JGT is as interested in the “language” of jazz in any improvised music as it is in “jazz” itself. Editor Bob Bakert speaks with Andy Reiss.
JGT: When I was backstage at the Little Walter shows the last two years I heard a lot of bebop and post-bop lines. How much is jazz batted about among the Nashville players? Is there a growing interest in jazz and its many iterations?
Andy: I’m not sure that there is a growing interest. There has always been a small percentage of guitarists interested in jazz, but I’m not sure that that percentage has really altered much over the years. I get a lot of guys who are primarily rock or country guys ask me to “show them some jazz stuff”, but few who are willing to do the work.
JGT: What is your favorite style to play?
Andy: I love straight ahead jazz. My influences and my interests are pretty firmly in the 40’s,50’s and 60’s style jazz. Fusion and Smooth jazz styles are great , but not really my thing. I also love Soul music and Traditional Country, and love to play them. Of course, as a session player, you have to be able to cover a lot of ground convincingly.
JGT: What is your music education, formal or otherwise?
Andy: I had piano lessons as a kid, but it was not a good experience. I learned to play guitar on my own, but after about 8 years I had a great teacher in San Francisco named Dave Smith. Dave taught me, among other things, the diminished scale and lots of songs, but I had already been playing jazz with friends. Some of the guys I played with in high school are still professional musicians, and they really shaped me. I always had “workshop” situations where I’d play with people regularly and work on jazz tunes and improvisational concepts. I did do a year of college theory classes, but at that point it was all kind of “oh, that’s what you call that.” I think of myself as a “street” player.
JGT: Who are
Andy: BB King was the first guitarist who really got me. I was a passionate blues nerd for several years, and still adore Buddy Guy and most of all Albert King. After a while I wanted a little more sophistication, and got into jazz via the gateway drug of Charlie Christian. I really studied all the greats, Kenny Burrell is a big favorite, and Joe Pass did a lot of seminars and classes around the Bay Area, and I attended as many of those as I could.
JGT: What are you listening to today?
Andy: Mostly saxophone players- Ben Webster represents where I want to go now. Melodic playing, phrasing and tone. Cannonball Adderly is a big favorite as well, the perfect combination of left and right brain playing. The Basie band is usually on my playlist somewhere as well.
JGT: What guitars, amps
Andy: I’m a guitar addict, I have about 40 something guitars, mostly vintage. I usually play a 52 Les Paul goldtop, a 59 335, a Gibson Barney Kessel, a 55 alnico L5, a great 59 strat, a great 52 tele. Also some new stuff, a couple of Charles Whitfill’s great things, a couple of Heritage jazz boxes, and a Magneto Velvet, which is a killer Les Paul type. For acoustics, CB guitars, made by Chris Bozung, really work for me. Amp wise, old Fenders have always been favorites, but I also use Little Walter amps a lot. They are boutique tube amps that really sound wonderful. I’ve been using La Bella strings for over 25 years. Their flatwounds are my favorites, 12 or 13 sets, depending on the guitar. They also have a series called “Benders” that I’m really digging. I use 10 sets or 11 sets, depending on the guitar. And of course, V picks!
JGT: What new music are you working on?
Andy: Whatever I have to learn for a gig, and always trying to get more jazz standards under my fingers.
JGT: What are your goals for your own playing?
Andy: My goal is to play what I consider to be the truth. Honest melodic pocket playing with a lot of emotion. Music has to feel good, so I always try and be subservient to the groove. I try and play less and make it mean more. In the guitar town, people really seem to like flash and guitaristic playing, but it doesn’t take long for that to get boring to me.
JGT: Do you see jazz gaining popularity in Nashville and/or around the country if/as you tour?
Andy: I don’t really think it is. The internet does seem to have made it possible for niche music styles to find their followers. My band, the Time Jumpers, has been around for over twenty years, and when people first started posting videos on YouTube, it felt like we were being exploited, but in the end it really helped us to build and maintain a solid fan base.