Interview with Laurence Juber: Intellect provides the musical space, but soul fills it: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz guitarist Laurence Juber. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Laurence Juber: – I grew up in London and started playing guitar in November of 1963. I was already interested in music, mostly through listen to the radio – the BBC, which was very eclectic, and Radio Luxembourg, which was mostly American top 40.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?

LJ: – The guitar was the central sonority of pop music in the early 60’s. I was a fan of Hank Marvin with The Shadows. I received a guitar as a gift on my 11th birthday and have never put it down. I had a few lessons to start and then, later, took some classical guitar in school. I also studied briefly with the great British guitarist Ike Isaacs

My main focus was music itself. I was mostly self-taught and learned much from playing casual gigs – weddings etc., as well as playing in top 40 bands. While I was studying music at London University, I played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. My ultimate ambition was to make a living as a guitarist and become a studio musician.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

LJ: – I’ve always been obsessed with tone. It was a major reason I never committed to playing classical guitar – I never liked the tone I produced. The sound of great electric players, Hendrix, Clapton was more intriguing to me. I was a fan of the English ‘folk-baroque’ players like John Renbourn, as well as Django, Joe Pass, Barney Kessell etc.

Once I started to focus on solo fingerstyle acoustic playing, I began the quest for a personal sound. Playing without fingernails on steel-strings was an important first step. I’ve worked with Martin Guitars for almost twenty years to refine my instruments, drawing on traditional construction, but in a modern performance guitar.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

LJ: – I’ve had over 40 years as a studio musician. Especially in TV and movie recording, there is almost always a click track, so it’s like playing to a metronome. I’ve also played with a number of the greatest drummers, so I have that wellspring to draw on. Ultimately, it’s not about time, as much as groove.

I’m not a technician and I don’t have a routine, as such. I’m always working on new compositions and arrangements, and my practice typically involves cycling through whatever the next album repertoire is going to be, and finding ways to push myself guitaristically.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

LJ: – Thank you for your observations. The limited use of dissonance is a deliberate choice – I’m very rooted in traditional harmony. I don’t consider myself primarily a jazz/blues guitarist, although I am an improvisor. My musical sensibility is broad.

Guitar-wise, I spend a lot of time in DADGAD. That kind of altered tuning allows me to ‘orchestrate’ on the guitar, to use the impressionistic cluster voicings that I favor. There’s a guitaristic challenge involved – choosing fingerings for the sonority. Each arrangement is a study.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

LJ: – I embrace all the influences and find a way to integrate them, as appropriate. If the end result doesn’t have a musical and guitaristic coherence, then it’s not going to work.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Downtown>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

LJ: – I love that it was recorded in one afternoon at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, with Al Schmitt engineering. I wanted an ‘old school’ sound and Al is the godfather of engineers. The arrangements were worked on for over a year, so I was ready to record them all in one session.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

LJ: – Intellect provides the musical space, but soul fills it. This follows-on from your previous question: I went in the studio with arrangements, but the recording captures the performances, the spirit in the spontaneous moment.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

LJ: – It’s important to satisfy the audience. It’s also good to surprise them, so that they can discover new things. I have to satisfy myself when it comes to repertoire and the guitaristic nature of the performance. My wife Hope, who has produced many of my albums, gives me the measure of how far I can go with dissonance, reharmonization etc.

The job on stage is to be an entertainer – I play tunes from a variety of genres and eras, as well as originals. I strive to make interesting and listenable records. As an artist, I push myself musically and guitaristically, to give voice to the instrument.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

LJ: – As a Beatles fan, the period I worked with Wings was very memorable. I think of it as gaining a masters degree from ‘McCartney University.’ Recording with Ringo and George was extremely cool. For the Wings ‘Rockestra’ recording, I found myself in a guitar section with Pete Townshend, Dave Gilmore, Denny Laine and Hank Marvin – all strong influences in more formative years.

As a professional guitarist I’ve played countless studio sessions. As a composer, I’ve scored for TV, movies, video games and musical theatre. I’ve written a book (Guitar With Wings) that chronicles my history. It’s tough to isolate one or two experiences out of nearly 50 years of being a professional guitarist.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

LJ: – Jazz has its canon, just as classical and, increasingly, rock have theirs. I see a lot of teenagers who are playing jazz, but it’s generally the case that the concert audience is older. Music evolves, and jazz has always had a close relationship with popular songs. There are artists who have successfully fused jazz with other genres and moved away from the standard ‘cycle of 5ths’ repertoire. Miles Davis was doing it in the 70’s.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

LJ: – I’ll pass on the meaning of life question.… Certainly, I express my spirit through music – I think that’s the definition of being a musical artist.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

LJ: – It’s a shame that the guitar world is so ‘Balkanized.’ Jazz, Blues, Metal, Folk, Classical- there’s not much crossover or communion between players in the different styles. There’s nothing as broad-based as the Percussive Arts Society for guitarists.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

I enjoy going down the internet rabbit hole and being led from one artist, style or genre to another. So much of my listening is study-based. Learning and analyzing repertoire. It could be anything, although my background guitar listening tends to be blues. there’s always The Beatles.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

LJ: – There is a strong romantic vein in my playing, so I suppose one could say that the message is romance, in its broadest meaning – to take the listener on a mysterious journey by ‘romancing the strings.’

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

LJ: – The Renaissance, except with modern medicine and indoor plumbing……. Seriously though, I’m happy in the present. In no other era would I have had such career opportunities.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

LJ: – Happily, I live in a musical space, physically, creatively and professionally. Playing guitar, composing, arranging, recording, traveling. The new album, Downtown, represents a slice that continuum.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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