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Spanish Guitarist Par Excellence, Luis Gimenez



Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth interviews Spanish guitarist Luis Gimenez.

Luis Gimenez was born in Zaragoza, Spain, and started on the guitar at age thirteen. Moving to Boston to study at Berklee College where he graduated Cum Laude.  Moving back to Spain he carved out a full-time career in music and continues to keep active musically today.

JB:  Talk briefly about when you started to play guitar and what inspired you to play jazz guitar.

LG:  Piano was my first instrument when I was six years old. At the age of thirteen, I quit piano lessons and started playing guitar. I was a Mark Knopfler wanna-be at the time and a big blues fan. When I was eighteen I went with my father to a Pat Metheny concert in my hometown and that changed everything for me. I started taking jazz lessons and when I was twenty-three, I went to Boston to study at Berklee. 

Spanish guitarist Luis Gimenez

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

LG:  Pat Martino El Hombre: The first time I heard Martino I was blown away by his incredible rhythmic precision and lines. It was his sound that amazed me at the time. I remember listening to it and even via software making a copy of the CD at 60% of the speed so I could appreciate all the details. 

Pat Metheny Question & Answer:  I had to do the same with this record. I listened to some of the tracks in a slower version. I was blown away by the rhythmic and syncopated dialogue between Metheny and drummer Roy Haynes. It was amazing how Roy´s ride cymbal and Pat’s lines talked to each other. 

Kurt Rosenwinkel East Coast Love Affair: This moment of jazz guitar history was a big leap in the trio tradition for me. The way Kurt approached trio playing with that huge dynamic range and also the way he combined syncopated chords and lines was incredible. And the originality of his articulation and sound. He is a  true master. 

JB:  We know that Berklee College of Music in Boston is a great school.  Tell us who you studied guitar with and what you appreciated most from your time there.

LG:  I loved it there in every way. I was obsessed with music at the time. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I studied with some great teachers. I remember Bruce Saunders and also Bret Willmot. I love his books. He was really into chord voicing and polyrhythms. I also loved all the teachers I had for composition. My major there was Jazz Composition. 

JB:  You are on a number of CDs as either a sideman or leader.  Which CD best represents your approach to jazz guitar?

LG:  My approach to the guitar has changed over the years. From my first CD Capitulo III to the last one I have participated in, I have changed and improved. Maybe the compositional aspect stays more or less the same, but my lines and improvisation principles have changed. For me, it is exciting to see my evolution and where the road leads. 

JB:  You have performed with guitarist John Stowell.  Talk about John’s impact on your playing.

LG:  It was so great to play with John. Before meeting him, I listened to some of his music and I really enjoyed watching some videos where I could see how relaxed he was. I love the incredible chord substitutions he used. He has a great time feel too.  It was a great experience to play with him.

JB:  What do you appreciate most about your main guitar and then talk about the other guitars you play?

LG:  My main guitar is a Vox Virage DC guitar (335 style). Not very common, I don’t think many of those were ever made. I play it a lot because it is very versatile. I also have a nice Strat-type “Blade” which I use a lot when playing some fusion music. I also have a Gibson ES 150 DW which I use a lot for recording, but not so much for live concerts because of feedback issues. I also love playing nylon with a Godin MultiAc and also have an Alhambra acoustic guitar which has a beautiful sound. 

Listen to Luis play in a quartet…

JB:  Tell us about the amp that you use.

LG: I use three different amp setups. First, I have an old Polytone bass amp that I love when playing standard jazz gigs.  I also have a small Ibanez valve amp TSA15 which I use for more eclectic gigs. But in the last few years, I have been experimenting with using my computer and MainStage to get new sounds, like mixing MIDI with real guitar in the same sound. It is also great because for some gigs you don’t have to be carrying an amp around and you can use the house sound system. It is usually in stereo which creates a great sound. 

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

LG:  The jazz scene in Spain has undergone significant changes in recent years. While many small clubs have opened, unfortunately, some have also closed. Nonetheless, there’s been a growing number of jazz festivals, and a good portion of them are organized by jazz musicians in their cities. I organized one such festival with a fantastic tenor player who resides in my town. The festival, known as Jazz Zubipean, takes place every August. We’re always on the lookout for exceptional musicians who happen to be available during that time.

Moreover, at present, there is a wealth of outstanding Spanish jazz musicians all over. When I returned from Berklee, it was challenging to find a double bass player or a drummer within a 200-kilometer radius.

Listen to Luis demonstrate how to solo over various chord changes…

JB:  If American guitarists wanted to do gigs in Spain, what advice would you give them?

LG: Nowadays, it is so easy to get in touch with other musicians in the area where they intend to go and reach for musicians to play with and help get some gigs. Also, we have plenty of schools that give masterclasses. People here are very nice and always willing to meet new musicians. 

More on Luis Gimenez.

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