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Masterfully Advancing Harmony, Melody, and Dynamics With Grant Gordy



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In this exclusive video podcast, Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert talks to the guitarist Grant Gordy.

Bob Bakert, Editor: Part of our mission at JGT is to try to expand the perception and the definitions of jazz.  Grant Gordy is an artist that exemplifies this melding, mashing, and merging to help advance a new “sub-genre”. Even though Grant is not a stranger to Archtops and standards, Grant is best known as an acoustic musician.  His studies of the greats of jazz permeate his approach to music… I love what he’s doing… Utilizing traditional Bluegrass instrumentation his band executes masterfully advanced harmony, melody, and dynamics… His years with David Grisman indeed show through but he is on to his own thing that like a complex cabernet is full of nuance and subtleties but ready to make an undeniable statement… JGT is proud to have as its March cover story Grant Gordy

JGT: Tell us about the new Ellington project

My band Mr. Sun, with the legendary fiddler Darol Anger alongside Joe K. Walsh (one of the preeminent mandolin players in the world) and Aidan O’Donnell (NYC jazz stalwart, bassist on Peripheral Visions, member of Steve Kuhn’s trio), is a group of musical omnivores, as you might imagine. We share a lot of music back and forth with each other, and one thing we all agreed is a favorite is Duke Ellington’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” suite. Their conceit, of course, was interpreting that timeless classical ballet piece with the updated, swing-focused hipness of Duke and Billy Strayhorn. Their version of The Nutcracker amounts to a brilliant reimagining, using the colors and textures available in a big band ensemble. Joe had the idea of Mr. Sun doing a similar reimagining, maybe with one more level of abstraction: a translation of Duke’s translation through the vehicle of a string band. We’ve been hard at work with arranging and rehearsing -when we can, that is; only Aidan and I live in NYC- deciding where to take something verbatim from the score, when to lean more on Tchaikovsky’s parts, what even works for our 4-piece ensemble with no drums. It’s a big undertaking! But we all have big imaginations and a lot of chemistry as a band that’s been playing together for nearly a decade now. Darol in particular has a great deal of experience with arranging, as a founding member of the Turtle Island String Quartet among other projects, his substantial wealth of experience has been a great thing to observe and draw inspiration from. 

JGT: Why acoustic and not electric? What has drawn you to exclusively play acoustic instruments?

This is more of a “yes, and” situation. I do actually play electric archtop (I have a Hofner “Jazzica” from the early 2000s and play a Henriksen amp, which I love), but it tends to be almost exclusively just when I play club gigs around town. I love playing standards, and love going to sessions, but my “profile” in the music world, such as it is, is more as an acoustic guitarist. I almost never fly with an electric, so whenever I’m out on tour or playing a festival, it’s acoustic, so that’s what I’m known for. I can’t tell you how many times friends have come to a jazz gig in NYC and said “I didn’t know you played electric!” It’s a funny thing. I attempted to remedy this identity crisis by releasing a standards trio record, called “Interpreter.” I’m glad I did it, and I’m proud of the record. Unfortunately, it was released in March 2020, so got kind of pushed to the back burner, as you might imagine. I’d like to do more electric guitar-based music and plan to, but acoustic is definitely my musical “family of origin.” Culturally, bluegrass (in the most expansive sense) is the scene I came up in, it’s mostly where I make my living, and acoustic guitar is certainly where I feel the most fluency. But that doesn’t mean I’m 100% committed! 

Grant Gordy – Photo credit, John Rogers

JGT: Any musicians living or dead, who would you like to play with? 

That’s a tough question. There are so many. In a fantasy world, I’d loved to have had a chance to hang with Bud Powell or Elvin Jones or Bird or Charlie Haden or Clifford Brown; so many of those eloquent speakers of that language that I love to listen to so much, and make my attempts to learn. I’d love to get to play with Kurt Rosenwinkel or Brad Mehldau; surely that’d be a deeply humbling experience. I am a huge fan of the trumpeter and cornetist Ron Miles from Denver, who sadly left the world too early last year. When I lived in Colorado I was so in awe of him that I kept a reverential distance; I wish I’d made more of an effort to play together before it was too late. He’s truly a favorite musician of mine and his music is deeply inspiring. 

Mr. Sun Photo credit Matt Crosby

JGT: Is there a style of guitar that you don’t play that you’d like to get better at?

Ooh, good question. I’m working on my fluency with bebop. But that’s something I really put time into, so maybe it doesn’t count as an answer. It’d be nice to have some right-hand technique to be able to play more Bach or other counterpoint-based music. I’m a bad reader, too, so working on that kind of music can be slow going in that regard, too. Mostly I’m doing what I want to do, though. 

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