I discovered Gary Husband’s majestic & inventive drumming through the music of the late Allan Holdsworth who’s music influenced me a great deal. Soon after I learned that he is not only a world class drummer but in fact a world class pianist as well!! I completely fell in love with his solo piano records (“The Things You See” & “Meeting Of Spirits”) which inspired me a lot. I admire his creative approach in paying tribute to his two bandleaders John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. And who can’t resist his amazing drumming? Gary is a major force in music today!
For me personally the drum/piano bond is only one of the many things that I feel connected to Gary, since I initially started out as a drummer and then switched to piano when I was about 10 years old. I still think of playing the drums when I play the piano… So Gary is a role model on both levels for me.
I was amazed how open Gary was to share his process, we talked for over two hours! He revealed to me that this was in fact his first interview ever that was centered more on his piano works than on his drumming. I’m super thankful Gary took the time to talk to me. Hope you enjoy our conversation!
Pablo Held: Well, thanks so much for doing this. I’m super excited to talk to you. I have few things on my list that we could talk about, but I’d rather just have a conversation with you.
Gary Husband: Oh, that’s great. Great! I’m excited about this.
Pablo: What have you been up to lately?
Gary: About a hundred different things. In a way it’s the kind of chaos that I like and I kind of thrive on that, I don’t know why – it’s peculiar. But there’s been a lot of work in other people’s music, learning and prepping that music, going and playing one, two or seven dates or whatever, and then home – and that’s it.
But there are some mainstay things that I do in addition to working on developments for my next project at the same time.
Pablo: Can you talk about that already, or is it still early stages?
Gary: Well, there are a couple. One is this solo piano thing with bits of drum kit built around the piano together with a synth. I just started doing some solo concerts featuring this direction for the first time, really.
Pablo: I’m curious about that!
Gary: It’s lonely! (laughs)
Pablo: I know!
Gary: Yeah! You will know all about it! There are a couple of things that I’ve put on a laptop that I can play to, because some of the piano albums I’ve done feature double-piano parts, or even three parts sometimes. So I need to either rearrange them or embellish them with a play-along track that sort of works for it. And that’s not quite so lonely. At least I have a playback of one of the piano tracks there to augment what I’m doing, that I can swear at, give the impression I’m interacting with and introduce on stage! (laughs) But it works pretty well!
Pablo: I was actually wondering about how you’d handle this, because I love your solo records so much.
Gary: Thank you, wow!
Pablo: How would you do it live? I’m also curious about how you actually recorded them. What came first? Because at times the double piano parts are so intertwined and they even change roles sometimes. So I’d like to know more about your process of recording those albums and then translating that to your live performances.
Gary: It’s funny to say – It was a peculiar process. I knew that I was hearing things that couldn’t be performed just in one real time piano. So, I need another piano player… This is where YOU come in!! (laughs) If I can afford you!
Pablo: (laughs) Yeah, sure!
Gary: Some arrangements feature two pianos all the way through, or on others I just decided for it for effect – to expand and bring dynamism or more dimension to an idea, or also simply to embellish stuff. Mainly I just wanted to do whatever it takes to get the right musical effect and get as close as possible to conveying elements or stretches of the arrangements as I was hearing them. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.
Gary: So as far as projects go, there’s the solo project and I’m also thinking, since I love cello so much, of inviting a friend of mine who is a great cellist. He’s not an improvisor particularly, but he’s a great and celebrated cellist. And I love Indian percussion, so I was thinking about maybe having a trio of tabla, cello and piano – could be nice, huh?
Pablo: That sounds nice!!
Gary: So with the piano I’m kind of thinking about those two lines of endeavour and just letting things come to me.
Pablo: Cool! Can we go back to your solo piano albums for a second?
Pablo: To me they are one of the greatest examples of a „tribute record“, because you’re so creative with the material of both Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin. You not just playing their tunes, you’re making them your own! Am I’m very interested in how it actually started, you know? Did you have the lead sheets from those tunes, or did you just know them out of your experience of playing with those two guys for a long time? And then, what was the process of building these albums?
Gary: Well, first of all, I had run the idea by the both of them before doing it. The thing with it is, I considered the best tribute I could do to musicians of that level and to people that unique, influential and special was to create again, really. Create again on already existing great material as a kind of „thank you“, and express my gratitude and love to and for them that way. Allan was kind of for the idea, because he hated people covering his music and cloning him. He was always saying: „Why can’t people just use their imagination and think of something else?” So, my idea is that if you’re going to cover music, DO something with it. Bring a big piece of you to the picture, and do something in a way that’s born of your own imagination as much as it pertains to the form and integrity of the original. So I made up my mind pretty quickly that I was going to approach it all this way. And Allan, he went with the idea, and he was pretty cool with it, thankfully…after a while anyway … (laughs) but he was curious! He asked me: „What are you going to do with it exactly?“ And I said: „Well, I’m going to take a hammer to it so to speak! In terms of its form certainly, and the building of completely fresh harmony, while on some tracks I’ll address what’s closer to the original. For the most part I’ll completely smash it and build it in another way…. and definitely express it all mostly in a new context!“
You know, what always seems to come up with me are these peculiar allusions back to material I had been introduced to when I was a classical piano student – and it sounds very much like maybe you went through the same thing. Because, I was noticing by your playing that…one of the great gifts I got from my classical teacher was something that she called „tops“. That meant in the right hand to really make the pertinent or predominant note sing out, usually the top one, alright?
Gary: And this is accentuated, for expression – chiming out in the forefront, and distinct in comparison to surrounding notes or harmony you’re performing with the same hand. She really instilled this technique in me and it’s still there to this day … and I hear it in your playing too Pablo!
Pablo: Well, thank you! Thanks for noticing.
Gary: I do notice that, because I don’t hear it in a lot of guys, you know?
Pablo: You’ve been one of my role models for that type of thing.
Gary: Ouff… Thank you!
Pablo: But how did she teach you to do it, technically?
Gary: It was just a very gradually developing physical methodology and training. She had me working for many, many months on technical matters. Like everything she did with me … I mean, I have to say, in addition … she was not a particularly nice person!
Gary: It was like strictly Victorian age style of teaching, you know? „You just keep doing it, and you practice it slowly and you stay in that place and you do not move for weeks!” And everything so slow! But … great training nevertheless!
Gary: And she just made me stay on that. Different fingers on my right hand, too. Like the third note has to sing our more prevalently than the rest. Just practicing that. I forgot how she made me do it, but it was literally this application … just over, over and over again. And I was going away for many weeks, sometimes months, solely practicing that.
Pablo: So now it’s not something that you think about, actively – it’s just subconscious, right?
Gary: Yeah. It just went in, like technique dealings should. It should be an invisible process whenever you address the instrument, and physically apply your hands to the instrument. And actually I consider that became a recognisable aspect in my presence as a pianist. That stuff is just there in the background and you never think about it, or should never think about it. I have to say that for many years I in some ways regretted going down the classical route, because my teacher was such a dragon, but at the same time there could have been no better technique to learn. Unfortunately, she was ultimately only interested in potential concert platform performers. She was just into training new young players who she could have compete against somebody else’s student, or another one of her students.
Pablo: Oh oh.
Gary: And I was never ever, EVER going to do that. There was nothing about a competition that appealed to me. Apart from F1 or boxing, I didn’t even like sports … and certainly never saw anything in the least correct about that approach in music! So I resisted. Actually I heavily rebelled! I was quite repulsed by all that actually!
Pablo: What did she make you play? What kind of works? What pieces?
Gary: Chopin. I remember there was a piece by Kabalevsky, the Russian composer… that really stayed with me actually. There was something by Richard Rodney Bennet, the english composer. There were a couple of other pieces… which we dissected and sometimes a bar and a half — months on this!!
Pablo: And only in a technical way or would she also analyse it with you harmonically, compositionally?
Gary: She would get into the analytical process about it. One thing I now relate to – I didn’t at the time, but I’m glad she instilled it in me – was to try to properly acknowledge what that phrase was supposed to say and express. Not that I ever trusted that she could know that, because she wasn’t there when Brahms wrote this or that… (laughs) How do you know that she’s right? But I trusted that she was well enough informed, and I respected that. So she did actually have me look at the interpretation angle, so as to really make my renditions work and convey appropriately too ..as opposed to it all just being about a physical accomplishment all the time.
Gary: So there are several things I see clearly in hindsight that were of value about our term together. But one of the greatest, aside from the technique, was the fact that she introduced me early on to Bartók’s „Mikrokosmos“, which I started to get heavily into, and which as you know are essentially great independence exercises predominately, and coordination exercises, but in the way Bartók formed them he was also gently initiating you into the realm of bitonality! „Heeeey, bitonality!“ And I was thinking: „Wow, these exercises sound really strange! I don’t know what key any of it’s in and they’re kind of … weird – but I LIKE them!“
That really introduced me subliminally to that world of hearing music differently. And intriguingly! You know, how that music went in me was on a level I at first couldn’t really understand or emotionally comprehend, but it touched me for life. No doubt. I started adoring the string quartets shortly after that. It must be pretty much similar for you, Pablo?
Pablo: Well, I always feel I should work more on the Mikrokosmos… But I really know what you mean when you talk about appreciating music without being able to explain what it actually is that moves you so much. You get drawn to it…
Gary: You get drunk to it? (laughs)
Pablo: (laughs) I’m not sure about getting drunk, but I’m talking about getting pulled in and you can’t to do anything about it, you can’t resist it.
Pablo: I love that feeling! And that’s the feeling I get with all the music that has inspired me. It stays with me all the time.
Gary: Yeah. Me too! Exactly the same. Going back to the impressionists, I had a particular passion for Gabriel Fauré, particular his later works. I mean a lot of people only talk about Debussy and Erik Satie under this blanket term that these were the impressionist composers … which apparently Debussy deplored – he hated this reference.
Pablo: Yeah. Because he could be expressionistic and expressive for sure.
Pablo: It’s not introverted, mellow stuff all the time. There’s so much more to it, but I guess people had to call it something.
Gary: I guess. And they still do! Anyway, we digressed. But … there is so much of that music that influenced me and made a big impression on me – and I think that’s clearly revealed on those solo recordings. The influence is surely there – an interpretation of a melody or the harmonic movement, or in the treatment or whatever. It’s all deeply rooted, so … why fight it? I don’t analyse it, I just let it come up and let it do its thing.
Pablo: That’s beautiful.
Gary: Yeah. Hey do you realise this is the first ever interview that I’ve done from my piano angle!?
Gary: Yeah, nobody has ever spoken to me about keyboards, or piano playing, or my things in music from this side of my career. Only drums! Up until now that is! (laughs)
Pablo: Well, thanks for doing it with me!
Gary: So this is a special occasion for me Pablo!
Gary: Well I just had to tell you!
Pablo: I’m feeling a certain pressure rising now… (laughs)
Gary: No, please!
Pablo: But maybe, because nobody did it before with you, we don’t have anything to compare it to, so I can try and find my way.
Gary: Well it’s … fresh! (laughs) It’s a fresh topic!
Pablo: Do you know the Mass by Fauré for children’s choir?
Gary: Yes, I do!
Pablo: Man I love that piece so much!
Gary: Me too! And Stravinsky’s Mass!
Pablo: Yes!! That might be my most favorite piece by Stravinsky!
Gary: Oh yeah. I mean everybody always references ‚The Rite Of Spring‘, but I wonder did they ever hear the Mass!?
Gary: And that’s funny because I asked… you must be aware of the composer Mike Gibbs, right?
Pablo: Sure! I did an interview with him a couple of weeks ago.
Gary: Oh you did? Well you know, it was fascinating to me, because around the time I became infatuated with Stravinsky’s Mass I also discovered the very first Mike Gibbs record on the Deram Label – it’s from the early seventies. So it begins with the piccolo trumpet I think, a classical player playing the solo part… and the way Mike scored for the brass – I was absolutely convinced that he was a Stravinsky Mass nut. And I had a word with him about it, because I got to work with him a couple of times in recent years. I asked him if he knew the Mass and he said: „No, I never heard it!“ (laughs) Isn’t that incredible?
Pablo: I guess it’s also what our mind does, because we’re also in a way comparing things to one another. You know, maybe we don’t need to put labels on it. When we hear something maybe we kind of want to be free, but we also put it into certain contexts. Like myself, when I’ve listened to you I always thought: „He must like John Ireland.“ But I’m not really sure if you like his music, though some things remind me of the piano music by John Ireland.
Gary: Oh that’s funny, because I know of him, but I don’t know anything about his music!
Pablo: OK, I’ll send you a track after this.
Gary: Yeah, please! Also Mike Gibbs actually said to me that there was somebody he thought that I had listened to… another composer and I had no idea! So strange!
Pablo: I think it happens all the time. People have their ideas about what you are or who you must have checked out. Personally, I really love this kind of detective work, trying to figure out somebody’s influences, what that person might have listened to. Because we always go to something – maybe subconsciously- something that we don’t have ourselves. Like we’re listening to Stravinsky’s Mass – we can’t compose like that! There’s something mysterious going on there that we can’t do ourselves, so that’s why we’re drawn to it. But then subconsciously we compare it to something that we already know in order to make more sense of it.
Gary: Yeah, I guess. Yeah! Funny, huh?
Gary: Very interesting, really interesting!
Pablo: Did you play some of those Fauré pieces?
Gary: We touched on it, but she’d take pieces away from me and say: „Oh no, this isn’t going to work!“ (laughs) And I was thinking: „OK“ (sighs)
Pablo: „You’re not ready for this!“
Gary: She would do things like that. She was very brutal – she liked the “cruel blow” approach. The school of cruel blows!
Pablo: But why did you stay with her? And also why did you stay with playing the piano?
Gary: I didn’t – I gave up right after. And I actually started playing drums to really alienate her. I had a plan. She found out that I was interested in jazz music, so she asked me: „If you MUST listen to this infuriating, juvenile music – who do you listen to?“ And thinking foolishly that she would approve I said: „I’m listening to Bill Evans. And there’s this purity and beauty of harmony which to me reveals parallels with certain classical composers” … which I thought she would appreciate. You know I was kind of trying to give her a bridge. A tie between our two respective musical worlds. So she said: “I’ve never heard of this man! You must bring in a recording of him.“ So I took along my cherished record „Bill Evans At Town Hall“ And I said: „Just listen to Side 2“, which was majorly a big long improvisation since his father just died and it was just stunning. I’m sure you know it.
Pablo: Of course, that Epilogue… Oh man.
Gary: Yeah – and the Prologue, too. It’s all beautiful. So when I went to my lesson the next week she said to me: „You haven’t been practicing!“ (laughs) I said: „You know, I have been practicing, but I haven’t been really achieving as you would like – but I have been practicing.“ She said, picking up my record: „And this man…“ with such disdain, throwing the album across the room so that it hit the wall. This had such an deep effect on me, it really hit me emotionally.
Pablo: Of course! Wow!
Gary: The album hit the wall and slid down – just like in a cartoon. And I said: „What are you doing, throwing my record?“ And she said: „I’m throwing your record, because this man is an imposter. He’s a charlatan and an imposter!“ And I said: „WHAT?? What are you talking about?“ She said: „He has nothing! If you must listen to this ridiculous music, there is only one pianist.“ And I kind of knew what she was going to say, but even if I didn’t know what she was going to say, I had to ask: „Which one do you mean?“ And she said: „Oscar Peterson!“ What occurred to me was, she was seeing it – as she saw so much – from merely the technical achievement or technical excellence involved. „Does this man dominate the piano?“, like she used to speak about. „You have to dominate this thing, otherwise it will dominate you!“ Things like this. So she could only find that kind of excellence in Oscar Peterson, but she was only referring to the technique – what about the music? She didn’t get it all! There was nothing that spoke to her about it and the fact that it involved improvisation and spontaneity was even more alienating. So I realised there was just no point in trying to have these conversations with her. My back was really up against the wall at this point, so I thought: She already knows I love jazz music and improvising, so how can I really get to her? I came up with the genius idea that maybe I should play the drums – she would REALLY really like that, and y’know, this will be the ultimate one! And I was plotting and plotting away… So the next time she gave me another dose of cruelty I said to her: „By the way I just started playing drums, what do you think about that?“ (laughs) And she was like…. (laughs) I mean the look of horror and disdain… She said: „I’m going to call your father right now and tell him that this is the last lesson I’ll be giving you!“
Pablo: So SHE actually quit!
Gary: (laughs) I was so joyful inside! I mean we had our time and she did a lot of great things for me, but I must have known that to stick with it … like my dad who was a great piano player and musician insisted, saying „I’ve you’re going to play piano you’re going to go classical! That’s what you’re going to do.“ So I said yes. You know, I was desperate to please him and I knew that it was the truth. But fortunately, she now ceased being a part of my musical life. And after this I didn’t want to go near, or even hear a piano for about a year. It was that profound, Pablo. Really was, I’ll never forget it. Eventually, I got a little tap on the shoulder, you know, like „Hey! Maybe there’s something to find again with the piano!“, so I started making friends with it again under a completely new relationship, which was great.
Pablo: So when you play the drums, do you ever think about her sometimes?
Gary: Yeah, only because I’m hitting things. (laughs). No I don’t mean disrespect, but this was really traumatic for me at that point. But a lot of the great teachers say it should be … particular the old school of that period and before.
Pablo: But maybe you wouldn’t be where you are today without her.
Gary: No, well I certainly wouldn’t sound the same. Not at all.
Pablo: I don’t think you wouldn’t have played with the likes of Allan Holdsworth or John McLaughlin without the effect that this woman had on you, right? She made you play the drums in a way!
Gary: You’re right. But … going through the classical system, you learn, become acquainted and get better at playing rubato passages for instance. And in Allan’s music there was a lot of rubato, which a lot of his copiers and imitators for some reason don’t choose to pick up on. I mean, he had great time, first of all. But there were always little stretched, pushed or pulled rubato phrases in the interpretation of his music. For the drums to pick up on that was essential to me – rather crucial in fact. This was about the pure him. I used to sit beside him when he was playing these pieces just on guitar, sometimes he’d be tapping his foot and sometimes not. Some of it was just bendy … it just moved and it was different every time. But the movement kind of always occurred in one given, specific place, to launch a particular phrase, and as soon as the time came back the tempo was initiated again from that very point. This would feature in some cases many, many times in a melody of his. So this was a very interesting and most distinctive thing about him. But I think through the classical training and the awareness about being true how to interpret and articulate a phrase in a way that’s correct for these kind of elements, that really came into play rather naturally for me I have to say – in what the drummer should be picking up on in the music. The bigger picture, y’know. I considered it incumbent to acknowledge those important subtleties. Always.
Pablo: Yeah, that makes sense.
Gary: You know, for some reason a lot of people thought all lot of Allan’s compositions were in odd time signatures and actually surprisingly they weren’t! Maybe there was a bar of five here or a phrase that amounted to being nine or three threes or something, but usually it was kind of a four. It was just displaced in the way that he’d do it and that was really about as complicated as it would get. So people would ask him at the bar: „What time signature is this piece in?“ and he’d go: „Well it’s all in one!“ But that crazy summarization actually made a lot of sense to me!
Gary: They’d go: „Ohhh, really ?!?“ Actually, that’s not such a ridiculous thing to say, because I asked him once if he’d explain how he saw that … and I didn’t use to often ask him much, because that wasn’t really his way – he just wanted people to pick up on it. He said: „Well, if I play a phrase like this and it kind of slows down, as soon as it’s coming back into tempo it’s on the one!“ And that’s what he meant with everything being „in one“. You have to understand, he knew nothing about notation, he really didn’t know how to express anything in conventional terms musically. He just had his own way with everything.
Pablo: I’m curious about that. Because I assume he must have put a lot of thought into what he was doing there. He completely revolutionized the way of playing the guitar or also playing over changes. I’m so amazed that he wouldn’t know how to articulate it in a conventional way. How did he show you the songs ? Did he play them for you and you just had to pick it up by ear?
Gary: You know, this is like a thousand years ago, sometime in 1978 or so…’79 when we first started. He’d just be playing with a foot tap. And as I said before, sometimes the foot tap would stop and he’d just pick up back in tempo again. I realized there was something funny about that, but then it was different every time, so I said: „This is TRUE rubato. It’s just felt!“ So I just listened to it and accepted it as being that, that’s all! Whereas a lot of people would say: „Well, if I wrote that out in terms of sixteenth notes, where exactly would that beat come in?“ They’d have to put it in some kind of grid. He just abhorred that idea – this was just alien talk to him. He said: „It’s a little pause and it just comes back on that chord.“ That’s as much as he wanted to get involved in telling you what it actually was – there wasn’t any kind of „what it is!“. It was just floaty in this part and then it was back in time there. Bit I think if you kind of just make friends with that, and get comfortable with it you can take it on board and make it a part of what the drums do, for instance – and then also be creative inside that and within that.
Pablo: That can feel like playing in time, too. With the greatest players it does feel like they’re still playing in time. And vise versa with the masters playing in time can sound like they’re playing rubato. When you hear Tony Williams play those super fast tempos with Miles Davis in 1967… there might be a similar inner-time feel that could be compared to 1964’s „Four & More“ when they’d play fast, but the actual played content is a different animal. It sounds almost rubato, floaty although it’s right on the beat.
Pablo: It’s bizarre. Those same guys, playing the same or similar repertoire in the same tempo, but how they play it is hugely different – and that happened over the course of 3-4 years…How did they get there?
Gary: Yeah. It’s this so prevalent with someone as great as Miles:
there might have just been one note, one little interjection. But such an intriguing one … and it’s also where he put that note! Total magic.
Gary: Oh man. It’s just one of those notes he’d deliver that could be right up in the stratosphere … and where it is you can’t put in a grid. I hate grid music so just for somebody with that kind of magnificent, spontaneous, genius timing to do something like that… as he did … I just never get tired of it! I just listen to more Miles now than ever before and I think it will be like that until I drop dead.
Pablo: Yeah. But going back to Allan showing you guys time feel of those tunes… How was it in terms of chords and bass notes?
Gary: Well, he was peculiar in the fact that he was very indecisive. He chose to be very open about bass notes, and never used to particularly consider them! And … I actually used to love the demos he made, they didn’t have any bass notes! Mostly they were they were the fifths, major sevenths, flattened sixths sometimes or they were raised fourths at the bottom of his harmony. They would sound lovely just up in that register. And with the lowest note as the root, if there has to be a root… Y’know it was almost as if the pure version of it was just him alone, in spite of the fact you’d get great musicians like Jimmy Johnson, who is so immense, who would always come up with fantastic notes.
Gary: Sometimes that we’d be getting a piece together and Jimmy would say: “Maybe I’ll try to B flat on there.” Alan would listen to it and go: “No, I actually preferred the one before when it was an A flat” and Jimmy would say: “Yeah I’ll stick to the A flat”. But usually he’d let guys come up with what they heard.
Pablo: Yeah! He would let you guys build your own parts, right?
Gary: Yeah, kinda. Yeah! He’d be saying stuff without saying anything. He’d ask: “What do you hear with this chord…” or “What do you hear when this chord goes to that” and Jimmy would come up with something great and Allan would go: “Oh yeah that’s great!”. Always very quick. Jimmy would note it down and it would simultaneously become the definitive thing, the notes for the composition. He’d do nothing with me about the drums. He just always wanted something that was ever changing, and he wanted a lot of improvisational motion in the drums even if it was a drum part. If there was a drum part I’d invent that was bordering on something that was the same each time, I’d try to come up with something that established an idea and then come up with the second part for it that echoed that phrase, so that it felt like it was continually evolving and in fact it was loopy without feeling like a loop. He just let me be really free with that approach and really kind of compose things for drums that worked for the compositions in an unlikely way, but nevertheless a considered one and one which came out of a notion this would act as kind of a counter-composition around what’s being stated. So, that’s how those things came out sounding as they did. But hey, that’s just about getting your imagination involved. He loved that kind of input and incentive from musicians.
Pablo: Well it sounds amazing!!
Gary: Oh that’s kind of you, thanks. You know, I’m blessed it all happened, I tell ya! I guess we digressed a lot because actually you were asking me about the solo record of Allan’s music…
Pablo: I actually like digressing – it’s cool!
Gary: (laughs) Yeah, It’s natural … just like music! Let’s see. I didn’t even deal with the guitar harmony in the search for the piano versions. So I had no idea. All I had was a sense of the movement, I mean I knew the compositions so well because I had played them so many times over the many years, but I avoided transcribing stuff, so I was intentionally … specifically unaware of what things actually were. I just knew them and I knew them the more in terms of essence than in terms of accurate notation. So what I did was I used the recordings to get the actually just the top line of the melody or the top line of the guitar chord, which in a lot of Allan’s pieces acted as a melody. I didn’t take any bass notes or any specific Allan Holdsworth harmony, so, completely I formed and rebuilt it – I wanted instinct to come into play and just have ideas suggest themselves to me as to how it could move and how it could be built. There’s a lot of painstaking arranging going on on that record, and on the other (McLaughlin) one, too. They’re built up of nothing specifically taken from the originals. It’s just that I know that it’s a phrase that ascends at this point and descends or whatever, to that. So it was almost like composing! That was it. But I’m a harmony junkie and I love the discovery and the surprises, and if spontaneity happens and imagination is doing its job there’s stuff that can come to me and I’ll find ideas I can go with. It took many months! Both of those records took a very long time to write before I was happy with them.
Pablo: Where did you record them?
Gary: In London, at a friend’s studio.
Pablo: You would go in there from time to time or did you it all in one session?
Gary: Oh no. I worked on the scores on a Yamaha P80 at home, and finished all the arrangements there. Once all of that was done and the scores were finished I booked three days and went in and tried to get the best performance take of it all I could. And it’s probably a nice thing: the constriction of just three days, because it was like an expensive studio and not a great piano just a little rather unstable old Yamaha C4, you know?
Pablo: Man, but You make it sound like a huge thing! It’s amazing to listen to!
Gary: Well, the engineer made it sound as…
Pablo: No no no no no!! I’m not letting you off the hook that easily! (laughs) I can hear that it is a small piano, but the way you play it is so amazing!! That’s a sign of a great piano player: Somebody that can play on a shitty piano but is able to get such a big sound out of it. If you listen to some of those Bill Evans records he plays on a couple of bad pianos sometimes, or they’re out of tune… All the great guys they get a big sound no matter which piano they play on and this is evident on your record, too! I’m actually curious what you think about sound. Is it something that your mean teacher has shown you or is it something that was just natural for you? how do you think about sound and touch?
Gary: I do try to capture what might be beautiful! Well … that’s everything in a way, isn’t it!? The end result. I mean if I want to do something over and over again it will just be because I’m not evoking what I wanted … or usually because the demo was good and I’d already fallen in love with the demo! You know I’d record that demo and think: “Oh well that’s all I have to do. I’ll just play it like that” you know? And I could never get it the same! So, I think I made a decision to stop doing demos or at least demos that I could be happy with. (laughs) So it was just to get the feeling right. I wonder, do you by chance know of a beautiful, special Japanese movie called “Maestro!”? It’s about about a Japanese classical conductor who’s retired, and has since become a very unorthodox guy. The orchestra folds and he retires, but, through grouping together a lot of musicians insist that the orchestra is reinstated. They go in search of the conductor, to lead them again, and it seems like they can’t find him but they DO find this old guy dressed in rags and everything. And it’s actually him, but they don’t know it yet. He’s conducting with bits of tube and a hammer, you know, really crazy. But there are some unbelievable messages in that film! There’s one line that I had to write down, but somehow I lost the paper I wrote it down on. I was on a plane watching this movie and he said this thing at one point which was so moving to me. Passengers on the plane were offering me paper handkerchiefs asking me: “What’s wrong with you?” And I was just weeping at the thing because it was so moving! He said to one of his musicians: “You know, a sound is born and disappears in a second. But if, with that sound in that moment, you can truly manage to resonate with someone’s soul, that moment can last a lifetime.” Isn’t that just so special?
Pablo: Yeah. That’s beautiful!
Gary: And that’s the jewel I’m trying to catch or shape. Even if it’s a technically rough overall performance, I’ll always take that, because it’s the one with the heart. You know, the one with that little moment or interpretation that made it all make sense, and conveys something of what I wanted it to express, in spite of the inaccuracies. I’m just trying to get that special thing. If you ever see that movie, you’ll know. I really recommend that to all musicians because that film beautiful says a lot about real intent and real heart in music. It’s very special!
Pablo: That sounds amazing! I’m gonna look this up! Do you want to get into talking about touch also on a technical level or would you rather not?
Gary: I don’t really know anything about that. I mean, I wouldn’t really know what to say about any of that.
Pablo: Well, that’s perfect! (laughs) I love that as an answer!
Gary: You know, going back to my classical teacher again, she put a little coin on my hand here. So just doing five finger exercises, but getting on to playing the C scale where your thumb goes underneath, if that coin fell off she’d whack me! So there was the insistence on my hand being absolutely flat at all times, no matter what was going on and no matter what the thumb was doing. So in every single scale the hand had to be flat, ascending or descending.
Pablo: That’s what I see when I look at videos of you, or when I see your concerts.
Gary: Really? That’s incredible I guess really because I have not practiced it for decades! But, you know I got a criticism on some video that somebody had put out. I was playing a solo and I got accused of being a piano playing hack! Y’know, “This guy just tries to get volume out of the piano by hitting it as hard as he can! And he’s supposed to coax the power of the sound out of the instrument and not hammer it out”. I thought to myself: “Wow, maybe I do that or the intent or excitement is getting the better of me or whatever. It could be the drummer part of me that influences the articulation on piano, I don’t know. I know I probably do play too hard. I’m always amazed when I see other piano pianists, how lightly and how more likely they are to endure speed and fluency because of that – without excessive force. But it’s probably because of all the electric bands and all these loud drummers that I play with too! Ha ha! I was so used to being in a club where piano couldn’t be heard in the band. So I’m trying to find a way to use force less but make more sound. I don’t know how to do that really and it seems completely against my instinct, but I’m looking into that.
Pablo: It seems like you know exactly how to do that.
Gary: Well, I don’t know. It’s interesting. I’m always amazed and inspired when I see another piano player, because I’ll invariably think: “Wow, it’s actually just fluid body movement and it’s all looking so unforced, not going for the full on application all the time.” But I also realized that I love accents – inside of the improvised runs. Y’know, I think stuff like this reveals a lot of our own presence and character on the instrument. So I have a propensity to maybe hammer accents out more than most pianists would, probably. But it’s absolutely corresponding to the drummer in me I think.
Pablo: I know what you mean! I’m not comparing myself to you obviously, but I actually started out as a drummer when I was a little kid.
Gary: Oh yeah? OK!
Pablo: When I was ten years old I switched to piano and I still think about playing the drums when I play piano. A lot of the things you just said deeply resonate with me, because I actually think about them the same way!
Gary: Oh, that’s really interesting! Wow.
Pablo: And also that part of making yourself heard you know in a band is very important to me. To not to be too reliant on monitors all the time, you know? I want to be my own monitor! I’m trying to constantly improve that, heavily relying on my natural arm weight, pulling the sound out of the piano.
Gary: Yeah! You said it. “Pulling” it out. And I’m not sure I’m that successful doing this as you and many other accomplished people are, but I am aware of it! And one of these things that makes me think about this was… I don’t know if you read any of the Bill Evans biographies? He speaks about his early beginnings in big bands, talking about the days when there wasn’t a PA and those bands were loud!
Gary: You know, acoustic bass player – no amp! Acoustic piano players – no PA! And somehow you had to be in the mix. Bill Evans actually addressed how to try to get presence out of the piano without using brute force … but it must be quite something to achieve it!
Pablo: That’s something that we talked about before: intensifying the sound of the top note the chord.
Gary: Well okay yeah, the tops!
Pablo: I think that’s something that’s very useful with this dilemma. Of course you could hammer out the whole chord, but if you only do it with the top note it sort of takes all the notes along with it and transports them not only to the bandmates’ but also the audiences’ ears. Don’t you agree?
Gary: Yeah I do, that makes sense to me! But beyond this I don’t really know anything about touch, except for just trying to catch what I want to hear and feel. To my credit or not, I guess I just don’t concern myself with it. I’m just after the feeling. That and to be as poignant and as eloquent as I can. And we are the arbiter for ourselves, right? We have the itch that needs satisfying so to speak. We have to feel good about how we’re conveying something first. It certainly has to be appealing to me before I can believe that it’s going to be appealing to someone else.
Pablo: So true! They other way around doesn’t work: trying to please somebody only results in playing a lot of crap that actually nobody wants to hear.
Pablo: I am sure you must have been asked this question a lot of times but I’m still gonna ask: In terms of leading a band, If you compare Allan Holdsworth to John McLaughlin: talk about learning the material or specific instructions… I suppose that McLaughlin uses a different approach at times, Is that true?
Gary: Despite the fact those two gentlemen were born in the same part of the world … the same Shire in England called Yorkshire … where incidentally I was, too – they are polar opposites in terms of character, personality and in terms of how they’d get what they want out of you. Allan’s way, as we have said, was to ask you to come up with something and try and find a way to be yourself. John’s way is more like: “This is what it is and here’s how I want you to feel about it, be yourself in it and approach it.” There’s a lot of direct rhythm in John’s music, a lot of syncopation. Allan’s rhythm was more abstract but curiously all in at the same time. A special mix! But John likes to demonstrate his rhythm through using the South Indian phonetics, singing the rhythms. Since our drummer is Indian, they have this discourse naturally. I am not anywhere near as fluent with konnokol – you know, I know a little bit, but I can understand it enough to be able to decipher what things are. So it’d be complex things, quintuplets… tricky things happening everywhere, you know, intricate Indian rhythmic groupings … There’ll be a lot of things to digest, learn, expand on, but then … improvise on within them. Plus, ince it’s just a quartet I’ll be usually harmony source on a piano/rhodes pad, or rhythm, and on another voice I’m doubling melodies with John. So, I’m doing that. I have to get the syncopation and independence going between both and really practice the pieces for as many weeks as I can before we play them. They’re not easy! But it’s all work of joy. Getting better at something is really a joy isn’t it! But John’s is often demanding music to play.
Pablo: I guess so. I’ve heard the music, it seems pretty hard, but you make it sound very easy!
Gary: Oh, that’s nice of you.
Pablo: Does he send demos or how do you practice them?
Gary: Yeah, he does. John sends pretty good demos usually with drums that are very loud! (laughs)
Pablo: How does he construct the demos? Does he play all the parts himself?
Gary: Yeah. He forms them at home in Protools.
Pablo: But does he play the drums himself?
Gary: Oh … no he doesn’t play real-time drums, he programs them. They are usually loops, but maybe about 4 or 5 on top of each other so that there’s chaos happening. You know, John likes the chaotic, … in a beautiful way! He loves the unpredictable, but he really only demands that the the voicings work and the intricate melody notes are established before we do anything – and then the chaos comes! He is wonderful.
Pablo: I see.
Gary: I love that! Because he’s got that real kind of old school anarchy in his playing and all those rough edges, which I love and associate with electric guitar. You know, growing up in the 60s…
Pablo: That’s so rare these days!
Gary: Yeah, it is. Everybody is going for this totally polished beautification of everything. I understand, you know. It’s very seductive I guess, with that presence to it… Great! But I do like the rough and the grit. Then, regarding my use of synthesizers in John’s group, I always try to get sounds which are just absolutely formed for that particular song and nothing else. The Nord Lead 2x which I carry around is still going fairly strong. It’s quite a hardy and travels well. And it’s really great to be able to just create patches and come up with things. And usually because John’s sound is very highly articulated I’ll choose something which doesn’t have that. You know, it’s almost like he has the percussion at the front of it, so I’ll get something with the front off, or with just a little whisper to the front of the attack.
Pablo: There’s also the part in the concert where you play some drums, too. I love that! You know, my inner drummer is in heaven you when you guys start play together!
Gary: Oh, yeah. It’s really special. I’ve been really blessed to be able to have that kind of platform. But it’s also a band that really works. When you find yourself a nice trio that really works where everybody’s kind of “talking” to each other effortlessly, very successfully, coherently and it’s all working – it’s kind of like that with this band. It’s just the right kind of personnel to work whether it’s earth shatteringly good in one aspect or us finding it together in a different way. Who knows? It’s personal taste, but it certainly works and operates as a band machine very well. We can really go to the point of the cliff’s edge and look down. We can be that close sometime to complete catastrophe! (laughs) I love that too, because I wanted to be a motor racing driver when I was a kid, so I think there’s a little meeting point there. I like to go to the edge, you know? (laughs) And those musicians … they want to go to the edge, too! So we go together, that’s all. But I guess it’s a beautiful thing that we all go and it’s not just one guy…
Pablo: Yeah, and that way you’re in fact helping yourselves by going in the same direction!
Gary: There is a little anecdote: You spoke about direction and the difference between John and Allan… We did a record called down “To The One” with the 4th Dimension. I actually play drums on the last two tracks, I know it’s not mentioned on the sleeve info. There is one kind of uptempo tune and then there’s one ballad, or what I call a ballad and that’s the title track, called “To The One”. John gave us a demo of that and it’s kind in three or a six feeling with a little twist on the end of the second bar making it into a bar of six, it’s like that all the way through the composition. And he said: “Well, I want you to play drums on this.” And I said: “OK”. So the piece was already formed. He took his demo in and I played drums to it first and then we took all the rest of the instruments out and everybody played live to it. And I said to him: “It’s kind of a ballad, right? It has got this three floating thing… And John said: “No,it’s not really a ballad at all!” I was just going by the demo, you know, which sounded like a slow six/eight with these beautiful chords. John said: “No, no. I actually want the opposite. I want the drums to be really reacting and evolving improvisationally all the time. The moment you slip into something don’t stay there – change it up!” And I went: “Really? On a piece like this? You know, it’s such a sensitive melody and this nice little relaxed six/eight…” And he goes: “Yeah!” So I tried a couple of things, but I could not get what he meant at all, maybe because of the demo-danger again. So he said: “Well, look… Would it help if I come out, stand in front of you and direct you?” I said: “Uhm, maybe ?!” And inside I was going: “Maybe,… or maybe not?” I mean I didn’t know what help this was going to be at all. He came out and instead of doing what I thought he would do, he started kind of throwing shapes at me, almost like deformed angles … all kinds of weird movements and stuff. I suddenly realized while I was playing : he wants me to play to what he is expressing. It’s like saying “play that!”, you know, “play this!” and I was following it and it’s not a short piece…! He said: “It has to correspond with me in time and be all relative to the beat, but you should develop and superimpose your ideas and impulses all the time … keep it all moving and evolving!” So I was following all these wild movements and sometimes he was kind of sinister, he would look like a monster! (laughs) You know, rule number one: don’t think while you’re playing! So I said to myself: “No, stop thinking about it!”, but my brain was going: “No, but it’s difficult because he looks really funny doing this!”. But I really got immersed in it and then really tried to just go with what he was “moving” about and what that was expressing to me. I had no idea what I was doing! We got to the end of the piece and I went into the control room where they did a playback of the take. I was thinking: “This is going to be just a waste of time, there’s no way that was impressive in any kind of way!” But during listening to it I was stunned: The harmony was the only static thing in it, it was more or less mainstay. But the drums were kind of coming in and out, reentering here and then playing through there, and making all these kind of crazy rhythmic modulations, because I was following him! I was totally taken aback, I had no idea how on earth I could have ever gotten that out of myself! It took him to do it. I said to him: “You know, so many times I saw you tell that story of Miles asking you to play the guitar as if you’ve never played a guitar before and all these obtuse things… YOU just did a “Miles” on ME!” He replied: “No no no!” And I said: “You did! Because what I’m going through now is exactly what you went through on “In A Silent Way”!” I could not believe it, I was in shock. I mean, to think I almost didn’t want to hear the playback!
Pablo: So, after this experience do you sometimes try to recapture that spirit when you’re playing? I mean, what did you take out of that experience at that time? Because I think that John, out of this experience with Miles, he built a lot of his unique style. He kind of discovered something in himself that maybe was already there, since he was able to do it. Like you, you were able to do it, but it took somebody else to remind you of it, or to pull it out of you. So where do you go from there?
Gary: I can only really continue to aspire. I don’t consider myself being on that level, or necessarily capable of it. Or at least not that I know of! Whether or not it’s attainable – I don’t know. Whether or not you’re born with it – I don’t know. But I certainly think of it like you: he adopted a lot of that methodology from Miles and he allowed it to infiltrate how he became a leader for others. Being able to pick things out of people they don’t know they are capable of necessarily. All these remarks of Miles, like saying to Herbie Hancock: “I pay you to make mistakes, to take chances on stage, to experiment on stage. That’s your job!” I mean… fantastic!
Pablo: The best job in the world!
Gary: To to be given that kind of license… Actually that wasn’t not the only time John did it to me in the studio. There was a tune I hardly knew, on the first record I ever played with John called “Industrial Zen”. I really just stuck to the chords exactly how he voiced them except for the odd interjection here and there, a run here and there, a moody stab here, following the drama and all those things, I kept pretty much to the score. And it was sixteen page score, you know? (laughs) So I did one pass of that after which he said: “Yeah, that’s great.” and then he whipped the score away! He said: “Right now, go again!” I said: “But, John I have no idea what the chords are!” But he just said: “Yeah, play what you hear!”.
Gary: I and go: “Yeah, but based on what? You know I’m reading this for the third time maybe!” And he goes: “Ah, play what you hear. Give me something!” (laughs) When somebody like that stands in front of you and says: “Just do it!”… You know, I can hear an echo of Miles’ voice, going: (whispers) “Just, dooo it!” It’s very close, you know. It’s very close! So I feel really blessed to have had that. When somebody really does that to you on a profound level it’s like they’re saying: “It’s in you. I can feel it and I’m going to get it out!”. It’s a super intuition on another level. Some people possess heightened intuition like that and I would feel happy if I could get near that. even if it was just to give another musician that kind of revelation. It’s the most odd feeling. Not brainwashing, it’s not sinister in any way. It’s more like somebody has been able to tap into something inside you and give vent to it. It was part of me that I never had any idea existed, and made me produce movements that would have never occurred to me. If somebody does that to you they give you a heightened sense of view, conception and perception. If I could sound so pretentious… (laughs) It’s certainly a big ambition! If I could be responsible for bringing about that in somebody else I’d be happy. They’re like Zen Masters these guys. Unbelievable!
Pablo: Yeah! I read in an interview of Wayne Shorter where he talks about that phenomenon of mentorship: It’s like a kid with his father at a street parade. The kid doesn’t see because it’s too short, so the father takes the kid on his shoulders. And in that moment the kid is actually able to see more than the father can see, you know? That’s the kind of the mentor/student relationship. John couldn’t play what you played on drums…
Pablo: He also couldn’t play it on the guitar maybe, but still he heard it. You reached new heights in your abilities at that point. But with those two parts: you and him, it could only happened because he put you on his shoulders, so you were able to see different stuff.
Gary: Yeah, that’s really wild! Because as you’re saying that to me I’m getting all these connotations about it: He’s using his form to present most of that height and the child’s height is comparatively very little. So the mass part of the height is actually him! And also that it takes the child to be an extension of the father to be able to see that. That’s very zen like, too. Wayne Shorter – he is another one for sure!
Pablo: Did you ever meet him?
Gary: Well I was in the same room as him once, but that was it. I met Joe Zawinul once.
Pablo: Wow! I never met him, but do I remember the day he died in great detail. I was hanging out with my teacher Hubert Nuss and we somehow I got the news that Zawinul died. So we just listened to records, looked through all kinds of books, biographies and shared stories about him for the whole day. Somehow it was very emotional, because for both of us he was a big influence.
Gary: Yeah. He was very huge to me, too! Talking about influences: I’ve got these solo concerts coming up. There’s a piece I chose to transcribe and I’ve really transcribed very little of anybody’s solos ever. But it took down a piece called “I Remember Me” by Jan Hammer…
Pablo: From the “Like Children” album, right?
Gary: You know that piece?
Pablo: Yeah. I love that record! My father used to play that record for me. I grew up listening to two Jan Hammer and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I used to sit in front of my parent’s record collection, just looking at the covers and taking on the ones that I liked most. And “Inner Mounting Flame” was my favorite record as a little boy. But I remember my father showing me “Like Children”. You know, as a kid that drawing of on the cover… it’s beautiful! There are so many great tunes on that record!
Gary: Oh yeah. But that piece “I Remember Me” – in all its eastern European magnificence… it’s so special and it sounds great on solo piano, too.
Pablo: Do you listen to recordings of yourself? Do you listen back to live recordings or old records of yours?
Gary: Well, not very often. No. But there are certain solos here and there that I’m fond of because of the sound or because there are some nice bits in it. I’ll go back to those if somebody asks me: “What have you liked that you’ve done?” I’ll point those out. I heard a very early tape of me lately though – this was bizarre. I don’t know if you’ve heard in a recordings of yourself when you were like really young and just starting to improvise? Have you?
Pablo: Yes I have.
Gary: I heard one for the first time and it has to be decades since I heard it. I had no idea how I must have sounded and one of my friends gave me a tape of this recording. I had no idea who it was! I mean it had absolutely no resemblance to how it sound now or how I hear anything now. Nothing in the movement … Nothing! Not even the touch, not even the sound. It was incredible! I was trying to aspire towards a lot of very conventional lines and not really making them, because I might have thought that this is what you had to do.
Gary: It’s a weird thing to have almost seen your own trajectory, your own growth from somewhere like that. And somewhere along the line it started taking shape and I have no idea quite when, you know what I mean?
Pablo: I guess there’s not really one point that you can put your finger on and say: “This is when it happened.” Like while being on a journey you can look back realize what kind of distance you’ve made.
Pablo: But you don’t really see it when you’re always looking forward. You always see what’s in front of you and what you can’t do, right? So when you look back, you might think: “Well, I made it somewhere to a certain degree and accomplished something. There has been some change in me.” And it can be reaffirming to see that you couldn’t recognize yourself, right?
Gary: Yeah, most strange! And If somebody had said well actually that’s not you I would have believed it. Very bizarre.
Pablo: So what are you listening to these days? What are you looking for for inspiration?
Gary: Actually, among a great selection of diverse things actually I still listen to a lot of singers, really special ones. I’m still a big lover of Sinatra. How those guys managed to say what they said in the way they said it. They knew how to make a song work, how to make it penetrate you emotionally. I think this record the Joni Mitchell did with these exquisite Vince Mendoza arrangements, do you know this one “Both Sides Now”?
Pablo: Oh yes, that’s a deep one.
Gary: Oh mama! It’s pretty difficult for me to get through that record, she’s like a goddess. And the way she sings “Both Sides Now” with all that history, with all these years gone by, all her maturity and everything she’s been through… She’s completely “naked”….
Pablo: She sounded wise already in 1968 when she first recorded it, right?
Gary: She did!
Pablo: And I think it must have been like 2000 when they recorded that new version. That one another story and it’s hard not to weep while listening to it. You can listen to that song in any kind of situation and completely lose it!
Gary: Yeah. Similarly the Shirley Horn record.
Pablo: “Here’s To Life” ?
Gary: Yes! You know, they did it in bits right? Because she wouldn’t come to the session or something.
Pablo: I heard that it was just just a trio session and then I think Johnny Mandel did the strings later. That’s what I heard, but maybe maybe it was different. I don’t know.
Gary: I heard something like that.
Pablo: She was a deep piano player, I really love her playing.
Gary: Oh god, Yeah. And other piano players… I’m listening to Danilo Perez. – I like his writing. And I find him a really refreshing piano voice. But other than these people, and older influences, I have to to say I’m a big admirer your own playing, too!
Pablo: Wow, thanks so much!
Gary: Oh absolutely. Well deserved! But aside from certain individuals I rarely really listen to piano players.
Pablo: Is that a conscious choice or just you are drawn to other stuff?
Gary: Actually, this is I guess an odd thing to say put I actually get “piano-itis” really fast. You know, I’m good for about 20 minutes.Whereas with other instruments it isn’t like that. I could listen to a really amazing guitar player all night. But with piano for some reason I just can’t. I think this probably shapes the way I play too, and probably affirms that piano isn’t perhaps my ideal instrument maybe.
Pablo: How does that hold true with people like Bill Evans or Jan Hammer?
Gary: They escape it. Probably Joe Zawinul, too. I don’t think I ever got through a solo album of Keith Jarrett. Y’know, of course no disrespect to him, but, I chose bits. I had my moments or periods in it and I’d make a tape up a whole build up to a section which I really loved and then that was it. I couldn’t hang in for the full ride. But I think it’s an audio thing much more than it is about the actual music. It’s just the sonic of the piano. After a certain amount of time it sounds a little wearing or tiring to me. After being at a jazz festival and hearing two or three sets of some amazing pianists, it doesn’t matter how amazing they are, I don’t want to play a note! I want to try to be Miles and just play one note and try to catch a beautiful one, just one! Like catching a beautiful butterfly. But it’s not easy. I think the impact of Bill Evans and Jan Hammer had on me was because of what they didn’t play as much as what they did. There was something considered, always, with very little embellishment. Although, I noticed that with Bill Evans sometimes … particularly towards the later part of his life … sometimes when you’ll hear live concerts of him and he sounds like he can’t wait to finish a piece and generally he’s kind of sounding quite hyper. I liked him the most when he was actually quite somber – when he took his time more and was more considered.
Pablo: Me too.
Gary: The real purity and clarity of his improvisations. They always were so poetic to me, and they weren’t necessarily full-on like you hear from a lot of players today. Like drummers – forget it! I mean when you hear so many of the drummers at the moment, you’ll go: “God damn, when is one of you guys going to leave a hole? Where can I get in this?” Instead of being nailed to the wall by this furious, constant level of information coming at you. I can’t digest it … and I always enjoyed overdrive high fire and intensity in music … and it’s not saying enough to me. I really have to ask sometimes: “Where do you go from there? Where’s the possibility or means to be able to take anything further … and where’s any edit factor or shaping to this!?” But maybe I’m just a different generation. I go back to Miles and everything makes sense and speaks to me again!
Pablo: No, I feel the same way! It’s a weird development. Somebody said to me that nowadays the average attention span of people watching a video is like seven seconds or like a ridiculously low number. So, if that’s what people are expected to pay attention inside of then you have to put everything into it, right? Whereas it used to be 20 minutes – side A / side B or a set length of 45 minutes. Right. So now it’s kind of different, but I don’t think it’s too healthy. I guess some people start thinking about that when they make music nowadays, like: “I need to put everything into those are short clips!” There’s a different way of approaching music, I think.
Gary: Yeah I guess. I was really trying to look into what am I missing most of all when I hear people now most often. You know what it is? It’s the lack of naiveté in young musicians. There’s no innocence, not enough search in there, no dreams, aspirations … stuff that being young is all about. I love to hear an expression of youthfulness, and hear that in their expression. The whole market seems to be saturated with dazzling exhibitionists with so much technique and chops it’s ridiculous. I’m not compelled, intrigued or even interested I’m afraid. If you go back, and listen to the Beatles for instance, there’s something really captivating and poignant and memorable about the songs. And they were short form and they had that charming, youthful naiveté to them. They managed to say so much with so little. On the popular music scene there are good things, well crafted songs … but in my realm – jazz fusion, jazz/rock or whatever you wanna call it, too much. It’s getting like … degenerate or something. Too much of it like this. That’s just me.
Pablo: I can see that yeah. Where would you see the naiveté in somebody like Allan Holdsworth?
Gary: Good question. I’d say his naiveté is revealed inside of a very complex and elaborately formed vocabulary or style of expression. Because he felt it like that. I don’t think understatement necessarily manifests a naive charm in music … but it did so happen to be the case Allan loved beautiful, simple songs and was really touched by them. Then he did what he did. “Every note matters!” he would say… and he said that to me many times… when you consider that he was really into this so-called “sheets of sound”, very rhapsodic, almost Paganini-esque spontaneous invention you get an extra sense of the seriousness and the extent of Allan’s quest. I guess people say how on earth do you get a sense or feeling of naiveté in something that dense? Maybe not. But he was beautifully naive and charming! To me he approached his way of playing inside music on very simple principals, and his motivation was equally simple. He just wanted people to feel something from what he did. And I can’t forget, he was beautifully naive in life sometimes too. Just some basic day-to-day tasks could sometimes be a challenge to him. But he’s there with this super unbelievably revolutionary approach to guitar and this genius personality in music. Weird, eh!?
Pablo: Maybe his naiveté is also manifested in what you talked about before, when he would play those amazing chords without really putting much thought into what bass notes there would be in the end. That could be also something that comes close to this topic, right?
Gary: Yes exactly. The really pure versions of things I like to carry with me, in my heart, were invariably performed by him on a little acoustic guitar into a cassette recorder just playing those beautiful and intensely personal voicings, without any bass notes.
Pablo: Do you still have those those demos?
Gary: Sadly only a few, but I do have a couple.
Pablo: I looked around and tried to find recordings of him where he plays acoustic guitar. There’s this great version of “Kinder” on “Velvet Darkness” where he plays acoustic. I think he also plays acoustic on a couple of tracks on those records with Gordon Beck. But I’d love to hear more of his acoustic playing.
Gary: We used to try to get him to play it all the time. It took as far as the album “Metal Fatigue”, where he played this beautiful solo on acoustic guitar for the first time in many years. He didn’t play acoustic on anything I was on before or after.
Pablo: Wow I have to revisit to that record. I don’t remember him playing acoustic on there, but I will check it out!
Gary: Yeah. The track is called “Home”.
Pablo: I’ll put it on after this. Listen, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me!
Gary: Oh it has been a pleasure!
Pablo: It’s been a pleasure for me, too. Really special to get to talk to you because you’ve been one of my heroes and I’m always very curious what you’ll do next. Your trio idea with cello and tabla sounded pretty amazing already, So I hope you go along doing that.
Gary: Yeah I had to investigate the classical piano trio idea. There are a couple of beautiful ones I love. The Ravel, of course. Oh … oh man this is beautiful. There’s something really pure about that form for a trio, but I just took the violinist away and put the tabla player in his place. We’ll see!
Pablo: Thanks for doing it, man. It was really great to talk to you!
Gary: My pleasure absolutely thank you! I’m very humbled and glad that you wanted to do it. As much as you want to know about me I want to know about you though! So maybe I should interview you next time! (laughs)
Pablo: We can do a Part 2 anytime! (laughs)
Gary: Okay thank you, Pablo. All the best. Keep up the amazing work, OK?
Pablo: Well, you, too! Bye Bye!