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Jazz Guitar Today Talks To Austin Guitarist Margaret Slovak

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The Austin, Texas guitarist, Margaret Slovak, talks of her development, influences, career, and recovering from a 2003 car accident that almost ended her ability to play the guitar. 

June 1, 2022 she releases a new trio album, Ballad for Brad, with bassist Harvey S, and drummer Michael Sarin, dedicated to her husband, Brad Buchholz, and his own journey through health issues.

Top photo by Amy Johnson from “New Wings” CD

JB:  How old were you when you started to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

I began to play the guitar at age 11, initially beginning with folk and soft rock music. I started studying classical guitar at age 14 through classes taught at my high school in Aurora, CO. I was first introduced to jazz guitar at the age of 14 when my older brother Paul played me Pat Metheny’s first record, Bright Size Life, with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses; this record blew me away! 

JB:  You studied with some well-known musical personalities.  Tell us how each of these I mention was most helpful to you?

  • John Abercrombie?

I first studied with John in a group jazz guitar class at a summer program at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO in 1981. I learned a lot from that class about playing, improvising, and composing jazz. I also studied with John during a month-long summer program at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada in 1986. Then, after I moved to NYC for the first time in 1988, I had several private lessons with John over a period of 4 years. John had a very intuitive way of teaching; he taught me how to take all of the scales, arpeggios, and other improvisational elements I had been practicing for so many years and find a way to use my ears and my heart to shape them into musical ideas and phrases. We also worked on playing over the bar lines and stretching the time a bit. John was very helpful when I did my first recording in NYC in 1989; he guided me through the process, helping me with such things as deciding which of my tunes to record, which recorded version to use, and how to place them in the final album order. John was a beautiful musician and a sweet guy; he was also incredibly funny!

  • Gary Peacock?

Gary was my jazz theory teacher at the Cornish College of the Arts during my first year there, 1982-1983. He taught us the “movable do” way of improvising over jazz standards and other compositions by determining the various multiple major and minor key centers that would occur within each tune. He had us write out lines over tunes, away from our instruments, and tried to get us to hear the lines and how they worked with the changes, without relying on just running scales or practicing patterns on our instruments that would fit over the chord changes. Gary was an amazing musician, teacher, and person. 

  • Ralph Towner?

I initially studied with Ralph in jazz composition and guitar class that he taught at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO in the summer of 1980. I learned so much, and this class introduced me to the idea of melding my classical and jazz studies with my guitar playing and in my composing. Then I was lucky enough to get to take several private lessons with Ralph in Seattle from 1984-to 1986 while I was attending the Cornish College of the Arts. Ralph was living in Seattle then; I studied with him outside of the college program. We worked a lot on technique, but he also taught me the importance of taking your practice time seriously, and always striving for the best tone, feel, time and intent with everything that you practice, whether it is a scale, arpeggio, exercise or piece of music. He is an incredible guitarist, pianist, and composer who is still touring and composing. Ralph is also a very kind person and has been very supportive of my path.

JB:  What are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why? 

Bright Size Life – Pat Metheny with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses

I heard this record when I was 14 years old, and it stopped me in my tracks! The tone of Pat’s guitar, the deep emotion that each musician expressed in their beautiful playing, the spirit of the tunes, the freedom of the improvisation, and the interplay between Pat, Jaco, and Bob informed my entire musical life. This is the record that first brought me to jazz.

Intermodulation – Jim Hall and Bill Evans

I first heard this record when I was in music school; I had already been listening to Jim Hall’s records, but when I heard this duo with Jim and pianist Bill Evans, I was very moved by the telepathic interplay between Jim and Bill. It is almost as if they formed one instrument; for example, Jim might play bass lines while Bill is soloing, and Bill might play single-line counterpoint to complement Jim’s solos. There are times when they solo simultaneously in such a beautiful way. Jim’s guitar tone is lovely, and the lyrical beauty and inventiveness of each of their improvisational offerings is amazing. My favorite tune on this record is “Turn Out the Stars”; I transcribed Jim’s guitar solo on this. It is definitely a “desert island” record for me!

Sargasso Sea – John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner

I love all of John and Ralph’s individual recordings, but this first duo LP they did back in 1976 has always been a touchstone for me. They are both such beautiful and brilliant players with distinct personalities; the way that they play together on this record is just incredible. The compositions are amazing, and I love the way that they improvise together. Ralph’s rich textural playing combines with John’s “liquid silver” lyrical single lines to create a sound that is magical and lovely. This record put me on the path to exploring both the acoustic nylon string and the electric guitar in my playing and compositional pursuits.

JB:  What is the musical climate like for you as a guitarist in the Austin, Texas area?

Austin has a vibrant music scene with many styles of music, including jazz. There are so many incredible guitar players living here, which is very inspiring! I have been in Austin for 10 years now. Due to my continued recovery from the injuries from the 2003 car accident and the 7th and 8th corrective surgeries I had in 2014, I have focused on doing mainly solo guitar gigs in restaurants, bars, art galleries, private parties, cancer centers, senior care centers, hospice, and hospitals, so I have been a bit under the radar. But with the return of more of the function of my right hand and the release of this new trio CD, I am hoping to start performing more in duos, trios, and quartets and also play more in concert and jazz club settings in Austin and beyond. 

 JB:  Tell us about the guitar that you use?

I have several instruments, but my main guitar is a Godin ACS SA Koa nylon-string solid body. On my new CD, I also played my Comins GCS-1 semi-hollow-body electric on three songs. 

JB:  What amp do you use?

I use an AER Compact 60 guitar amplifier for live gigs and often connect it to an AER active monitor speaker. 

 JB:  Tell us about your new CD album, “Ballad for Brad”?

Even since I first heard Pat Metheny’s trio LP, Bright Size Life, when I was a teenager, the open sound and spirit of the guitar/bass/drum trio was always in my ears, so I was honored to finally be able to record ten of my original compositions in trio format with two incredible NYC musicians and friends, bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin. 

In essence, this CD is dedicated to my husband, Brad Buchholz, and his brave walk with metastatic prostate cancer. It is also celebrating the healing that I have experienced following my 20-year recovery from the car accident and subsequent eight surgeries. The music reflects the love, life, and hope that Brad and I share. As I stated in my CD liner notes, Brad’s support throughout my many years of surgeries has sustained me; his faith in my music inspired me to persevere; his love buoys me. Thus, the title song, “Ballad for Brad.”


Article by Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth

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