JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to Denmark’s Soren Lee about his career as a jazz guitarist.
Soren Lee was born in January 1966 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and started on the guitar at age ten and soon became quite active as a guitarist in his teen years. In 1988 he moved to New York and recorded his first album in 1990 with bass legend Ray Brown. In 1992 he performed with Jim Hall at the Village Vanguard in New York. From 2007 to 2009 he moved to Los Angeles to study voice with Seth Riggs whose students were Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Moving back to Denmark he is now very active as a guitarist/vocalist in Northern Europe and elsewhere.
JB: What was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?
SL: I would say listening a lot. Of course, first I listened to a lot of guitar players that blew me away with their playing. Then I listened to a lot of saxophone players. By listening, I mean I transcribed their solos, getting the notes then playing them on different places on the neck. Working to become so fluid in playing it that I would mimic their phrasing, time, and sense of swing. Of course, I also worked on scales and chord voicings as well.
JB: What are a couple of the most influential jazz guitar albums to you and why?
SL: Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note. First, I was impressed by his octave thing, then I got into his sense of swing and everything else, his whole musical atmosphere.
Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life. I really liked the unique interplay between the three players. It is so simple, clear, and direct. I was very young when I first heard it and it moved me deeply.
Jim Hall on Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge. I really loved the more open way he played his chords. His harmonies sounded very modern and I loved his use of space in playing.
John Scofield’s Shinola with Steve Swallow on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. I love John’s bluesy thing and the temperament he has on that album.
Also John McLaughlin with Miles Davis on Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, and In a Silent Way. The album Jack Johnson was a definitive showcase for John McLaughlin. I loved McLaughlin’s bluesy, outgoing expression and his combination of jazz and rock. I should also say Jimi Hendrix still influences my playing today. The way he phrased his lines, using distortion as a means of orchestrating his lines is what I hear when I am improvising.
JB: Tell us about one of your CD albums.
SL: I have six albums out. The first album I did was with the bassist Ray Brown. I met him during the time I lived in New York and when he was here in Copenhagen we recorded an album together. It is called Soren Lee Quartet featuring Ray Brown. It was amazing to work with him. But I have to say my newest album by my Diversity Trio best represents me now.
JB: What do you find rewarding in your career today as a guitarist in Copenhagen?
SL: I loved New York but I love living and playing here in Copenhagen. There are a lot of good players here. Of course, my wife and family enjoy living here and I feel the most at home in Copenhagen.
JB: Tell me about the type of gigs that you do here.
SL: I mostly play at jazz clubs here. The ensemble I work with the most is my Diversity Trio, but sometimes I am able to have a quartet with a horn player or a pianist.
JB: The days of recording a CD, people buying it and listening to it on their CD player are gone, how do you get your music out to the people?
SL: That’s challenging. Of course, now you have to get it on playlists on Spotify and that kind of thing.
JB: Tell us about the guitar and amp that you use.
SK: I have a Heritage 535 like the (Gibson) 335 guitar. It is a very versatile guitar. I can play many different styles with it. On my newest record, I also used my Taylor acoustic guitar. I use a Fender Deluxe amp. I have two of them and depending upon the size of the room, I will either use one or two wired-in stereo. This works well for me. I get a nice warm sound from this setup.
JB: What would you say if you could speak to an 18-year-old guitarist who has some facility on the instrument as well as aspirations of a career as a jazz guitarist?
SK: You have to love what you are doing. In spite of what advice people may give you, you need to keep doing what you love about jazz and the vision you have for yourself. Of course, keep working on your technique and listening to and transcribing the Masters so you are continually learning from them.
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