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 Standring.com. 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 www.aandronline.com.
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
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
80s, eventually coming around to Pat Martino who is
still musically with me at all times. Whilst I am happy that
I dont 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.
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 aint 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
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. Im 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
Greenes 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 players
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
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 couldnt sight read. On the other hand,
if I was touring with the Rolling Stones Id have just
as much fun if I couldnt 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 isnt
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 20s I bought a book called For Guitar
Players Only by Tommy Tedesco, one of LAs
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
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 wasnt 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 its 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
C.S: Well I cant 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 dont 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,
For more info on Chris's jazz guitar course click here