Connect with us

Artist Features

New JGT Interview With Norwegian Guitarist Jacob Young



Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth interviews Norwegian guitarist Jacob Young and discusses his new album, “Eventually”.

Above photo by Andre Clemetsen / ECM Records

Norwegian guitarist, Jacob Young, has released several albums on the prestigious ECM label as well as many other labels.  His newest ECM album is Eventually.  I asked him about this recording as well as a little about himself.

JB:  Growing up in Norway, what inspired you to play jazz guitar, and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

JY:  There were no musicians in my family… So I guess I have to thank the general society, the times, and my parents who really listened to music – a lot. I also took lessons early on from a jazz guitarist from Indianapolis who lived in Oslo, Paul Weeden. He told me about Wes Montgomery. Then I started to listen to more stuff and stumbled upon Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie. Same time I listened to rock and loved Jimi Hendrix and even some amazing British punk music. I didn’t care too much about labels or styles, I just ate up everything I heard and got hooked on music. 

It was natural for me to start playing guitar first and then explore playing different music on it. I was a friend of Anja Garbarek, saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s daughter, she was in the same class as me so I got to hear his groups live a few times. That was inspiring. Then Oslo at that time showcased all the great touring musicians from the US and Europe. In a medium size club, I got to see The Miles Davis Group three times. That was crazy.

I must say that the environment that I grew up in was a giving one, on many levels. I started Music High School and met some great younger musicians who were practicing and studying the theory and analysis of composition. We played and made school bands, I met people like saxophonist Trygve Seim and bassist Harald Johnsen. Then I moved to NYC when I was twenty years old. 

JB:  To you, what are three of the most influential jazz guitar albums and why?

JY:  I would list Grant Green’s Matador, it’s an amazing quartet album with McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums from 1964. It’s almost the John Coltrane Quartet but with Bob Cransaw instead on bass and Grant on guitar and no saxophone. So beautiful!

I would list one of Jim Hall’s many, and today I’d pick All Across The City from 1989 on Concord Records. It’s a jazz, jazz/cross-over album of sorts, incredibly beautiful. I got to know Jim relatively soon after this release so I heard him play many of the tunes in different settings in NYC. 

Then one of John Abercrombie’s solo albums called Characters, which I listened to a lot on vinyl before moving to NYC…stunning! 

JB:  You came to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York and studied with Jim Hall.  How did your time with Jim advance your playing?

JY:  Oh! A lot I would think. Being around him in the ensemble at school and also privately one on one, was immense. His thinking on improvisation and on composition, and on combining the two, was altering and directional for me. And just listening to his playing a lot at the time felt very privileged. I remember it well and with great affection. He was very kind and almost like a grandpa-type person to many of the students at The New School back then.

JB:  Then you took some lessons with John Abercrombie.  How did John impact your playing?

JY:  Even though he was from the generation younger than Jim Hall, I knew more of John Abercrombie’s playing from records I listened to in Norway at that time, like Eventyr (Jan Garbarek, Nana Vasconcelios, John Abercrombie) but also his trio recording with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine. Listen to him playing on the standard “Stella By Starlight,” fantastic! Lessons with him at his apartment in NYC – we played a lot just in duo. He was a very “learning by doing” kind of teacher and that was great – I recorded some of it on cassette.

Something about keeping the freedom in the improvisational parts, not just getting hung up in the chords and scales and right notes, but opening up and including more of the world. We also did a Quartet concert together in Brooklyn with a rhythm section at a memorial for Joe Pass, after Joe had passed. I think it was in 1994. John was a beautiful musician and a great guy, so warm and funny too. I have been influenced by his playing for sure. 

JB:  Tell us about your goals in making your new album Eventually with drummer Audun Kleive and bassist Mats Eilertsen?

JY:  This was something I hadn’t done before. The first goal was to get both of them to say “yes” to the project! Then get together someplace we could make a trio recording together, I wanted it to be fresh and new to us all, something that we hadn’t done before.  Otherwise, no point, right? But mostly make an entire jazz guitar album that had a few longer spots where we could explore. 

JB:  What influence does Norwegian music have in your compositions?

JY:  Maybe something about the melodies or the mood. I guess I tend to write melancholic pieces, don’t know if that is very Norwegian or not. I try to outbalance that so it doesn’t become tedious. I have been tremendously influenced by quite a few Norwegian musicians and groups. Obviously, there is the great generation with drummer Jon Christensen, bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal and Jan Garbarek. Also musicians from that same era like saxophonist Knut Riisnæs, vocalist Karin Krog, pianist Egil Kapstad, and drummer Ole Jacob Hansen. Beat poet and jazzman Jan Erik Vold and his recordings showed a different path. He has a beautiful recording called “Blåmann, Blåmann” with Chet Baker and Phillip Catherine on guitar, Egil Kapstad on piano, and the great Terje Venaas on bass. Tremendously important and a classic on the scene here in Norway. 

Keith Jarrett’s ECM recording Belonging was important, because of the amazing writing on it and fresh playing, it was very popular among my generation of Norwegian musicians. The Chasers trio that Terje Rypdal had with bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr and drummer Audun Kleive was also important in the mid-1980s. Yamaha (the group) with Bjørn Klakegg on guitar. I also took some lessons before moving to NYC with guitar greats Staffan William Olsson and Knut Værnes. All inspired me in different ways.

JB:  What guitars do you use? 

JY:  I use a Yamaha AER 1500 Archtop that is really great. Then a Yamaha SA 2000, from 1977 (bought if from the amazing guitarist Joe Cohn in 1992 in New York City). Then a Lowden steel string acoustic that’s sensational. I also have a very good Yamaha nylon string guitar. I am looking around for a Telecaster these days. I used a very nice custom-made Telecaster in Buenos Aires, Argentina recently made by the man behind the Diliberto pick ups. 

JB:  Tell us about the amp that you use.

JY:  I usually use what they give me, I ask for either a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe or a Vox tube amp when I am on tour. But at home and for gigs in the Oslo area I use my Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature (US). And an AER Compact 60 for acoustic. I also have a Fender Blues Junior and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. And a Mesa Boogie Simul Satellite. It depends. But on the recording, I used my Two Rock and a borrowed Vox. We recorded in stereo because I used some effects that have that feature, delay, and chorus. Just a touch. I also used a booster and sometimes a hint of overdrive or actually gain from an overdrive pedal, that helps give the warm sound.

 JB:  As a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scene in Norway.

JY:  It’s very young and flourishing. There are a lot of young newly educated musicians coming every year. Competition for gigs has probably never been bigger. I guess it has its good and less good sides. The music scene is fresh and has lots of really good music. An interesting place to be. Many generations play and create and listen to each other. We also have a government that helps artists with stipends to create and perform, which is quite unique and wonderful. But it’s at the same time small. You know the audience here is not big. Most of my peers and I have to work a lot outside of the country as well, or teach. 

JB:  Practice and listening aside, can you pinpoint one or two things’ that really boosted your profile and career toward where its at today?

JY:  Endurance. That I tend to rush slowly and steadily. Also, I always keep my composing at the center of my practice routine, it’s what I am in music for – the prospect of creating something that was not there before. That’s it. To me its magic. It is the most important drive for me. It helps my improvising. I guess I work on being able to improvise on my own writing and try to make that sound good. Actually, that is a good tip when striving to develop your own thing. This you can use also on other compositions later. For me writing tunes is up there. Then, of course, learn the standards, at different tempos, and keys, etc.

JB:  As a gigging musician, how does the scene in Europe compare with that in the US? What advice would you give young American musicians who want to break into Europe?

What can I say? In most European countries there are jazz clubs and concert promotors – try to get the email and contact info to these clubs and send them your press promo material, it’s really like that I think. Or if you have a record out, get reviews and if they are ok, use them to book concerts. Maybe if you are lucky you’ll get something. Of course, if an agency can help you it’s even better. But I don’t know how to get there. Also, start early, places in Norway often are booked a year in advance.

Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Featured Luthiers