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Bruce Forman – One Part Cowboy, Two Parts Guitarist, 100% Genius

Bob Bakert, Editor

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Bruce Forman has a hectic touring schedule; seventeen recordings as a leader; countless sideman recording dates and now, a new composition, The Red Guitar.

Bruce Forman has a hectic touring schedule; seventeen recordings as a leader; countless sideman recording dates—including a featured role on one of jazz great Ray Brown’s last albums; soundtrack performances on three of Clint Eastwood’s distinguished films—including Academy Award-winning Million Dollar Baby; producer, arranger, and acclaimed educator; in residence at USC’s Studio/Jazz Guitar Dept. And now, a new composition, The Red Guitar, has received wide acclaim. 

Top Photo Credit: Greg V



Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert: Bruce Forman’s command of the instrument is prodigious and inspiring.  He moves through harmony and lines seamlessly using both to make strong rhythmic and melodic statements.  Bruce’s music not only displays his technical chops which lots of players admire but more importantly his playing style is musically accessible to any listener. You don’t have to be a musician to enjoy Bruce Forman music.

JGT: What do you feel is the hallmark/hallmarks of your approach to guitar?

Bruce: Ultimately, the guitar is my voice, and I try to tell a story and to incorporate everything, my experience, aesthetic, perspective, and skill set to create something in the moment. I love the sound of the instrument…one has to…even if you don’t happen to like it in a particular moment. The guitar is an orchestra, can provide so many sounds and functions, I try to intuit the best thing to do in a given moment…

JGT: You have an encyclopedic knowledge of theory and its practical application.  What is your music educational background?  Did you attend a music school, have private teachers, are you self taught?  

Bruce: I am always studying, and am constantly inspired by a world full of talented artists…all with a unique voice. I have always been inquisitive, self-studying and had great mentors who were willing to take me under their wing…to challenge me and demand from me what they demanded of themselves. I feel like I’ve studied from everyone I’ve ever heard or played with…and still do! I grew up a long time ago, and the opportunity to learn on the bandstand was afforded to me in San Francisco, which had a vibrant jazz scene then. There is no doubt in my mind that if I were coming up now or in recent times, I would have gone to school. 

“Bruce Forman is a wonderful guitarist; extremely versatile and very musical…a first-rate accompanist and soloist.” Kenny Burrell

Bruce Foreman
Bruce Forman – Photo credit: Cathy LaFever

JGT: You are a Renaissance man. Your “Red Guitar” show/play is as much or more about philosophy as it is about music? You describe yourself/the show as part Freud, Faust, and Coltrane.  That’s quite a group! Can you tell us about the inspiration for the Red Guitar and what it addresses?

Bruce: A lot of this is in the show, but I met a red guitar (made by Stefan Sonntag) at an international guitar festival in Wales, and everyone was pretty much avoiding it, it looked so rockabilly…and it insulted my basic cowboy nature, like she was a girl that no one would dance with! So, I [picked it up and played it, and the sound just grabbed me, and brought the entire hall to a hush. I think that is a metaphor for music and life, things just grab you, and speak to you on a highly personal level…and we’re often powerless to stop it. 

Also, I’ve always been drawn to the stories of The Red Shoes and The Red Violin, so after I’d gotten my guitar, I played a festival with about ten other great players. After, I heard one guy say to the other, “did you hear that guy with the red guitar?” That was the genesis for the idea of the show.

JGT: Why Faust?

Bruce: Ah, the old ‘selling your soul to the devil”! As a musician, writer, comedian, and human I am fascinated with the ironic nature of things. I mean, every time someone gets what they think they want it has unexpected consequences…and really…would the devil even want our soul? It isn’t the biggest bargain, I would assume he’d be a better businessman…my take is always the human comedy that makes life so fun and interesting.   

Cow Bop plays “I’m an Old Cowhand”

Bruce is an amazing guitarist! Not only does he have more traditional bebop vocabulary than any other guitarist I know, but he’s a very musical player who pays attention to the most important aspects of improvisation – listening to what’s happening around him, melodic phrasing, and great tone. Plus incredible chops! – Guitarist Scott Henderson

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