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Jazz Guitar New England Style, Boston



Jazz Guitar Today guest contributor Joe Barth takes a look at the jazz guitar scene in Boston, Massachusetts.

American history is rooted in Boston, walk along the two-and-a-half-mile-long Freedom Trail with its sixteen historical markers of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, and the Boston Tea Party ships, that tell the story of the American Revolution and more. The sports-minded person will enjoy taking a Red Sox game at historic Fenway Park.  There is also an active nightlife filled with jazz music.

Richard Vacca said Although jazz had been played in Boston from the music’s earliest decades, the city became a jazz center in the late 1940s and 1950s. Before that time, Boston’s jazz scene was small but steady; the city could sustain a jazz scene but not grow it. World War II changed that.

During World War II Boston became a sending port for the troops and supplies needed in the war theater in England and Europe. It took lots of musicians to entertain the soldiers, sailors, and defense workers in the city, then after the war, the troops came home many with their GI Bill in hand, wanting an education in the fine institutions of higher learning. Musicians in the Boston area were involved in a lot of entertaining needs after WWII. The greatest jazz pianist from Boston is Chick Corea along with organist Larry Goldings. Bassists Mark Egan, Ray Drummond, Harvie S, and Tony Levin are all from Boston.  Drummers Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Jake Hanna, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Joe Morello grew up in Boston. Saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi, Serge Chaloff, Phil Woods, Charlie Mariano, and Sammy Newsome are from the Boston area. 

Jazz Guitarists

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and then lived in the New York area. Between his college years at the Berklee College of Music and his later teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, he spent a lot of time in the Boston area. Paul Bollenback said about John His sound is just on the edge of distortion.  He is one of my favorite guitar players.  His sound is loose but correct.  It is modern but rooted in tradition.  I like that a lot.  He can sound very free and expressive, but he is also still making the changes and playing in time.  You can hear musicians from the past in his playing. You know he came up through the ranks.  He has one foot firmly in traditional jazz, and one foot in fusion, and for me, that is a very interesting place.  I like how John is not limited in how he can place his voice into a style, much like John McLaughlin.  I also like how John uses his right hand.  He doesn’t pick every note.  When I watch John, I sometimes have no idea how he is doing what he is doing.  I hear it, but it doesn’t look like how it should sound.  I love everything he does.

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts Irving Ashby was raised in a musical family and started on the guitar at the early age of nine years old.  Interested in guitar construction he worked for a while as an assistant to Boston luthier Charles Stromberg.  Irving was twenty years old and planned on attending Boston University but Lionel Hampton offered him a job in his band.  After World War II Nat King Cole invited Ashby to join his trio when Oscar Moore left.  This was one of the most prized guitar positions in popular music at the time.  During the four and a half years Irving was with the Nat Cole Trio, Cole started to move away from jazz to embrace a more popular approach. Feeling musically stifled, Ashby left King Cole to join the newly formed Oscar Peterson Trio in 1951.  This was the pinnacle of Ashby’s career, then he decided to get off the road and settle into a career of teaching and studio work. In later years Ashby lived in Perris, California painting signs and only playing the guitar occasionally.  

Guitarist, composer, and educator John Baboian has taught at Berklee College of Music since 1980 and has been an active player around the Boston area and internationally.  In 2012 John appeared as a guitar player in the Universal Pictures film about a talking teddy bear named “Ted” which was filmed in Boston.  

Sheryl Bailey

Also, on the Berklee faculty is Sheryl Bailey (born May 20, 1966) who is the assistant chair of the guitar department. Originally from Pittsburgh, Sheryl attended the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University before transferring to Berklee College in Boston.  After graduating she moved to New York establishing her career with her organ trio and other performance settings and musical outings. Sheryl has nine CDs and a live DVD out under her name. A third Berklee faculty member is Larry Baione who joined their faculty in 1974 and became chair of the guitar department in 1990 until retiring from that role recently. After graduating from Berklee Larry was the principal guitarist in the U.S. Army Band stationed in Washington DC.  He continues to perform and give clinics throughout the world. His recent recording Playing Time consists of original compositions and standards in a trio setting.

John Basile was born in Boston in 1955.  He too attended Berklee and graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1979 and moved to New York in 1980.  He was in a group with Red Mitchell and Harry “Sweets” Edison called the Great Basie Eight, obviously playing in a “four to the bar” Freddie Green style. Basile is primarily known for working with singers like Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Bennett.  In addition to music John also works as an MRI technologist.

Gerry Beaudoin was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1954 and was performing country music professionally by age fifteen. As a high school student, he became enamored with the music of the J. Geils Band and in 1992 formed the New Guitar Summit with Geils and another of his boyhood heroes Duke Robillard.  He went to Berklee College in 1972 and fell in love with jazz guitar while visiting his sister in New York City.  Robert Ferrier is another Berklee graduate and a freelance player who has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz such as Randy Brecker, Yusef Lateef, and others.  He teaches at the University of Massachusetts and Holyoke Community College.

David Fiuczynski was born in New Jersey but grew up in Germany. He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and is now a professor at Berklee College. David is noted for blending jazz with other styles such as fusion, or more ethnic forms such as Semitic and African music.

Bruce Forman was born in Springfield, Massachusetts but did most of his growing up in Dallas, Texas before his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. A master of bebop playing he also excels in western swing rhythms.  He says Cow Bop is my band that features my wife on vocals and is built around my guitar playing.  It is a combination of bebop, western swing, American swing, and the gypsy hot club style.  While it is primarily vocals, the band is more instrumental with the singer coming up to sing some songs, then more instrumental music, of course depending on the gig.  I love jazz, I love the West, I love horses and I love to swing and you put that all together and you get Cow Bop.  When you take Freddie Green and put him on a horse, you get western swing.  At this stage of my life, I want to be true to all the things I am and when you put those all together, you get Cow Bop.

He is currently on the faculty of the University of Southern California. 

Mick Goodrick

At age eleven seeing Elvis Presley perform, Mick Goodrick, took up the guitar.  He attended Berklee College from 1963-to 67 and honed his skills in 1969 playing in a trio consisting of pianist Alan Broadbent and Mahavishnu Orchestra bassist Rick Laird. Goodrick was teaching at Berklee when he joined Gary Burton’s band in 1972 and then returned to teaching full-time teaching at Berklee in 1976.  In March of 2022, Berklee honored Mick with ‘The Mick Goodrick Legacy Concert.’  The concert featured live performances by his former students, including visiting artists Julian Lage ’09 and Wolfgang Muthspiel ’90, and their guitar faculty. The concert also featured video tributes by Gary Burton ’62, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell ’77, John Scofield ’73, Mike Stern ’75, Leni Stern ’80, Wayne Krantz, and David Fiuczynski.

Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson was born in Boston in 1980 and started playing guitar at age twelve.  She studied jazz at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  She moved to New York in 2002 and has been very forward-thinking in her approach to music. Her 2008 recording “Dragon’s Head” gained her strong attention from the jazz critics.  Her trio Thumbscrew with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara has also received excellent reviews. Mary is one of New York’s most in-demand guitarists.

Chris Hersch was born near Allentown, Pennsylvania, and moved to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music, graduating in 2004.  He maintains a heavy performance career around Boston and elsewhere.

Eric Hofbauer received his Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music.  He is best known for his “Prehistoric Jazz Volumes I – IV”. In these recordings, he uses shared rhythmic and harmonic concepts of 20th-century Modernists as a bridge to postmodern jazz.

Erik Kniffin is a veteran of the Boston music scene. A “guitarist for all seasons” he has performed or recorded in nearly every style and venue in the region. Focusing on teaching he prefers to perform on original projects.  Joe Morris has performed on over 150 recordings in his career. He divides his career between teaching and performance. 

Gray Sargent

Performing with Tony Bennett has brought the name of Gray Sargent into wider recognition. Gray worked with Tony Bennett for twenty-four years including Tony’s final performance with Lady Gaga in 2021.  Born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1953 he studied at the Berklee College of Music from 1972 to 74, and in 1979 he began playing with pianist Dave McKenna which brought him into the Concord Record family. He toured regularly with saxophonist Scott Hamilton.  From 1988-to 89 he was Artist in Residence at Harvard University.  

Jazz Guitar Today - Jan 2021 - Mike Stern

Mike Stern was born in Boston in 1953 then his family moved to the Washington DC area.  Stern then returned to the Boston area to study at the Berklee College of Music studying under Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny. Mike’s rapid technique and sheets of sound in his solos are as exhilarating as they are satisfying. Mike is best described as a synergism of jazz, blues, and rock styles that is always swinging. He has worked with just about all the great jazz musicians of our day, including a lengthy time in the Miles Davis band. Concerning his studies with Metheny, Mike says… In my first lesson with Pat, we played “Autumn Leaves” and I think I hit all the wrong notes, yet Pat was amazingly supportive.  He said I had a great feel, great time, and sounded terrific.  Over the next few lessons, we would just play.  He would offer comments but basically, we would just play.  He said that what I needed the most was just to get out there and play more.  At that time, I was practicing a lot.  I was trying to learn the logistics of guitar, reading, and the language of the instrument.  

Mike is married to guitarist Leni Stern.

There were several guitar students at the Berklee College of Music who went on to have celebrated careers in music.  To name a few, Bill Frisell ’77, John Scofield ’73, Al DiMeola, Emily Remler ‘76, Wolfgang Muthspiel ’90, Julian Lage’ 09, and others. 

Pat Metheny in concert with Ulf Wakenius

In the 1970s Pat Metheny moved from Miami to teach at Berklee as Gary Burton was exploring to see if Pat would work in his band.  Pat did play in Gary’s band for several years. As Pat describes that period… During my year in Miami, I came back to Kansas to do a jazz festival and met Gary Burton, who was one of my major heroes.  Gary’s band was at that time one of my favorite jazz groups with guitar in it.  Around that time Jerry Hahn and Larry Coryell had played in his band. They were a group that was trying to push the limits of jazz and that was really of interest to me.  Gary offered me the opportunity to go to Boston and teach at Berklee.  What he was really doing was getting me closer so to check me out more before hiring me for his band.  I was just 19 at the time.  They didn’t hire me to teach the Berklee method, but to teach more or less “advanced improvisation.”  Some of my students have gone on to make a name for themselves, for example, Mike Stern.  It was kind of an uneasy time for me because I was younger than most of the guys I was teaching which was kind of odd on a social level.  But, once I began playing in the local clubs in the evening, and especially after I joined Gary’s band, people had the chance to hear me play more and could see more about where I was coming from musically.

Jon Wheatley came to Berklee, from Syracuse, NY to study and now teaches there.  He has performed with Ruby Braff, George Masso, Herb Pomeroy, and others.  He also teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.  Mark White is an internationally recognized guitarist and teaches at Berklee. He holds both a B.A. and M.A. from the New England Conservatory of Music. Originally from Chicago, Norman Zocher also teaches at Berklee and the New England Conservatory of Music.  He has performed with several world-class jazz artists and is quite well-known as a composer.

Hy White was born in Boston in 1915, started on the guitar at age twelve, and played gigs around Boston as a teenager. In 1938 he moved to New York and joined the Woody Herman band and got great exposure when the band’s hit “Woodchopper’s Ball” sold over a million records in 1939.  In 1944 he became a staff musician at the CBS studios in New York.  In 1957 he joined the Ray Bloch’s band for the Ed Sullivan Show and stayed with it for fifteen years.    

Stromberg Guitars produced guitars in the Boston area from 1906 through 1955.  Founded by a Swedish immigrant to Boston, Charles Stromberg, who built guitars, as did John D’Angelico in New York, patterned after the Gibson Super 400 model.  These were large archtops designed to project out beyond the horn section of the big band.  Charles’ son Elmer joined the company and is credited with building some of the finest archtops in the world (through his bracing technology) and compared at the level of John D’Angelico’s best archtops. 

Performance Venues

The Berklee College of Music has several performance venues from the 1,200-seat Performance Center to the 325-seat Conservatory Theater, a number 100 seat, and 50 seat rooms down to the Jackson Browne Stage in the college Dining Room for lunch and dinner performances.

Wally’s Jazz Café in the South End of Boston on Massachusetts Avenue is a place for great food and great jazz performed by world-class players as well as student ensembles.

Scullers Jazz Club now in its new location in the DoubleTree Suites on Soldiers Field Road still offers the best in world-class jazz.

The Regattabar has hosted great jazz since 1985 and plans to continue as soon as we work through the current Covid crisis. 

The Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge has been voted every year by Downbeat magazine as one of the best jazz clubs in the World.  It hosts art and dance events as well.

For great food and jazz music, the Beehive on Tremont Street is another place to go.

Darryl’s Corner on Columbus Avenue is the place for Cajun-style cooking and hot jazz.

For sushi and Asian fusion cuisine and the best of traditional jazz check out The Mad Monkfish on Massachusetts Avenue.

Virtuosity on Huntington Avenue is not only a great music store, but they also host the occasional live performances.

Post Underground on Washington Street is a jazz club on the weekends and a school of jazz theory during the week.

University Jazz Programs 

Boston is blessed with several outstanding institutions of higher learning with fine guitar programs.  The largest program is at the Berklee College of Music where Sheryl Bailey is the assistant chair in charge of jazz guitar.  There are several additional excellent jazz guitar professors including Larry Baione, Chair Emeritus, David Fiuczynski, Jonathan Wheatley, and many others.

The New England Conservatory has another excellent jazz guitar department. Julian Lage, Joe Morris, Norman M.E. Zocher and Lautaro Mantilla all teach there.

Erik Kniffin oversees the guitar department at Boston College.  Emerson College has Eric Hofbauer teaching jazz history and Eric is also guitar instructor and chair of the Jazz and Contemporary Music Department at Bard College

(This article was written with research assistance from Sheryl Bailey and Kathy Parker.)

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