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JGT Spotlight: Keeping the Tradition and Culture of Jazz Guitar Fresh

Thomas Amoriello Jr.

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Philadelphia Metro Area-based Brian Betz keeps the tradition and culture of jazz guitar fresh for the next generation.  

Sportin’ his trusted L4 and L5 Gibsons, Brian Betz is currently on the faculty at Rowan University and Cumberland County College teaching private guitar, jazz ensemble, general music history, world music, and jazz history. As a performer, composer, and recording artist, he currently gives concerts, clinics, and master classes all over the USA. Jazz Guitar Today would like to thank Brian Betz for this exclusive interview. 

Brian Betz

JGT: As a guitarist, you have performed at many important East Coast festivals including the Cape May Jazz Festival, Berks Jazz Festival, Somers Point Jazz Festival, Villanova Jazz Festival, and the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.  Did you prepare any differently on these days and feel any added pressure?  

Brian Betz: In most cases, I do not prepare any differently.  I have a daily practice schedule I keep regularly and that works for me regarding my chops and keeping an edge with the music.  I have certain guys I enjoy playing with and they are my “go-to” if you will when putting a band together for a show.  You start to really understand each other’s playing and how things are done, and this certainly helps while keeping the music very organic and spontaneous.  Denis DiBlasio is my go-to for a horn player on my quartet gigs.  We also have a great musical relationship in a duo setting.  Denis and I have many original songs we feature in our concerts along with jazz standards and other tunes.  We may talk down some songs a couple of days before performing but we honestly do not rehearse very often at all unless we have a recording coming up.

JGT: You are an Adjunct Instructor of Jazz Guitar studies at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ where you also received your music degrees, what is the instructional jazz tradition like that can be expected if a student were interested in auditioning at RU or even just studying with you privately or online?   

I have a rich tradition with Rowan University from attending as a student and now teaching Jazz Guitar, Masterclasses, and Improvisation there.  Aspiring students would expect hands-on instruction from some of the area’s best musicians.  I am very candid with my jazz guitar studio about music, the business, and the lifestyle.  I always wanted real-life experience in my education as a young player and that is something that I chose to deliver in my teaching.  In addition, I feel my students appreciate this and enjoy the four years of study they have with me.  Many if not most of my graduating university students stay in touch with me and it’s nice to see how they flourish as professional musicians and where their careers take them.

JGT: You have released six compact disks such as Up and Running (2001), Without a Doubt (2003), Dichotomy (2005), Muted Bebop (2006), The Denis DiBlasio/Brian Betz Project (2007) and Denis DiBlasio/Brian Betz Project-Flute/Guitar (2010) many of these include baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio (Maynard Ferguson), how has his mentorship affected your growth as a guitarist, composer, and improviser?  

Well, I have known Denis for over 20 years.  He is godfather to my two daughters.  We are very close.  Many people ask me who I studied guitar with…. I began playing guitar at 6, going to a local music store, and taking 30-minute lessons.  When I was 16, I started studying with a jazz teacher, Vinnie Corrao.  I still talk to Vinnie.  Beautiful person and player.  From here I went to Rowan at 19 and studied for a short time with Joe Federico.  Joe really understood the guitar and I learned many things from him about the guitar but not necessarily improvisation.  After my studies with Joe was when I began studying with Denis.  He knew nothing about the guitar but everything about jazz and improvisation.  I studied with him for the completion of my undergraduate degree and then my master’s degree.  I truly learned how to play jazz while studying with him…just how to do things the right way.  As far as my recordings, Denis certainly mentored me through them like other things in music.  I always trusted him and loved his playing.  

JGT: There has been a great tradition of some wonderful jazz guitarists from the Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey area including yourself along with the likes of Pat Martino, Joe Federico, Dennis Sandole, and Tom Giacobetti.  DO you care to comment on that school of thought and playing?  

 I do a lot of concerts with question-and-answer sessions at libraries all over the region with Diblasio and one question usually always is broached.  Who are your favorite jazz guitar players?  My answer is always Wes, Pat Martino and George Benson being my favorite.  I never studied with Sandole but I did study with his protégé, Joe Federico.  Joe delivered much of that Sandole information in my lessons.  I did study with Tom for a very brief period and he was such a great player and wonderful person.  To this day, I have never met anyone that could read music like Tom or transcribe.  Real talent there.  But like I said earlier, I really learned to improvise from Diblasio.


JGT: What are some of your future musical plans that are brewing for 2021? 

First, I would like to see this COVID pandemic disappear.  Music has really suffered along with many other facets of life.  When this pandemic subsides, I would like to get back to performing with Diblasio and the rest of my musical colleagues.  Diblasio and I have talked about recording another duo album which would be nice.  I would also like to add more jazz guitar educational videos to my YouTube channel which I enjoy doing.


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