“The best part about being a musician is that my ability to hear what’s going on musically while I’m listening to music continues to get better and better. Ultimately listening to music is one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life and I take great joy in hearing things I’ve been listening to for over twenty years with a fresh ear. “Andy Brown
I was originally introduced to Chicago based Jazz Guitarist Andy Brown a few years ago by a very popular YouTube video which at the time of this writing has 3,215,640 views – such viewership is pretty much unheard of in Jazz unless it is a house-hold named artist! Of course, the video and Andy’s playing speaks for itself and it comes as no surprise why the numbers are that high! In this Jazz Guitar Life featured interview Andy talks about his Jazz Guitar beginnings and early influences and his mentor Jazz Guitarist Kenny Poole along with some serious thoughts on institutional vs private study music education. A very insightful and informative read! Enjoy 🙂
JGL: Thank you Andy 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?
JGL: Now, for those who are unaware of you, could you give Jazz Guitar Life readers an elevator pitch of who Andy Brown is?
AB: I’m just a guy that loves music and life and is trying to make the most out of whatever time on Earth I’m lucky enough to have. Studying music and the guitar seems to be as good a use of my time as any with regards to enjoying my life.
JGL: In your bio it states that you were born in New York but moved to Chicago in 2003. Usually cats are moving to NYC rather than away from it…LOL. I assume that you still live in Chicago and if not too personal, why the move. What is/was it about Chicago that attracted you as a professional musician?
AB: I live in Evanston which is a suburb just north of Chicago. I love both New York and Chicago very much. Ever since I became a musician I wanted to live in a big city. I grew up in the Hudson Valley region of New York followed by 11 years living in Cincinnati where I finished out high school and did a year at the conservatory there. I got to know Chicago a bit from early pilgrimages to check out the blues scene and fell in love with the city. New York always seemed like a magical place to me, especially growing up close to the city. When it came time for my wife and I to leave Cincinnati we were torn between heading to New York or Chicago. We decided to head east and spent a very educational year living in New York. For various reasons ranging from friends/family, work opportunities and a closer proximity to my mentor Kenny Poole we decided to split from New York and settle down in Chicago…which is what we did! So far it’s worked out pretty much as we had hoped, which makes us both very grateful.
Chicago has always been attractive to me as a professional musician because it seems like a nice balance of big city life with a not-too-prohibitive cost. There’s an amazing jazz scene here with several full-time jazz clubs and a vast reservoir of high quality musicians of all styles. It’s a vast area, and there seem to be ways here to make a living as a full-time player. Also the music I most deeply loved seemed applicable to almost any city. The music I’m most into isn’t what would be considered “cutting edge” jazz in any town, and I had seen such stellar talent and amazing craftsmanship in the jazz musicians of Cincinnati that I knew great jazz didn’t only happen in New York.
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?
AB: For some reason I always loved the guitar. My parents got me piano and saxophone lessons, but for various reasons would never buy me an electric guitar. I finally got one and started playing at age 15. I was exposed to music at a very early age by my dad who is a big music fan and has played the piano his entire life. He has never been a huge jazz fan, but he loves and respects a wide variety of music. It was his dad who was really the jazz lover. My grandfather enjoyed Ellington, Basie, Getz, Prez, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Hodges and he was always trying to hip me to jazz. When I got my first guitar and started dabbling in rock and blues my grandfather bought me a Wes Montgomery CD and told me to check him out. I wasn’t really ready for Wes at that age but it finally hit me years later. I started with B.B. King and Robert Cray, jumped to Clapton/Hendrix, from there to Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan. They led me to Anson Funderburgh and Junior Watson, and from them I discovered Charlie Christian and Tiny Grimes. Then back to Ben Webster and Lester Young during a few months when I became a tenor sax player, and finally to Wes and local Cincinnati jazz legends Cal Collins and Kenny Poole for a life musically dedicated to (mostly) jazz guitar.
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)?
AB: Charlie Christian and Wes were my first jazz guitar influences, as well as blues players like B.B. King and T Bone Walker. I discovered almost all of the jazz masters pretty quickly and am still completely blown away by their recordings whenever I hear them. The best part about being a musician is that my ability to hear what’s going on musically while I’m listening to music continues to get better and better. Ultimately listening to music is one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life and I take great joy in hearing things I’ve been listening to for over twenty years with a fresh ear. These days I love listening to all types quality music and trying to deeply hear it and follow what’s going on, trying to remind myself to visualize the notes on my instrument as they go by.
JGL: In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?
AB: Cincinnati jazz guitar legend Kenny Poole was definitely my biggest influence. I was fortunate to spend time with such an amazing world-class artist. I was influenced by him both by the way he actually played and in the music he recommended I spend time listening to and being inspired by. He showed by example what it was to be a top-shelf jazz guitarist. He influenced me to try and get in touch with music in a deep way and be a complete player and guitarist. He also was an embodiment of the business side of music, how to make playing quality guitar music into your livelihood. Probably my other two biggest influences are Ed Bickert and Ted Greene, for similar reasons.
Another of my biggest influences has been my wife, the fantastic vocalist Petra van Nuis. She and I have been together since we met in high school at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts. We both fell in love with jazz together, and have followed similar paths as far as apprenticing with veteran musicians and learning our crafts on the job. Her taste in material is impeccable, and she knows more tunes than any musician I’ve ever worked with. Seeing how she presents the music with her own vision at the highest levels of taste, tone and deep feeling has been very inspiring to be around.
JGL: What kind of formal training do you have (ie: lessons, schooling, that sort of thing) and how did these experiences help you get where you are today?
AB: I started on piano lessons from the local Yamaha music school when I was really young, like four years old. I played the saxophone in junior high and high school band and studied it with a local teacher. I also spent a year at CCM (the conservatory in Cincinnati) where I was a saxophone playing jazz major. All of this helped give me a solid musical background and helped me to teach myself guitar and jazz music in general. My real training came from watching and studying the two jazz guitar giants that lived in Cincinnati when I was coming up, Cal Collins and Kenny Poole. This was literally like having Barney Kessel and George Van Eps be your local guitarists, and I couldn’t have been more fortunate than to have their examples of how to be a jazz guitarist. Neither one would ever give me formal lessons, but they had me sit in with them and would occasionally attempt to answer my questions and made many recommendations and observations that continue to influence my life. Being in Chicago and having super high-level players like Bobby Broom, Henry Johnson and Fareed Haque among many, many others to be around and be inspired by has been amazing as well.
JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now?
AB: My first axe was some kind of junky Washburn rock guitar. I’ve been playing a Tal Farlow Gibson for almost twenty years. My first one was a reissue, and the 1965 one I have now I’ve been playing for twelve years or so.
JGL: What other gear are you using? Do you have a specific stage set-up that works best for you in a variety of musical situations?
AB: I have a lot of amps. I mostly use a 1966 Fender Vibrolux that I’ve had for over twenty years. Of the current manufacturers Evans is my favorite by far. I’ve bought amps from and worked with Scot Buffington for over twenty years and their stuff is just top-notch. I’m constantly experimenting with picks and strings. These days it’s Blue Chip TD picks and Pyramid Nickel Classics strings.
JGL: Is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?
AB: Of players who have departed it would be Ed Bickert. I love everything about his music so much and I think it would have enriched my musical experience immensely to have been able to play with him. The same with Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Dave McKenna. Of the living players it would be tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. We’ve worked together several times when he’s visited Chicago and I always love it so much. His sound, feel and approach to music truly resonates with me. We were talking about maybe recording together before the pandemic hit.
JGL: Did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice and if so, what have you done to make this choice work for you?
AB: I knew pretty quickly after starting to play guitar that music would be my profession. I started playing gigs my junior year in high school, and barely made it out of my senior year I was playing so much. It’s all I ever wanted to do as an adult.
Of course the ability to pay your bills and buy your groceries through playing guitar is something that has many levels to it. Do you have or want children? Will you have another job, either as a teacher or regular day-gig? Do you have a spouse with a real job? Do you have family money? Can you keep a low overhead? All of these questions play into your ability to make a living as a player, and the answers to each one affect the choices you make. Then comes the real work of developing yourself into something that other will want to listen to and hire. I’m talking about club owners, fellow musicians/ bandleaders, audience members, CD buyers, YouTube viewers. It’s really carving out a unique niche that only you can fill, and I’ve worked hard at this every day.
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?
AB: In high school I just jammed with and copped licks from my favorite records and that’s still basically the case, although these days it’s much more involved. Much of my daily work revolves on what I’ll be playing on the gig that night, as regards to repertoire. I have a list of dozens of things that would be enriching to work on, and I try and mix it up. Everything from listening, sight reading, rhythm exercises, analyzing Bach chorales, transcribing ideas, listening to tapes of my gigs. I try to juggle things and stay stimulated. Honestly finding the time to feed my soul with aesthetic vitamins is the hardest thing for me to do. Whenever I deeply touch music at home my gigs are always better.
JGL: You have studied with some wonderful teachers including Ted Greene, Cal Collins, Howard Alden and of course, your mentor Kenny Poole. Before we talk about Kenny, can you briefly talk about the experience of studying with such luminaries like Ted, Cal and Howard? Were these continuing lessons or one-offs?
AB: Well, of that list Ted is the only one I took a formal lesson with, and that was just a one-time thing on my 30th birthday. That was one of the best days of my life. We really hit it off and had such a good time together. His teachings became even more influential to me after his death with the wealth of his teaching material that has been made available so generously at www.tedgreene.com
Kenny, Cal and Howard have all helped me immensely. I can’t put into words how much each of them helped me. Their generosity of time and spirit was something I’m always grateful for. They sensed in me true desire, hunger and honesty, and they rewarded me for it. They all put up with my questioning nature, and most of all were kind enough to play with me at all levels of my development, always encouraging me and spurring me on and pushing me. Kenny and Cal are gone, but the relationship with Howard continues to this day. Every time I hear him or we play together he just reminds me of how far and how deep you can take something. His depth of knowledge and mastery is truly mind-boggling.
JGL: Kenny Poole seemed to be one of those players/teachers definitely deserving of wider recognition! How did you both meet and what was his tutelage and friendship like to you as a young player coming up?
AB: As far as recognition, if you spend enough time playing jazz in a couple different cities as I have, you start to encounter a ton of truly masterful musicians that most of the jazz public knows nothing about. The musicians around the country always know about the real heavy players in each town and in that regard the recognition is always pretty wide. These players generally don’t have the personal make up or ambition to make it on the international jazz scene, but that lack of pushiness is one reason their playing often has so much more depth than many of the more well-known players. Kenny Poole was one of these players, and getting to know him was easy in the sense that he played a lot of solo gigs around town and I would go listen every chance I got. His talent was on the genius level and he was truly one of the greatest guitarists I’ve ever heard, live or on record. Usually I was the only young player there and I had him all to myself. I think he had been waiting a long time for a student like me. Going to hear him was like taking a drug and I needed my fix. It took years of proving my dedication by showing up and listening, but eventually I started sitting in and things immediately took off. His talent was just so immense. I kept hoping some of it would rub off on me. Having a total master player like that to observe week after week was unbeatable. We came from very different backgrounds and he was pretty eccentric, so at times it could be hard to relate to him. Overall we had a lot of laughs and a very deep connection. The wealth of knowledge he imparted to me was immense.
JGL: On a wonderful YouTube video of you and Kenny playing together, you fondly mention “…the countless nights we played together did more for my playing than any university or jazz college could ever hope to duplicate.” Which leads me to this: There seems to be two schools of thought in the Jazz world when it comes to learning one’s instrument career wise. Either one follows the academic route of learning via formal institutional study or one follows a more of what used to be a “traditional” route of learning through private lessons and getting one’s butt kicked on the bandstand…lol. What is your position on the subject and what was your plan of action when beginning to learn this music?
AB: I was very turned off by the academic route in regards to learning jazz and still am. My early years as a full-time blues guitarist showed me how to teach myself, and to me that is the only way to truly learn to be an artist. If you have to be shown everything you’ll never start to find yourself. People who go to jazz college when they want to experience truth in music are probably wasting their time. I see it mostly as a system designed to separate dollars from the student’s parent’s pockets. The school sells the parents a line about how the program will prepare their child for a life in music. The only thing the school can guarantee is a piece of paper that one day might allow the student to teach at a school and repeat the process over again with a new set of students and parents. The safety of the university setting usually takes precious years and time away from the student at the precise time in life when they need to be concentrating on finding if the passion they feel for music is enough to overcome the inevitable obstacles and difficulties that are unavoidable when you make music your living. The real question for the young jazz student is how bad do they want it and what will they put up with and sacrifice to get it?
I wish the colleges would just leave jazz alone and let it be like blues or country or rock or bluegrass and just let the people who want to do it bad enough do it. Bucking authority and putting things together in your own way and figuring out how to make it happen is the whole game, sometimes even more important than the notes you play. Jazz school is like going to college and majoring in skateboarding, studying the history of the halfpipe and taking tests on Tony Hawk’s influences and who invented grip tape. To me it’s that silly. There’s no city in the world where a young student couldn’t apprentice with an area jazz musician and start learning the ropes, figuring out what to practice and if this is the career for them. School just provides an excuse to put that off.
All that being said, there are some obvious benefits if a student chooses that route. There are amazing teacher/players at almost every university who truly give their all to jumpstart their student’s growth. And for some shy or quiet students who might not have the gumption to go out and meet the local players on their scene it can provide a pool of musicians to start getting experience playing with.
JGL: You have been featured in a variety of music settings from solo guitar to large ensembles. Is there a musical situation that you enjoy the most and if so, why?
AB: I’ve always striven to have a varied gig schedule and try and be a complete musician and guitarist. Every instrumentation from solo playing to larger ensembles has an art to it and I love them all. Probably my three favorite are solo, trio with bass and drums and duo with a good singer. All three have the perfect blend of openness, freedom and craft that I crave.
JGL: While you are quite skilled in the art of ensemble playing, your “passion” appears to be solo guitar playing which you obviously excel at. What got you into this form of Guitar playing and what are the pros and cons – if any – of such a style?
AB: I’ve always been inspired by piano players, and how they play in ensembles, duos and solo. I just wanted to be a complete guitarist and it seemed like solo playing was part of the game. Being in a town with Cal Collins and Kenny Poole, two of the best solo guitarist who ever lived was definitely an inspiration when I was coming up in Cincinnati. It was just something you were expected to do and be good at, to play the whole box and keep good time and create a good feel playing alone. It was part of the whole deal, not really something special. Today there seems to be almost a taboo around solo guitar, like it’s some big scary mountain to climb or maybe it’s something un-jazzy for guitar geeks to be into.
The pros are it’s easier to procure a gig for one person than a larger band, you have total musical freedom and you find out how you really sound when not leaning on other players to make you sound good. The cons are technically it’s extremely physically taxing and mentally demanding, there’s no one to lean on when you are sucking and you can get lonely and miss the camaraderie and fellowship of other musicians.
JGL: In a similar vein, how do you approach taking a simple lead sheet of a tune and turning it into a full-blown chord melody?
AB: I try to get the melody from the original sheet music and apply my own harmonizations. I listen to as many recordings as I can find to get an idea of the harmonies that have been used on the tune in the past and then scratch out my own. Most fake book harmonization are totally worthless, they have so much unnecessary stuff added or chords that are just plain wrong.
Also, I never make up an arrangement that I play the same way over and over. It’s important to find a good key for a tune that allows for the melody to be on top with some room to add color underneath it. Then you combine the melody with the harmonizations you like and draw upon your abilities to add or subtract notes based on what you want to hear. Think of the notes in a chord as independent voices and have control over each one. Study how J.S. Bach harmonized chorale melodies and wrote for the violin and you’ll have a jump start.
JGL: While developing your art as a solo guitar player, was there one particular artist you listened to more than another and why? Also, is there anyone today in the solo guitar world that captures your attention?
AB: I went through (and still do) go through various phases of listening. My favorites as far as solo jazz guitar are Kenny Poole, George Van Eps, Joe Pass, Ted Greene, Lenny Breau and Cal Collins. Of course if you really want to begin to enjoy harmony you have to get beyond the guitar. Pianists, arrangers, and orchestras have had as much of an influence on me as guitarists. Listening to how Gene Puerling wrote the chord changes for The Singers Unlimited, or what harmonizations Robert Farnon used for his record with Sinatra, or how Hank Jones plays the chords to “The Very Thought Of You.” Harmony is the true bottomless pit in music, you get so much out of paying attention to it in all of it’s forms.
As far as today’s solo jazz guitarists I love Peter Bernstein, Pasquale Grasso and Howard Alden. They are all such special players, but most of all they are not afraid to play in time. So many jazz guitarists play great solo guitar rubato, but rarely kick it into time. It’s impossible to imagine a solo pianist avoiding a steady beat, mostly because it puts the listener to sleep almost instantly. The truth is it’s hard to have a really great time feel when playing solo. You and you alone are the reason something has a good feel or it doesn’t. All of your weaknesses, hesitations, technical deficiencies, and problems staying in the flow state for long stretches become immediately apparent. Rubato makes it easier to hide from yourself. Those three players face the trauma of being totally responsible for the entire feel of the music better than any on the scene today.
JGL: You have played with a bevy of top-shelf musicians like Scott Hamilton, Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Warren Vaché, Ken Peplowski, Hod O’Brien, Rebecca Kilgore, Judy Carmichael, John Pisano, Michael Feinstein, Anat Cohen, Kurt Elling and of course your wife, vocalist Petra van Nuis to to name just a “few”. What were the challenges in garnering a reputation to get to play with such heavy-hitters and are there any take-aways you’d like to share with Jazz Guitar Life readers?
AB: All of those players you mentioned are performing music on the HIGHEST level. The main challenge is just trying not to bring the level down. When you share the stage with people like those you mentioned you get a clear idea of a level that is possible and that you have to bring your playing up to. It has an immediate effect on your playing that nothing else can duplicate. You either sink or swim, and once you start swimming you can’t believe what you’re capable of.
As far as garnering a reputation, that just comes from years and years of delivering the goods when they need to be delivered. There’s nothing else to do. You either deliver or they call someone else next time, which has happened to me plenty of times. No secrets, just years of hard, intense and serious work with as little lying to yourself as possible regarding your actual abilities.
JGL: Speaking of heavy-hitters, you had the pleasure – I assume – of accompanying the world renowned Barbara Streisand on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2009! Where you a member of the band or were you hired specifically for that gig? Was there a rehearsal or two or were you just given a chart at show time? Either way, what was that experience like and you have you and “Babs” kept in touch? 🙂
AB: That was a fun one! She had just come out with a jazz-tinged album with Johnny Mandel charts and produced by Diana Krall. She came to town with just her pianist (the amazing Tamir Hendelman) and they hired Chicago guitar/bass/drums to accompany them. We ran about 8-10 tunes at a rehearsal and then she came in and picked a few that she wanted to do. She was awesome! I remember the Oprah people telling her she had to cut some time off of the song, that America could only handle around 1 minute and 30 seconds of music. That was interesting to hear. Tamir figured out some cuts and she nailed them right away. Total pro, super-nice and fun to be around. That was the only gig I ever did with her, guess they lost my phone number.
JGL: LOL!! I’m sure she’ll look you up “in the book” Andy! This brings me to another heavy-hitter, 7 String Guitarists Howard Alden, who you play and record with – “Heavy Artillery” Delmark Records – in a two-Guitar quartet. How did this association come to be and what are the challenges of playing alongside another Guitarist, especially one of Howard’s deep talent?
AB: Howard is such an amazing player and a great person as well. I made it a point to get to know him when I would visit NYC and show up at his gigs. He was so giving and generous to me with his time and his knowledge. He sensed I was into very similar things and he was so encouraging. He would always have me sit in, and when I briefly lived in NYC he recommended for a lot of gigs and things. When I moved to Chicago I started finding ways to create playing opportunities to get him out here. We started an association at the Green Mill here in town and then we put out a CD for Delmark records. We’ve played in several parts of the country and in Europe as well. It’s always thrilling working with Howard. The main challenge for me is just to stay within my game and not try and not be too blown away by all the amazing shit he’s playing. I have to focus on what I can do to add to the music in my own way and not try and match his virtuosity. We seem to compliment each other very well and that’s why it’s been such a fun partnership for so long.
JGL: Have you thought about other Guitarists you would like to play duet with and if so, who and why?
AB: Bobby Broom would be one. He’s been one of my favorites for a long time, and the fact that we live in the same town but have never played together seems like a missed opportunity. Peter Bernstein would be another. We played duets once at a get together and it was a blast. The same with Joe Cohn. All three of these guys would be a thrill to duet with because of their ability to listen and go in almost any direction, yet they stay rooted in all the things that make up the essence of jazz.
JGL: There seems to be a lot more cats playing 7 and even 8 string Guitar these days. Has that been something you have done or plan to do? Or is 6 strings more than enough?
AB: I owned a Gretsch 7-string for a year or two but it wasn’t for me. Too often the low bass notes just sounded artificial to me, like they jumped out and seemed out of place. Maybe I should have stuck with it because it makes sense in a lot of ways. So does the 8-string. One of my favorite guitarists of today is the classical player Paul Galbraith and he plays an 8-string. That extra low and extra high string really does make it more pianistic. Check out his album of Debussy and Ravel piano music transcribed for guitar and you’ll hear what I mean.
JGL: You have also recorded with Jazz Mandolinist Don Stiernberg where you play an acoustic flat-top throughout the album. I have yet to hear this CD but I am wondering if you found that you play differently when on acoustic than plugged in? Do you ever think that there will be a purely acoustic album ala Mimi Fox?
AB: I’ve done a couple of albums with Don where I play acoustic guitars, but they are all archtops (’40’s Epiphone Triumph and a 2010 Koentopp Chicagoan). Acoustic guitar is a totally different animal than electric and I love them both. The touch and dynamics are so different on acoustic. I have to make sure and not pick too hard on acoustic. The unamplified guitar is ridiculously quiet compared to a mandolin or acoustic bass so that makes overplaying a common problem. Don is an amazing musician who has taught me a ton about acoustic music. He is a master of the mandolin in several styles including jazz, bluegrass and Brazilian choro. If I ever do a purely acoustic album it will probably be on nylon string. I love to play solo guitar at home on my Esteve classical guitar.
JGL: Taken from your website bio: “Andy has provided the music for a wide variety of parties and private events. In 2012, his trio was invited by the Chicago Mayor’s office to perform for the Nobel Peace Prize dinner in Chicago where invited guests included U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as the Dalai Lama and Mikhail Gorbachev. Also in 2012, Andy’s trio was hired by the U.S. State Department to provide music for the opening night gala at the NATO summit held in Chicago.” Very nice!! You have obviously found your stride in this business and have done quite well and I assume will continue to do so. How difficult did you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player when you were coming up? Any “tips or tricks” you can lay on those interested in doing the same? Should we all move to Chicago…lol? 🙂
AB: I touched on some of this already. I find making a living as a jazz guitarist very rewarding but extremely difficult in terms of procuring income. I heard it described once as “lawyers hours at busboy pay” and that summed it up pretty well. And this was pre-pandemic. What can I say? There’s nothing on Earth I’d rather do so I do it. My wife is in the same boat, we don’t have kids and we keep a low overhead. We work extremely hard and have given our lives to this art. Chicago provides a nice forum for this effort to take shape, but it could be any major city. When it comes to earning a living the only tips or tricks I know are to become good enough at what you do that people want to buy it.
JGL: Almost every musician, no matter their level and professional stature has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to the music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you/did you face on your instrument and how do you/ did you work at getting over them?
AB: The more you learn about music the more you start to learn how little you know. The better you get at hearing what the masters are actually doing the more you realize how far from that level of playing you truthfully are. You still have to get up on the bandstand night after night and entertain a room full of people with your improvisations even though you’re not Wes Montgomery or George Van Eps. Reminding myself that I’m not insulting the world of music even though I’m not on their level keeps me going with the goal of always striving to do the best that I’m capable of. Most insecurity comes from having an outsized view of your importance in the universe, so I try and keep things in perspective as much as possible. When you get upset with your playing it’s usually because you think you’re better than you really are, and that’s just a sign you need to work on your ego. There are many ways to work on toning down your ego, like reading various philosophies on the subject and avoiding telling the endless “story of me” on social media.
JGL: How do you handle the other side of being a working musician – the business side? 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?
AB: If you’re going to be a professional player it’s important to get a sense of how to earn a living. The only real way to get that sense is to start doing it and learn from trial and error. Figuring out that there’s more to do than just impress your fellow music students is an important step for the young musician. School is a time to avoid reality and just focus on getting better at your craft. It has absolutely nothing to do with figuring out who’s going to buy your services once you learn how to really play, how to carve out clients and how to relate to customers who may return to hear you again and again. The best advice I can give if you want to learn how to be a professional musician, either the playing side or making a living side, is to apprentice with a local working musician and learn how they do it. You may add your own twists eventually but study how they go about procuring income, keeping a low overhead and covering their bills. If you’re going to do it eventually you have to dive into the water.
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.
AB: I’ve never really had a second thought beyond the occasional daydream when the going gets tough. Then I try and imagine doing something else and after 10 seconds I realize it’s impossible. Music is the only thing I’ve ever been interested in in any real way.
JGL: What you’re not on the band-stand or in the recording studio, what do you like to do to unwind?
AB: I love just chilling out with my wife and our two cats. The usual leisure activities, walking, reading, bike riding, going to restaurants and watching movies, hanging with friends and family. I have no real hobbies outside of music.
JGL: What does the future hold for Andy Brown?
AB: Hopefully to continue to do what I’ve been fortunate to be doing thus far on my musical journey. The pandemic has made so much of the future uncertain, but if I can continue to grow musically and find outlets for creativity and conducive settings to present the results of my explorations I will be happy!
JGL: Thank you Andy for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. I wish you much success in all your endeavours!
AB: Thanks for your efforts Lyle. The stories of full-time guitarists who work out of the limelight are important to tell and I appreciate you including me.
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