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Jazz Guitar Today Discussion with Paul Meyers

Thomas Amoriello Jr.

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Jazz Guitar Today contributor Tom Amoriello interviews jazz guitarist, educator, recording artist, performer, and composer, Paul Meyers.

Paul Meyers possesses an illustrious curriculum vitae with distinguished contributions to the world of jazz music in the domains of education, recording artist, performer, composer and improviser.  New York Times jazz critic James Gavin described Paul a “one of the most eloquent jazz guitarists since Kenny Burrell…”  Jazz Guitar Today would like to thank Paul for this exclusive interview.  

Paul Meyers

JGT: You are a jazz guitar studies educator at various institutions of higher learning including SUNY at Purchase, William Paterson University and New Jersey City University. What are some coaching roles that you have overseen students in and the different ensemble settings? Do you have a specific approach?

I’ve coached many types of ensembles at these schools over the years, all small groups. I’ve had Brazilian ensembles, a “Scofield” ensemble, and many trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, even a guitar duo that had no specific focus other than learning tunes and working on the many aspects of ensemble playing. I also have many good charts for Guitar Ensemble, and have done that a number of times. No matter what the group is I focus on the fundamentals – reading, phrasing, swing, comping, understanding song form and harmonic theory – and listening to each other! And of course concepts for improvisation can always become a big part of the discussion. When it comes to soloing it’s important to have different types of ideas that students can quickly grasp onto depending on what level they are at.

Really so much of comes from my own professional experience and learning over the years. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the greatest around, and also have been around great educators – the lessons I’ve learned are what I pass along. That mentorship is key to this music.


JGT: You received a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music.  What prompted you to take on an academic route in addition to live gigging in your youth?

I had graduated 6 years earlier with a BM from NEC in Boston, and shortly after moved to Brooklyn. So, I’d been in the city for 5 years and was getting some freelance work, meeting and playing with great players, and had recorded my first trio album, Blues for Henry Miller. I wasn’t thinking about going back to school, but MSM had just started the jazz program and I ran into the great drummer John Riley on a gig – he was in the very first year of the program, and he talked about it and encouraged me to do it. I’m glad he did…    

This is a message I pass on to young players and students – Don’t pass up a great opportunity! At that time, the school was allowing the masters students to get the degree in just one year, plus the low tuition (compared to now) and a scholarship made the deal really a good one. By going back, I met and played with some wonderful musicians that I might not otherwise have connected with. One in particular, the wonderful bassist and educator Todd Coolman, we started a very long and close friendship there that continues to this day. And of course, there were some excellent teachers and classes too. 


JGT: You are deeply rooted in the Brazilian & Latin Jazz scene in NYC. Do you have any outside the box strategies for learning the various polyrhythms?

Let me start out by saying that it’s really the Brazilian Jazz scene that I became involved in. The term Latin Jazz really is another genre, really rich and wonderful, mainly based on Afro-Cuban, and that’s another scene. The guitar is really not a big part of that music the way it is in the Brazilian world. 

First, there are some very good books out there, in particular Nelson Faria’s Brazilian Guitar Book, that’s a very good one. And of course listening and learning from the recordings is always essential. I would recommend any guitarist start with very careful listening to Joao Gilberto to get a foundation of the rhythms he plays. And by the way, Bossa Nova is not a rhythm, it’s a style – Joao considered everything he played to be a type of samba, or based on samba patterns. You could think of Bossa as a mellower or relaxed kind of samba groove. If you emulate what he’s doing on the recordings – and he uses some variety in the patterns – you’ll start to get a good foundation. 

That’s where I started (and actually I learned a few simpler Baden Powell things from his great recordings before that ), and that led to me getting together with musicians, first American ones, and then Brazilian, who were playing that music. It can be very addicting for a guitar player, because the music is so guitar oriented, there are so many great tunes and it has such a great swing of its own. Like getting hooked on jazz all over again…

And then the big step was meeting and starting to play with great Brazilian musicians who were in the NY area. I wouldn’t have been ready to even start if I hadn’t done the Joao/Baden homework first, but that got me into much deeper territory fast. There are many other rhythmic styles –  Baiao, Calango, Toada, Frevo, Maracatu – and the list goes on – plus countless variations of patterns for samba and bossa nova. They all take a lot of focused practice, and it was so important to have the inspiration and guidance of the master musicians I met and played with. One in particular, the fantastic drummer Vanderlei Pereira, I met at that time, and we’ve been very close ever since – He plays in my group World on a String and I play in his Blindfold Test, and he’s a master of the music with a lot of historical knowledge, and also a wonderful teacher. He has helped me immensely with understanding how the guitar patterns sync with the underlying rhythms in all of these styles. 

I could go on and on about all of this, but suffice to it say, start by careful listening, and then study with a great teacher who really knows the music – and of course play with them too!

JGT: Please tell Jazz Guitar Today readers about your Follow the Mentor Online Courses and who these may be geared towards?

I was asked to do these about 6 years ago, and the company wanted very high quality, informative courses. They did not specify what I would focus on, so I spent a lot of time thinking about courses that would benefit different types of students. I ended up doing four courses, and they took a great deal of planning and time to put together. I’ve developed teaching methods over time that I’ve used with both youth and adult students, and I’ve found these really help them turn a corner. It’s important to find clear, simple concepts that can be a key to opening a doorway of deeper understanding, so that student can move forward to develop their own musical ideas.

I did one course for beginners or anyone who plays but who doesn’t have any knowledge of theory – “Learning the Basic Language of Music on the Guitar”. That was really inspired by several students, both young and adult, that I was teaching at the time who had started listening to and liking jazz, but didn’t know anything about music. It’s designed to unlock basic theory quickly and see how to apply it to the entire fingerboard for chords and melody.

Two more are for players who have started playing jazz and want to get deeper into scales, chords and improvisation. “A Scale for Every Chord” presents 19 scales/modes that I teach as the essential ones to know and practice, and how to understand the connections – and choices – between chords and scales. I think of this as the essential “toolkit” we need to improvise well over all kinds of tunes, from old standards to the modern/modal progressions. “Building Melodies from the Chords” is a course using a concept that I find is extremely valuable for beginning improvisors. It bypasses the usual formula of teaching the various scales and arpeggios connected to every chord in a tune, instead using the voice leading already present in standard chord progressions and chord forms to start. Of course one is still using the same scales/arpeggios in the end, but I find this is a very musical approach, a more organic one, that all jazz guitarists really use and greatly develop for soloing.

Paul Meyers

The last is “Solo Guitar Course – Blues For the Millennium”. Solo playing is, obviously, the most challenging by far of any jazz guitar playing that we do, especially when it comes to improvising without any accompaniment whatsoever. I got interested in solo playing early on – Joe Pass’ first Virtuoso recording came out when I was still fairly new to playing jazz, and it amazed me. It takes years to develop the arrangements, ideas and vocabulary, and especially the internal rhythm and confidence to do it well. My own approach has evolved more and more into what I call “Like a Piano”, and that’s a big part of what’s demonstrated in this course. I’ve done four solo guitar CDs over the years, and the first was “Blues for the Millennium” over 20 years ago. In the course I dissect the different parts of this tune –  the arrangement, the harmonic structures, and also talking about how the ideas translate into a sort of Right Hand/Left Hand style of pianistic thinking. This tune was one of the first for me to really utilize that approach, and it still motivates me as I work on solo playing to this day. I feel like there is so much, and so much more, that can be done with this concept on the guitar!

By the way, I’d like to mention my new website – www.paulmeyersguitar.com – which I worked very hard on over the past several months. I especially like the Music section, which has all of my own solo and group recordings and where you can listen to a track from each – Blues for the Millennium is at the top of the list and you can hear the title tune there. The links to the Follow the Mentor courses are also there.

You have been a part of countless recording projects and as well as a fan of many historical recordings. What suggestions do you make to the recording engineer for achieving your ideal sound during the studio sessions?

Well, as you know, I have focused on playing and recording with a nylon string guitar with a pickup for many years. My preferred sound is to have a mic on the amp ( I like sound of my Fishman Artist ) and also mic the guitar, and then blend the two together. The acoustic sound is great, but I like the additional warmth and smoothness the amp sound provides  and of course that’s the sound that both I and the audience hear at a live performance. Some engineers like to use two mics on the guitar, one near the fingerboard for a brighter, high end sound, and another nearer the bridge for the lows. Some just use one mic. I’ve been fortunate to work with good engineers, and I trust that they know much more than I about where the optimum sound is that I do. But of course I listen to what they’re getting in the booth and then we talk about how much to blend the two together for the final mix. It has worked well over time for the sound I’m after. 

I haven’t recorded with an archtop or other electric in quite a while but again I trusted the engineers to get a good sound with a mic on the amp. What I think is most important is to feel good about the sound you are getting with your equipment and instrument – If that feels good to you, it should work well with any decent engineer – If not, I don’t believe the “we’ll fix it in the mix” approach works!

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