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Rodney Jones: The Art of Jazz & The Craft of Guitar



JGT’s editor Bob Bakert interviews renowned jazz guitarist and former professor of Jazz Guitar Studies at The Juilliard School – Rodney Jones.

“Rodney Jones occupies a unique place in the jazz guitar world – kind of a Zen Master of the current active A-list players. You can count on one hand the guys who rose to the pinnacle of academia (former professor at Juilliard and Manhattan School), television (The Rosie show), toured and recorded with jazz icons (Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, Chico Hamilton), and beloved by his family, students, and friends.”   Howard Paul, President/CEO Benedetto Guitars

Photo above: Matthew Parrish

Rodney started playing the guitar at age 6. He recorded two records for Blue Note Records, “The Undiscovered Few” and “Soul Manifesto”. He has toured worldwide, performed, and recorded with a who’s who of the music industry including Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown, Lena Horne, Quincy Jones, Christian McBride, Stevie Wonder, Elvin Jones, Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz, and countless others. He was the house guitarist for the Apollo Theatre for nine years, and the staff guitarist for the Rosie O’Donnell Show for six years. He has written commercials and has more than 125 compositions recorded. He recently scored a documentary film for PBS about African American GIs in WW2.  Rodney served as Musical Director/Producer for Lena Horne, Ruth Brown, Gloria Lynne, Ernestine Anderson, and others… He was a professor of Jazz Guitar Studies at The Juilliard School for 12 years and at The Manhattan School of Music for more than 20 years and has conducted clinics and workshops worldwide. Rodney remains at the forefront of modern jazz guitar and continues to break musical barriers with his music.

Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert Interviews Rodney Jones:

JGT: What ways have you found to navigate these turbulent times?  The worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic has closed all of the clubs and festivals. How do you stay connected, and stay connected to your fans?

Rodney: My practice, my life’s work has been to place my attention on the present moment. I am always looking for the gifts and opportunities that life offers through challenges, and the journey through life.

My connection to the listeners, guitarists, friends, and everyone, has always been heart to heart.  Nothing about these times has changed that. While I practice physical distancing I do not practice social distancing. People seek the same things that they always have sought from music, and human connection. They seek love, comfort, acceptance, authenticity, presence, awakening, awareness, fun, and validation. That is what I offer through my playing, through my music, face to face. I continue to offer that online through live broadcasts, and sharing the wisdom and experiences born of my musical journey and heart. 

Rodney Jones

Rodney Jones is a legend among musicians especially guitarists. He is worthy of the ears of any music listener.”  George Benson

Rodney: These days can be used as a time for reflection and I have done this. I have looked at my journey in music and asked, “What is truly important”? I am not so much concerned with what I can share, as I am with, what I should share. “What will offer the most to those who listen?” This changes, day to day, and week to week.

Now more than ever, the importance of the musician knowing their “Why” is important. Knowing “Why” gives purpose and meaning and strength for the journey through changing and difficult times. I am not so much interested in teaching this as I am modeling this through what I do and how I live my life. I share, “World” lessons not just “Word” lessons. I share the things that life has shown me to be true and that I have seen help others.

JGT: How can jazz guitarists use this time to actually get better as a player? What can they do to experience real progress?

Rodney: This is always a question that guitarists ask me. There are so many things to learn. There are so many methods. So many people competing for your attention and dollar. Are there any secrets? Are there any tips that actually will make a difference? I am happy to say that in my experience and journey, there are a number of things that can change the trajectory of a persons music journey, There are things that Master guitarists know, some intuitively, and some consciously, that they practice. Here is a summary of some of these “Master Guides” that can make a real difference when applied and practiced.

VIDEO ABOVE: Filmed at the New York jazz club Smoke, Rodney Jones enlightens us with his flavorful originals like “Groove Bone” and “One Turnip Green,” while he indulges us with the classics such as “Stella by Starlight,” and “Morning of the Carnival.”  For Live at Smoke, his first DVD as a leader, Rodney Jones selected material from every stage of his career, including tunes he had not previously recorded.

The result is an exquisite juxtaposition of traditional and progressive works, including sultry ballads, floor-pounding grooves, and everything in between. Featuring: Brian Charette on organ, Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Ray Marchica on drums.

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