Barry Greene Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“Remember what it felt like to just listen to the sound of yourself strumming a G chord? We need to remain in that state so music remains a joy and you are connected to the sound of your instrument.”

Barry Greene

If you’re a student of Jazz Guitar, or you’ve searched online to see who is out there in the Jazz Guitar community, chances are you’ve come across a YouTube link or three featuring the great Barry Greene. Barry is a top-shelf educator, player and performer who selfishly gives of his time so that we all may be able to make sense of the complex road that Jazz Guitar study has us follow. But hey, don’t take my word for it, check out the below quote by Mr. Martino…and enjoy this insightful interview.

“I’ve been enjoying the guitar as an instrument and its amazing artists all of my life. To me Barry Greene is just about one of the best; not only as a player, but also as a writer and a teacher. I agree with others who regard him as a world class musician.” – Pat Martino

This interview was conducted via email in 2016. You can find out more info on Barry by visiting his website at http://www.barrygreene.com

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JGL: If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?

BG: I was born on July 31,1961

JGL: What geographical area do you live in?

BG: Jacksonville Florida

JGL: Before we begin, please give Jazz Guitar Life readers a quick “elevator pitch” of who Barry Greene is.

BG: Professor, father of two sons, lover of all music and determined to provide quality education to jazz guitar lovers all over the world.

JGL: How long have you been playing guitar for and at what age did you first get into guitar playing?

BG: I started at 10 years old, 44 years.

JGL: Were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz?

BG: I wasn’t interested in jazz at all. I was into the Beatles in the 1960s, Led Zeppelin in the 70s and found jazz in high school in the late 1970s.

JGL: Can you recall that particular moment that first excited you about jazz guitar or jazz in general? The one that made you say “that’s what I want to do”!

BG: It was hearing Joe Pass, George Benson and Pat Martino. I couldn’t believe that a human being could play guitar at such a high level without massive amounts of distortion  I wouldn’t say that I loved the music at that moment but I felt the need to try to play the instrument like that.

JGL: Similarly, Was there a defining moment when you decided that Jazz Guitar would/could be your career path?

BG: I wasn’t the greatest kid in high school, I skipped many a class staying home learning Aerosmith tunes and really didn’t have anything else that I was good at other than music. I decided to go to the Berklee College of music in 1979 after graduating high school.

JGL: You are an endorser of Master Guitar Luthier Robert Benedetto and play a Benedetto Bravo Model. Would you mind sharing the details of how this endorsement came to be? But before you do…what was your first guitar?

BG: My first guitar was something called a Zim Gar. It was made of plastic! I had been playing Buscarino guitars for quite a while, but an unfortunate incident happened during my divorce and was all of a sudden without my precious guitar. I was playing a friends Gibson ES 165 when Howard Paul from Benedetto guitars saw me at the Savannah jazz festival. The rest as they say is history:)

JGL: What other gear are you using?

BG: Benedetto amplifiers which I absolutely love and Thomastik Infeld 14 guage flat wounds.

JGL: Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years?

BG: They have stayed the same. I’ve always loved the horn like, hard swinging playing style of Pat Martino, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Pass.

JGL: Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?

BG: I like listening to all types of music though, from R&B, soul, funk, blues, classical, country I just love it all. You can learn something from everything. I also listen to the Sirius FM jazz station often, that gives me a good glimpse into what’s happening in the world of jazz.

JGL: Who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?

BG: George Benson. He encompasses everything that makes an incredible musician. There is no one that can touch him in regards to a soulful pocket, and the fact that he sings breathes true melodic life into his music. I’m not a fan of technical music and I don’t like modern musicians who are doing away with the passion and soul of jazz. Jazz music was born of struggle and should still reflect that.

JGL: You have made education a huge part of your music career, much to the benefit of others and to the overall Jazz Guitar Community! This leads me to three related questions: 1) How did you get involved in teaching?

BG: Thanks! I had been a professional musician since I was 20, I had reached 30 years old and hadn’t seen much improvement financially. I wanted a family, health insurance and a chance at a retirement. Getting into teaching seemed an obvious choice. I already had a bachelors degree from William Paterson College so I decided to enroll at the University of South Florida in Tampa where I was currently living.

2) What do you personally get out of teaching?

Having to put into words what I have learned has been an amazing experience. It’s also a constant refresher course for me. Another benefit is that I work with great students who have taught me plenty!

3) Can the essence of Jazz truly be taught?

Yes. It is all about tapping into the spiritual side of ones self. Remember what it felt like to just listen to the sound of yourself strumming a G chord? We need to remain in that state so music remains a joy and you are connected to the sound of your instrument. We spend so much time with chords and arpeggios, that we lose our way, and forget the reason we started to play music. Over the past 25 years I think I have found a way to teach an aspiring jazz musician how to truly reach the pinnacle of our craft. I have met every kind of jazz guitarist and 75% of the time can turn them into fine musicians. The other 25% didn’t have the “gift”, “aptitude”, or ” talent”. Call it what you wish, but if everyone could be an expressive, improvising musician, I think they would be.

JGL: What are your thoughts towards the music education system? (Me playing Devil’s Advocate) Do you find that the mentor/band-stand style of learning has been replaced by the more rigid and dare I say “sterile” construct of institutional higher learning.

BG: Yes and no. The benefits to institutionalized learning are being surrounded by your peers, working as a unit to create a superior musical performances and the constant interactivity that is found in a thriving music program.

There is no substitute for getting your ass kicked on a band stand. I try to recreate this in my private lessons by changing keys, tempos, and feels. I have students accompany singers, and I make them start and end tunes. As I said though, you only discover your weaknesses when you’re on the bandstand.

I do believe we do things backwards when teaching improvisation. Ideally I would have all of my students transcribe 4 or 5 noteworthy solos and after they have memorized them and can play along with the recordings, begin to discuss the theory. Approaching the music in reverse, in other words using theory as a vehicle for improvisation is wrong. The easy analogy is language. None of us consider nouns and adverbs when speaking, we would sound like robots.

JGL: As an educator, you have also published a relatively large collection of method books with titles such as Solo Jazz Guitar Method, Advanced Jazz Guitar Improvisation, Jazz Guitar Standards/Chord Solos and so on for the music publishing giant Mel Bay. More importantly though, you have also started self-publishing digital method books as well. How has this been working out for you and do you still write for the traditional press or are you solely self-publishing now?

BG: I will self publish from now on. The two main reasons are that digital distribution allows me to update the books whenever I need to, and financially I go from earning 10% to 60%. It has been a wonderful supplement to my career as a professor.

JGL: For the student of Jazz Guitar, what would you say is the most important thing to do when approaching this art form for study?

BG: Listen and love the music. You should never have to be coaxed into improving, it should be the driving force in your life.

JGL: What is the one big issue that you see beginning students repeat over and over again and what can be done to rectify this?

BG: It has to be the constant struggle of balancing learning theory with the organic, creative part of being a musician. I’d rather hear a musician with no theory background than someone who relies on it for musical decisions. To me, music theory only validates why things sound good.

JGL: What is your practice routine like these days? Do you work on specific things or just play tunes?

BG: I practice an hour at most usually playing through a tune. I try to make at least one new “discovery” a day. A new sub, an new way of approaching a chord. I don’t put anywhere near the same hours I did when I was in my 20’s:)

JGL: How difficult do you/did you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player, or have you found it to be relatively easy?

BG: I’ve found getting gigs easy, but making a living is very difficult as a performing musician. 100.00 a night is not going to allow you to raise a family.

JGL: Consequently, as an independent artist/performer/educator, how do you go about marketing yourself? Are there any tools that you have come across that you have found to be effective and would like to share with Jazz Guitar Life readers? For example, you have recently begun an almost daily live video broadcast on Facebook which I find to be intimate, fun and informative.

BG: Without question the internet, specifically Facebook has been a life changing marketing tool. The ability to target people who you know have an interest in what you do is invaluable, and when your friends “like” something, it gives you instant credibility. The social aspect of marketing has changed everything. You must have and maintain a webpage, and not be fearful of putting content out on a regular basis.

JGL: If you could only pick one individual or group to play with (alive or dead), who would that be and why?

BG: I’d love to be able to play a gig with George Benson! He is the ultimate groove machine and I would like to take part in that!

JGL: Is there one musical format you prefer over another – ie: organ trio, solo guitar etc… – and if so, why?

BG: It depends, the musical situation is going to be successful based on the ability of the people I’m playing with. I’d rather play with a great accordion player than a mediocre rhythm section! I do love playing solo guitar, although I miss the interaction of playing with other musicians when it’s a lengthy gig.

JGL: Has your impressions and experiences of being a Jazz Guitar player been what you had expected when you first decided to become a musician?

BG: They are not at all what I expected. After 20 years I still can’t believe it says professor Barry Greene on my door! In most cases everything has exceeded my expectations. I had no idea that playing jazz would become such an awe inspiring, spirit lifting experience. Initially, I had just wanted to become the best guitar player on earth, after realizing that wasn’t going to happen, I have just continued to work on being the best version of me!

JGL: How do you find the state of Jazz Guitar today and Jazz in general. Is it healthy or does it need some work?

BG: I think it’s in great shape. There are so many unique voices out there who play at a virtuosic level. It’s absolutely incredible. When I was a kid, we had only a few guys to emulate, now there are guitarists from every corner of the globe and from every age group playing mind blowingly great guitar. Yes, the jazz audience is shrinking, and gigs are harder to come by, but we are creating generations of jazz lovers through all of the high school and college jazz programs around the world. When I was younger, I could count my college choices on one hand.

JGL: You have performed and/or taught alongside some of the best Jazz artists around. Do you have any experiences and/or stories – positive and or negative – that you’d like to share with Jazz Guitar Life readers?

BG: The big moments where the few minutes I had to play with my heroes Pat Martino and George Benson. I hope I get the opportunity again. Sharing the stage with Tommy Emmanuel was pretty amazing too:)

JGL: Any near or far future news/projects/books that you would like to let us know about?

BG: There is a potentially really cool teaching opportunity coming up. If it does happen, I wont have to tell you about it! I’m also doing a course for TrueFire this summer.

JGL: Any chance your kid’s will be picking up the guitar to be like dad?

BG: They both noodle on it but are not serious. This is perfectly fine with me. My youngest son is playing saxophone in his middle school band, I’m very happy about that.

JGL: How would you like to see your life unfold in the coming years and what do you think would be needed to get you there?

BG: I’m good Lyle. I feel like the most fortunate guy in the world. I would like to perform at more festivals, particularly things in Europe, but selfish I am not, and would be content doing exactly what I’m doing for another 10-15 years.

JGL: If you could do one thing over again, what would it be and why?

BG: Nothing. I made plenty of mistakes and have learned from them all. I expect to make many more in the future!

JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.

BG: No. Music chooses you. Once it’s got you, there is no turning back.

JGL: Apart from music, what else do you like to do for fun?

BG: Spend time with my girlfriend, travel, visit restaurants and keep up with music technology. My kids are getting older and I don’t interact with them as much anymore, but I love them and have their back.

JGL: As we wrap this up Barry, do you have any parting advice for the younger guy or gal out there who might be considering a career as a jazz guitar player?

BG: The same advice you hear time and time again. If you love the music and put in the hours, you will be successful. The path you choose will most likely come with many unexpected turns and you will likely be at plan c or d by the time things fall into place, but never give up, and try to be the very best at it.

JGL: Thank you so much Barry for taking the time to be on jazzguitarlife.com. It is most appreciated and I wish you great success in your career and life.

BG: Thank you Lyle! Awesome questions.

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