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John McLaughlin Discusses His New Album, Liberation Time



John McLaughlin - Jazz Guitar Today Cover Interview - July 2021

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John McLaughlin talks to Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert about a variety of subjects including his new album, Liberation Time (video interview).

Photo credit above: Drew Stawin 11/24/17 – Jacksonville, FL the Florida Theatre.

Bob Bakert, Editor: “Mahavishnu Orchestra…what is that?” I asked of the slightly bewildered friend. She had a look like I just crawled out under a rock. Which apparently I had because everyone knew the height of achievable guitar at the time was Hendrix and Clapton. Why would I care about the guitarist in this “crazy-ass name for a band”, let alone “orchestra”…!!!  Well ever since I was introduced to John McLaughlin by my astute musical aficionado friend back in Buffalo, I have been hooked.  The Mahavishnu Orchestra blew the doors off of the parameters of what I thought was possible and I have followed John McLaughlin ever since.  He is simply “The Master” that we all owe so much to. And so many top guitarists credit John McLaughlin as one of their top influences. In the words of Wayne and Garth, “we are not worthy” but we are so proud to present this intimate interview with one of my personal heroes, John McLaughlin.

Jazz Guitar Today - July - August 2021

“And in the evening, Doc Severinsen set the tempo…one and two, and hold on to your pants!”

Flashback: John performing ‘Cherokee’ with the ‘tonight show’ band circa 1985.

“The guitar is such a beautiful instrument, it has so many characteristics…”

Photo credit: Drew Stawin 11/24/17 – Jacksonville, FL the Florida Theatre.

John McLaughlin on the evolution of his sound and meeting Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles.

Photo credit: Drew Stawin 11/24/17 – Jacksonville, FL the Florida Theatre.

John McLaughlin on playing with Miles Davis

John and his PRS Private Stock McCarty Violin guitar

John is currently touring with his custom built PRS Private Stock McCarty Violin guitar that Paul Reed Smith built him in 2011. The wood on this guitar is particularly interesting, as it’s believed to be harvested from the same forest Stradivarius got the wood to craft what is largely considered to be the pinnacle of stringed instruments. This guitar is equipped with a Pernambuco neck, a wood sometimes used in the making of high-end violin bows. While this instrument was based off a 50 piece limited run, John requested some custom appointments including a tremolo bridge and a 59/09 bass pickup.

John discusses the inspiration of his new album, “Liberation Time”

With his newest album, Liberation Time, set for release on July 16, 2021, McLaughlin draws from one of humanity’s most fraught, uncertain epochs to produce music that gracefully reflects the uncertainty, vulnerability, and slowly awakening joy of our times. A direct response to the mandated restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19, the album is — unusually for McLaughlin’s recent projects — not the work of one fixed ensemble. With physical proximity no longer a prerequisite, McLaughlin drew upon decades of experience as a bandleader to select musicians best suited to each composition.

“Improvisation is a way we can learn how to fly spiritually…”

John McLaughlin: Improvisation is a way we can learn how to fly spiritually…but it’s the most demanding way because you have to not have a problem with your instrument. If you have a problem with your instrument, the audience is going to have a problem. They don’t want to hear your problems. They’re happy to see you fight your incapacities and your own ignorance. It’s a great battle. and I’ve seen that and I’ve lived that.  Being on stage and you have a battle with yourself, but you need to work at your instrument to the end of your days.

And we need to know harmony and its components, and we need to be a drummer at heart. 

So you get all of these things together. It’s like the great triad, but it’s just one thing, because they are all aspects of music improvisation. We go to a point where we have a structure and it’s your time to go on and play a solo. My question is – what are you going to say? You have all of this time and the space and you have people accompanying you. What are you going to say? How deeply do you feel about what you’re doing? How deeply do you feel about the people you are with?  How deeply do you feel about your existence in this new miraculous and infinite universe? What does it all mean to you?  How meaningful are these things to you? It’s not that you should go on stage and think, wow, it’s so meaningful. This should be part of your life, which is why I would recommend meditation to everybody. There’s only one thing you can talk about when you improvise.  It’s still a life story and your life story sums up in the moment you start to play. In the immediacy of this moment, it all comes together. 

So you have to know all of that stuff, the rhythm, the harmony, the melody, the everything, and then forget all about it and be who you really are. And you might be standing there with the trousers down around your ankles – but that’s okay. Doesn’t matter, just go with it and let go. But we let go with these restraints. I need, other people may not, you know, the free jazz, I’m a structuralist, in a sense. I need restraints and the restraints are harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic also. But through these restraints and through discipline and love, because in the end, only love can find a way. 

That’s my personal conviction that only love can find a way, but how deeply do you love it?  And how deeply do you love what you’re doing and the people around you and this whole miraculous world.

How marvelous is it? So forget everything and just be who you are. Of course, it’s so easily said.  And it takes a lifetime of devotion to do it. I know. I mean, I’m going to be 80 next year. It’s hard to believe, you know, in six months I going to be 80!  But you know, whatever… it doesn’t matter. Musically, I’ve never felt better. So if the great spirit allows, then I’ll be here and if it doesn’t, I won’t, but whatever happens, I’m a happy guy because I’ve been blessed with music.

And if you’re a musician, be on your knees every day and thank all the gods and goddesses for it, because that’s a privilege. 

Check out “Liberation Time”

More on John McLaughlin from JGT.

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