Carlos Jiménez – Jazz Guitar Life Interview

“It was the perfect transition. I got into Chick Corea Electric Band, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson and Tribal Tech, Mike Stern, John Scofield, Pat Metheny to name a few. This was obviously before Internet so you had to dig deep to find more stuff. I would buy magazines with jazz guitar interviews and started to hear my idols talk about their idols. This led me to discover Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Jim Hall. By the time I was 20 I was collecting records and had a huge collection of jazz records and was listening to many different styles and players.”

Carlos Jiménez

JGL: Thank you Carlos for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?

CJ: Thank you for your having me as part of your interview series! I’m really happy that the website is back, I used to check it out a lot and discovered many great players. To answer your question, I’m 43.

JGL: What geographical area do you reside in?

CJ: I’m in Montreal.

JGL: For those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who Carlos Jiménez is and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.

CJ: Hum… Well, I could say many things! Both my parents are Colombian. I was born and grew up in Quebec City and moved to Montreal in 1998 to pursue music studies. I did my CEGEP in Classical guitar and then got into McGill University in jazz performance. I’m a music lover and have been for as along as I can remember. I worked in record stores for a big part of my student years. I’m a proud father of two beautiful kids. I’m a guitar player, composer, arranger and teacher. I love coffee and biking…

JGL: At what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? How did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?

CJ: I started playing guitar when I was about 12 years old. However, my interest in music started earlier. I have an older sister and she would play a lot of 80’s music in the house so I got to hear it and get into it a lot. I loved to dance and I remember that I would always have music on. My parents were not musicians but loved music, mainly South American music, classical and a bit of jazz. Like many guitar players, my first love was rock and roll. Can’t remember exactly who or which band made me pick up a guitar but I can remember watching religiously music shows on TV and doing some air guitar for hours.

As I got older, I really got into guitar-based music and was listening to players like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page (I still do sometimes!). I was also really into bands like Rush and Dream Theater. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and I was in high school when the Grunge scene hit. This had a huge impact on me. Plus, Quebec City was really on the circuit for live music so I got to see many of those bands live and it was quite an experience. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine are the soundtrack to my teenage years. I learned a lot about playing guitar through their music.

JGL: When coming up as a young player, did you attend a formal educational institution or are you self taught? Was there one – or more – particular moments that opened the flood gates so to speak as you went about learning this music?

CJ: I’m primarily self-taught. I remember spending 8 to 10 hours a day in my parent’s basement and play records and learning tunes by ear. My first formal training was when I moved to Montreal at 20 years old and went to CEGEP (Quebec version of College).

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 back then to make this choice work for you?

CJ: Yes, I can remember being in 6th grade and saying to myself that I wanted to do music or be around music for the rest of my life. My parents weren’t very happy about that! hahaha. They wanted me to have music as a hobby. But this was no hobby! I was serious about it from the beginning.

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

CJ: When I was about 15 or 16 years old, my sister had a boyfriend who was into jazz. He played saxophone and one day he told me that a great jazz guitar player was coming to play in a local club and that I should go. He bought me a ticket and we went together. I was used to arena shows and big productions. So I went to my first jazz show kind of reluctantly and I remember not being impressed by the little club and its tiny stage. However, as soon as they started playing, it was a life changing moment! I didn’t know anything about jazz but I kind of understood the immense possibilities of improvisation and from that day on I was hooked on jazz. The band was the Mike Stern Trio with Ben Perowsky on drums and Alain Carron on bass.

So this show started the spiral of research and discovery. I really got deep into Jazz Fusion, like many guitar players my age who were into rock. It was the perfect transition. I got into Chick Corea Electric Band, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson and Tribal Tech, Mike Stern, John Scofield, Pat Metheny to name a few. This was obviously before Internet so you had to dig deep to find more stuff. I would buy magazines with jazz guitar interviews and started to hear my idols talk about their idols. This led me to discover Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Jim Hall. By the time I was 20 I was collecting records and had a huge collection of jazz records and was listening to many different styles and players.

I’m still like that today! I love to discover new music and listen to many styles and players. Currently, as far as guitar goes, I’m really into Steve Cardenas, Chico Pinheiro, Dave Stryker, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Anthony Wilson, Larry Koonse, Jesse Van Ruller… and I could go on and on !!!

JGL: In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?

CJ: That’s a tough one… I can’t really pinpoint one artist more than another because I tend to look at it more from the big picture of music rather than the instrument. My answer could change tomorrow… It goes by phases I think. In the same day I can feel super inspired by a Robben Ford recording and an hour later by Ralph Towner.

JGL: Has there been a major influence in your life who was not a guitarist and why?

CJ: My father. He passed away when I was 16 and he was, and still is, my reference for perseverance and hard work.

JGL: From what I have heard and seen you are extremely adept playing Classical music as you are playing Jazz. What came first or were both disciplines overlapping?

CJ: As I said earlier, I did study classical guitar before I got into University. I wasn’t really serious about it because it wasn’t in my heart. Jazz was! I used to live next door to the Upstairs jazz club at the time and would be sitting at the bar every night. The Classical guitar came back into my life after meeting one of my best friends, a Brazilian Classical player named Luciano Lima. We met at McGill as he was doing his Masters degree. He got me into some composers and players that just made me want to add this sound to my music. I don’t really play classical music per say but I study it deeply and listen to classical guitar daily. For me it’s the foundation of my instrument and I try to not separate music in styles. I think it’s important for guitar players to research as much as they can about their instrument and where it comes from.

JGL: As a long standing and popular member of the Jazz Guitar community, what are you most grateful for and on the other side of the coin, what irks you?

CJ: Good question… There’s no shortage of great guitar players in Montreal. I’ve worked very hard at my “thing” for many years. The life of a jazz musician has peaks and valleys and sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it… So, to answer your question, I’m grateful for all the great opportunities I’ve had to play with my favourite musicians. Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve had the chance to work as a sideman in amazing projects and I have participated in many fantastic recording projects. This makes me very proud. On the other side, I’d love to see more support from the mainstream media or festivals for local musicians. We’re here!

JGL: Is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?

CJ: That’s a tough one, there are so many of them!!! This is another of those questions that could change everyday. I can say two: I’m a huge Shirley Horn fan, both her singing and piano playing. I just love to hear her play ballads and I would’ve loved to experience that. I’m also really into organ trios. I think my all time favourite is the Grant Green / Elvin Jones / Larry Young band. They did 4 albums that are just remarkable. In my dreams, I’m playing a tune with them!

JGL: What was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now? Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes? When improvising, are you thinking chord/scale relationships or is there something else going on?

CJ: When I was a student, I used to practice all the time for many hours a day. I would go through tunes and play them in multiple keys, learn language and harmonic concepts, I would work on technique, I would transcribe a lot and listen to a lot of music. Play along with records is another big one that I did a lot. Now it’s very different. I’m older, I teach, I have kids so there’s not much time left. The material I work on is very similar but obviously I have less time. I also play a lot of solo guitar music like classical or Brazilian music. I’ve recorded and filmed a few of the Barry Galbraith arrangements for solo guitar for my students and that’s stuff makes me practice a lot of technique and sound issues. Actually, sound is a very important thing that I spend a lot of time on, which I think is often neglected by students.

JGL: Speaking of practice routines, you are highly regarded as an educator. What would you advise students of Jazz Guitar to work on if you could only choose two components and why?

CJ: Regardless of the style you’re studying, knowing your instrument really well and develop a good sound is in my opinion the most important thing. Then I would say style and language. Spend as much time as you can listening and learning about the style you want to play.

JGL: Do you give private lessons and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?

CJ: I mainly teach at McGill University. I’ve been on Faculty since 2008. I used to teach privately at home and still do sometime during the summer. All levels are welcome.

JGL: You were awarded a Canada Council for the Arts grant to study with the great Jazz Guitarist Adam Rogers in New York City. What was that experience like and how long did you study with Adam for? Have you kept in touch since?

CJ: Yes, this was in 2009, right after I finished my Masters degree, and just before I recorded my first album. It was an amazing experience for me. I’m still digesting some of the stuff he gave me. I took about 8 lessons (2hrs) over 9 months. I drove each time from Montreal to NYC and then back to Montreal, and would spend the whole drive thinking about our discussions. Adam is an extremely deep artist and a fantastic musician. His mastery of the guitar is just unreal. I find his career very inspiring, as he has been involved with many projects. I remember being a bit starstruck the first time I went to his home in NYC. I think I waited 15 mintutes to calm down before knocking at the door. He was a great teacher and a real mentor for me at that moment in my life. He’s the best in my book! Lots of wisdom and great advice he gave me.

Yes, we’ve kept in touch! Few emails here and there. I also make a point to go see him play whenever he’s in Montreal. Last time we saw each other was at the Montreal Jazz Fest when he came with Ravi Coltrane. I invited him to do a guitar masterclass at McGill a few years ago, which was fantastic!

JGL: You record and perform in a variety of musical situations (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.) is there one that you prefer over the other and is there a particular situation you have yet to play in but would like to?

CJ: I like them equally! I just love to play. Would love to play in large ensembles more often.

JGL: Is there a particular style of music that touches your heart more than others?

CJ: Obviously jazz but I’m really into funk (my kids love it too), Brazilian music, classical music, mainly chamber music.

JGL: You have recorded quite a few original tunes, what is the process used for composing your own tunes? Can you do it on the spot or do you need inspiration of some kind?

CJ: I would say both. I have sketches that I’ve been working on for years and can’t finish. I’ve also written tunes in a few hours. I’m very project oriented. I usually write for the current band or project I’m working with. For example, lately I’ve been writing for this organ trio with Josh Rager and Rich Irwin. We’re supposed to record this summer… I love writing and arranging. I do it as often as possible.

JGL: Speaking of original compositions, you collaborated on the soundtrack to The Danish Poet, a short film that won an Oscar and that was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. What’s the story behind this and does this mean that you now have an Oscar sitting on your mantle?

CJ: That’s a short animation movie by Torill Kove. Her husband, jazz trumpet player Kevin Dean scored the music and I just played the guitar parts. Kevin plays trumpet and piano, me on guitar and Sienna Dahlen on vocals. It was fun to do! Unfortunately, no Oscar for me!

JGL: Almost every musician, no matter their level and professional stature has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?

CJ: I used to be very nervous on the bandstand. Fear of getting lost or playing a tempo that’s way too fast for me. A lot of these fears or insecurities are usually there because we constantly compare ourselves to others, mainly the musicians we’re trying to imitate. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing and I truly believe that you can learn a lot by doing that… heck I still do it!!! But, the quicker you find out who you are musically and you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, the quicker you’ll be at peace with your playing. I’m very hard on myself and I like to be in control of what I play and how I play. So if I’m insecure, it’s probably caused by something out of my control and there’s nothing I can do about it, except to learn how to deal with it.

JGL: Do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician distracting or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to the managers and agents? Do you have a manager or agent or is it all a one-man operation?

CJ: That’s a very good and interesting question. I talk about this all the time with other musicians. I have no agent and I’m not involved with any record label. As you say, It’s all a one-man operation. All my albums were self-produced. This is by choice and I wouldn’t go back. By no means am I suggesting that this is how everyone should do it…. but it works for me! I think that everyone should be, to some degree, involved with the business side of things with regards to their careers. It’s important, especially now! Talent is great but it’s not enough. You have to be involved in your career and be independent with certain things. Perhaps at the beginning of your career is the best time to develop other skills like website design, recording, filming, etc… I’m not talking about big things but having some kind of presence on social media is now a minimum.

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

CJ: First thing that came to mind when I read the question is something Adam Rogers told me during a lesson, and I often say that to students: “It’s all about being properly obsessed”. Which I totally agree with! You also really have to want it badly. I often tell students: “make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons”.

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.

CJ: Never in my life have I had a plan B. That being said, this year with the COVID situation was pretty hard on all of us. If I had to change paths, it would still be in art, perhaps visual arts.

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

CJ: I think I would’ve tried harder to convince my parents to get me in music school when I was young. That being said, in my first year of high school, I was super excited to be in a school that had a bit of music. On the very first day, I was assigned the clarinet. After I tried to play my first note, or should I say my first sound, the teacher didn’t miss a beat and told me: “Music is not for you…” I often think about that one… So maybe things did happen the way they were supposed to.

JGL: What does the future hold for Carlos Jiménez?

CJ: A lot of music I hope. This year I went back to school to do a Doctorate degree at McGill University. It’s very exciting and challenging. Some of my research topics have to do with the music of Ralph Towner, so I’ve been learning and performing a lot of his solo repertoire. I’m currently studying with classical guitar player Jérôme Ducharme, who is an outstanding teacher and guitar player. It’s very inspiring!

JGL: Thank you Carlos for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. All the best in all that you do!

CJ: Thank you so much for having me, this was super fun!

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