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New Album From Guitarist Jake Hertzog, Longing to Meet You



JGT contributor Joe Barth talks to Arkansas guitarist Jake Hertzog about his new album, Longing to Meet You.

Jake Hertzog can be seen playing jazz around Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Fayetteville has always been the region’s entertainment capital with its Dickson Street and Downtown Historic Square. Jake is an assistant professor of jazz studies at the University of Arkansas as well as keeping himself busy on the world music scene.

Jake Hertzog with the OZARK Jazz Philharmonic, Faulkner Performing Arts Center

JB:  You haven’t been featured in JAZZ GUITAR TODAY.  So, before I ask about the new album, tell me about yourself.  You’ve studied at Berklee College and the Manhattan School of Music. What was most helpful in your personal development as a guitarist?

JH:  The most helpful thing for me has been the important musical mentors in my life. Some of those were in formal settings like my time as a student of Mick Goodrick’s at Berklee and my time as a student with Chris Rosenberg at the Manhattan School. However on-stage mentorship was extremely influential and helpful in my development. I have always been the most enamored by performers that reach across many genres so the deepest musical mentors for me have been folks like Harvie S (bass) and Victor Jones (drums) who are rooted in jazz but fluent in so many areas of music.

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

JH:  I love this question:

 1.    The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.  This is such a quintessential jazz guitar record, it’s got everything; his style, his sound, his absolute mastery of the hard bop language; and his signature technical skills are displayed in full force.

2.    Bright Size Life (Pat Metheny).  I consider this record the beginning of the modern era of jazz guitar. There’s so much folk and rock influence on this record but in a very organic way, and I feel like all modern players are in some way descendants of this album. (Myself included, of course!)

3.    The Enemies of Energy (Kurt Rosenwinkel).  I think Kurt launched an entire school of thought around jazz guitar that reaches far beyond just guitarists, and by this record, it was very well established. I think his influence is deeply felt in contemporary guitarists across the modern jazz space.

JB:  Talk about some of your experiences of being a music director for a pop music artist.

 JH:  I had the good fortune of serving as the music Director for Nat and Alex Wolff for multiple tours in their early years. It was an amazing band, and they are so talented that even at that young age their songwriting and performance skills were evident for all to see. For me, it was a great early career experience and got me in touch with many musicians that would later become important in my journey. I’ve always had a pop side to my music and a love of writing songs and songwriters, and working with them was not only musically satisfying, but it also gave me a great start in the industry.

JB:  Talk about your experiences working with Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman.

JH:  I was super lucky to have Randy play on my album called Throwback (Zoho, 2013). It was a very special session because I ended up writing a lot of music that was specifically meant for him, and I tried to envision him almost as if he were the lead singer in a rock band. By the time we got to the studio, it was magic to hear his interpretations of what I consider very open-ended compositions. I also had the good fortune to be a student of Dave’s at the Manhattan school, where he led our class systematically through his intricate approach to Melody and Harmony. I later got to host Dave at the University of Arkansas which was a beautiful “full circle” moment for me.

JB:  Talk about your goals in recording the new album Longing to Meet You.  Was it going to be a guitar trio album then you decided to add the saxophone when you heard Matt Woroshyi?

JH:  Much of my music starts as either solo guitar or guitar trio in my head. Adding the alto saxophone was always a voice that I was interested in because it compliments the guitar so beautifully, and can also evoke such different textures than a guitar. From the very first time I heard Matt’s playing, I was a big fan and he intuitively grasped the concepts I was going for on this project. This music is very programmatic and very personal for me because it deals with the journey of my family through IVF and my wife and I wanting to have children. The goal musically, was to create a linear experience from the beginning to the end of the record that traces that emotional arc.

JB:  Bassist Perrin Grace and drummer Joe Perl are a wonderful rhythm section.  They are guys from your Manhattan School days.  What do you appreciate about them as players and are they still in New York or do you work with them in Arkansas?

JH:  Both of these players are highly in-demand performers based out of New York and have impressive performance careers. Perrin is such a joyful player and there’s so much energy that radiates from him when he plays. He listens so well that there is just a very special synergy when playing with him, and he is very good at making the bass a part of the conversation at all times. Joe is one of those incredible special drummers that can be so delicate and so sensitive, yet so powerful in the same breath. My music relies on extreme contrast, not just dynamically but also in mood and energy. Joe intuitively understands that and is able to follow me (or any performer) into those extreme spaces. I hope to bring them down to Arkansas one day soon.

JB:  You have written and performed Stringscapes: A Portrait of the World in Nylon and Steel.  Talk about this blending of the jazz and classical worlds.

JH:  With Stringscapes (Fretmonkey, 2018) I really wanted to take many of the ideas of jazz but explore them in the context of composed music without any improvisation. I had been writing a lot of music for solo guitar during that time and discovered that many of the musical ideas that interested me were not possible with one guitar but would be possible with two guitars. This project was another programmatic project for me in that all the music was based on different landscapes. Using both a nylon string guitar and a steel string guitar brought so many colors to the table for me as a composer that it almost sounds like one unique instrument. It also ended up being quite the technical challenge to perform so I really enjoyed that chance to dive deeper into technique and work on some difficult but rewarding music.

JB:  I know you have an interest in the guitar as a solo instrument in an orchestra setting.

JH:  I’m very interested in the entire range of performing as a guitarist. In the smallest most intimate setting, solo guitar, there are special and unique challenges to performing, and the importance of every note and every sound demands the ultimate technical competency. My solo guitar album Well Lit Shadow (2016) came from my interest in solo guitar, and the electric guitar as a solo concert instrument. At the other extreme, I’ve just completed composing and recording a concerto for jazz guitar and jazz philharmonic, (a big band plus strings), that will be released next year.  That project was such a special experience for me to work with so many musicians, and to try to envision my concept of the guitar in a large ensemble setting, which incidentally also resulted in a very special blend of both composed and improvised music.

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

JH:  About my guitar, an Artinger Custom, made by the luthier in West Emmaus, Pennsylvania. I love that it has a beautiful sound unaltered, and that it is able to take a lot of effects and still sound clear. As for amps, I’ve pretty much stuck to Fender amps most of my career, because I love how responsive they are. I’m a very dynamic player with a very soft touch so I always look for amplifiers that have a pronounced response to a wide range of dynamics.

JB:  You teach at the University of Arkansas.  Talk about the jazz scene in Arkansas a bit. 

JH:  I’ve been in Arkansas for seven years now, and the region I’m in, Northwest Arkansas, has a fantastic music scene that is well supported by audiences, and local organizations. I can say this because as a researcher I also study music ecosystems, and the jazz scene here is really wonderful given the population size. Northwest Arkansas is special because of its location between many larger cities and therefore we are often able to attract touring acts to perform in our region, and work with students. There is a very strong singer-songwriter and folk music influence in this area, and I enjoy that influence on the jazz scene. In fact, my next project will be jazz versions of Ozark folk songs!

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