Warren Greig Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“I wasted a lot of time and didn’t spend enough time working on my ears when I was younger. I don’t practice very much but now I can learn more in 15 minutes than I would in eight hours when I started. I try not to waste time and work mostly on expanding my vocabulary in terms of tunes, lines and harmony.”

Warren Greig

Warren Greig is a wonderful working guitar player from Toronto, Canada who shares with us the early years coming up to thoughts on education and why Tabulature is not a guitarists best friend. A very informative read.

This interview was conducted via email March, 2005. Check out his website at www.warrengreig.com

JGL: How old are you?

WG: 46

JGL: What geographical area do you live in?

WG: Etobicoke, Ontario which is basically west Toronto.

JGL: How long have you been playing guitar for?

WG: 32 years

JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now?

WG: Initially I played on my Dad’s Martin which was followed up by a Fender telecaster. Now I play an Eastman non-cutaway acoustic archtop and a 1949 Gibson 175 which I use for most of my jazz gigs.

JGL: At what age did you first get into guitar playing and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz?

WG: I started playing guitar when I was 14 and at the time was interested in the Beatles, Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, Cream and B.B. King. Shortly after I began playing, I took lessons at a local music store in Thornhill and my teachers recommended that I listen to players like George Benson and Ed Bickert.

JGL: What excited you about jazz guitar or jazz in general when you were young?

WG: I remember being impressed seeing George Benson sitting in with Benny Goodman playing Charlie Christian solos on a US cable show in the 1970’s. Around this time I got the Breezin LP by George Benson and some other albums such as Joe Pass Virtuoso, Paul Desmond Quartet Live at Bourban Street with Ed Bickert, Jim Hall Trio with Don Thompson and Terry Clarke, Wes Montgomery in Vancouver with his brothers and a fusion album by Pat Martino called Joyous Lake. I was impressed with all these players but initially I found myself mostly listening to Ed Bickert for his amazing comping ability.

JGL: You are a major exponent of jazz education and have graced this site with a couple of articles for the beginning to intermediate player. You are also in demand as a private teacher and clinician. How did musical education become so much an important part of your life and what kinds of subjects do you attempt to impart on your students or audience? Are there any common issues or problems that you encounter regularly that happen when beginners first start out learning jazz guitar?

WG: In the course of developing as a player I was always upset with how long it took me to figure things out and frustrated by how little information is available to someone who wants to learn Jazz Guitar. I had some excellent teachers but some really bad ones too. Some players seem to make a point of sharing everything they know while some are quite secretive and purposefully withhold information that would help the student.

I think it is important to respect the student and share information on how I overcame playing problems while at the same time being honest enough to acknowledge that the student may have a better solution than me. I’ve had to work hard on single note playing whereas chords came easier to me, everyone is different. I also think it’s important not to get in the way of someone’s musical development by insisting that they play the way I do.

JGL: In your experience as an educator, what are the most important elements of jazz guiar study that young people (or any student of jazz guitar) need to acquire early on to sustain the dream of becoming a professional musician?

WG: At this point I think the most important things are being able to keep time and play in tune. I think playing songs is more important than chord scale relationships and technique and I think it is important to be able to play the tunes you know in different keys. Secondarily I think being able to read music and play a variety of arpeggios, scales and chords with a logical fingering system all over the instrument can only help the guitarist execute his or her ideas more clearly.

JGL: How does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?

WG: I can be contacted at my website, warrengreig.com for lessons. I am happy to teach anyone who is interested in learning.

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?

WG: The first major influence would have to be Ed Bickert for the comping feel and then Joe Pass for lines. Later on I became more influenced by Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery but I think you have to absorb these influences in such a way that you ultimately end up sounding like yourself. I also listened to Grant Green, Jimmy Raney, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Tom Harrell, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Although I have focused on bebop mostly, Hall, Metheny, Abercrombie and Scofield advanced guitar playing greatly in the area of articulation and I have tried to incorporate some of their approaches into my playing.

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

WG: I am listening to Pat Martino from his 1960’s period with organist Jack McDuff and some stuff he did with organist Don Patterson. Also I am listening to Brazilian Guitarist Joao Gilberto, Anthony Wilson and as always Wes Montgomery.

JGL: You have a great affinity for Joe Pass and on your site it states “Although I continued to listen to Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall I seemed to be able to apply Joe Pass lines to my playing more easily.” Would you talk a bit about what you meant by that?

WG: I found Joe Pass played licks that were easier to play physically on the instrument and his playing was more locked into steady 8th note lines. I found Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall played more like horn players to my ear in that there was far more rhythmic and intervallic variety in their playing.

JGL: Having asked the above question I guess it is a little redundant for me to ask this next question but I will do it anyway. Who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?

WG: I guess overall the answer would have to be Wes Montgomery for the way he accents and develops his lines.

JGL: You have studied with the great Canadian guitarist Oliver Gannon. What was that experience like and what were some of the things you picked up from him?

WG: I found the experience great. In 1979 I went to Humber College then I moved to Vancouver where I attended Vancouver College. After I got out of Vancouver College in 1984 I took two or three lessons with Oliver Gannon. I found him to be very direct and honest as he pointed out some problems in my playing that I wasn’t aware of. At the time I had an exaggerated swing feel in my lines that sounded old fashioned, he had me straighten out the 8th note lines with accents on the upbeats. Also he alerted me to the fact it’s not against the law to repeat a note or leave some spaces in your playing. In addition he said if you don’t know many tunes you are not going to get much work.

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

WG: It is difficult to play only jazz but I am fortunate in that my wife Anna has set up my website and overseen the marketing aspect. I am positive and I think there are a lot of opportunities to perform. Also the interest in Jazz Guitar seems to be greater now than in past years.

JGL: Did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice and if so, what were some of the things you did to make this choice work for you?

WG: My Dad, Fred is very musical and he sings and plays country music. Also my mom’s brother John played a Gibson flat top and is a good player. My Dad’s brothers Bruce and Harold both played Martin guitars. Although I was exposed to music at a young age I did not seem to have any affinity for it until much later. When I became more interested I took private lessons, played Sax in the school band and attended Humber College and later Vancouver College.

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

WG: My parents and family were very supportive and I played tunes with my Dad when I was starting out.

JGL: What was your practice routine like when you were beginning? And how has it developed over the years?

WG: I wasted a lot of time and didn’t spend enough time working on my ears when I was younger. I don’t practice very much but now I can learn more in 15 minutes than I would in eight hours when I started. I try not to waste time and work mostly on expanding my vocabulary in terms of tunes, lines and harmony.

JGL: What is the jazz scene like in Toronto for working musicians? Can you be a pure Jazz player or do you have to settle for commercial gigs as well?

WG: There is a tremendous amount of talent in Toronto and great players on all instruments. I like all types of music but life is short so I am into Jazz Guitar and seldom play other styles because of time constraints.

JGL: Could you describe some of your best musical sitautions or experiences and the worst?

WG: My best situation would have to be playing with my Trio. We have had some really good gigs and it seems to be getting better. My worst experience occurred in Vancouver where I had a gig on a small ferry with a solid body guitar and an amplifier with a three prong plug. Unfortunately it was an old boat and only had a two prong wall socket.

JGL: What type of musical sitaution do you enjoy the most (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)

WG: I enjoy all combinations as long as the music is good.

JGL: You have a new CD out now as a leader Warren Greig Trio. How did the conditions come about to record your first CD and how did you make it happen? What was the initial motivator that made you decide to take the plunge?

WG: I had played in many situations where I didn’t really get the opportunity to stretch out. I originally set up the recording as a demo to get gigs playing music I enjoy with an instrumentation that has been influential in my playing. In following through on the mixing and mastering I decided to arrange a first pressing and try to distribute it as an independent. My wife has done a lot of the marketing and as a result we’re getting airplay across North America and European radio stations. I have spent more time on the project than I normally would as a result of the NHL being on strike.

JGL: Do you plan on recording another CD any time soon and if so, will it include any more original music? The three original tunes on your first CD were very enjoyable to listen to and I wonder if there are any more up your compositional sleeve?

WG: The one thing I have decided is that the next CD will be all originals, maybe with one cover tune, partly because I didn’t realize how complex licensing cover tunes would be. The organist, Paul Wiggins has already composed a few tunes that would be included on the next cd. For me I would have to sit down and write some stuff which for me is easier on the piano for some reason.

JGL: Your tone is very reminscent of the older cats who played in the early 50’s or so. How have you managed to get such a great sound?

WG: Thank you. I think it’s a combination of personal taste, approach to the instrument and equipment. I play a 1949 Gibson 175 with the original single coil P90 pick ups and use tube amps. I also use heavy strings with a wound 3rd which gives me a better tone I think. A lot of guitar players roll off all the treble when they dial up their tones which I try to avoid. In addition I try to utilize a lot of pull offs, slides and hammer on effects in my playing. I also try to vary my accents and alter the dynamic range. When soloing I try to sing the lines in my mind which dictates how I use dynamics and articulation.

JGL: You have been a sideman for quite some time in your local area and now you have stepped out as a leader of your own trio. With the experiences that come from such a move, which do you prefer being, a leader or a sideman? And why?

WG: I am glad I played as a sideman first because I have learned so much from other players. Now that I am getting gigs for the trio I try to leave space so that everyone has input into what tunes we do. Paul knows lots of tunes and has a great feel for both comping and soloing. I think both Paul and Harry played very well on the CD and I find it easy to play with them. With my own trio the most enjoyable aspect for me is that it provides me with the opportunity to express my personal taste in music and play the tunes I most enjoy.

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

WG: If it were just one individual I guess it would be Charlie Parker who had such a huge influence on the music.

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?

WG: It is quite different than my first impression. I found certain things very difficult to grasp when I started and I had to change my approach to the instrument and listening habits to improve my playing. Aside from developing my ear and understanding of harmony I have found that my view of the fingerboard is quite a bit different from when I started. Now I use it as a resource whereas initially it was the biggest barrier to being able to play.

JGL: Where would you like to see jazz guitar go in the coming years?

WG: I’d like to see guitar players catch up to horn players. This won’t happen if tab continues to be the primary learning vehicle for guitarists.

JGL: Could you elaborate on why you are not a big fan of Tab?

WG: The problem with tab is that it allows the guitarist to sidestep learning the notes on the fingerboard and it gives no clear indication of rhythmic duration. In addition chord diagrams don’t support the idea of learning how to construct chords, voice leading and harmonic context. Conversely horn players usually learn how to read music from the very beginning and have a huge head start on guitar players.

It is ironic that tab is supposed to help the guitarist when in fact it is a system that shows an incomplete view of music and limits the guitarist. A huge number of guitar players simply don’t know the notes on the instument nor can they read music. Due to the large population of guitarists it is more lucrative for music publishers to dumb things down and insist that all method books be in tab which perpetuates the discrepancy in musicanship between guitar players and horn players. Although reading music is not as important as hearing music it does open up a lot of doors and gives the guitarist the opportunity of playing and communicating with musicians who play other intruments. Further it increases the number of professional music opportunities for the player.

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

WG: Work on stuff slowly, listen to lots of music and play with other players as much as possible. Also don’t just listen to guitar players. If you are not getting gigs try and join rehearsal bands, every major city has several. At one time I was in 4 rehearsal bands a week while I was working a day job and realized I was getting more playing experience than I did in College. College can be useful in that you meet players your own age with similar interests.

JGL: Apart from music what other pursuits do you enjoy tackling?

WG: I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter Melissa. For hobbies I enjoy lacrosse, hockey, movies and reading.

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

WG: No but I have been discouraged at various times. To be honest it is difficult to keep my interest level high and I am far more interested in playing than I am in practising. I worked hard in the past but I would much rather play tunes than practice. If I do practice I try and work on something that I can use.

JGL: Thank you Warren for participating in jazzguitarlife.com. It is most appreciated.

WG: I have enjoyed talking to you. Best of luck with the website, it’s a great resource.

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