search of better work. Looking back on it I expected the world and wanted it all to happen quickly so I had to move. Having said that, the scene may have changed I don’t know. I go back there and play but only as a result of my success in the USA. I have friends there that work all the time so it is a valid environment. I think it all depends on what your goals are. You could go to any major town and play, it just depends on what type of gigs you want to do I guess.

THANK YOU, CHRIS Blessed be, kind regards,

Glenn Pennock

For more info on Chris's jazz guitar course click

* Download a free sample from Chris Standring's acclaimed jazz guitar program "Play What You Hear" and get a free jazz guitar lesson once a week for 18 weeks!


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