[JPL] Guitar vs Piano

Jim Wilke jwilke123 at comcast.net
Fri Oct 6 02:48:32 EDT 2006


I don't think it's a matter of either/or, but your questions do raise a 
few questions of their own.  First, I don't think you can be a musician 
and not have it be a major influence what you choose to play on the 
radio.  You hear music with more acutely attuned ears than a fan - but 
on the other hand a DJ who's a non-musician may be hearing music more 
as the average (non-musician) radio listener hears it.  Should the 
programmer be encouraging more understanding in depth of what's going 
on musically, or just feed the audience what it already knows and is 
familiar with?   Most of the great DJs of the past advanced their 
listeners' knowledge and appreciation of jazz and were happy to 
introduce new styles and personalities rather than dwelling on the 
past.  Personally, I think the programmer should lead the audience... 
not in a pedagogical manner, but by providing good information and  
quality new music - not merely the tried and true, the expected. The 
problem with audience research is it only tells us what the audience is 
already familiar with, not what they might be enthusiastic about if 
they heard it.

How do you estimate your listeners' response to piano or guitar as the 
principal harmonic voice in an ensemble - a few phone calls or ?   Do 
listeners actually think about or discuss musical textures with you?   
I think texture is a very important consideration for programmers in 
the overall arch of a show - it should be neither all complex, nor too 
simple - the same way an experienced musician puts together a set in a 
club.  Neither all burners nor all ballads, and a variety of solo 
features from tune to tune.  These things should also apply to jazz 
radio programming.  Sadly, individuals are increasingly excluded from 
the music selection process in many radio stations, the computer does 
it.  Unfortunately it sometimes seems like it's the right  music in the 
wrong order... the iPod shuffle effect.

Back to the piano/guitar question, as a saxophonist I worked in 
quartets with both pianists and guitarists at different times and 
personally I preferred the guitar because it was more open and gave me, 
the horn player more choices because it provided less harmonic texture. 
  My model at the time was the Hal McKusick Quartet with Barry 
Galbraith, and later the Paul Desmond Quartet with Ed Bickert and the 
Sonny Rollins Quartet with Jim Hall.  Think of Desmond with Brubeck, 
and Desmond with Bickert and you get a great example of the contrast. 
Personally, I love the airy feeling with the guitar backing the horn 
with fewer chords.  I know there are some singers who feel the same 
way.  None of this should be taken as dismissive of the role of piano 
in jazz - that's a ridiculous thing to suggest (some of my best 
friends... yadayada). I think guitar and piano together is more 
problematic because there's more likelihood of harmonic clashes unless 
each plays way less when the other solos, but it's a nice combination 
when it works.

I'm listening to the Patitucci CD as I write this. I love the writing 
for string quartet, one that really jumped out at me was the Theme & 
Variations for 6 String Bass and Strings - with no drums.  Now, this 
may be heresy in this particular company, but I don't believe drums are 
necessary in every jazz ensemble, nor in every tune played by a jazz 
group that includes a drummer. Some of my favorite drummers know when 
to lay out - completely - for part or even all of a tune.

I've really enjoyed a lot of duos and trios without drums beginning 
with the King Cole Trio, the first Oscar Peterson Trio, the Jimmy 
Giuffre 3 with Jim Hall and Ralph Peña, up to last Tuesday night when I 
listened to Bucky and John Pizzarelli playing at Jazz Alley as a guitar 
duo - no lack of swing there, and it was very satisfying musically.  
Recent drummer-less CDs by Jiggs Whigham & Wolfgang Köhler, Rich Perry 
& Harold Danko, and others provide a great sound and "feel" without a 
sounded beat from a drummer.  I've seen audiences drawn in to groups 
like these because they hear subtleties and textures more clearly when 
not masked by the ride cymbal, hi hat and snare.   I think drummer-less 
groups sound especially good in a small cafe or bar.

Please don't take this personally, Jae - I love drummers like Ed 
Thigpen, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Brian Blade to name just a few 
examples.  But just as not every tenor player is another Coltrane, not 
every drummer makes a positive addition to the group he/she is playing 
in and there have been some undeniably wonderful groups that included a 
guitar but no drums at all.

Thanks for allowing anyone to jump in on this.

Jim Wilke
Jazz After Hours, PRI

On Thursday, October 5, 2006, at 02:37  PM, Jae Sinnett wrote:

> I have perhaps an odd couple of questions......but I'll set it up with 
> somewhat of an explanation. As a musician I've always appreciated the 
> interesting harmonic avenues jazz explores. In fact I'm fascinated 
> with it. From a chordal perspective it sort of doesn't matter if it's 
> piano or guitar but I do have a preference for the piano. I've started 
> noticing in radio.....the listening audience does as well. Something 
> about....lets say the quartet with horn, guitar, bass and drums. Many 
> seem to have problems with the "textural" part of this set up. It's a 
> different "hear" for sure without the piano.
>   While both the guitar and piano can create interesting harmonic 
> textures the piano has more of a favorable response from listeners - 
> on the radio. This could have something to do with the comping 
> differences the piano can bring to the music. Like being able to play 
> a line and comp with it but some will say the guitar works better with 
> the horn. There's also more harmonic choices you can make on the piano 
> at any given time. The guitar seems to work better WITH piano or organ 
> or solo and interestingly enough....in the trio setting with bass and 
> drums - with listeners. With the horn though - sax, trumpet, etc. - 
> its textual significance seems to change.
>   I'm curious if others hear it this way or how you hear this set up 
> and if you notice a similar response from your listeners?  I realize 
> this gets somewhat into the musical realm of discussion but I think 
> anyone can jump in on this. I would also like to know the musicians 
> perspective on this - instrumental and vocal. The vocal thing always 
> intrigued me and how they intrepret singing with guitar or piano. Ella 
> loved singing with Joe Pass. What do singers hear differently when 
> working with guitar players vs pianist and visa versa? I had some 
> interesting conversations with some listeners and musicians recently 
> about this. Actually just had a great conversation with Anton Schwartz 
> and he shared some informative thoughts from the perspective of the 
> saxophone with guitar. I've always thought about this but what 
> triggered this thinking this time was the new Patitucci release with 
> Adam Rogers and Chris Potter.
>   Jae Sinnett

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