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German Storyteller on the Guitar, Christian Eckert

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Joe Barth talks with German guitarist Christian Eckert about inspirations and influences.

In the greater Frankfurt-Mannheim, Germany area, guitarist Christian Eckert maintains a busy schedule of performing and recording jazz music. It has been said of Christian that he is a classical storyteller through the music of his improvising.

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

CE:  My parents had a Dutch friend named Charles Kosman who studied classical guitar, he fascinated me and gave me my first guitar. At first, I took classical guitar lessons, but I showed an early interest in Jazz. My parents were into the “Hippy Flower Power thing” and listened to Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and Ten Years After. Although I love my parents, I wanted to be different and chose the four records they didn’t listen to – Charlie Parker, Return To Forever, Astrid Gilberto, and Oscar Peterson. Later, my guitar teacher introduced me to Wes Montgomery, who became my idol and of course still is.

JB:  Talk about the things you appreciated most about your studies in Amsterdam and later at the New School in New York.

CE:  Being able to study jazz in a foreign country was an amazing experience. A university is a great place to meet people with the same interests, so you learn, get information, and make contacts with students and teachers. In Amsterdam, there was a great guitarist teaching, named Wim Overgaauw, who was very influential and to this day I sometimes hear young players who studied with Jesse, Maarten, or Martijn and you can still hear the impact he had. The Netherlands has a really strong jazz scene, so for Europe, it was one of the best places to study. I also had the great opportunity to study at the New School in New York, the “Mecca of Jazz.” Besides great teachers like Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Hal Galper, and Kirk Nurock, I was able to see some great young players arise in the scene like Brad Mehldau, Peter Bernstein, Mark Turner, and Kurt Rosenwinkel, so it was really amazing to listen to so much great music and learn from it.

JB:  Talk about how Jim Hall influenced you as a player.

CE:  Jim didn’t only influence me as a player, but also as a human being. l had ensemble lessons at the New School and private lessons at his place, the information I got was a bit advanced for the point I had reached in my musical career. I remember that I was quite nervous when I took my first lesson and prepared a couple of questions. One was, what was his concept for chord construction. Jim’s answer was quite short: “I lead every voice”. When walking home I was kind of disappointed because I thought he would show me some actual chord fingering, but later I got the message. The most important thing I learned from Jim was, working on things I liked about other musicians without sounding like them, and then implant these ideas into my playing.

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

CE:  The first jazz guitar album that influenced me a lot, I got gifted by my first teacher, Smokin’ At The Half Note by Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio. I listened to it for more than a year, till I could “sing” every solo, this was good for my time, phrasing, and constructing a solo.

When I heard Decoy by Miles Davis in a Bar in the south of France, it opened my mind, and I recognized that there existed something else other than straight-ahead jazz. Especially John Scofield’s solo on “That’s Right” hit me. So modern and down-to-earth at the same time. Some of the outside phrases John played made me learn all the scales and play outside. In addition, I learned a lot from his video John Scofield On Improvisation.

Another album that’s not so well known but influenced a whole generation of jazz musicians is I Wish I Knewby Chris Cheek which features Kurt Rosenwinkel. It got me back into playing standards because you can hear (at that time) young musicians playing relaxed and modern over a beautiful choice of standards like “Skylark”, “I Wish I Knew” or “Stairway To The Stars.”

JB:  Which of your albums best represents you as a player?

CE:  I think every album represents me the way I was at the time I recorded it. When I listen to early recordings, I sometimes discover things I really like but don’t play anymore, maybe it makes sense to reanimate these. I really like the trio album with Gary Versace and Matt Jorgensen that we recorded in New York in 3 hours. Some of the material got lost, but despite all that, it sounds very natural. I also love the guitar sound. It was an Epiphone Zephyr Regent, unfortunately, I sold it, which I really regret.

Watch Christian play “How Deep Is the Ocean” with guitarist Frank Kuruc…


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

CE:  John and I are with the same record label, Origin Records, so its co-owner John Bishop connected us years ago. We performed together quite often, mostly in a duo setting. I love his playing, especially his contrapuntal thinking. He’s a great listener, which makes it fun to play with him. John’s technique is quite unique, he has found his own voice. Before we played together Höfner gave me a JS Verythin, a great guitar that I believe John is playing on his beautiful album called The Banff Sessions. Later I saw a couple of videos where Jimmy Wyble played the same guitar. Jimmy is also an amazing player who brings this same contrapuntal thinking into jazz.


JB:  Reflect upon what you find so rewarding in working with singer Eva Mayerhofer.

CE:  Since I know the guitar a bit better, I love playing in small settings. Playing with a vocalist can bring the music to a very natural level. Especially with Eva, it’s really easy, she just has this great voice, so it’s easy to find a nice blending. Also, her sense of time is so strong, allowing me to play more adventurous. In addition to the musical aspects, she is a very nice person to hang with.

Watch Christian with singer Eva Mayerhofer do “I Thought About You”…


JB:  What do you appreciate most about the guitar and amp that you use?

CE:  I mainly use three instruments now, an archtop by Didi Plankenhorn that sounds and plays perfectly to me and never causes any problems on stage. The second one is quite special to me because it was built by a former student of mine, Charlotte Garthe, who became a luthier. It’s a semi-hollow body with a bolt-on neck, which makes it easier to travel with. The sound is beautiful, and it cuts nicely through the band’s sound, so I don’t have to set my volume too high. The third guitar I play is a Fender Telecaster JI, which sounds slightly warmer than normal Teles and therefore makes it perfect for Jazz.

I mainly play a custom-built amp with a Fender Deluxe Reverb circuit plus a Reverb and a Delay.

JB:  As an educator, what traps do jazz guitar students easily find themselves in?

CE:  Jazz guitar students often have a lot of theoretical knowledge besides their love for the instrument. But the biggest problems I see are in their timing and phrasing, so I often work with them on that. The funny part, when I teach workshops, is that the participants are waiting for the one piece of information that makes them sound great. However, that one piece of information doesn’t exist, it’s mostly a bundle of information but everyone needs their own individualized set … that’s what makes teaching interesting to me.


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