Terrence Brewer Interview With Jazz Guitar Life

“I, like many musicians, thought the major labels would come looking for me, wanting to sign me, but that didn’t happen.  As I have learned a lot about the industry I realized that had little do with me and more to do with the state of record labels today.”

Terrence Brewer

Terrence Brewer is one of the busiest working Jazz Guitarists on the planet. In this interview, Terrence digs into his past and present sharing with us his work ethic on getting gigs and the art of Jazz Guitar. He also talks about his latest CD Groovin’ Wes which is a tribute to the one and only, Wes Montgomery. Enjoy!

This interview was conducted via email October, 2009. For more information on Terrence Brewer check out his website at www.terrencebrewer.com

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JGL: How old are you?

TB: Born: August 3, 1975, currently 34 years young …:)

JGL: What geographical area do you live in?

TB: San Francisco Bay Area.  Specifically, an island city in the SF bay, right next to Oakland/Berkeley called ‘Alameda’.

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

TB: I first began playing guitar at the age of 16.  I had been a woodwind player (Sax, flute, clarinet) since I was 9 years old.  Once in high school, I found myself playing woodwind instruments at school during the day; jazz and classical music.  And at night my love for rock and roll (Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Guns N Roses, etc) led me to the guitar.

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

TB: I’ve played jazz since I was 10 years old so I’ve always loved it.  However, I also grew up listening to and playing R&B, Funk, Rock, Country, hip-hop…you name it!

JGL: According to your online Bio, you were initially a woodwind performance major who switched to a Guitar performance major while at Los Medanos College in Pittsburgh, CA. What’s up with that?

TB: As I mentioned, I was living the double life of Woodwinds/Jazz/classical during the day and Guitar/Rock N Roll at night.  When I arrived to college, a woodwind major, I attended a jazz quintet performance with my sax professor. At this concert, I heard jazz guitar, live and in person, for the first time…my mind was blown.  I had never known or heard the beauty, complexity, and range of the guitar. I was determined to pursue the sound. I then changed my major to guitar studies and began the arduous task of applying years of knowledge on woodwinds to guitar while continuing to acclimate my self to the specifics of the guitar.

JGL: Do you still work on your woodwind playing at all?

TB: I no longer perform on woodwinds; playing several styles on the guitar while running a record label, publishing, marketing company, and booking agency eat up the hours.  Since I played woodwinds for several years, the knowledge is still there, the chops aren’t though!

JGL: In a related question: 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”!

TB: There are three separate moments that made me love the guitar and love jazz.  Hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time was what made me say, “wow! What is that and how do I get that sound”.  Jimi’s mind-blowing impact on me is one I still treasure to this day.  As I mentioned earlier, hearing jazz guitar for the first time in a live performance environment was what inspired me to want to play jazz guitar at a high level; another moment I will never forget.  When I was 15 years old, three movies lead me to want to pursue jazz/music for a living; the movies “Bird” and “Mo’ Betta’ Blues” along with the documentary “Straight No Chaser”.  These movies along with the music I mentioned earlier set the foundation for everything I still do to this day.  Those creative vehicles still inspire me to this day.

JGL: What was your first guitar?

TB: Les Paul Studio.

JGL: What Guitar are you playing these days and what kind of gear are you using?

TB: I have two ‘Heritage’ archtops I use regularly. Both are 575’s (16 inch lower bout), one has a spruce top the other has a maple top.  The spruce instrument has an ebony fret board and bridge and the maple instrument has a rosewood fret board and bridge.  I also have a Benedetto “Andy” model guitar which I travel with.  The “Andy” is Bob’s solid top ¾ size archtop; what a phenomenal instrument!  I use AER guitar amps; I have both the “Alpha” and the “Compact 60”.  I use “Thomastik Infeld” guitar strings; .14 gauge set.

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?

TB: My early guitar influences were heavy doses of Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, and Grant Green.  I am a fan of so many guitarists it’s hard to narrow down my current influences…Charlie Hunter (who I studied with), Peter Bernstein, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Adam Rogers, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Russell Malone, Howard Alden, George Van Epps.

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

TB: Other than the guitarists, I mentioned, I am currently listening to Michael Brecker, Christian Scott, Ben Monder, Danilo Perez, Dr, Lonnie Smith, but also Jay-Z, Eminem, Kings of Leon, The Dixie Chicks, and so much more.

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

TB: If I had to name just one, it would be Joe Pass.  Joe’s solo guitar work has had (and continues to have) the most profound influence on my playing and approach to playing.

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

TB: During college, I continued to play both woodwinds and guitar.  After college I started to get so much more work as a guitarist, it was the obvious choice.  I’ve also always had more of a love or felt more of an affinity for guitar then woodwinds so I’m glad my path has steered this way.

JGL: Were your parent(s) and family members supportive of your musical career choice?

TB: My family has always been supportive of my music choices.  They were at every junior high and high school concert and most of my early college performances.  When I wanted to major in music in college my parents were completely on board.  They continue to be my biggest fans.

JGL: You are one of the busiest Guitar Players I know of and it has been said that you have done no less than 2000 performances in the last seven years. That’s a lot of gigs Terence! What did it take to get you there and if you have any tips on getting gigs please spill the goods…:)

TB: I do always say it’s a combination of working hard and getting lucky!  Knowing a lot of musicians and being able to play and adapt to different musical styles doesn’t hurt either.  I’ve been fortunate and having four albums out that have all received great radio play both in the San Francisco Bay area and across the country has certainly translated into a number of performance opportunities.

JGL: You have been a sideman to many top acts like Diana Krall, Michael McDonald, Mary Wilson and another great Jazz Guitarists Calvin Keyes, as well as being a leader with your own trios, quartets and other group formats. Which do you prefer and what are the differences in roles that you bring to the table?

TB: Well, just to clarify, I have had the opportunity to open for both Diana Krall and Michael McDonald but yes, I have played with Mary Wilson (founding member of the Supremes), Calvin Keyes, Pete Escovedo, and many others.  Sounds crazy, but I like it all.  I have spent the majority of my career, thus far, as a band leader.  Probably 80-90% of the gigs we mentioned earlier I do as a leader of various groups, so whenever I get the opportunity as a sideman to just show up and play the guitar, it’s a real treat!

JGL: While we are on the topic of you having played with big name artists, how did these associations come about?

TB: A big part of a player’s musical success comes from their network.  Like with any job, to be successful you need to be good at that job, but it also helps to have a network of musicians and industry people to connect and work with.  I have a great association of booking managers, publicists, and musicians that I have both personal and professional relationships with and there is a lot of work that comes from knowing those folks and having them be fans of the work I do.

JGL: You recently released your fourth CD as a leader Groovin’ Wes, and as the title suggests, it is a tribute to the masterful Jazz Guitarist Wes Montgomery. How did this specific project come about and how, apart from the obvious, is it different from your past three releases?

TB: Yes, Groovin’ Wes was/is very different for me; it is my first album of Jazz standards.  My first three albums, The Calling: Volume One and Volume Two, and Quint Essential were all original music projects. Upon putting about my first album of standards, I felt there would be no better way to do so than to put out a tribute album to father of modern jazz guitar, Wes Montgomery.

JGL: By all standards, the new CD seems to be doing well and to be honest, I am not surprised in the least, it’s a wonderful album. Now, you obviously have a strong fan base and you definitely have all the angles of marketing down to a science. How are you currently marketing yourself and your music and what technologies are you using to get the word out about Terrence Brewer?

TB: A very interesting question, especially as the internet continues to play such a great part of marketing music these days.  To be honest, my biggest focus is always the most “old fashioned” of the marketing techniques for our industry – Radio, TV, and Print media.  Here at Strong Brew Music we send out a full international radio, newspaper, and TV campaign once a record is released and go “old school” with a lot of phone call follow up.  I am on FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter so I do also use those mediums to get the word out, but the most effective ways, in my opinion, seem to be the ones that have worked for so long.

JGL: Amongst your other musical and personal accomplishments, you founded your own record label? Was this in reaction to a lot of closed doors or something you just wanted to do?

TB: I, like many musicians, thought the major labels would come looking for me, wanting to sign me, but that didn’t happen.  As I have learned a lot about the industry I realized that had little do with me and more to do with the state of record labels today.  I had a wealth of original material I wanted to get out into the “world” and I wanted more visibility both regionally and nationally so I that’s when I started Strong Brew Music.

JGL: Do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician something that should be taught in music schools or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to managers and agents?

TB: When I do clinics/master classes, I can’t emphasis enough to young musicians the importance of knowing a fair amount about the business side of music.  There is such a long tradition of musicians being taken advantage of do to their lack of business savvy and their quick reliance on others to handle the business and money for them.  Real business acumen, like true musicianship can’t be taught in school…except the school of hard knocks.  You have to just experience life and learn from every experience.

JGL: Apart from being a busy and in-demand player, you are also a popular educator spreading the Jazz curriculum and vocabulary throughout California in the form of lectures, workshops and master classes. Are there common issues that keep on popping up that you find always need to addressing? And if so, how do you deal with them?

TB: The biggest issue I address is the business.  Good musicians don’t have to be prodded to practice and while yes, there are things younger musicians don’t yet know musically, they will work hard to learn them.  The reality is that if you aren’t successful in getting “known” and getting work all of that practice means little to the bottom line of making a living at your passion.

JGL: Aside from your formal teaching, do you teach privately and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?

TB: I do teach privately.  I love private one-on-one instruction.  It’s one of the most gratifying aspects of being a musician.  I love seeing people learn something new and it always helps reinforce ideas, themes, and concepts for my own musical benefit. If someone wants to study with me, they can send and email to Info@TerrenceBrewer.com and I’ll get back to them about lesson availability and rates.  I teach all styles, ages, and ability levels.

JGL: How do you approach improvisation? Is it based on the usual scale/chord relationships or are you coming at it using other concepts?

TB: My improvisation is based on the chord/scale relationship, but from the standpoint of having a musical conversation.  Conversing with the other musicians, so I try to listen a lot and develop ideas from what’s going on around me.  Also, thinking of the chords/scales as a vehicle to tell a melodic story.  Sometimes that story is consonant with the melodic theme already established and sometimes it’s dissonant and contrary to the harmony.

JGL: For the student of Jazz Guitar, what would you say is the most important thing to do when learning to improvise and play over changes?

TB: Thematic development.  A lot of young players today sound exactly the same because there is such an emphasis on learning scales and in turn their improvisation comes from this rote way of learning scales and not the melody or their own melodic statements.  When you listen to the great players they take you on a melodic and thematic journey; developing lines, phrases, and themes along the way.

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

TB: My practice routine varies from day to day.  Since I play 5-6 nights a week and sometimes multiples on the weekends, I will practice more or less depending on how much I have or will be playing on certain days.  I do tend to work on specific things; but they are always practical i.e. developing melodic or harmonic ideas for improv or comping, technique ideas, etc.  It’s rare that I just play tunes without some development involved.

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?

TB: Ha! Yes and no.  When you’re young and idealistic you certainly expect more fame and fortune!  Even once you get to experience some of those great achievements you realize it’s about the journey.  I realized long ago no gig is too big or too small and to play my heart out at everyone.  I really do try to stay in the moment and fully appreciate what I’m doing right at that moment.  There have been times in my playing career when I have felt like it was all a surreal dream, like I couldn’t have scripted it any better!

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

TB: I’m tempted to say move to New York when I was younger, or pursue a little higher education, or start the record label at a younger age.  However, I’m so happy with my personal and professional life I wouldn’t honestly change any of it.  I needed to go through all of the ups and downs, successes and failures I went through to get where I am.  While I may have imagined a different life for myself when I was starting out, it certainly wasn’t a better life, just different.

JGL: What does the future hold for Terrence Brewer?

TB: I plan to put out more records and hopefully get into some film/TV scoring.  I also have some other specific projects I’m working on right now; branching out from what most people know and going back to my funk/rock roots.

JGL: Any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?

TB: Yes…go for it!  If you love music then pursue it. Those of us who can play and especially those who can be successful and make a living at it, are (in my opinion), the most blessed people in the world!  Be humble to life and the musical growth process and work your but off.

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?

TB: No second thoughts what-so-ever.  There are lots of things I can do and other things I wanted to do for a living.  I thought about law school after high school, I love theater and movies and thought about writing scripts and acting.  I was a personal fitness trainer for many years after college while I was starting to make a living at music and that was great.  Music is the biggest part of who I am but it is certainly not the sum.  That philosophy has helped me tremendously in life…always trying to stay humble and balanced.

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

TB: That’s always a weird question for me…I get to do the thing that is the most fun for me everyday for a living!!  However, I am a runner; my wife and I just completed our third half-marathon.  Between running and the gym, I work out 5-6 days a week.  I also love to bike and am a movie fanatic.

JGL: Thank you Terrence for participating in Jazz Guitar Life. It is most appreciated and I wish you great success in your career and life.

TB: I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity! It has been my pleasure and I look forward to connecting with you in person someday soon!

JGL: Likewise!

Please consider spreading the word about Terrence and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We would love to hear from you 🙂

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