A significant slice of jazz guitar history will be in San Diego during the coming week at shows by a seasoned master and a young buck.
Stanley Jordan, who plays the Bacchanal on Saturday, stunned listeners with the sheer wonder of his technical skills when he came on the scene in 1984. At 29, he’s trying to alter a reputation built around his incredible dexterity and a brain capable of managing such stunts as playing separate melodies at the same time while his hands use a technique he has developed called “tapping.”
“Through the years, many people have told me that I had amazing technique and could think quickly musically, but what I really needed was to be deeper as a player,” Jordan said in a telephone interview from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I needed to be more expressive, to learn to do more with less material. You have to learn to state an idea, then leave enough time before stating another.
“Lately, what I’m doing is thinking more about the song I’m playing. I use the technique for the sake of the song, rather than the song as a vehicle for showing technique.”
Jordan’s work shows evidence of the new Stanley. A song like “Street Talk,” from his new “Flying Home” album, has the straightforward energy of the pre-"On Broadway” George Benson. As Jordan might say, there’s just enough information in his playing, instead of the overwhelming masses of ideas his nimble fingers used to pour out. His version of “Stairway to Heaven” includes some screaming rock licks from the Jimi Hendrix-Jimmy Page file, but he doesn’t sound quite at home in this early-metal mode.
Jordan acknowledges roots in rock. “When I first started playing guitar, Hendrix was God. That’s definitely there on the record.”
At the other end of the spectrum, he continues to make more traditional jazz for Blue Note. Jordan is perhaps the only jazz musician around signed to two labels: He does pure jazz albums like his two volumes of standards for Blue Note, while recording music with a more electronic pop orientation for EMI. Even though Jordan is trying for more emotion on the new album, the result is still lightweight and often dull compared with his Blue Note material. The backup musicians run through mostly predictable variations of the simple things played by many Valium jazz rhythm sections.
Still, it could still prove a useful recording if it attracts new listeners to jazz; because of such possibilities, Jordan sees hope for the future of music as a whole.
“I feel pretty strongly that popular music is going to open up a little bit. I think that the average person is going to be tolerant of more variety. We hope anybody who comes to the show will hear something different from what they normally listen to, but it will come across strong enough that they can appreciate it.”
In San Diego, he’ll play at 7 and 10 p.m. in a trio including Codaryl Moffett on percussion and Yossi Fine on bass. Tickets are $15.
Kenny Burrell, who opened a five-night gig at Elario’s last night, was a recognized jazz guitar hero before fellow Blue Note musician Jordan was even born. Beginning in the late ‘40s, he played and recorded with such masters as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane and pianist Tommy Flanagan, who just finished his own dates at Elario’s and is staying on to back Burrell.
Burrell was one of a few guitarists responsible for making the guitar something more than a rhythm instrument. In the hands of Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt and subsequent players like Burrell, it became an important melodic voice, capable of contributing singing lines of improvisation previously thought to belong only to saxophones, trumpets and other instruments typically in the front line.
Contrasted with some of today’s players, Burrell might be considered a purist, sticking to a hollow-body electric or acoustic guitar and with no use for electronic gadgetry. But he won’t pigeon-hole music into neat categories.
“I don’t like labels,” he said recently, en route to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho.
“The only thing I can say is, if you take a real good look at all the records I’ve made, you’ll see diversity. Start with ‘Guitar Forms’ on Verve, with the Gil Evans Orchestra, 1964. It was just reissued. Gil wrote most of the material, and there is lots of variety, moods and persuasions.”
Burrell’s latest record is the second from his jazz guitar band, which also includes guitarists Bobby Broom and Rodney Jones, for whom Burrell is predicting great things.
Besides Flanagan, Burrell will be backed by locals Bob Magnusson on bass and Jim Plank on drums.
SHORT RIFFS: Vic’s in La Jolla, which until recently was pushing jazz, has announced that “Disco returns with DJ Jay Perry” on Friday and Saturday nights. Joe Marillo will still play some happy hours. . . . Jazz flutist Holly Hofmann, whose new album is just out, plays San Diego City College’s “Jazz Live” concert in the college theater March 14 from 8 to 10 p.m., with a simulcast on KSDS-FM (88.3), the college’s jazz station. . . . Tonight through Saturday, the Aubrey Fay Band can be heard at the B Street Cafe in downtown San Diego. . . . Jazz in Oceanside? Visit Don’s Barbecue/The Jazz Connection on Mission Avenue, where dinner is prepared on outdoor mesquite grills while you listen to a house band featuring such musicians as Marshall Hawkins, formerly with Roberta Flack and Manhattan Transfer, and Don Harris, who once played drums with Jimi Hendrix. Hawkins is leading a free workshop for high school and college players the afternoons of March 19 and 26. For information, call the club at 722-DONS.