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JGT Interview with Guitarist & Educator Amanda Monaco



Berklee College of Music Associate Professor of Guitar Amanda Monaco has explored new territories as a recording artist and virtual educator that have not followed the expected career path of a jazz guitarist.  

Compositions that weave a sophisticated harmonic language with acrobatic six-string chops along with a commitment to educating the next generation have kept Monaco in demand. Guitar World Magazine states about our featured artist, “A little bit experimental, a little bit traditional, and a whole lotta good.”  Jazz Guitar Today would like to thank Amanda Monaco for this exclusive interview.   

JGT: Please tell Jazz Guitar Today about the current state of jazz guitar studies at Berklee where you are an Associate Professor and teach on campus and virtually? 

Jazz Guitar is alive and well at Berklee! One of the best parts of being at Berklee is the diversity of styles, and that includes the subgenres as well: from trad jazz to the avant-garde, it’s all there. Students and faculty alike are always sharing what they’re listening to and playing, and there’s never a shortage of information in that regard. Everyone is playing on such a high level and exploring the far reaches of what the guitar and music have to offer. 

JGT: You employ a Brian Moore Guitar which is an unusual choice in the field. Please talk about your main axe and how is tool in your creative department? Were you deliberately trying to break from the obvious choices that many jazz guitarist gravitate towards?

 I’ve had an endorsement with Brian Moore Guitars since around 2003, and I got my DC-1 hollow body guitar in 2005. I’m 5 foot 2, and big jazz boxes have always been challenging for me (I played an L-5 for about six months in the early 1990s and it nearly destroyed me physically). There definitely wasn’t an obvious choice to break from tradition – it just happened that way. Coincidentally, John Abercrombie also played Brian Moore Guitars and also had a DC-1. I really love the sound of the guitar, and it’s comfortable for me to play as well. It sounds great without any effects but also works well when I do use distortion or a wah pedal – it’s quite versatile which I love. 

Amanda Monaco

JGT: You have posted instructional videos on your YouTube Channel. Do you have a personal practice regimen that you subscribe to or encourage your students to follow?

 I encourage all of my students to have a set warm-up routine and to keep a practice journal that includes what they’re working on and at what metronome markings. My warm-up routine consists of a rhythmic exercise using the major scale, as well as playing diatonic arpeggios through the major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and harmonic major keys, up and down the neck. When I have a little extra time I go through this list of 38 Bebop Heads that Ted Dunbar told his students they should play every day. I really do try to play them every day but on the heavy teaching days, it’s a little hard to fit it, though I’m working on my time management skills to fix that. The pandemic has been really bad for my time management. I also work on chords (new voicings), reading, transcribing, and studying solos, and repertoire. When I was studying with Ted Dunbar, he insisted that I learn to sing a solo I was transcribing, then learn to play it, then write it down. I’m grateful for this because I still have so many transcriptions from college that I’ve entered into Finale and have shared with my students. 

JGT: How had the worldwide pandemic affected your artistry? Have you composed or recorded during this time?

 For most of the pandemic, I’ve been working on my technique and fixing all of the bugs. I’m also teaching more than ever (in the fall it was 40+hours/week on Zoom) and that’s been surprising to me and has taken up a lot of time. There are a few solo pieces that I’ve recorded, but mostly what I’ve done is make four-part videos of Bach Chorales. I use the Acapella app on my iPhone to record each voice separately and put them all together. I even have a silly Bach wig that I wear for at least one of the video segments. Sometimes I’ll collaborate on a chorale with my students, or my friends, which is really fun. There’s a great rehearsal space in NYC called Euphoria that has strict Covid protocols. I recorded there in October 2020 with my Glitter quartet and January 2021 with the all-female collective Lioness™ for the “Lioness: Women in Jazz Concert Series” that was to be presented at Flushing Town Hall, but ended up being broadcast virtually through the “Flushing Town Hall At Home” series. Thanks to the generous support of the Queens Council on the Arts, we were able to pre-record the concerts at Euphoria and present them through Zoom on the scheduled concert dates. These concerts are available on YouTube.

JGT: Who were some of your early non-jazz influences that perhaps led you to the 6 string? 

My dad was a guitarist and when he was a teenager, played in a band with three of his six brothers. My grandmother would get them gigs playing for dances and social events on the weekends. Even though I am the only professional musician in my family, everyone loves music and spontaneously breaks into song at big family gatherings. About 90% of the Monaco family can carry a tune, which is impressive considering there’s about 30 of us. When I was ten years old I discovered Van Halen, and became somewhat obsessed, leading to stealing a can of spray paint from my mom’s workshop (she was a silk-flower florist) and making my ballet slippers look like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. I thought it was fabulous; my dance teacher, not so much. But I still love the first six Van Halen albums – when Eddie passed away last year I was devastated. I also played in a 50s/60s soul music quartet my sophomore and junior years of high school, where our repertoire consisted of a lot of Motown and classics such as “Green Onions”. We worked almost every weekend and that was a great experience for me to learn all of those tunes and be able to play them for audiences on a regular basis. 

Amanda Monaco – Glitter

JGT: On a fun note, have you enjoyed any recent jazz music documentaries or biopics that you have enjoyed on Netflix or Amazon? 

I have a whole list of things to watch, but to be honest, it’s mostly just reading and listening to podcasts. Berklee Guitar Department’s “Coffee Talk” podcast has been really great to listen to, especially since it features so many of my colleagues that I miss dearly. Another great podcast is “Dolly Parton’s America”, a seven-part podcast that is so deep, so wide-reaching in terms of life’s intricacies, that I recommend it to everyone. I’m also working my way through The Lord of the Rings for the first time ever (the books, not the movies) and I did the impossible: I caught up on reading a year’s worth of back issues of The New Yorker and am now up to date. Any New Yorker will tell you about the pile of back issues of The New Yorker that sit in a pile, taunting them, daring them to read one only to have another added to the pile a week later, so actually getting through them is almost miraculous, really. I’ve always had a thing about watching TV, there’s something about it that I don’t like. I’m not one of those people that can sit in front of the TV and practice unless I’m watching a Formula 1 race (which is one of the few things I do watch when it’s the season).

Amanda’s new CD, Lioness, available now!

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