Larry Tamanini Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“I was so young when I met him and I just thought everyone had a Pat Martino in their life that acted as a Jazz Guitar mentor. It wasn’t until I lost my own father and had Pat reach out to me that I really understood his impact on me reached far beyond 12 point stars, Philly swing, and octave displacement ideas.”

Larry Tamanini

Larry Tamanini is a wonderful working and recording Jazz Guitar player from Philadelphia who shares with us his background as an up and coming player, his thoughts on the “Philly Way” and his mentor-ship/association with both Pat Martino and Dennis Sandole. A truly great read. Enjoy!

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JGL: Hi Larry and thanks for taking the time to be on Jazz Guitar Life!

LT: Hi Lyle!!

JGL: Let’s get to know you a bit shall we? If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?

LT: I’ll be 42 in May.

JGL: What geographical area do you live in?

LT: For most of my life I have resided in various parts of Bucks County, Pa which is 20 miles north of Philadelphia and 60-80 miles from NYC.

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

LT: Mostly I’m a Bebop and BBQ enthusiast (just kidding). I’m first a foremost a fan of the guitar specifically jazz guitar. 

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

LT: I started when I was 15 

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

LT:  My dad played a lot of music that was guitar oriented music and we went to see music a lot in Philadelphia and NYC. I was exposed to lots of music against my will. Early on I liked Jimi, SRV, Carlos, Jeff Beck , Beatles and Stones and some of the pop music of the time.

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”!

LT: Hearing the Wes album Down Here on The Ground

JGL: Nice! That would do it! Similarly, was there a defining moment when you decided that Jazz Guitar would/could be your career path?

LT: I got a chance to play a jazz fest in Philadelphia with a group of my friends and Grover Washington Jr. because one of his students was in the band. After the gig he asked me for my number and I think I fainted. 

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

LT:  First guitar was a Yamaha acoustic student model and then I had a Fender Strat and a Les Paul. My first Jazz Box was an ES-125 and I have had a bunch of other Archtops since. Currently I have an L-5 that I’m looking to trade and my old stand-by is an Ibanez AF 125.

JGL: What other gear are you using?

LT: DR strings or Roto-sound Top Tape .11 flats, Henriksen Blu Bud or Roland JC-55 amp.

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?

LT: Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Larry Coryell, and Wes were the players that lead me to get into jazz guitar and they still are easily on my top 10. I fell in love with Grant Green because it was easy for me to steal his licks and those albums sounded so different than anyone else. Pat Metheny was also a big influence along with Bireli Lagrene and Paul Bollenback. 

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

LT: It’s always a good mix and I love listening to Lee Morgan and Dexter Gordon. 

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

LT: Pat Martino is the biggest influence on me as a Jazz Guitarist because of the time I got to share hanging, playing, and being his roadie. 

JGL: Wow! Would you expand on this please? What were the circumstances involved?

LT: I got involved with Pat through my dad who was a big music fan and handled some of Pat’s business dealings from 1995-2003-ish. I was strictly a tag along at first but Pat heard me play a few times and started taking an interest in me and my development. He knew I was studying with Dennis Sandole and Pat didn’t want Dennis to “mess with my feel” as he put it so I started taking lessons with Pat and just being in the same room with him was a revelation. He always had a lot of material and it was always printed out in booklets. I have to confess that I didn’t really like his minor conversion concept that much but aesthetically he was brilliant to be around. I was asked to be his roadie at a few dates in Philly at Chris’ Jazz Cafe and then The Tin Angel. I graduated to doing The Iridium and Birdland and a few other dates that took me on the road and gave me a chance to travel with Pat and see how he interacted with the band, fans, club owners, etc. It was a real education. 

I met Joey DeFrancesco in a playing situation while sound-checking for Pat and some of the small snippets of even playing a sound-check with Joey and Billy Hart or Joey and Byron Landham was pretty life altering for me as a 20 year old. 

JGL: Wow! What was this experience like and what were the important take-aways from studying with such a Jazz legend?

LT: I was really lucky to have that time with him. My father procured a private parking space for his abode in South Philly in 1995 ish? I learned a lot from Pat and it’s still a ton to process.

JGL: Can you be a little more specific Larry? We’re trying to live vicariously through your experiences with Pat 🙂

LT: It’s hard to really quantify it in a literal sense. I was so young when I met him and I just thought everyone had a Pat Martino in their life that acted as a Jazz Guitar mentor. It wasn’t until I lost my own father and had Pat reach out to me that I really understood his impact on me reached far beyond 12 point stars, philly swing, and octave displacement ideas. Pat talked about humanity a lot and that really speaks volumes to me now.

JGL: Have you been in touch with Pat lately and if so, how is he doing?

LT: Pat is not in great health but he’s a fighter and a warrior.

JGL: Along with Pat Martino, you also studied with the equally legendary Dennis Sandole! What was that experience like? And what were – if any – the differences studying with Pat and Dennis?

LT: I actually got them to speak again and have a sandwich at Nick’s Roastbeef in 1998. They had stark differences in their musical approach and I would say I have a totally different approach than either of them but they did encourage me to find my own way to organize tones and work it out on the guitar.

JGL: Cool. As a guitar student back in the day, and apart from your studying with Pat and Dennis, what were some of the more important resources (method books, teachers, academia, etc.) that helped you get to where you are today and do you have any recommendations for up and coming Jazz Guitar students?

LT: The Philly jazz guitar way is usually learning to read from violin books and getting a copy of guitar lore by Dennis Sandole. I went through all that stuff but I don’t know if it helped my swing that much to be honest. Some books I have liked have been the Hal Galper Forward Motion book, the Richard Boukas Jazz Guitar Transcription book, all the Steve Khan stuff on Wes and of course anything from Pat Martino. My biggest recommendation for any guitar student is to master form.

JGL: What is it about form that is so important for those who may not know?

LT: I’ll say this for guitar, our instrument is very unique and you can nerd out on many minor details. Mastering form is the first step to improvising confidently because if playing a tune is like following directions you need to make all the correct turns before you can learn the shortcuts.

JGL: Well stated Larry! This sets up the next question rather nicely, which is, 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?

LT: I do teach and anyone that is willing to work and learn is an ideal candidate. 

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

LT: Showing up every day to play.

JGL: What is your practice routine like these days? Are you working on anything specific?

LT: I play through tunes and try to keep it going for 30-40 minutes just to keep those changes fresh during lock down. I also like to shed with the Drum Genius app.

JGL: Speaking of studying, you appear to have taken the mentor/passing the torch approach to the study of this music rather than seek guidance in the hallowed halls of academia. Was that a conscious choice and if so, what was your reasoning choosing one way over the other.

LT: I believe that school and schooling is great but I thought academia wasn’t for me just based on the fact of having to take piano classes and software notation. I think they are amazing skills for some people but I had zero interest in any formal curriculum and I was lucky to have supportive folks and the chance to play six nights a week at an early age.

JGL: Speaking of playing, you have been both a leader and a sideman – your tenure with Joey DeFrancesco comes to mind, along with Richie Cole and Phil Woods to name but a few. Which do you prefer and what are the differences in roles that you need to bring to the table?

LT: I am always happy to be a sideman for any real legend of the music and that was the whole point I got into performing. I think everything I do is directly from the brief experiences I had with these 3 great players. I like to run the show and pick tunes but I would take a backup role for a true master any day of the week.

JGL: Along with the above question, what was it like playing with these particular leaders and was there any pressure…lol 🙂 

LT: One thing that they all shared was that they really didn’t give me much direction and gave me space to play and treated me like an equal. When you play with great players you either rise to their level or get rolled over. 

JGL: Is there a particular musical grouping you enjoy playing with – organ trio, quartet, etc – and if so, why?

LT: Organ trio and Quartet with guitar, piano, bass, drums. I like having another chordal instrument and it’s just a personal preference.

JGL: We share the same preference! With all the performers you have played with or met socially, are there any experiences or stories – positive and/or negative – that you would like to share with the readers?

LT: OMG! I save that for the guitar forums…lol!

JGL: LOL!! Understood! As far as I know you have released two albums as a leader – Lookin’ Into It, Front and Center (read the review here) and The Voice. Can you talk about each project and have they lived up to your expectations in terms of recognition? (Larry…if you only wanna talk about your latest, that’s cool with me!)

LT: My first album was just supposed to be a demo I was making for my dad when he was doing chemo but it turned into something pretty special that lead to some good airplay and helped establish me as a leader Front and Center is special to me because I wrote all the tunes and wanted to create a really well recorded EP.

JGL: As a family man with a wife and daughter 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?

LT: Perspective is everything and nothing is easy playing jazz guitar except playing! I love having a family and staying grounded. It’s a big part of what I do and I am really lucky to have an amazing and supportive family. 

JGL: As an aside, I realise that COVID has interrupted your professional life in a great many ways. Is there anything you’ve been focusing on to ease such interruptions?

LT: Mostly stepping up my cooking game and trying to read more and stay fresh on the guitar.

JGL: Nice! 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?

LT: Hiring the best players you can find to come play with you and being sincere with your musical message is a good place to start.

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

LT: Tough one but probably Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, or Dexter Gordon.

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? 

LT: It’s all I have ever done in my life so I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to keep playing.

JGL: Similarly, 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?

LT: Gonna take one million bucks (just kidding). Who knows what’s going to happen, I just try to roll with it.

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

LT: I would have gone to more sessions.

JGL: How would that have made a difference?

LT: As Duke said, “I Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” being a dad and all. I just like sessions and I wish I would have hit up some more of them in NYC.

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. 

LT: I have never had second thought but I suppose I would be a good Chapeau salesman…depending on the hours…lol!

JGL: Thank you Nigel Tufnel…lol!! Apart from music, what else do you like to do for fun?

LT: Walkin’, Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin, Steamin’ hanging with the fam, reading and sports.

JGL: LOL…thank you Miles! Larry, as we wrap this up, 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?

LT: Be on time, play good time, be a good time!

JGL: ‘Nuff said! Thank you so much Larry for taking the time to be on Jazz Guitar Life. It is most appreciated and I wish you great success in your career and life.

LT: THANKS LYLE!

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

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