Thursday, May 7, 2009

I played with Earl Klugh!

Well today I am a very happy guitar player. I've never played with a better guitarist than Earl before in my life. I once played with Russell Malone but I was 16 and it didn't count! Both are great and I'm not going to make that call! Better is a designation I try to make of my present self compared to my former. I have paid a certain price for pursuing academic success and musical growth but what I was doing at 16 and what I'm doing now are different things. All in all, I'm grateful for the improvement colleges have helped to facilitate but I can honestly say that one song with Earl (after many hours of listening to and enjoying his music) was more inspirational and informative, more educational in the most practical way than most of what I learned in college. I have CWU and their faculty to thank for the opportunity to meet Earl of course and I understand that players like Earl cannot be commonplace in any college. I am just so glad I met him and heard him.

As a solo guitarist, I rate him among the very best because he so easily strikes the balance between playing chords and melodies and he has fingerings which are specific to his vocabulary and fit so perfectly in the harmonic and rhythmic structure of a piece. When you listen to Earl, you are hearing someone who has practiced at great length and loves and cares for his music. I played one tune with him at the end of his talk on life on the road, a subject he knows plenty about. His story about playing at a casino and being paid in quarter a sum which weighed 50 pounds and later fell on his foot was a laugh. So, the clock was running down and I just had to ask if I could play a tune with him, which was "All The Things You Are." I played an intro and as the form began I think asked him if he'd play the melody since he was Earl Klugh. This was odd and funny and only overshadowed in its amusement by my taking the first solo, even after he played the break. I didn't know I was doing it until it was done. I guess I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't follow Earl Klugh! Earl's playing is gracious and fluid. Rhythmically you are always comfortable and often surprised and his harmonic vocabulary is second to none. He really has ears like Bill Evans. I can't think of another guitarist with his vast repertoire of substitutions and fluid chord melody chops. Anyway, I was trying to be present in the moment and not do anything stupid when I played some wrong chords and I apologize but I guess nerves got the better of me and I should have been paying attention to the music which was beautiful and joyous to my ear. I was hearing what could be as well as what was. Someone like Earl has a lot to teach us about dedication and its rich rewards. He makes the impossible look easy and I walked away feeling like I had just made a friend. He's an incredibly kind-spirited person and a natural mentor. I listened to the playback in my car and picked out all the flaws and missteps but for what it was I could not be happier. If we didn't make mistakes we wouldn't have to learn.

I really want to transcribe more of his recordings and publish some articles on his chord melody stuff and substitutions. In other words I want to listen to more Earl Klugh and find more of his grace in my own playing and more of his kindness in my attitude. As he spoke he would often punctuate his words with a chord or two. His words and his music are coming from the same place. I wish I had more time to talk with him but I will probably have to settle for the hour and a half we had in the band room at CWU. That's where he told us about how he used to practice on the road and ask George Benson how to play stuff, which he would show him at Benson speed. He described how hearing something night after night would make an impression on you and if you were diligent in practicing you would find your way to it. I've got to play some guitar now and try to work out some of those amazing things I just heard. Today was just so good! If you ever get a chance to hear Earl, do. He and Denise were just wonderful and I feel so privileged to have met them. Music is a life long journey and a stop like this helps you remember where it is your going! Okay, enough blogging, I have to pick up a guitar now.