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Jazz in Nashville: Trey Hensley

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Editor Bob Bakert speaks with guitarist Trey Hensley as Jazz Guitar Today continues the ‘Jazz in Nashville’ series. 

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?

Trey: It definitely seems like a lot of players in Nashville are into jazz…most everyone who I’m in contact with are way into it. Even in the bluegrass circles. I always thought bluegrass and jazz were similar with all of the improvisation that goes on in both genres. One of my biggest influences in bluegrass, Tony Rice, has always been a jazz influenced player and even recorded multiple jazz albums. Those were my first introductions to the genre really. I think he introduced a lot of bluegrass players to jazz. So, jazz is really a big interest with almost every musician that I know.

JGT:  What is your favorite style to play?

Trey: Well, I’m a flat-picker by definition, but I’ve always loved blues and jazz. I love doing the flat picking stuff and also including some horn style phrases or some Grant Green style single note lines that maybe aren’t associated with bluegrass playing. It keeps me on my toes and keeps my mind in that improvisational mode. 

JGT:  What is your music education, formal or otherwise?

Trey: Very limited. I took guitar lessons for about 6 months when I started and have been self-taught (by ear) from then on. 

JGT:  Who are you biggest influences?

Trey: In bluegrass guitar, Tony Rice and Doc Watson for sure. In jazz, I love horn players: Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Stanley Turrentine, Wayne Shorter, and Sonny Rollins. Of course I love jazz guitar players: John Scofield, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Bill Frisell, Kenny Burrell, Pat Metheny, and Joe Pass. 

JGT:  What are you listening to today?

Trey: Today? Currently listening to Energy Control Center by the Lightmen Plus One on the way to New York City. Before that, I was listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory”, which is one of my all-time favorites. 

In general, I’ve been way into the Jimmy Smith “Back at the Chicken Shack” album recently. I just listen to a lot of different music…and we tour so frequently that I have a lot of time to dive into new music on these road trips between gigs. 

JGT:  What guitars, amps and strings including gauges are you using?  Does it change depending on style (obviously acoustic vs electric is a given)  

Trey: Currently on acoustic, I’m using a Bourgeoius Slope D35 on this tour. I also have a Pre War Guitar Co. D style that I love and play often. And a 1954 D-28 that comes out occasionally. I am using D’Addario Nickel Bronze medium gauge strings on all of my acoustics. I don’t really change acoustic guitars depending on style.

On electric, I use an Eastman T-486B quite often. I find it’ll cover just about every style. I also use a Tele style guitar made by a friend of mine in East Tennessee. I’m using D’Addario Phosphor Bronze light gauge strings on electric guitar. 

Trey Hensley Album

JGT:  What new music are you working on?

Trey: I just released a new duo album with the amazing dobro player Rob Ickes (who has recorded multiple incredible jazz albums) called “World Full of Blues” and we are currently on an extensive tour. However, I’m writing new songs fairly often and will hopefully be starting a new album in the very near future. 

JGT:  What are your goals for your own playing?

Trey: I would like to learn something new every day. I’m becoming more immersed in jazz, I’d love to become more knowledgeable in that world…including working on music theory, which I’ve never studied prior. I’d like to get out of my own head when I’m playing. I’m so used to reading YouTube/Facebook comments, which can sometimes be negative. I tend to focus on the few negative comments instead of the tons of positive. For a short while I was noticing the negative comments slowly affecting my playing, almost making me somewhat paranoid on stage. I’ve worked on that and feel more confident and calm when I play, but I’d still love to be totally “free” when I play.  

JGT:  Do you see jazz gaining popularity in Nashville and/or around the country if/as you tour?

Trey: I do believe so. I tour a lot and especially in the circles I run in, jazz is huge. Again, I think jazz and bluegrass/Americana are similar in a lot of ways. The fan base might be smaller than some other music genres, but the fans in jazz and bluegrass/Americana are loyal and consistently seek the “good stuff”. I think the musicianship is more admired in our genres than other music genres. I just think jazz heads and grass heads know what they like and know what is good. I respect that. And I think there are a lot of folks who can respect that. 

Jazz in Nashville Series

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