A Jazz Guitarist Visited My School on April 26

Jimi Hendrix picture


The legendary rock guitarist that broke past musical boundaries, to elevate his music into life using new musical technologies like the Octavia and the wah-wah guitar pedals into his hit songs “Purple Haze,” and “Fire,” is what many fans remembers him as. An influencer in his own right, Jimi Hendrix had a career that spanned over the last nine years of his life, which had set forth the path for the careers of many musicians that followed him. As stated on Mic.com, “With new effects pedals, Hendrix turned common blues riffs into cosmic dreamscapes, laying the groundwork for everyone from U2’s The Edge to Jack White. No one had ever heard a guitar cut like his on the opening of “Purple Haze” or a shimmer with a watery glow like the transcendent solo on “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be).” Hendrix’s shredding turned Bob Dylan’s folksy “All Along the Watchtower” into a high-stakes spiritual battlefield.”-Mic.com Bob Dylan and U2 aren’t the only artists that looked to Hendrix for inspiration Mary Halvorson did as well.

Mary Halvorson, a Massachusetts Native, is a songwriter and a jazz guitarist that reflected on that moment when she heard one of Hendrix’s songs “Little King,” for the very first time on the radio. She briefly played that song for us NCC students on April 26.

IMG_3520She had continued to explore the world of rock music, quickly becoming a fan of the Allman Brothers, a popular Southern a Rock Band, well known for their song “Ramblin’ Man.” This was when she had made the decision to momentarily put away her violin to take on guitar lessons. Her life was never the same after her parents gave her a guitar at the age of 12. Performing actively since 2002, she thanks jazz guitarist, saxophonist and visionary composer Anthony Braxton for helping her develop her own craft after three years of guitar lessons. Since then, she has not only appeared on six of his songs and performed with some of his bands, but has also opened up for the Melvins in 2012 and King Basso in 2014. A few other memorable moments she’s proud of was when she got to perform with Chess Smith and These Arches Chich Drummer Mike Reed’s Living by Lanterns, Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet and iconic guitarist Marc Ribot and his bands The Young Philadelphians and Sun Ship. She has appeared on 70 albums of various different artists and bands. Halvorson’s career hasn’t stopped there; she currently serves as the bandleader of her septet musical group, that’s composed of original band members, Drummer Chess Smith, and bassist John Hebert. She later added tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, trumpeter Jonathon Finlayson, trombonist Jacob Garchik to her band.

According to her own personal website, since the debut of her group in 2008, Downbeat Magazine has considered them as a rising star jazz band. Other publications like the NY Times quoted her as an improviser of sly, beguiling logic, who attacks her instrument — a hollow-bodied guitar, just slightly processed — with flinty purpose.

We listened to a glimpse of her song “Crack in the Sky,” that inevitably had some students close their eyes as they swayed their heads side to side, as they took in the soothing melody. The sound of the saxophones was very prominent in this one number that gave it a very peaceful sultry feel to it that many Jazz songs have. Even then, the 35 year old doesn’t consider herself a jazz guitarist, many people may think otherwise when they hear her songs off her 2013 album Illusionary Sea .She stated that before being given the guitar, it had taken her quite some time before she poured her heart into playing jazz music on her violin.

“At first, I didn’t like jazz, but the more I listened to the songs played by some of my dad’s favorite artists like Miles Davis and pianist Lionness Munk, the more I grew fond of them,” Halvorson said.

From that moment on she was hooked.

“I discovered all kinds of jazz, and became fixated on it and started checking out other artists. By the end of high school, I became a saxophonist,” she stated.

Following high school, she had enrolled at Wesleyan University, where she took science courses, but soon found herself not only dropping them all but changing her major to concentrate fully on her jazz studies.

 It was under his wing (Anthony Braxton), where Halvorson learned the art of free improvisation (also known as free music), which is a technique developed in the 1960’s that many jazz artists like himself and Derek Bailey played music without any rules beyond the logic or inclination of the musician(s) involved. From free improvisation came free jazz, which is an approach to the art of playing jazz music where “musicians attempted to alter, extend, or break down jazz convention, often by discarding fixed chord changes or tempos. Though the music of free jazz composers varied widely, a common feature was dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebophard bop, and modal jazz that had developed in the 1940s and 1950s,”according to Wikipedia.

What is described as avant-garde, many people consider free jazz “as an attempt to return jazz to its primitive, often religious, roots and emphasis on collective improvisation. As its name implies, free jazz cannot be defined more than loosely, as many musicians draw on free jazz concepts and idioms, and it was never completely distinct as a genre. Many free jazz musicians, notably Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, used harsh over blowing or other techniques to elicit unconventional sounds from their instruments, or played unusual instruments. Free jazz musicians created a progressive musical language, that drew on earlier styles of, jazz such as Dixieland jazz and African music. Typically this kind of music is played by small groups of musicians. The music often swings but without regular meter, and there are frequent accelerando and ritardandi.” https://en.wikipedia.org

The Brooklyn resident mentioned that while having respect for musical traditions, she doesn’t think that playing in those traditions is the type of artist that she sees herself as.

“I just don’t feel that playing in those traditions is who I am.” Rather, she says, “I try to take from them and then do something I think is different. And that can often lead to things that are a bit strange or that maybe go in a surprising direction.”

We listened to some improvisation of her music, which she noted that after a while improvisation becomes a regular thing of what you already know. Yes, it is possible to create something new, but more often than not it is a revision of an existing music. Usually when you’re improvising, you’re doing the same thing just in a different order of Sometimes you can find yourself making mistakes as you’re playing music, to which she believes isn’t always a bad thing.

“You might be in the middle of playing a melody in a certain key and accidently hit the wrong note, which you can end up continuing and create music around that,” she said.

 Her latest album, Meltframe, released in 2015 is her first solo-guitar effort. According to the Rolling Stone, her songs on this album, consists solely of interpretations of other artists’ compositions, including those of jazz giants like Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner. But the results are hardly standard: The opening track, saxophonist Oliver Nelson’s classic “Cascades,” reworks the original’s fluid horn lines into pointed, angular guitar scrambles. “That was one of my favorite records as a teenager,” Halvorson says. “But rather than do some sort of imitation of Oliver Nelson’s version, I tried to extract something out of it, maybe even just a feeling, and then put a new spin on it. In most cases, I was just thinking of the originals as a jumping-off point, really.” http://www.rollingstone.com/

Halvorson is currently writing a project for a vocalist at the moment, stay tuned for that!

Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/guitar-trailblazer-mary-halvorson-turns-jazz-on-its-head-20151124



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