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New JGT Interview Chicago Guitarist/Singer, Andy Pratt



Jazz Guitar Today contributor Joe Barth talks to Chicago jazz guitarist and singer, Andy Pratt

If you’re hearing swinging jazz guitar and the name Andy Pratt, it’s not the Boston-based rock musician of the same name.  This Andy grew up in the Chicago area and finds great joy in the music of the Great American Songbook.  Andy just released his newest CD entitled Trio.  I sat down to ask him about the new album.

JB:  I know you grew up in Chicago and did your college work in Cincinnati, was that the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music?  Talk briefly about what inspired you to play jazz guitar.

AP:  That’s correct. I was at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM) from 2001-2005 earning my Bachelor of Music. CCM had a wonderful jazz program with lots of inspiring faculty and students to learn from.

My move to jazz guitar was probably similar to many young and aspiring guitarists, I was learning classic rock and popular music of the day in the ’90s. Then, when I was a freshman in high school, someone played a jazz guitar record for me. It was maybe Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell, or Jim Hall and I remember thinking that it was such a unique sound and very different from the guitar music I had heard until then. I wanted to hear more, learn more about it, and see if I could play jazz on my guitar. I also played trombone during high school and college. I like to think it was helpful to play a single-note wind instrument along with the guitar. But ultimately the guitar was my instrument of choice. 

JB:  Have you always combined your singing with your guitar playing?

AP:  I experimented briefly with singing and playing while I was in college, but I ended up focusing my time on the guitar. I needed to get better at the guitar before adding something else to the mix. In 2008 I took a few voice lessons and learned how to warm up, sing certain vowels, take care of my voice, etc. From there I practiced singing with the guitar at home and started singing on my gigs and I haven’t looked back.  

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

 AP:  This is a hard one. I’ll give you a few ones that are maybe off the beaten path a bit. 

 1. Mundell Lowe – Guitar Moods (1956)

            Mundell plays some beautiful chord melodies on this record. His harmonic concept and arrangements, including at least one drop tuning, are very tasteful.  And in terms of that classic jazz guitar sound, Mundell’s got it.

2. George Benson – Tenderly (1989)

            I had a cassette tape of this when I was in high school, and I used to listen to it while driving my parents’ minivan.  George plays some great bebop guitar on the swinging numbers. His solo guitar rendition of the title track is beautiful and is also in Drop D. His tone and manner of getting the guitar up front and center, even on his vocal numbers, makes this album one of my favorites to come back to over the years. 

3. Johnny Janis – For The First Time (1956)

            I might be cheating on this one a bit, but don’t be mistaken, the guitar is in the spotlight. Johnny Janis was a Chicago jazz guitarist and vocalist who came up in the ‘50s & ‘60s and was discovered by Tony Bennett while working as a swim instructor at the YMCA. He was a contemporary of Frank D’Rone, but didn’t receive as much fame as Frank enjoyed. On this LP, Johnny sings and leads a trio of guitar, bass, & drums (no piano). There is also a violin choir on about half of the tracks and a couple of beautiful solo tracks. His comping while singing and fronting the trio is tasteful and so supportive of his vocals. He also has some neat strumming concepts on the fast numbers. I like to call the strum he does the “bobblehead groove.” If you check those tracks out, you’ll see what I mean. I don’t think I’ve heard many jazz records from the mid-fifties that showcase a guitar-led rhythm section such as this. I think it was unique for its time. 

JB:  On your new CD Trio you cover songs from the Great American Songbook. What are some of the personal musical discoveries you made working with these great songs?

            AP:  Well, I’ve been performing all the songs on Trio for quite some time. I’ve been a fan of Cole Porter’s music for years and I always thought he took a lot of risks with not only his music but his lyric writing as well. His lyrics were pretty risqué for the time when his music was introduced to his audience. Gershwin has always been a favorite. His music can always lift my spirit and mood. I started learning a bunch of Bacharach tunes about five years ago. Bassist Joe Policastro and I were attempting to put on a show of all Bacharach music. And for whatever reason, probably the pandemic, it never happened. So, I just ended up learning a lot of Burt’s tunes and have been playing them ever since. I also like to learn songs from movie soundtracks, and I wanted the trio to play a certain composition by Jerry Goldsmith. When I heard his love theme from the opening of the 1974 film Chinatown, I immediately fell in love with it. I had to learn it on the guitar and have the trio record it. 

 From a guitar point of view, I would say that Trio is definitely the album that represents and showcases my style of guitar playing the best. The lines, comping, touch, and sound are all here. I wanted to make this CD with jazz and guitar fans in mind.

JB:  Bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Phil Gratteau are a solid rhythm section.  What do you appreciate most about working with these musicians?

AP:  These guys are two of my favorites! I’ve known Joe for almost twenty years. We both went to CCM, but Joe graduated right before I moved to Cincinnati. So, we didn’t really meet up until we both lived in Chicago, around 2006. Joe cares deeply about the music he is playing, whether it’s in his own group or as a sideman. He wants the music to have the best presentation possible. He also has such a strong touch and clear sound on the bass. Everything he does is with purpose and attention. He’s a real gem and a great guy to have in your corner. Phil is actually a newer addition to my trio efforts. I have seen/heard Phil play for years with guitarist Andy Brown’s quartet (Joe also plays in this band) as well as other groups. He is a classic drummer on the scene and has played with everyone since the ‘70s. Everybody loves him and I’m lucky to have him join me on this recording. And as a unit, Phil and Joe have played and recorded together for years. So, I’m so happy to have this rhythm tour de force with me. 

JB:  What do you appreciate most about the Barker guitar you play?  

AP:  That it’s not a Gibson! I’m sort of joking of course. Gibsons are great and classic. But I do feel that I get a different sound and vibe from this guitar than all of the L5s, 175s, 335s, etc. The Barker has a solid spruce top, and it has a great acoustic sound. When I’m practicing at home, I usually don’t plug in. The pickup on the guitar is a floating DeArmond Rhythm Chief 1000 which also sounds fantastic. The Barker is a pretty versatile instrument. I use it for my singer-songwriter shows as well.

JB:  Tell us about the amp that you use.

AP:  On most of my gigs these days, I’m using a Polytone Mini Brute II (12” combo amp) from 2004. It may not be the most sexy and sought-after amp that people want, but it reliably sounds the same in most rooms and has a clear sound and I don’t end up getting feedback due to the floating Dearmond and solid top.  Other amps I use from time to time are a Silverface Fender Vibrolux and a 1950 Danelectro Deluxe. 

JB:  Tell us about one of your CDs that best represents you as a singer-songwriter.

AP:  Horizon Disrupted was the first album I put out of my original songs in 2017. I had been writing these songs for several years and wanted to get them on tape. I had the sound in my head for this album pretty much from the time I started writing the songs. I was very interested in arranging the songs with a string quartet and jazz rhythm section backing up the vocals. So, I started arranging my tune “When Did the Summer End” with that instrumentation, and then I was off to the races. I did some thoughtful research on who should engineer an album with these particular parts. So, I reached out to the great Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago, and he was available to record and mix the record. We all had a great four days in the studio, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the album turned out. And it’s a pretty jazzy record as well. There’s a Bossa-Nova, a few ballads, and even a swinger.  Some of the songs on Horizon I’ll play on my jazz gigs. The ones that have a standard feel to them work well.  

JB:  As a gigging musician, talk about the jazz scene in Chicago and the type of gigs that you do.

AP:  Chicago is a wonderful city with many talented musicians. The jazz scene here is strong and the musicians that I work with are all supportive of each other. 

I play a lot of duo and solo gigs, and a decent amount of trio gigs. I have a steady Sunday brunch gig at Hemmingway’s Bistro in Oak Park, IL where I play with the wonderful vocalist Petra Van Nuis.  I do enjoy accompanying singers and would say that is definitely one of my strong suits. I also enjoy playing in smaller combos. I feel you just get more play time in, and you generally get paid more. I love playing solo guitar as well. That along with playing in a trio is musically one of the most challenging and satisfying formats to pursue. 

But as with many jazz scenes in other cities, there’s a balancing act between playing gigs that are artistically & musically satisfying and those that pay the bills. I’ll play at the jazz clubs, bars, smaller venues, restaurants, etc. But then I’ll also play at retirement homes, country clubs, private events, etc. And really, it’s all good. As I move farther into my 40s, I continue to try and find joy in all the gigs I play. Chicago is a great place to be a working jazz musician. 

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