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New Album From Jazz Guitarist And Computer Programmer, Jerome Covington



Influenced more by pianists than guitarists, Jerome Covington seeks to reflect this approach through his playing.

Photo credit above – Lena Di

JB:  You haven’t been featured in JAZZ GUITAR TODAY.  So, before I ask about the new album, tell me about yourself.  When did you start to play jazz guitar and what was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

JC:  I started playing guitar at an early age coming up through the Northern Arizona University Preparatory School classical guitar program. Fortunately, NAU also has a strong jazz studies program including youth outreach, as well as being a stopping-off point for jazz bands touring through California so I was exposed to some excellent concerts such as Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Sonny Rollins to name a few. Fast forward to my college experience at the University of North Texas and it was definitely a case of going from being a big fish in a small pond in Flagstaff, Arizona to being a moderately sized fish in an ocean with some huge whales. But I practiced hard and honed my skills as a soloist, composer, and bandleader. At that stage, it was definitely about trying to reconcile many different styles with jazz in my original music which fortunately was encouraged by the amazing faculty like Fred Hamilton, Ed Soph, and Dan Haerle. And my compositional voice was amplified by the great musicians in my bands including the amazingly special Norah Jones. Now, fast forward again to raising my family in Harlem, New York and I think every single day about the irreplaceable musicians that have passed through this neighborhood and I hope that through my small actions as a jazz guitarist, I can respect that legacy. 

JB:  Talk about how Joe Pass’ solo guitar albums have influenced you as a player.

JC:  This is going to sound sacrilegious but I don’t consider Joe Pass much in my approach to solo jazz guitar. My method is organized more around the solo playing of pianists, especially Red Garland and in particular his block chord phrases. However, from what I have gathered about Joe Pass’ approach, he always made an effort to simplify his thinking about the fretboard around what to him were some very basic shapes and patterns in an almost workmanlike way, and that is something I try to do too.

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

JC:  Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue: Has some of the most well-grounded blues-based jazz phrasing and composing that I’ve heard. Burrell supports the saxophonist on the date so well, and the rhythm section sounds great.

Grant Green – Green Street: Hands down my favorite jazz guitar trio album from that era. Green’s playing is always rooted in the blues and although it feels like he never quite knows what’s coming next, he’s always willing to go there. I think Green’s playing is the perfect balance between forethought and risk. 

Jim Hall and Ron Carter – Alone Together: There’s so much that can be said in the duo context, where things are just off balance enough without that stabilizing third element, and the two players can really explore that interplay. I’ve tried to model my tone the most off of Jim Hall and always admired his evident embrace of the more adventurous music from the classical tradition in his melodic ideas and chord voicings.

JB: Talk about your goals in recording the new solo guitar album.

JC:  To gig more! I think coming out of the pandemic years we stand at the verge of a real possible jazz renaissance. There is a big hunger for live, spontaneous, and personal entertainment and what better than jazz to feed that hunger? So, I am putting as much time in the studio as I can to chart the course for small group and solo work over the next several years or more. Crucially I grew up listening to and seeing great musical productions since my Mom directed plays in my hometown, and for that reason reinvigorating the craft of interpreting tunes instrumentally that were originally sung by influential artists on the theatrical stage is key for me. Those are all things that I had in mind when recording the album.  

JB:  You know guitarist John Stowell. Talk about John’s impact on your playing.

I actually have never performed with John, although I would love to! But he’s had a lot of impact on my playing, not necessarily stylistically but as a great sounding board for my ideas, and directionally I have benefitted enormously from his pedagogical approach, especially around organizing phrases and chord movement using the melodic minor modes. And I think anytime you see someone like John who has permitted himself to go deeply into his own personal way of playing and expressing himself through his instrument, you can’t help but be inspired to do the same.

JB:  Talk about your album Mood Frames.

JC:  Mood Frames was a very special opportunity to record some of my original music in a trio setting on a great guitar that actually was my Dad’s before he passed it on to me. It’s a Gibson L-1 flat top. Although not a super common instrument for modern jazz, when you consider that archtops were really initially a design choice made for players who were playing flat tops to get more volume in a band setting, it seemed appropriate to explore the L-1 in a band context with the amplification and mixing techniques available in the studio. Also, going back to how Robert Johnson had such an irreplaceable influence on the blues and by extension jazz and that the L-1 was his instrument, it all somehow made sense.

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

JC:  My main guitar is a custom-built instrument by Rick Canton. It’s an ergonomic headless model with a chambered body. It is extremely comfortable to play and has a surprisingly round and full tone for such a small body, although I do typically fatten up the tone a bit with an Empress ParaEQ pedal. My main amp is a Quilter 101 combo head through an extension cabinet. It’s an older amp model, which I am not sure they are even making anymore, and it uses the concept of subtractive EQ which took some time to get used to, but it actually has become very intuitive. And I think the amp sounds great.

JB:  You refer to yourself as a “student of music, computers, and life.” Talk about that a bit.

Well, if I have another passion besides music, it would definitely be programming languages and systems design, which honestly has a lot of parallels with composition and improvisation. So, although I ultimately opted to follow my higher education goals in music, I have always kept my eyes on developments in technology. And indeed, as happens in jazz probably more than it should, I am a musician who has to support myself and my family through alternate means, so I have worked professionally as a software engineer for nearly two decades by this point. And as far as the last part, it’s a bit of a private nod of the head to an experience I had as a young adult while I was taking a gap year before college. When I was playing a festival in Sedona, Arizona I was introduced on the bandstand as a “student of life”. I thought that was cute, but also true. With all of our individual goals and expectations, who of us isn’t ultimately just a student of life, at the end of the day?

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