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Jimmy Bruno Unfiltered…



jimmy bruno

Jimmy Bruno is one of kind! His playing, his personality, his outlook on life, his profession, his likes and dislikes are all here for you – and yes, unfiltered.

There’s something about Jimmy that is just magic, and his playing transcends strictly guitar-nerd audiences, so I knew that bringing him to the Rocky Mountain Archtop Festival last September was going to be a success.  Our local jazz radio station KUVO asked us if we could bring him in for an interview, and the DJ said that in all of his years interviewing artists, Jimmy’s interview was the most captivating and interesting he’d ever done.  Jimmy asked me to play a solo set, which I was a little hesitant about since it was the second-to-last spot in a pretty loud taproom, not your typical jazz club.  Well, not only could you hear a pin drop during his performance, people were sitting on the floor by the stage just to get up close to listen to him play.  I’ve never seen anything like that before. – Peter Henriksen, Henriksen Amplifiers

Bob Bakert, Editor of Jazz Guitar Today: “Jimmy can play” or “Jimmy plays his ass off” are two emphatic quotes I’ve heard most often from guitarists I admire.  I first met Jimmy Bruno in 2003 when I attended a master class/concert at Dreamcatcher Guitars in Roswell, GA.  To use vernacular of the day, I was “blown away” by Jimmy’s ability. I wanted to play like that! In an effort to learn all I could from him I attended his subsequent masterclasses and did a deep dive into his recordings, videos, and books. 

Additionally, I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with him at several NAMM shows.  In those days he was always in the booths demoing and jamming with other top-flight guitarists, it was a great hang. Watching and hearing Jimmy Bruno from a few feet away was a huge treat for everyone lucky enough to be there.

This interview is an amalgamation/compilation of several months of informal phone conversations, written questions and a postscript.  Jimmy is one of kind! His playing, his personality and his outlook on life, his profession, his likes and dislikes are all here for you.  We at JGT are proud to present Jimmy Bruno “Unfiltered”.

Bob Bakert: We at JGT are about what’s going on today.  We who follow you know you had a health scare that pulled you out of performing for some time. You went back to gigging and have performed at the Rocky Mountain Archtop Festival, China, and a host of other premier gigs.  Please tell us and bring us up to speed on what you have been doing?

Jimmy: I took a spill in my studio, I went into a coma for 8 weeks and another 8 weeks in rehab.  This July will be 3 years ago. It was pretty bad, my wife called a priest to administer last rights. But much to her chagrin,  I pulled through. LOL.  The first gig I did after that was at Mezzrow in NY city. Shortly after that I began touring with Frank Vignola and recorded 2 CDs with Frank.  And did a lot of traveling doing solo guitar shows, master classes all over the world.  I even spend 8 days in China playing the Blue note club in Beijing and a club in Shanghai.

Jimmy Bruno on the Henriksen Amplifiers stage at Kline's Beer Hall
Jimmy Bruno on the Henriksen Amplifiers stage at the 2019 Rocky Mountain Archtop Festival

Bob: You have had an amazingly long career… what advice do you have for people starting out that want to pursue profession in guitar?

Jimmy: I would advise against it. For some reason our society has no taste for excellence in the arts.  Not just guitar, but look around and observe.  Poor quality television, movies starring people with no acting ability. My favorite bad actor is George Clooney. No talent at all. He just has a face. He actually had the balls to remake oceans 11.  Look at the original cast with Frank Sinatra. The list goes on and on. When I was learning guitar there were places to go sit in with older guys, who knew all the tunes, with the correct changes.  No Real Books.  The real book craze had made a lot of musicians tone deaf.  If you can’t play a tune by ear you have no business being a musician. 

Later when I became tired of living as a starving artist I moved to Las Vegas. There were only five steady jobs in the main rooms.  At one time I had three of them.  The Sands, The Desert Inn, and The Frontier.  I worked for an excellent musician, Don Vincent.  After that, I was asked to play at the Hilton hotel.  I was asking over six figures and doing a lot of writing for the Jimmy Mulidore orchestra.  That’s how I learned about orchestration, trial, and error.  Only the best musicians got hired in Vegas.  You have to be able to sight-read anything and play it perfectly two times a night six or seven-night a week.  There was no room for mistakes.  If you constantly made clams you were out on your ass. It’s a small town among musicians. You got ONE try, if you f#@!% up, no one would hire you again.  Jimmy Mulidore is an excellent jazz musician who could play jazz on all the woodwinds, even the bassoon. He was a tough guy to work for because he would not tolerate inferior playing.

Back in the day in LA: L to R – Tommy Tedesco, Jack Cecchini, Jimmy Bruno, Joe Pass, and extreme right Ron Anthony

The point is that scene no longer exists. I saw the end coming and moved too LA to try to do studio work, TV and movies. I stayed there for about eight years. Eventually I wanted to play jazz, so I moved back east to Philadelphia.  I got work right away.  I even ran the guitar department at University of the Arts. I taught privately at the school as well as teaching harmony and jazz performance in the Masters programs. And you gotta realize I never went to music school, I never formally studied music.  I have a great ear and a lot of determination. Now I see students being taught jazz guitar and/or jazz theory and these guys never played a jazz gig in their life. Kinda f#@!d up if you ask me. 

There were two jazz clubs in Philly and I played regularly at Chris Jazz Cafe.  The owner Chris eventually sold the place and the quality of the music has declined and the price of admission has gone up.

So, a kid goes to music school and $140,000 dollars later he’s back working at McDonalds. I feel it borders on fraud. NONE OF MY GUITAR HEROES WENT TO JAZZ SCHOOL.. Jazz school what a joke. Not every jazz guitarist can read but who do think is going to work more, the guy who can’t read or the guy who can sight read anything.

I hear what is coming out of these schools and what passes for jazz is some real watered down form of jazz.  I am bored by the whole scene. The jazz scene is not getting better, it’s taking a nose dive real fast.  

Jukebox jazz is the thing now.  They take a popular rock tune and attempt to solo over it… Bad move!  Some of those tunes were fine in their original form.  You shouldn’t try to use chord substitutions on them.  By doing so they ruin perfectly good tunes. 

Jimmy Bruno: I like all styles of music as long as it is good. Like Duke Ellington said “there are only two kinds of music., “Good music and bad music.”

Jimmy exploded on the scene in 1992 and I made his first guitar in 1994. His singular talent, energy, and creativity are his hallmarks… some of our best memories are the Benedetto Players Concerts on Long Island in the 90s…  He is the embodiment of jazz guitar! – Bob Benedetto, Benedetto Guitars

Jazz Guitar Today continues with the interview with Bob Bakert and jazz great, Jimmy Bruno. For the full audio interview with photos (below).

Bob – What music are you currently listening to?

Jimmy – I always listen to classical music, it’s my favorite kind of music to listen to. When I was 16, I only listened to guitar music. There are a couple records that I wore out. One is by Hank Garland, “Jazz Winds by A New Direction”, then after that was Johnny Smith, “Moonlight in Vermont”, and from there it was Tal Farlow, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Pat Martino, of course. I met Pat when I was 16. I’m 66. I’ve known him for 50 years [laughter]. So when I lived in Philly, when we were both doing a lot of traveling, when we were off, we always get together and hang out at his house or at a restaurant. And we would talk about music, of course, guitar,  art, painting, sculpture, everything, and mostly about life. Pat is not only a top-shelf musician and guitarist, but he’s a philosopher. His observations on life are just fascinating. He’s fascinated with numbers, 12, 3 and 4, triangles, squares. He applies these visual images to the guitar and to music.He doesn’t know anything about theory. He made his own theory –great stuff. 

Watch and enjoy young Jimmy Bruno tearing it up with reputedly one of the toughest band leaders ever, Buddy Rich. 

Shortly after listening to guitar players, I don’t want to say that I got bored with it, but I started to listen to saxophone players. Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt from the bebop era, straight ahead. and, of course, piano. Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. I have to put Jim Hall the guitarist in there. And they were very inspiring to me.  I started to listen to– I moved to Las Vegas when I was 21 and I met a girl there, a violinist. She was the concertmaster of the string section of the Sands Hotel. And to me, classical music would be Beethoven, Mozart, the ordinary stuff. And she turned me on to Igor Stravinsky and Petrushka was the very first thing that she played for me, and I went out of my mind. I became obsessed with learning how to write for strings. 

Now before that, I was doing writing for a big band, for different acts. I played for Doc Severinsen, Lola Falana, whoever needed a chart. So she had this idea – I had written something for a singer. I went into this Las Vegas recording studio, and we used the string section from the Sands Hotel. I wrote a couple of charts for this guy. And she had this idea of getting the group together with that string section and calling it Classical Smoke. And I wrote the entire album, all original stuff. One piece was not original, Paganini’s 24th Caprice. And disco was in, in those days so I wrote a single on Paganini’s 24th Caprice, but in a disco style. I heard Paganini’s going to come back and beat the shit out of me. The record did pretty good. It didn’t get picked up by a big label, but it made a little bit of noise. And the best thing about it was, man, I learned how to write for strings.

Jimmy in 2009 – Courtesy of Mike Oria Photography

Bob – I got to ask a question. So at what tempo did you play that? Do you have any idea?

Jimmy – Ba-do-be-do-be-da, ba-do-be-do-be-do, ba-do-be-do-be-da. Like 120.

Bob – Okay.

Jimmy – Yeah. A lot of disco music is at 120, or a variation of that. And 60 beats a minute is your heart rate. It’s a lot of hit tunes are – they’re pretty close to multiples of 60 beats per minute. And so a lot of the hit records like that. There’s something to it. I never figured it out, but take notice of it sometime.

Bob – Oh, I already have. I already have. 

Jimmy – And  Stravinsky. I got into a little bit of Schoenberg but it didn’t grab me. And I kind of went backwards in a way, Ravel, Debussy. And I went back and I listened to Beethoven’s music and Mozart’s music. And I had studied those scores for hours and hours, and man, all of a sudden that music just came alive again to me. Looking up the scores it was like– [I mean?], Mozart, Beethoven, I mean, they only used a couple of chords, triads. Different keys instead, of course. And it’s just amazing to me what those guys did with three or four chords. And what pop music guys do with three or four chords, it’s pathetic.

Jimmy Bruno: There are some, I don’t want to say simple music, but commercial music that I think is really really good. I really like Eric Clapton. Knocks me out.

Also one of my favorite guitarists is Bonnie Raitt. Yeah, it’s just pure soul. You feel it. And man, she’s got it – she’s got the touch with her inner self. It’s just so good, you know?

Bob – She’s James Taylor’s favorite vocalist. 

Jimmy – Well, I can see that. James Taylor, I’m not impressed with. He uses a capo. With all that money and shit he did and all the success, he could go get a god damned guitar lesson and learn to play without a capo.

 Jimmy – You know who I really like? Peter Frampton. Oh my God. I ran into him at a guitar show, I was playing in one booth, he sent somebody over there and said, “Find out who that is.” And the guy– I went back and I met him and he’s just happen to be coming near me in Atlantic City and he invited me and my wife, got us a room, free tickets and he picked up the whole bill to come see him play. That was just totally knocked out by his playing,  he wrote some really good tunes too. And his use of– he had a guitar with three pickups , probably a Les Paul of some kind. And I never saw anybody have the mastery of using that. So musically, switching pickups in the same tune, man.

Bob – Do you know the story behind that guitar? That was his original guitar that he– that was the original guitar that he used in Frampton Comes Alive which was like that huge record that he had back in the day. And that guitar was in a plane crash and he was told that the guitar was lost and burned up. And the people that got the plane crash first stole the guitar, basically. And the guitar was down in the Caribbean for 30 years or more but he didn’t know it. He thought the guitar was gone. He got a call one day and a guy told him that they had the guitar. And he recovered that guitar he’s playing is the guitar that he recovered that guitar after 30 years. There’s a whole long story about it, but that’s the guitar and he takes it out and tours with it and plays with it.

Jimmy – Eric Johnson, okay, George Allasandro (the amp builder and speaker designer) calls me and says, “For some reason, Eric Johnson has just been listening to your CDs and just very complimentary. He wants to try to do something with you.” Now see, that idea really intrigues me. I would love to do something with him.

Jimmy – Yeah. If it happens, it happens. I mean, that is something more than playing bebop. I’m played out [laughter]. I mean, I’ve been playing professionally since I was 16 years old. That’s 50 years. I must have traveled around the world five times playing the guitar. And I was lucky enough, at a really young age, 21, to move to Las Vegas. And it was maybe 500 guitar players there with five jobs, steady jobs. And one time, I had three of them. And then I got the job at the Hilton for Jimmy Mulidore. He was a fantastic jazz musician who’s still playing really good. And it’s funny. These guys are a funny thing. If you wanted to get noticed in Las Vegas, you had to play– you had to be a good jazz player. And I mean, of course, to work, you didn’t have to play jazz… hardly ever did. His commercial stuff with different acts and stuff. But the one thing was, though, you can’t make mistakes. You’re out on your ass., see you later! Very small thing. And then when that ended, they did the musicians’ strike. I moved to Los Angeles, and I met Tommy Tedesco. I just called the man out of the blue, and he starts taking me around for sessions. And then I did subbing for him. And the funny thing he told me, “Don’t go out and play jazz.” I said, “Why?” He says, “Because to contractors if you get a name as a jazz player, it’s like you can’t read. Nobody will call you for studio work.” Just 180 degrees away from this thing in Vegas. And there was a little–

–bit of jazz in LA at the time. It was mostly, I mean, at the Dantes, Carmelo’s, those kind of places like that. And those gigs couldn’t pay anything, $35, 50 bucks. And it’s like what you had– in the meantime, in the day time, you’re making $600 a day, so you can afford to go out and play for 75 bucks. A bizarre situation. But from all that, from that kind of work, that’s how I am able to retire financially. Musicians’ pension and social security, I’m so surprised that so many jazz musicians don’t have that. And they don’t have a musician’s pension, not really. And so security, we have to pay into it. It’s voluntary. You’re self-employed. Most of the jazz musicians are. You have to put– if you work for a company, the company will take 7 and a half percent of your check, right, out of your pay, and the company will match it by 7.5 percent. So if you’re self employed, that means you’re supposed to be sending the government 15 percent. Otherwise, you don’t get no social security. And who in this day, I mean each gig only pays enough to get you to the next gig. So I’m hearing the old musicians– of course, you get old. You get health problems. And they wind up penniless. Kenny Burrell, UCLA. I mean it’s just a shame. I mean I can’t say– it’s hard for me to encourage a young person to pursue that dream, because it’s not there. Their competition is a guy with a capo. You don’t need to go to four years of music school to learn how to play C, F, and G and A minor and D minor. You don’t. I mean that’s dumb. And it’s expensive, outrageously expensive. And the people that are making all the money are the people that are pushing the papers. They don’t teach. They’re administrators. And they hire enough adjunct staff, adjunct. That means you’re only allowed to have so many hours because amount of hours. Then you have to have– they have to pay your medical insurance, get tenure, and all that other shit. You know what I’m saying?

I discovered Jimmy Bruno about 17 years ago and he remains one of my all-time favorite guitarists!  It was wonderful to have him fall in love with Sadowsky guitars and even more wonderful to have been able to make the Jimmy Bruno Signature model for many years.   We will always stay friends and so glad he is back in the saddle again!- Roger Sadowsky, Sadowsky Guitars

Jimmy playing with Frank Vignola and others in 2019 Photo credit: Roger Sadowsky

And once again, the administrators are making six figures on the back of some jazz musician who has a name to draw students, the business. I find that appalling. And I don’t do that ever, ever again. I still teach. I only teach hobbyists, maybe some guy who likes to play on the weekend.  A professional musician, semi-professional. And turns out my father was right. He always told me, “Just choose music as a hobby… have fun.” And when he first told me that, when you’re 16, my father was dumb. I thought he was dumb. As I get older, he’s becoming smarter by the day.

Bob – That’s an old joke. But yes.

Jimmy –  absolutely right. And had real good-paying jobs in Las Vegas and LA. I’d be on the street. I would be in some really bad financial.

Bob – I do understand. Let me move you on to something else here – what is your preferred lineup today? Do you prefer to play solo, duo, trio, quartet? If someone wants to hire you, you say, boy, if you got the budget, I want to do a quartet or trio or duo.

Jimmy – — you can’t hire me. I’m not for hire. I’m done.

Bob – No, no. I don’t mean that. I’m talking about IF – so what has been your favorite setup? 

Jimmy – Well, it’s a trio: guitar, bass, and drums. And then, I started to write some tunes with unconventional chord voicings. So guitar, bass, and drums, you really can’t get the effect of what I was doing. So then I started to hire piano players. And then that became a thing for a long time. And then eventually, dealing with musicians and on the road, pain in the ass. So I did a whole solo guitar thing after I made a solo record for– I guess it was Mel Bay Records. And I did that for a while. And the only thing about that is that it’s no fun to travel by yourself.

Bob – I played as solo for five years. I thought I was going to lose my brains.

Jimmy – Yeah. I’ll tell you, that’s the hardest thing to do. Because it’s just all up to you. And Joe Pass loved what he was doing. And he made good money playing solo guitar. But his complaint was the same thing every time.  Guitar in hand where a student picks you up at the airport and takes you to the hotel. And he’s staring at you and asking you which kinds of string to use. That’s what Joe would say is, “All I want to do is get to my room and take a nap.” So I get it. I get it. But I really don’t miss– I don’t miss playing the guitar. I don’t miss traveling. I still enjoy teaching. Frank Vignola, I’ve  done a bunch of things with him, guitar and amps. And I’ll continue to do that.

Bob – I’ve got to get you in our list of Jazz Guitar Today premier teachers. We have introduced a list of premier guitar teachers.

Jimmy – Perfect.

Bob – Have you ever experimented with overdrive rock and roll tones, stuff like that?

Jimmy – Oh, yeah. Absolutely explored, but not for improvisation. I was playing all these different shows and all these different styles of music in Las Vegas and in LA. I mean that’s all it was that. Very few times where I got a cord and plugged it straight into the amp… and nobody ever said to me, “Hey, can you sound like Joe Pass?”.  At the time, it was Larry Carlton, Larry Carlton, Larry Carlton. He was the hot thing. And he has my highest respect as a musician and a guitarist. And so I sought him out. One day, I was in a music store called Valley Arts. And there he is, him and Robben Ford. And I went up to him and I talked to him. And I says, “Larry, everybody says to me, ‘Can you sound like that they call. How do you do that? And he says, “Jimmy, pick out an amp, any amp, and I’ll plug into it and I’ll show you.” Didn’t matter what amp I picked, he’d [cough], it genuinely sounded just like Larry Carlton. And he did tell me the trick. I do know the trick. It’s not a trick. It’s so simple. It’s basically this; jazz guys will clown the front pick-up. Right?

Jimmy – I always rolled the tone back. Well, he’d do the opposite. He would do it on the back pick-up, or you put it in the middle and you get the two pick-ups. And he would just bend that, dial that tone in to make that sound a little darker and use the volume pedal. And so he could control when the guitar broke up, when it would distort, and that’s how he got all that great sustain.

Bob – Rick Wheeler was Larry Carlton’s sound guy, guitar guy forever and ever. Rick said that Larry plays on the back pick-up and rolls the high-end off.

Jimmy -Yes. That’s it. Yeah.

Bob – And that’s how he gets that attack, the attack of that back pick-up, but he doesn’t get that biting high-end. It smooths out.

Jimmy – Right. That’s exactly right. He also eventually got into doing improvisations, playing on “Room 335” that tune. I listened to it and immediately could hear. Wow. He had a C chord. He would solo using the notes B, F sharp, and F, which is a whole step above the upper partial of the chords.

Bob – Right.

Jimmy – It’s very easy to hear. I don’t know whether it’s that. I don’t know. I don’t know those words. I do know the words, but, to me, it’s the upper partials. When I was studying jazz as a kid, I was studying with a bass player, and we would play off of all the upper partials of the chord. Target the loop; the third, the fifth, the seventh, the ninth, the eleventh, augmented eleventh and the thirteenth. So, I knew all the sounds.

Bob – Right. Well, that’s great. [laughter]. So, when you’re thinking about these projects with guys like Eric Johnson and people like that, are you thinking about maybe playing the clean jazz tone with them, or are you thinking about maybe experimenting with..

Jimmy – I have no idea. I would rather not. I would rather not do that.

Bob – Would rather do what then? What would you prefer?

Jimmy – Well, I’m not sure, but I know what it isn’t. [laughter] ..this ridiculous sound. And I know that that’s probably what they would want. I remember one time talking to Biréli Lagrène, one of my favorite musicians and guitar players, you know?

Bob – Sure.

Jimmy – And I said, “Boy, let’s make a record together.” And then I said, “Well Bireli, I’ve got to tell you right now, I’m not a fan of Django music at all. I was never a fan of Django Reinhardt when he was alive.” He says to me, “Well gee, I don’t want to do that. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. I want to play B-bop.” Well okay. We’ll stick around in the hotel in Wales. Dude, who do you want to play? He says,”Let’s play “Donna Lee”.” That guy can burn. He’s fantastic. And I met him through another guy, Giuseppe Continenza, Italian guitar player. Yeah. Those guys are they were doing a lot of touring all over Italy.

Bob – We had Biréli Lagrène and Giuseppe Continenza on the cover of the magazine a couple of months ago.

Jimmy – Yeah, yeah. Okay. I like, especially, Giuseppe, that’s who brought me to Europe–To Europe, with Giuseppe. And in Wales, big Trefor Owen, and Jazz in Wrexham. And from there I got introduced to European audiences and a whole bunch of stuff. Italy, France, Germany, all those things. And then finally, the Orient. Do they call it the Orient?

Bob – No.

Jimmy – No. Somebody told me, this tiny lady said, “Don’t use that. Get rid of the O-word.” Asian. Asian. I mean, it was a lot of fun. I’ll tell you, the audiences are fantastic audiences there. They treat you like VIP. Really the Chinese, it was fantastic. My God.

Jimmy in Beijing 2019

Bob – Are you still playing seven-string at all?

Jimmy – No. Haven’t played a seven-string in a real long time. Here’s the reason was is that I did play for a couple years, two or three years.

Bob – I remember.

Jimmy – And you can’t really use that string to play with a bass player that much.

Bob – No, not at all.

Jimmy – It’s good for a couple chords here and there, ending chords. And I was doing a lot of teaching. I had an online school, which I still do. And I was getting a lot of complaints that we can’t see where you are on the fingerboard here.

Bob – Right. If confuses people.

Jimmy – Right. So I called Bob Benedetto and I say, “Bob, you’ll hate me but I need a six-string guitar with dots.” And he said, “What?”

Bob – No, I understand.

Jimmy – That was his aesthetic. He didn’t want to– to Bob, a guitar is like a violin. You don’t need me for. But you do have them though because you’re looking down at the dots.

Bob – Right. On the side, yeah.

Jimmy – Turned it around, I started to watch my own lessons and I didn’t know what the hell fret I’m in. So how am I going to do that?

Bob – It’s funny. Frank, we built a guitar when I was at Eastman for a couple years helping them.

Jimmy – Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Bob – And we built a guitar for Frank and he had to put dots– we had to use a guitar that he had dots because of that people, the students couldn’t see where he was, so. And you can’t tell. I can’t tell without the dots where people are. Unless you’re blind.

Jimmy – You know how I can tell? If I don’t look.

Bob – Oh, yeah. You know what? You’re right.

Jimmy – I can use my ear. But if I look, I’m screwed up. I’m not sure.

Bob – I can identify b-flat and I can identify e-flat. And I can identify a bunch but if I look, you’re right, I get screwed up if I look.

Jimmy – You have to be able to find a note. I mean, that’s why, I mean there’s a lot of kids, there’s even professional musicians that they can’t play a job without Real Book, my God. And they’re teaching in college? As soon as I see a teacher take out the Realbook, run. Why am I here? Music and sound. If you are told that go shovel coal, please do not play any instrument of any kind because you will suck at it. I mean, you don’t need to be a genius to figure that out.

Jimmy – Especially for somebody who never did– the only work he ever did in his life was to play a wedding. And he’s teaching jazz? (laughing) I love it.

 Bob – All right, the B3 trio–

Jimmy – Yeah.

Bob – It seems like there’s a lot of those going around these days. And [I had told to Tommy?] that Like That, the album you did with Joey DeFrancesco was considered to be kind of the album that was very influential in bringing it back and all of that.

Jimmy – It was. Well, every guitar player wants to do an organ trio record. You’ve got to. Look at Wes Montgomery. Come on, so many guys. And it’s such a perfect fit because in the B3 the guy’s playing the bass lines with his left hand, okay? It’s not the pedals. They use the pedals to point at certain notes. So Tony “Soulman” with the right hand. So there’s nothing in the middle. The range of the guitar when you comp– you’re right in between your two hands and that’s why it’s such a perfect fit. And I mean you don’t get to– you don’t get better than Tony DeFrancesco. My God, give me a break. He sat in at [Ortley?] which was a local club in Philly that’s not there. And he sat in on piano and just blew everybody away. And I said to him, “Hey, let’s make a record.”

CD produced by Johnny Defrancesco.  That’s Joey DeFrancesco’s brother and also a very fine guitarist and singer.

Jimmy – Well, maybe. And we talked to Concord Records and they said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Right? And I wrote a bunch of original tunes. I did a couple of standards on there. And so I sent him the music in a brown envelope with the metal clasp and I taped it. Okay? And I gave him the thing and I said, “Okay, it’s 11 o’clock at the studio in New York.” It might have been Power House. I can’t remember. And he showed up at five of 11:00, okay? So I was thinking, “Maybe he forgot.” And I said, “Did you get the music?” And he said, “Yeah, I have it right here.” He never opened the envelope [laughter]. He never looked at it, okay? And I was thinking, “So are you going to be okay with this?” He says, “Yeah, just play the tune one time.” And that was it. So he’s not a– I don’t know how much he can read of music or not. I have a feeling that it’s not his forte. But I mean one time through – I don’t know how he does it – he got it perfectly and just played the shit out of all those tunes. And they were pretty strange tunes on that and he got it right away. And then well, it came out. It did well. We did a little touring a little bit. I hadn’t seen him. Like maybe five years later I run into him and– maybe in a festival. And I got to play with him and he says, “Jimmy, let’s play one of your tunes.” I says, “I don’t remember those tunes.” He remembered every tune that I ever record and played.

Bob – Holy moly, that is something. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast.

Jimmy – Fantastic musical memory, fantastic ear, he had perfect pitch, and. And I talked to his father – he’s a pretty good organist too – and he said he was like that when he was six or seven years old. Said he would go– his father would play a number on the piano or an organ. He’d say, “You do it,” and he would just go over and he could– and actually he had perfect pitch, but he didn’t know what perfect pitch was. He everybody could do that.

Bob –  That was his life.

Jimmy – I have really good relative pitch, but I know perfect pitch from relative pitch. When I was in school, especially in high school – I went to a prep school – of course, there was always a couple of guitar players playing three chords and that folk shit– a lot of those kids came from wealthy families. Anyway, and I thought that everybody could hear a tune and play it, and they can’t. It’d take them hours to find a tune. It was an eye-opener for me. Other than that–

Bob –  Yeah. You don’t realize how special you are because it’s just what you do.

Jimmy – Yeah. I remember the school was– you had to take an entrance exam, right? I was surprised that I got in. I was always a good student in grade school, and tuition was $600 a year. My father had to go to a loan shark that he knew at a nightclub to borrow the money for tuition.

Bob – Wow.

Jimmy – $600 a year. That was ’69, ’70, ’71 in there in there. Now, I think the tuition is 6 or 7,000 dollars.

Bob – Oh, it’s more than that. It’s more than that.

Jimmy – It could be. It could be, but I’ll tell you that’s the education money could buy. I mean,  you by the and– I mean, I still remember the things that I learned in that school. The main thing I learned was that I learned how to find out that if I wanted to know about a certain topic, right?

Bob – Right.

Jimmy – I learned the ability to know where to go to look and find out about it.

Bob – Oh, that’s Einstein. That’s Einstein’s, the whole thing. It’s not what you know. It’s can you learn it or can you– the direct quote is it’s not how much you know; it’s can you– basically, the same idea.

Jimmy – I had to go find out about it, you know?

Bob – Yeah.

Jimmy – I didn’t realize that I– and you know what’s funny? I never studied in prep school. I never studied. I found out that I have a sort of photographic memory. I can remember like it’s in the class, right?

Bob –  Mm-hmm.

Jimmy – Some teachers would use a book, black book or something like that, right? Or they would write it on the blackboard especially for math and I never had to study because it would just stay in my mind–

Bob – You are a lucky person.

Jimmy – –by sight. By sight.

Bob – Yeah. Well, you’re a very lucky guy.

Jimmy – First of all, here’s the thing. Here’s the thing that I observed by myself is that it has to be something I’m interested in–

Bob – Well, there you go. That’s the difference.

Jimmy – –otherwise, I just carried books forever and I can’t anymore.

Bob – Now, I can sign up with you. If it’s something I’m interested in, I remember everything but if I’m not interested in it, I don’t remember anything.

Jimmy – Yeah. I don’t care, right?.

Bob – Yeah. It’s like– they call that selective retention.

Jimmy – You know what else I noticed about myself…when I was playing in Vegas for all the stars and all these people, some of them I really admired as entertainers and singers and stuff like that and then when you get to meet them some of them were assholes [laughter].

Bob – Only some [laughter]?

Jimmy – Yeah. Only some. Actually, most. But there was, I think, in my mind, some who were musicians first. Doc Severinsen for one. That guy always had his trumpet in his mouth. He was always practicing. I’d say a lot of people I really admired. And then okay, I’m out of that scene, and then get to meet some jazz guys, and I got to know a couple of those guys and some of them were jerk-offs. And this makes no sense, but some of them, I really like their music. And then if I meet that person, and he’s an asshole, I hate their music now.

Bob –  Yeah, I’m the same way.

Jimmy – There’s this whole jukebox jazz thing. F#@!% disgrace. I hear it, and I go, “There’s a jazz musician who couldn’t save his money. Here’s a guy with no musician’s pension. Got to cash in, dumb down, make their music dumb.” And it appeals to more people. I mean I get it. I mean that’s not rocket science either.

Is anything that’s a favorite ?

Jimmy –  No. Not a one. No. I don’t —

Bob – What about gigs? Over the years, have you had– is there a gig that you– couple of gigs that you played that stand out as where you really felt that you really enjoyed yourself? I mean is there anything you’re–?

Jimmy – Oh, yes. Several, several. I mean everything I did with Joey was fantastic. Everything I did with Joe Beck, I really liked that record. I mean, by the time the record comes out, you’re sick of listening to yourself play.

Jimmy – You listen to the playback, then the mix, and then they master it. So by the time the record comes out, I hate it [laughter]. I hear it and cringe. It’s true. It takes a good two or three years. I mean I like certain, certain things from certain CDs, definitely not everything.

Bob – Okay. Well, listen. We’ve been at it here for about 40 minutes, a little over 40 minutes. Is there anything you want to close with or any particular thing we haven’t talked about you want to add? Is there a question that nobody ever asked you that you wish somebody would?

Jimmy – Well, I would tell every young person that wants to go to music college, “Don’t. There’s no future in being a musician. None. Go to school. If you’re going to spend all that money for college, go to school for something. There has to be something else that would be your second choice in life, and go to school for that. And play on the weekends.

Bob – Keep music your passion, not your job. Right.

Jimmy – Right. And people say, “What do you for a living?” “I play guitar.” What a jerk-off job that is. I play. I mean even the word, you know what I’m saying? That’s not work. That’s not a job. So I mean I wanted to go to medical school when I was 16. That was my goal. And I got sidetracked by women and cash gigs. And I didn’t go if I had …, I would definitely go to medical school. I had three interests. Medicine was one because when I was younger, my father knew a bunch of surgeons. One guy is Dr. Harner. He’s still around. And another guy, Dr. Laucks. He was a surgeon at Graduate Hospital. And they took me and my brother, and I watched the surgeries when I was 15, 16 years old. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that. I was interested in engineering and also architecture. And it’s funny. I had a student. I still remember his first name is Ron. And he went to school, Drexel University, five years, civil engineering like that. “How’s work?” He says, “I f#@!% hate it.” “Why?” He says, “I have student debt. Five years I studied my ass off, and I got my first job, and here’s what I’m doing. I’m in a wheel that measured distances from one post to the next post.” That’s where he started. So I don’t know what he’s doing now. But I’m sure he moved up the ladder.

Bob – It’s fun to talk to you, Jimmy. It’s been fun.

Jimmy – Well, thank you, Bob. I really appreciate your time buddy. Bye-bye now.

JGT: After our initial questions and interview Jimmy sent the additional text below to clarify his thoughts, again…unfiltered.

Jimmy: Music schools that specialize in jazz performance – I think they are a joke.  Most schools have teachers that never played a jazz gig in their life. They have never worked with real musicians from New York or the handful of seasoned jazz artists in Philadelphia.  

So let’s forget about jazz for moment and consider doing commercial work . Live broadway shows, theater work and recording. Those jobs where sight reading is a must. I don’t know any guitar teachers in music schools, except for very few, that have ever done that work. Yet they try to teach sight reading in the schools.

I also see the music teachers using the Real Book.  Can’t they hear?  Music is sound. If you can’t learn tune from the record you should be shoveling coal or go to toll booth school. Did any of them get signed to a major record label like Concord or Blue Note, etc?  Yeah, yeah, everyone has a CD these days.  Something they paid for themselves and sell from their trunk of a car. Or at the $20 gig they might get in a year.  Jazz clubs are disappearing very quick these days. 

There is no more Las Vegas or studio work in LA.  So what are these kids supposed to do?  How are they going to pay off the student loans?  They go back to working at McDonald or some other inane job. It’s a travesty!

This past January I decided to retire from playing the guitar.  I’ve been working professionally since I was 16, that’s fifty years of guitar.  Traveling with a guitar is next to impossible thanks to the airlines. The only way I got on a plane with a guitar was to pretend I was crippled. Or just had knee surgery.  They never bother you because they are afraid of a lawsuit. Well who needs that shit?

Because of the commercial work I did  Las Vegas and LA, I get a nice musicians pension and social security ever month.  I never would have had any of that if I only played jazz gigs.

So to bring you up to date. There’s a small club and restaurant the has Jazz on Wednesday nights. It’s called Vintage.  A female singer had that gig for awhile but she added a jam session that was hideous.

But one day she quit or got fired who knows, who cares. SO, I decided to do the Wednesday night with my trio. Dylan Taylor on Bass and Mike DeMonte on drums.  Both great players… On the same day that I started playing there, Bill Comins delivers a brand new arch top to me.  It was a guitar that we talked about for a few years. The club is ten minutes from my house, no airplane, no driving to New York or some other place.  Spending hours in the car really blows.

I always liked photography and even did some photography gigs for some events.  Now I spend most of my time taking pictures in Black and white and developing them myself.  Funny thing is, if you want to make a living taking pictures you have to do weddings etc.  Sound familiar?  Just like a jazz musician who likes to have food and live in a nice house and have a family.

I was lucky enough to raise two kids and send them both to college (not for music). But they both are smart kids and got a lot of assistance with scholarships etc and federal aid.  Both have high paying jobs.

One reason I stopped traveling and recording is that I don’t like what is going on in the so called modern jazz scene today.

Taking some old rock tunes and soloing over them sounds bad to me.  They are grasping at straws.  The more you dumb down the music the bigger your audience.  Jazz, in it’s hay day was never a big money maker.  Some of these players are doing this stupid f#@!% juke box jazz because the scene is disappearing.

I did my share of commercial work and managed to travel the world playing a guitar. I would hope that the biz gets better but I don’t see it going in that direction.  None of my jazz heroes went to music school so f#@! that route.

Jimmy with Frank Vignola and Russell Malone at the Iridium NYC, 2019

Jimmy: There are players I have played with that I have a lot of respect for their superb musicianship and their respect for the Art of Jazz including Frank Vignola, Russel Malone, Jack Wilkins, Howard Alden, Peter Bernstein, Paul Bollenback, Pat Martino and I am sure others… To me, these are the players that continue to advance the art form and continue to travel and record and teach jazz guitar and musicianship..

To sum it up, you need talent, a good sense of time, harmony and feel.  Feel is the most important thing in music. At least to me. Doesn’t matter what genre you play, you gotta have a good feel.

Check out Jimmy Bruno’s Lesson in Fluid Harmony with Contrary Motion

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