Acoustic 12 String Guitar

Way back in the early 1960s the first 12 String Guitar music I remember hearing was on the recordings by Leadbelly (Huddie William Ledbetter, 1888 –  1949). He was  an American Negro folk musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing and his powerful use of the 12-string guitar. His popular performances  predated the folk revival of the 1960s but  his recordings were staples of the era. In 1988 he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The first live performance of 12 String Guitar I witnessed was by Pete Seeger on his 1963-64 Australian tour. Pete walked onto the Stage at Sydney University with a a banjo in one hand and a 12 String Guitar in the other. He then proceeded to give a spell binding concert that is still imprinted on my brain. Included in the performance was his classic tune  Living in the Country.

During the classic rock and folk era of the 1970s the acoustic and electric 12 String Guitars were pretty well staples on the music scene.There were plenty of 12 String   players in that era but perhaps the most notable was the  singer / song writer Leo Kottke. He had a great voice and powerful driving finger picking style that was reminiscent of the classic country blues style. With the use of a slide he added a new twist to the classic techniques. Here are some Youtube videos of Leo.

Although there are a lot of clips of Leo’s  performances on YouTube the quality of the videos is mostly subpar. However the music and the humor are, as always, excellent.

Over the years the unique sound of the instrument has somewhat faded from the scene to be replaced by 12 String Guitars that sounds just like a a regular 6 String Guitar with just 6 extras strings. Musicians seem to have decided to abandon traditional low tunings to stick with the standard  guitar tuning.To my ear the thundering rhythms and bass runs seem to be missing.

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Of course there is always one in every pack. Some one who is just so different that he or she completely defies tradition and standard practice and ends up in a category all by themselves.  12 string guitar players are no different and the man completely outside the box is the jazz guitarist Ralph Towner.

 

Ralph confesses “I am a piano player who plays guitar”. He started on piano as a young child and was a serious trumpet player growing up. He didn’t tackle the fretboard until his final year at the University of Oregon, when he began playing classical guitar as part of his composition studies. “I somehow managed to buy one for almost nothing,” he told All About Jazz’s Mario Calvitti in 2017. “I started to teach myself and I realized I was not gonna go very far.”

After college, Towner scraped together the money to study with Karl Scheidt in Vienna. He set aside horn, keyboard, and jazz and spent a year focusing on his new instrument. “The classical technique got the most sound, the most colors and articulation,” he said later. “When I studied the classical guitar, all I played was classical music and I tried to stay away from improvising.”

A return to the U.S. did bring a return to jazz and improvisation—only it was on the piano, where he found a foothold in the NYC jazz scene. But the division between classical guitar and jazz keys crumbled in the 1970s as Towner co-founded the band Oregon and began collaborating with the likes of Weather Report, Gary Burton, Paul Winter, and his frequent artistic partner John Abercrombie. Besides the classical guitar, he would eventually bring 12-string and baritone guitars into his unconventional arsenal—additions that make a certain sense, as both instrument types have wide necks and fingerboards, closer to classical models than a standard steel-string acoustic.

“Towner didn’t have guitar players as role models for his unique style of guitar improvisation,” biographer B. Kimberly Taylor says. “The influence of Bill Evans was channeled through the medium of guitar instead of piano, and Towner [plays] the guitar in a ‘pianistic’ manner, almost transcending the instrument in a way that makes it sound like a small orchestra.” ……… 

Ralph has a completely unique sound and approach to the 12 String Guitar. While some of that is due to his background in Jazz and Classical music it is possibly his tuning system for the 12 String Guitar that give him his unique sound. His guitar is tuned CG / EbG / BbC / FD / AG / DD. Here is a clip explaining the tuning he uses.

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For many years I never had any real urge to take up 12 String Guitar. As an instrument it just appeared to be too difficult to play. In 1999 Jamie Wiens, a local luthier built me a wonderful small body  Auditorium  6 String Guitar. He followed that up with a custom Cittern that, through no real fault of Jamie, was not quite so successful. It was a first for both of us.He had to figure out how to build it and I had to figure out how to tune it and play it. The instrument has a wonderful sound and unbelievable sustain but over the years the long scale neck made it difficult for me to continue using it as my main instrument. I switched to a smaller scale instrument built by Lawrence Nyberg on Hornby Island. Mean while, Jamie had some nice Koa and spruce tone woods available and he persuaded me to commission him to build a 12 String Guitar. The result was a one-of-a-kind instrument that is absolutely magnificent. The instrument is a masterpiece but as a life experience the building process was horrendously bad. Jamie took eight years to complete the project and by the end we were no longer friends.

         

To complete the sonic possibilities my friend Dave Carlson installed a dual K&K contact pickup.  So with this magnificent guitar in hand how was I going to tune it to get a classic 12 String Sound? Shawn Robertson is a 12 String Guitarist in Kimberley who suggested that I try Leo Kottke’s C9 tuning. That is C G C G C D (low to high) with octave strings on the lower courses and unison strings on the top two courses. It turned out to be a great tuning and thanks to Jamie’s workmanship this guitar was easier to play than most 6 string instruments that I had experienced. It didn’t quite get the big 12 string sound I was hoping for but there were other musical attributes of the C9 tuning that more than made up for some  lost expectations. When exploring new tunes Jamie’s 12 String Guitar in a C9 tuning is my go to instrument. It is very easy to play finger style in the keys of C, G, F, Dmin, Bb, and C minor Dorian without the use of a capo. Of course with a capo playing in all keys is possible..

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Back to the Future: Despite the overwhelming success of the C9 experiment the thunderous old time sounds still haunt  me. Is it the instrument? Is it the tuning? Is it my poor technique? A little research turned up some answers. Pete Seeger plays his Living in the Country in a dropped D tuning. Keith Potgers probably uses the dropped D tuning to great effect in in the Folk band The Seekers. It is probably part of the solution but not the complete answer. Further research revealed that Blind Willie McTell tuned his 12 String Guitar down to Dropped C or even even down to Dropped B. Going to these lower tuning can pose some problems with the required  heavier strings and some guitars can become unplayable when tuned that low.

The dropped C tuning is C G C F A E. It is very close the the C9 tuning but has the advantage of the availability of  familiar chord shapes. Just use the dropped D shapes to end up playing in the key of C, etc. If the guitar can stand it and the string gauges are suitable it is possible to drop all the strings down even another semitone or whole tone to get more bass.

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THE GUITARS:

THE STELLA 12-STRING GUITAR. This was the instrument favored by the classic blues artists such as Leadbelly and Blind Willie Mctell. It is described as a “Jumbo bodied Flat Topped guitar” with a tailpiece and a bridge glued to the top of the guitar. Generally most acoustic 6 string guitars have a scale length 24.75″ to 25.5″. The Stella’s have a very long length scale length of 26.5′”. That’s not the only difference. Luthiers chase three adjectives when sculpting acoustic guitar tops: dry, stiff and lightweight. Stiffness without lightness means a heavy, thick top that doesn’t reverberate. A light top that isn’t stiff means loose, flabby tone with blurred note definition. To get the perfect mix, luthiers often use very thin tops for reverberation and a series of braces to provide stiffness for definition. These braces also provide structural integrity to hold fast against the stress that string tension puts on a guitar body. The layout and precision of these braces influence a guitar’s character in a big way. Here’s a look at two historical approaches.

The Ladder Brace and the Fan or X Brace

 

Ladder Bracing | More Treble, More Air

The X-brace is what we now consider to be the standard top-bracing pattern on flat top guitars. But when you go back far enough into the history of acoustic guitar manufacturing, you would come across a period in which the Ladder-braced guitar was king. In the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, a majority of the flattop acoustic guitars being produced during this period featured ladder bracing. Many of these “budget” instruments, including the Stellas would go on to become the defining sound of countless blues, folk, and country musicians of the era.  In low tunings the Stellas were big robust instruments with a big rumbling sound with lots of bass

Here are a couple of images of a restored 1929 Stella 12-string guitar…..

 

Most modern guitar manufacturers have 12 String models available. Ralph Towner plays a Guild; Keith Potgers (The Seekers) plays a marvelous Maton EM100C; Taylor guitars has been used by Leo Kottke and is a very popular model. An outstanding, if unusual, instrument is the Godin A-12. It is a slim line guitar with a reputation for outstanding electronics and ease of playing.

A few years ago they were priced under $1,000 but, unfortunately, they are now listed at $1,600 (sigh).

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Postscript:  Serious musicians all travel a road of exploration and discovery.

Jamie Neve: A local musician who has traveled one such road. Here is his 12 String Guitar story………

“I began my journey with 12 string guitars in early 1972 with a Framus. It was a heavy piece of lumber with a rather heavy top made of plywood and a wide neck. Hence it was lucky I was young with a strong left hand but its voice was a bit dull and a challenge to be nimble on the neck. So the guitar left my collection. Fast forward to the mid 90’s and an improvement in my economic circumstances and the purchase of  slope shoulder sitka topped Larrivee. It was a huge step up, nice warm sound, but with some jangle. It also had a good quality Fishman pickup and preamp and worked well in the live situation. Again the neck was not quite right for my hand. But a nearby friend found it perfect so aaway she went.

But then I was in a music store in  Kelowna and enter a used  Alvarez AJ60 S. A unique jumbo with a solid Maple top, back and sides. I snapped it up. Now she is 25 years young. Luthiers would call it a bargain guitar. I call it a dream to play even up neck with a very true lie so no annoying buzzes. Paired with the Fishman. 4 band Tranducer and phase control it has a rich full spectrum sound. In all aspects a quality build from Korea.

As things go a band I formed with local mates led us down the rabbit hole of The Beatles and Byrds tunes with 12 string guitar. Enter a Danelectro Vintage 12 string – a rival to the Ricki and all other semi-hollow body electrics. Another easy to play gitfiddle with tons of tone management options that sounds great paired with the MXR Dyna Comp compressor.  Enter a tune up by local luthier Jamie Weins and string reordering flipping thin for fat on the lower 3 and what a dream to play.This guitar stands out on songs like My Back Pages and  Mr. Tamborine Man.

All in all 12 strings occupy a big space in my musical repertoire but they require a real commitment to practice that is for certain.

Play On ”

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Me and my 12 String(s) – Dave Prinn.  Another local musician who has also traveled a 12-String Guitar road.

Like the blogster Mr. Wilson, my first live exposure to a 12 string was also with Pete Seeger.  My experience though was in 1960 at Place des Arts in Montreal when Pete was leading The Weavers.  My mother told me I did not manage to stay awake through the entire concert, but I have had a soft spot for the full spectrum ringing of a 12 string guitar ever since.

My first 12 string guitar was an Ovation Glen Campbell model purchased through a music store in Calgary in 1972.  It was a high end special order that has a nightmare story attached.  I will perhaps relay that story in a different chapter of this blog. The guitar arrived nearly two years after I had paid for it, and although it sounded wonderful, I was young and did not quite understand the delicacies of wood or how a fine guitar needed to be treated.  The guitar traveled in the back of my truck and endured a tortuous three year existence until the top began to bulge behind the bridge from a lack of humidification.  The guitar never made it back to my hands from the repair shop – as I was handing it to the technician behind the counter, I beheld a 1974 Martin HD 28 Ambertone, and it was lust at first sight.  They took the Ovation as a trade-in and I left the shop a very happy young man.

A couple of decades later and an entry level mandolin was traded for an Takamine 11 string of unknown vintage that was covered in dust.  It too had a Fishman 4 band EQ and it sounded amazing – especially in “Drop-D” tuning.  Unfortunately, the neck had the feel of a smooth 2 x 4, and the guitar did not get played very often or for very long.  It was eventually sold to a gentleman who had a hand apparently shaped like a 2 x 4.  He loves the guitar.

Another couple of decades disappear and I am in the home of Mr. J. Neve (see article above) and he offers me a Larrivee 12 string to strum.  Nothing flashy, but Sitka Spruce top and rosewood sides and back.  To my hand the neck fit like a glove and to my ear – perfection.  I told Mr. Neve that if he ever decided to sell it, I would like to be at the top of the call list.  A year or so later I learned that he had sold it to the wife of a long time friend to be given as a birthday present.  Although I understood the “why”, I still expressed my disappointment to a mutual friend. When he advised me that he had the identical guitar for sale I jumped, and the 12-string that I had so enjoyed playing was mine.  I added a vintage “Big Tone” piezo under-saddle pick up and although a passive pick-up, the guitar has more gain than any other guitar in my collection.

I too dropped into the Byrds repertoire and learned the Roger McGuinn 12-string break in “Turn Turn Turn”, as well as Dylan’s “Mr. Tambouring Man.  I have yet to explore the tunings less traveled.  The 12 string is a guitar with a magical voice that add a depth to many genres of music.

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“Plucking” Instruments – pun intended

Conventional wisdom has it that guitars are a certain shape, have six strings and generally tuned EADGBE (low to high). That is, by and large true but it is not set in concrete. The Arab Oud, the grand daddy of all guitar like instruments is a pear shaped, round back instrument with eleven strings and comes with a number of tuning systems (Arab, Syrian, Turkish etc). The Lute is the first European descendant of the Oud and it maintained the pear shape and the round back and also came in a number of string configurations and tunings. The first recognizable guitar shape was the Spanish Vihuela followed by the Renaissance Guitar, the Baroque Guitar, the Spanish Guitar and in the mid- twentieth century the solid body electric guitar. Modern Luthiers are constantly tinkering with the fundamental construction techniques and the string configuration of the modern guitar. Everything from types of wood, plastics, composite materials, strings and tuning systems are up for grabs. Here is a video that briefly outlines the mainstream history of the modern guitar………

followed by a number of YouTube videos with more details………..

This description and analysis of right hand “thumb under” and “thumb out”  techniques used on the Renaissance Lute are very interesting when compared to modern classical guitar and finger picking folk styles of modern times . To a modern player the “thumb under” techniques would be considered awkward.

 

These configurations and variations that were involved in the mainstream development of the modern guitar are not the only possibilities that were explored over the centuries. There many interesting little side streams and eddies in the realms of folk music. One of the most interesting is the Portuguese Guitarra.

This is a six course flat backed  lute like instrument that appears to have resulted from the importation and modification of the English lute or English Guitar into Portugal. That probably occurred around the time of Elizabeth I or later (This is supposition on my part). Physically the instrument features a unique peghead  and tuning devices. Modern performers use a type of “thumb under” right hand technique aided by the use of attached thumb and finger picks. The instrument is the mainstay of the Portuguese Fado  and as such seems to continue the melancholic traditions of Elizabethan English lute music.

Amongst the folkloric instruments there are the Cavaquino, the Ukulele, the Cuban Tiple and Tres; The Mexican Guitarron and Mexican Vihuela; The Andean Charango; The Russian Seven String Guitar; The Brazilian Seven String Guitar and, of course the modern 12 String Folk Guitar and Electric guitars. The list does not end there. Any exploration of ethnic music is likely turn up many similar  guitar like instruments. As mentioned earlier, even In the Classical Guitar world Luthiers are constantly experimenting with ways to extend the range and tonal possibilities of the instrument by adding more strings and tuning possibilities.

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Torn Screen Door

Canada has a strong tradition of Singer / Songwriters. Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, Ian and Sylvia, Murray McLauglin, James Keelaghan, Fred Eaglesmith, and Ron Hynes are just few that can be mentioned. If he isn’t already there then  David Francy  should be added to the list . He is the recipient of three Juno Awards and three Canadian Folk Music awards.  Francey was born in Ayrshire, Scotland  in 1954 and immigrated to Canada with his family at age 12. In his selection of subject material, use of language, imagery and melody he demonstrates evidence of his Scottish heritage, all the while he is telling Canadian stories.  He has worked as a rail yard worker and a carpenter for 20 years and , of course,  this has informed his music. At age 45, he began a career in folk music, finding success on the folk festival circuit. His debut album, Torn Screen Door, was released in 1999. The title track of Torn Screen Door is a fine narrative song that Francy delivered in an unaccompanied “hands in the pocket” style that pretty well set the pattern for the numerous cover versions that are out there.

In much the same way the Australian Celtic group Co-cheòl offers an unaccompanied version.

Similarly, the Canadian Folk / Harmony  group  The Good Lovelies,  consisting of Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore perform the song in an accompanied  style.

Canadian, and Australian songs, have a habit of crossing the water to Scotland and Ireland. I once heard Stan Roger’s song Field Behind the Plough over the PA system in a shop in Dublin. As time goes by good songs have a habit of evolving, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here is a version by the Irish Singer Ger O’Donnell. The tempo has been stepped up with some driving instrumental accompaniments on guitar and Irish Bouzouki.This would be my favorite version. I don’t know the name of the Irish Bouzouki player.

Last, but not least the Irish / Scottish / German Celtic band CARA gives the song the full on driving Celtic treatment with Button accordion, flute, fiddle, bodhran, guitar and Uilleann pipes.

There you have it. Torn Screen Door in various shades of Canadian Green.

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Post Script: David Francy’s disography

  • Torn Screen Door (1999)
  • Far End of Summer (2001)
  • Skating Rink (2003)
  • The Waking Hour (2004) with Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin
  • The First Set (2006)
  • Carols for a Christmas Eve (2006)
  • Right of Passage (2007)
  • Seaway (2009)[6]
  • Late Edition (2011)[1]
  • So Say We All (2013)
  • Empty Train (2016)
  • The Broken Heart of Everything (2018)[7][8]

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Unusual Musical Instruments – The Haken Continuum

Specifications and Description: The Continuum Fingerboard or Haken Continuum is a music performance controller and synesizer developed by Lippold Haken, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois, and sold by Haken Audio, located in Champaign Illinois.This a a modern electronic instrument initially developed between 1983 and 1998. It features a touch-sensitive neoprene playing surface measuring approximately 19 centimetres (7.5 in) high by either 137 centimetres (54 in) long for a full-size instrument, or 72 centimetres (28 in) long for a half-size instrument. The surface allows a pitch range of 9350 cents (about 7.79 octaves) for the full-size instrument, and 4610 cents (about 3.84 octaves) for the half-size instrument. The instrument has a response time of 0.33 ms. was initially developed from 1983 to 1998

Sensors under the playing surface respond to finger position and pressure in three dimensions and provide pitch resolution of one-tenth cent along the length of the scale (the X dimension), allowing essentially continuous pitch control for portamento effects and notes that are not in the chromatic scale, and allowing for the application of vibrato or pitch bend to a note. A software “rounding” feature enables pitch to be quantized to the notes of a traditional equal-tempered scale, just scale or other scale to facilitate in-tune performance, with the amount and duration of the “rounding” controllable in real time.

The Continuum also provides two additional parameters for the sound: it is able to transmit the finger pressure on the board as a MIDI value, as well as the finger’s vertical position on the key. These parameters are independently programmable; a standard configuration is where position on the X-Axis (lengthwise) on the instrument corresponds to pitch, position on the Y-Axis (widthwise) corresponds to a timbre shift, and position on the Z-Axis (vertically) corresponds to a change in amplitude. The Continuum is capable of polyphonic performance, with up to 16 simultaneous voices. Each recent revision has brought more features and sound diversity to the internal synthesizer in the Continuum Fingerboard. As such, the instrument can now be considered both a controller and a stand-alone instrument.

I became aware of the instrument when I stumbled on the following YouTube video of the Berklee Indian Ensemble. To my ear the sound is very much like the traditional Indian Veena and I can see (hear) that its use in traditional Traditional North Indian Classical music would not require much of a leap.

Over the last twenty years the instrument has found a place with  a  number of contemporary composers and is featured in a significant number of film and TV scores (including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

They are pretty pricey so don’t go looking for one in your local music store.

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YouTube Picks (#39) – Celtic Stories

Songs. There are millions of songs out there. There are songs of love and songs of angst. There are political songs and protest songs. Nostalgic songs, songs of humor,  songs of homesickness, confessional songs and songs about every imaginable  nuance of the human condition. For me the most successful songs are those that tell a story and, in my opinion, the most successful songs and song writers are the ones that tell memorable stories. I call them narrative songs and here are a couple of examples. These two performers are musicians of exceptional talent in the Celtic tradition. The accompanying instrument is the Irish Bouzouki. This instrument is a relative newcomer to traditional Irish Music scene. Irish musicians traveling in Easter Europe in the mid sixties became enamored with the Greek Bouzouki and  music from the Balkans. The instrument, and elements of Balkan music, started showing up on the traditional scene. To accommodate the local demand British and Irish Luthiers turned their hand to building instruments and in doing so they made changes to the Greek instrument by building them with a flat back and experimenting with the tuning systems. What emerged at the end of this process was the Irish Bouzouki. Andy Irvine is one of the legends of modern traditional Irish music and was  one of the first traditionally inspired musicians to adopt the Irish Bouzouki. Fortunately for us here in Cranbrook we got to hear Andy perform at the Studio Stage Door way back in the 1990s. The Close Shave is a reworking of one of those traditional songs that relates the misadventures of sailor home from the sea and out on the town.

Daoiri Farrell  is one of the younger musicians that has vitalized the modern Irish music scene. He spent ten years working as an electrician before deciding to pursue his interest in music full-time. He returned to education to gain a Ceoltóir Diploma in Irish Music Performance at Ballfermot College. During this time he released his first album The First Turn in 2009. Farrell continued in education with studies in Applied Music at Dundalk’s Institute of Technology followed followed by an MA in Music Performance at the World Academy of Music in the University of Limerick.

After completing his MA, he returned to touring and recording. He won the All Ireland Champion Singer award at the 2013 Feadh Cheoil. Since 2013, Farrell has also toured as part of the group Four Winds. In 2015, the group won the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections and released their debut album.

In both of these songs the Bouzouki adds a flavor to the music that is unavailable with conventional guitar accompaniments. The rhythm is bouncy and driving and there is lots of neat cross picking and counter melodies.

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Clive Carroll – Musician

Every father dreads the day his beautiful number one daughter mentions that she is dating a musician. Of course daddy translates that into a vision of an unemployable youth with attitude, tattoos and enough rings and piercings to set off a metal detector at the local airport. So when the “meet and greet the family” day finally comes around  and the young man turns out to look “normal” and has a  musical vocabulary greater than three chords then you can hear a sigh of relief that goes almost all the way around the world. If the guest of honor should prove to be Clive Carroll then all daddy’s prayers will have been answered.

Who is Clive Carroll? He is a normal looking guy who plays acoustic guitar at a level that  most of us can only hope to attain in our dreams. He is one of the very few guitarists equally adept at playing either steel string or nylon strung instruments and has a repertoire that crosses all genres.

About - CLIVE CARROLL

“Born in England in 1975, Clive began his musical journey in Chelmsford, Essex.  His parents had a taste for American country and old time music and it wasn’t long before Clive was playing in the family band on a homemade banjo.  By his early teens, guitar in hand, Clive was traversing the worlds of soul, pop, funk, and traditional Irish music, balancing his affinity for Slayer with the etudes of Tárrega.  This breadth of musical curiosity was to become one of his strengths; even as a child Clive was as comfortable accompanying a group of folk singers as he was jamming along to Nirvana or performing standards with the Essex Youth Orchestra.

Clive went on to earn a 1st Class Honors Degree in Composition and Guitar from the famed Trinity College of Music in London, all the while balancing his classical work with forays into the world of the steel string guitar.  By the time he graduated from Trinity, Clive had not only penned orchestral works, he had written an album’s worth of solo acoustic guitar music.  A chance meeting with English guitar legend John Renbourn proved the catalyst for Clive’s debut album, “Sixth Sense”, which Renbourn deemed “a milestone in the journey of the steel-string guitar”.  He subsequently took Clive on the road with him and the pair toured North America and Europe together, launching Clive’s solo performing career.
Since then, Clive has established himself as one of the world’s premier acoustic guitar players.  He has toured across Europe, Australia, the Middle East and North America, garnering praise for his sublime performances of everything from 16th and 17th century lute music to Jazz standards, Blues, Irish reels and his own groundbreaking compositions.  Lauded guitarist Tommy Emmanuel has also taken Clive on the road, and similar nods to Clive’s musicianship have been given by everyone from classical guitarist John Williams to Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Michelin award-winning chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and the Sultanate of Oman.
To date, Clive has released four solo albums; “Sixth Sense”, “The Red Guitar” (which Tommy Emmanuel cites as one of his desert island discs!), “Life in Color” and “The Furthest Tree”.  Clive has also written music for television and film, most notably composing the music for the film “Driving Lessons”, which features Julie Walters and Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame.
Clive newest CD, “The Furthest Tree”, was released in May 2016 and is already being hailed as some of his finest work to date.”  ———- from Clive Carroll’s website.

I first became aware of his music when I came across a video performance included in one of Roger Bucknall’s FYLDE NEWSLETTER (check it out on the web). For those who don’t know, Roger is one of Britain’s top Luthiers. He builds magnificent acoustic instruments played by some of the world’s top acoustic musicians.

So to spread the word of Clive’s musical brilliance I am including a number of his performances, interviews and tutorials in this blog.

This is an interview where he recalls the guitar playing of the British folk guitarist John Renbourn.

Another interview talking about tunings ……….

Some Celtic grooves……..

Mississippi Blues ……..  Clive has a number of versions of this tune on YouTube and each one is different. He complains that on this version it gets a little muddy in  places (???). He’s got to be kidding, right?

Pop music  workshop …….. And I love Her So…… a Pat Metheny arrangement.This is so pretty ……..

The Abbott’s Hymn and In the Deep (John Renbourn)

An original piece Eliza’s Eyes using the C9 tuning CGCGCD (parts 1 and 2)

 

Country piece …….. a la Jerry Reed

Brazilian (nylon string) – Luis Bonfa’s classic Uma Prece. This is Clive’s transcription from the original recording and he more than nails it. I am very familiar with the original recording and Clive outshines the original.

And now for some classical music on steel strings .……..

And now from the classical guitar repertoire …. 5 Preludes by the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. I doubt there is another “steel string folk guitarist” who could pull this off as well as Clive.

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Ever since I heard the English guitarist  Martin Simpson play at the Stage Door in Cranbrook so many, many years ago Martin has been my number one inspiration for playing the guitar and the exploration of folk music. I know a lot of musicians do not care for his singing but I believe he comes closest to achieving an authentic folk feel. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity he explores it always comes out being very real. As for guitar playing his technique is unbelievably clean and he has a sound to die for. Well, in the acoustic guitar department Martin will just have to move over a little and make room for Clive Carroll. I have included probably too many examples of what he has to offer and I know it’s a lot to digest but he is such a fabulous player with such an unbelievable sound it is well worth the effort to explore his world.

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Julian Bream, passed away on 14th August 2020.

For the greater part of the 20th Century the Spanish musician Andres Segovia was the undisputed maestro of the Classical Guitar. Many professional classical guitarists of today were students of Segovia, or students of his students. Segovia died in 1987 at the age of 94. “The final two decades of Andres Segovia long life coincided with many developments in the contemporary repertoire and a sense of change generally in the structure of guitar recitals. In particular the influence of the Early Music movement, at the peak of its progress in the 1970s and 80s, made it rather unfashionable to perform music of the vihuela or baroque guitar eras, let alone music for the renaissance lute, on the modern guitar. Many players began to perform recitals on vihuelas, actual or reproduction baroque guitars, and Panormos. Lute virtuosity, whether renaissance or baroque, hitherto rare, became an available commodity, including continuo and accompanying skills.”  Also there was a new repertoire developing with “compositions by Tippett, Henze, Carter, Brouwer, Reich, Takemitsu, Koshkin, Nobre, Rak, etc, brought about a new aural landscape and unprecedented perspectives for recitalists. In concerts performers jettisoned the chronological approach ranging from the Renaissance to the present day, and shaped their presentation differently, often, like pianists, preferring one or two large works in each half rather than a packed programme of shorter items racing across the spectrum of styles.”

Coincidental with the final decades of Segovia’s life Julian Bream, John Williams, and Alirio Diaz  rose to prominence. Segovia was a magnificent presence in the Classical Guitar world but each of the guitarists mentioned emerged from Segovia’s influence and  managed to carve out his own particular niche in that very select world of classical guitar. While Segovia enlarge the repertoire for the instrument it is undeniable that his tonal palette was decidedly Spanish.

Alirio Diaz was a Venezuelan musician and as such his repertoire contained a significant number of works by the South American composers Augustin Barrios and Antonio Laurio. His tonal palette was brighter and more aggressive than his teacher Segovia.

John Willams was a flawless technician with a vast standard classical repertoire but he also  experimented with more “modern” sounds. Perhaps he was a more cosmopolitan musician than his contemporaries.

Julian Bream, on the other hand was decidedly English and, maybe to prove a point, he was a champion of the Elizabethan Lute and the music of John Dowland. “Bream’s recitals were wide-ranging, including transcriptions from the 17th century, many pieces by Bach arranged for guitar, popular Spanish pieces, and contemporary music, for much of which he was the inspiration. He stated that he was influenced by the styles of Andres Segovia and Francisco Tarega. Bream had some “sessions” with Segovia but did not actually study with him. Segovia provided a personal endorsement and scholarship request to assist Bream in taking further formal music studies. Segovia predominantly associated his guitar skills to music compatible with the guitar’s Spanish and Latin roots. Julian Bream’s style expanded the use of guitar into more contemporary genres. Bream’s work showed that the guitar could be capably utilized in English, French, and German music. Bream’s playing can be characterized as virtuosic and highly expressive, with an eye for details, and with strong use of contrasting timbres. He did not consistently hold his right-hand fingers at right angles to the strings, but used a less rigid hand position for tonal variety.” … Wikipedia

Bream met Igor Stravinsky in Toronto, Canada, in 1965. He tried unsuccessfully to persuade the composer to write a composition for the lute and played a pavane by Dowland for him. The meeting between Bream and Stravinsky, including Bream’s impromptu playing, was filmed by the National Film Board of Canada in making a documentary about the composer…… Wikipedia

He lived for over forty years at Semly, Wiltshire, at first dividing his time between there and Chiswick, London, then moving permanently in 1966 to a Georgian farmhouse in Semley, living there until 2008.[37] In 2009 he moved to a smaller house at Donhead St Andrew, Wiltshire. Bream was keen on the game of cricket[ and was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club.  ….. Wikipedia

Julian’s recording career included at least 30-50 LPs and CDs and four Grammy Awards.

Julian Bream (1933-2020)  died on 14 August 2020, at his home at Donhead St Andrew. He was 87years old.

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Some video clips of Julian Bream

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Julian Bream Documentary

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A LOVE SUPREME

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER ……….

Jimmy Cobb (January 20,1929 – May 24, 2020) drummer on Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue,’ Dies at 91.

New York Time Obituary, March 7, 2020 – McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81

Jimmy Cobb’s passing was a reminder of the classic Miles Davis album KIND OF BLUE recorded and released in late 1959. This album started jazz musicians down the modal path of musical improvisation and innovation.

Like wise McCoy Tyner’s passing was a reminder of that other jazz modal master piece –  John Coltrane’s  A LOVE SUPREME. This was a four part jazz suite recorded during December 1964 with John Coltrane on Tenor Sax, Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass and McCoy Tyner on piano.

As described in wikipedia: A Love Supreme is a suite with four parts: “Acknowledgement” (which includes the oral chant that gives the album its name), “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”. Coltrane plays tenor saxophone on all parts. One critic has written that the album was intended to represent a struggle for purity, an expression of gratitude, and an acknowledgement that the musician’s talent comes from a higher power. Coltrane’s home Dix Hills, Long Island, may have inspired the album. Another influence may have been Ahmadiyya Islam.

The album begins with the bang of a gong (tam-tam) and cymbal washes. Jimmy Garrison enters on double bass with the four-note motif that lays the foundation of the movement. Coltrane begins a solo. He plays variations on the motif until he repeats the four notes thirty-six times. The motif then becomes the titular vocal chant “A Love Supreme”, sung by Coltrane accompanying himself through overdubs nineteen times. In the fourth and final movement, “Psalm”, Coltrane performs what he calls a “musical narration”. Lewis Porter calls it a “wordless recitation”. The devotional is included in the liner notes. Coltrane “plays” the words of the poem on saxophone but doesn’t speak them. Some scholars have suggested that this performance is an homage to the sermons of African-American preachers. The poem (and, in his own way, Coltrane’s solo) ends with the cry, “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”

To my knowledge there is no videos available of a complete Coltrane performance but there are fragments of performances scattered across YouTube. In place of that there is the excellent complete performance by the Bradford Marsalis Quartet recorded in Amsterdam in 2003.

Brandon Marsalis – Tenor Saxophone
Joey Calderazzo – Piano
Jeff Tain Watts – Drums
Eric Revis – Doublebass

This performance and the original Coltrane performance is not light weight music. It is a deeply spiritual composition and calling it intense is not an understatement. The music  would not be to everyone taste. But having said that for anyone interested in jazz it is a classic recording and should be on every jazz fan’s shelf

For anyone interested in information about the music and the recording I suggest the publication A LOVE SUPREME – The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Recording by Ashley Kahn published in 2002.

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McCoy Tyner – Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81

New York Time Obituary, March 7, 2020 – McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81

With his rich, percussive playing, he gained notice with John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, then went on to influence virtually every pianist in jazz.

Credit…Dominic Favre/European Pressphoto Agency

McCoy Tyner, a cornerstone of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking 1960s quartet and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history, died on Friday at his home in northern New Jersey. He was 81. His nephew Colby Tyner confirmed the death. No other details were provided.

Along with Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and only a few others, Mr. Tyner was one of the main expressways of modern jazz piano. Nearly every jazz pianist since Mr. Tyner’s years with Coltrane has had to learn his lessons, whether they ultimately discarded them or not. Mr. Tyner’s manner was modest, but his sound was rich, percussive and serious, his lyrical improvisations centered by powerful left-hand chords marking the first beat of the bar and the tonal center of the music.

That sound helped create the atmosphere of Coltrane’s music and, to some extent, all jazz in the 1960s. (When you are thinking of Coltrane’s playing of “My Favourite Things” or “A Love Supreme”, you may be thinking of the sound of Mr. Tyner almost as much as that of Coltrane’s saxophone). To a great extent he was a grounding force for Coltrane. In a 1961 interview, about a year and a half after hiring Mr. Tyner, Coltrane said: “My current pianist, McCoy Tyner, holds down the harmonies, and that allows me to forget them. He’s sort of the one who gives me wings and lets me take off from the ground from time to time.”

Mr. Tyner did not find immediate success after leaving Coltrane in 1965. But within a decade his fame had caught up with his influence, and he remained one of the leading bandleaders in jazz as well as one of the most revered pianists for the rest of his life.

Alfred McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 11, 1938, to Jarvis and Beatrice (Stephenson) Tyner, both natives of North Carolina. His father sang in a church quartet and worked for a company that made medicated cream; his mother was a beautician. Mr. Tyner started taking piano lessons at 13, and a year later his mother bought him his first piano, setting it up in her beauty shop

Credit…Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He grew up during a spectacular period for jazz in Philadelphia. Among the local musicians who would go on to national prominence were the organist Jimmy Smith, the trumpeter Lee Morgan and the pianists Red Garland, Kenny Barron, Ray Bryant and Richie Powell who lived in an apartment around the corner from the Tyner family house, and whose brother was the pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Tyner’s idol. (Mr. Tyner recalled that once, as a teenager, while practicing in the beauty shop, he looked out the window and saw Powell listening; he eventually invited the master inside to play.)While still in high school Mr. Tyner began taking music theory lessons at the Granoff School of Music. At 16 he was playing professionally, with a rhythm-and-blues band, at house parties around Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Mr. Tyner was in a band led by the trumpeter Cal Massey in 1957 when he met Coltrane at a Philadelphia club called the Red Rooster. At the time, Coltrane, who gre up in Philadelphia but had left in 1955 to join Miles Davis’s quintet, was back in town, between tenures with the Davis band.The two musicians struck up a friendship. Coltrane was living at his mother’s house, and Mr. Tyner would visit him there to sit on the porch and talk. He would later say that Coltrane was something of an older brother to him. Like Coltrane, Mr. Tyner was a religious seeker: Raised Christian, he became a Muslim at 18. “My faith,” he said to the journalist Nat Hentoff, “teaches peacefulness, love of God and the unity of mankind.” He added, “This message of unity has been the most important thing in my life, and naturally, it’s affected my music.”In 1958, Coltrane recorded one of Mr. Tyner’s compositions, “The Believer”. There was an understanding between them that when Coltrane was ready to lead his own group, he would hire Mr. Tyner as his pianist.

For a while Mr. Tyner worked with the Jazztet, a hard-bop sextet led by the saxophonist Benny Golson and the trumpeter Art Farmer. He made his recording debut with the group on the album “Meet the Jazztet” in 1960. Coltrane did eventually form his own quartet, which opened a long engagement at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan in May 1960, but with Steve Kuhn as the pianist. A month later, halfway through the engagement, Coltrane made good on his promise, replacing Mr. Kuhn with Mr. Tyner. That October, Mr. Tyner made its first recordings with Coltrane, participating in sessions for Atlantic Records that produced much of the material for the albums “My Favorite Things,” “Coltrane Jazz,” “Coltrane’s Sound” and “Coltrane Plays the Blues.”

Credit…Joe Alper/Morrison Hotel Gallery

Mr. Tyner was 21 when he joined the Coltrane quartet. He would remain — along with the drummer Elvin Jones and, beginning in 1962, the bassist Jimmy Garrison — for the next five years. Through his work with the group, which came to be known as the “classic” Coltrane quartet, he became one of the most widely imitated pianists in jazz. The percussiveness of his playing may have had to do with the fact that Mr. Tyner took conga lessons as a teenager from the percussionist Garvin Masseaux, and learned informally from the Ghanaian visual artist, singer and instrumentalist Saka Acquaye who was studying at the time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Harmonically, his sound was strongly defined by his use of modes — the old scales that governed a fair amount of the music Mr. Tyner played during his time with Coltrane — and by his chord voicings. He often used intervals of fourths, creating open-sounding chords that created more space for improvisers.“What you don’t play is sometimes as important as what you do play,” he told his fellow pianist Marian McPartland in an NPR interview. “I would leave space, which wouldn’t identify the chord so definitely to the point that it inhibited your other voicings.”

The Coltrane quartet worked constantly through 1965, reaching one high-water mark for jazz after another on albums like “A Love Supreme,” “Crescent,” “Coltrane Live at Birdland,” “Ballads” and “Impressions,” all recorded for the Impulse label. Between tours, Mr. Tyner stayed busy in the recording studios. He made his own records, for Impulse, including the acclaimed “Reaching Fourth.” He also recorded as a sideman, particularly after 1963; among the albums he recorded with other leaders’ bands were minor classics of the era like Joe Henderson’s “Page One,” Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” Grant Green’s “Matador” and Bobby Hutcherson’s “Stick-Up!,” all for Blue Note. When Coltrane began to expand his musical vision to include extra horns and percussionists, Mr. Tyner quit the group, at the end of 1965, complaining that the music had grown so loud and unwieldy that he could not hear the piano anymore. He was a member of the drummer Art Blakey’s touring band in 1966 and 1967; otherwise he was a freelancer, living with his wife and three children in Queens. Mr. Tyner’s survivors include his wife, Aisha Tyner; his son, Nurudeen, who is known as Deen; his brother, Jarvis; his sister, Gwendolyn-Yvette Tyner; and three grandchildren.

Just before Coltrane’s death in 1967, Mr. Tyner signed to Blue Note. He quickly delivered “The Real McCoy,” one of his strongest albums, which included his compositions “Passion Dance,” “Search for Peace” and “Blues on the Corner,” all of which he later revisited on record and kept in his live repertoire. He stayed with Blue Note for five years, starting with a fairly familiar quartet sound and progressing to larger ensembles, but these were temporary bands assembled for recording sessions, not working groups. It was a lean time for jazz, and for Mr. Tyner. He was not performing much and, he later said, had considered applying for a license to drive a cab.

He moved to the Milestone label in 1972, an association that continued until 1981 and that brought him a higher profile and much more success. In those years he worked steadily with his own band, including at various times the saxophonists Azar Lawrence and Sonny Fortune and the drummers Alphonse Mouzon and Eric Gravatt. His Milestone albums with his working group included “Enlightenment” (1973), recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which introduced one of his signature compositions, the majestic “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” He also recorded for the label with strings, voices, a big band and guest sidemen including the drummers Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette.

Mr. Tyner did not use electric piano or synthesizers, or play with rock and disco backbeats, as many of the best jazz musicians did at the time; owning one of the strongest and most recognizable keyboard sounds in jazz, he was committed to acoustic instrumentation. His experiments outside the piano ran toward the koto, as heard on the 1972 album “Sahara,” and harpsichord and celeste, on “Trident” (1975).

In 1984, he formed two new working bands: a trio, with the bassist Avery Sharpe and the drummer Aaron Scott, and the McCoy Tyner Big band. His recordings with the big band included “The Turning Point” (1991) and “Journey” (1993), which earned him two of his five Grammy Awards. He also toured and made one album with the nine-piece McCoy Tyner Latin All-Stars. He was signed in 1995 to the reactivated Impulse label, and in 1999 to Telarc. From the mid-’90s on he tended to concentrate on small-band and solo recordings.

Credit…Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

In 2002, Mr. Tyner was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, one of the highest honors for a jazz musician in the United States. He resisted analyzing or theorizing about his own work. He tended to talk more in terms of learning and life experience. “To me,” he told Mr. Hentoff, “living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live. Therefore, just as I can’t predict what kinds of experiences I’m going to have, I can’t predict the directions in which my music will go. I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel.”

Julia Carmel contributed reporting.

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