John Storie Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

“I think like any self-employed profession there is certainly volatility in being a professional musician. But being in LA there always seems to be new opportunities to pursue. I like that my business has challenges to meet and to constantly be on the work search. I feel like the best tip I can give someone is to be as good as they possibly can be on their instrument and always compete against yourself, not others.”

John Storie

To be honest with you all I don’t remember how John Storie found his way onto my radar. It must have been all the years of seeing him grow and develop as a musician and then of course his notoriety of being part of Jeff Goldblum’s The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra helped a little as well. I do remember wanting to interview him for a while now so when I reached out to John a couple of months ago, I was very pleased that he accepted my invitation to be interviewed. And here we are 🙂

In this interview, John shares with us his background, his influences and of course his association with actor/musician Jeff Goldblum. A very informative and entertaining read. Enjoy! 🙂

JGL: Thank you John 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?

JS: Sure, and thank you for having me! I’m 37, originally from the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been in Los Angeles now for almost 20 years including my time studying at USC. I’ve been a lifelong guitarist, coming from a musical family, and interested in jazz guitar since my early teens.

JGL: For those who are unaware of you, could you give Jazz Guitar Life readers an elevator pitch of who John Storie is?

JS: I’m an active jazz guitarist in Southern California maintaining a busy performing, teaching and recording schedule.

JGL: Whereabouts are you located?

JS: Los Angeles.

JGL: Before we begin, how have you and yours been during COVID? Has there been any positive outcomes on your side during this difficult time?

JS: I’ve been doing great, and I’m grateful to have continued to find new opportunities for my music career throughout this huge cultural shift. I’ve gained new teaching skills, made some new connections, and had some quality time off the road to make some big musical choices for my future.

JGL: How old were you when you picked up 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?

JS: I started when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I was fortunate my mother Jill was a general music teacher. She found a teacher for me when I was 6 and I studied classical guitar until I was 12 and gained the seat in my middle school jazz band. That year she introduced me to George Benson, Jim Hall, and Wes Montgomery – the rest was history.

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)?

JS: Wes, Grant, Kenny, Jim, Pat Martino, Tal Farlow, Joe Pass, and many others from the 60s were my first loves in jazz guitar. I continue to listen to most all of them every single day, like many JGL readers, I’m a total jazz guitar junkie haha.

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

JS: Probably George Benson because he was really the first guitarist to draw me in with his amazing technique and melodic ideas. I also loved that he sang, as I have also sung most of my life.

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

JS: My first guitar when I was 4 was a 1/2 or 3/4 size classical guitar my mom ordered out of the Hannah Anderson catalog haha, but an Epiphone Casino was my first electric guitar when I was in middle school. Since 2004 I’ve primarily played a 2002 Gibson L-5CES and I also have a Stephen Marchione 16” Archtop that was built for me in 2017. Besides those archtops, I’m primarily a 335 and tele player. I also have a Jeff Traugott Model R Acoustic Guitar.

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?

JS: I love Henriksen Amplifiers for my day-to-day amp needs and besides their BUD and BLU amps, I have a vintage 60s Fender Vibrolux Reverb that is a total dream. I recently acquired a Vintage Sound 35 SC. I find I have a need for pretty large tube amps for some of the louder gigs I do. Then there’s times where a Henriksen does a perfect job for me.

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

JS: I would have loved to play with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. I feel like the trios they played with Herb Ellis are some of the most swinging sounds out there.

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?

JS: When I was 13 my dad, a lawyer, had a massive stroke and my mom and I were on our own. I realized at an early age life is so precious and its important to focus on things which fulfill a greater purpose. For me, that had always been music. I had a friend in High School who was an amazing classical trumpet player and he went on to audition at the bigger music conservatories back east. Seeing how he went forward with his career helped me to see the path as I left high school to go on to a music college and pursue a career in music.

JGL: I read that you are a graduate of both USC’s Thornton School of Music (BM ’06) and CalArts (MFA ’12). Prior to that though, did you study privately when you were coming up and if so, with whom?

JS: When I was in Portland, OR as a teenager I studied with Dan Balmer. He changed my life. His approach to jazz and creative music totally blew my mind. When I came to LA I first studied with Frank Potenza, then I studied with Joe Diorio for 3 years until he had his stroke my senior year at USC.

JGL: In a similar vein, do you think you could be where you are today had you just studied privately or do you find that going the academic institution route more beneficial?

JS: Certainly going to school helped me learn about music in a whole different way than had I learned on my own. I’m lucky the fellow students who were at USC and CalArts ended up being musical collaborators I continue playing with to this day. So much of school is building a community and starting projects which last your career.

JGL: On your Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/jazzstorie) you state: “Transcribing is a fundamental part of developing our skills as a jazz musician. Historically, jazz musicians have transcribed solos as a way to learn how the musicians who came before them approach improvising…learning the solo by ear, writing the solo in notation, and finally assimilating the solo vocabulary into our playing remains one of the strongest approaches for transcribing.” This is indeed a tried and true approach to learning the Jazz language but is not as easy as some may think. Can you talk a bit about what is needed for one to understand the fundamentals of transcribing? To the inexperienced it might sound more than a tad intimidating.

JS: I feel like the most basic element of transcribing is first imitating. If we can listen to a record, with no theory knowledge and simply using our ears, after a while the student will start to come up with lines which mimic the soloist. I feel its so critical for all young musicians studying jazz to learn the language by investigating as many of the definitive recordings as possible.

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?

JS: I love playing in larger groups and having drummers challenge me to push the energy. Organ trio is probably my favorite situation.

JGL: You have been “…recognized by the Downbeat Student Music Awards, the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, and Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.” And in 2005 you were selected as one of 10 semi-finalists in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition and performed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC with Chris Potter, Terri Lynn Carrington, James Genus, and Bob James! If you can talk a bit about these wonderful moments and what experiences did you walk away with?

JS: Well the Monk Competition was an amazing experience and at the time it had been my greatest accomplishment, just to participate. Going to DC and competing in the semi-finals convinced me, as the only person from the West Coast in the competition, that I should remain in LA and pursue my career there. It was really interesting meeting all the other guitarists and hearing their stories of working in NYC.

JGL: What – if anything – did you do to prepare yourself for these competitions?

JS: I tried to have the arrangements as tight as I could, but also easy for the accompanists to nail the first time around. I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of rehearsal time and in the moment of the competition I wanted to just focus on the flow of the solo, not cuing everyone or doing anything weird with the tune.

JGL: And lastly, what did you hope to get out of entering those above-mentioned competitions and have they lived up to your expectations?

JS: I just wanted to have the opportunity to meet the judges, play well, meet the other guitarists, and enjoy the bit of press that came along with being in the competition. Its so interesting how still to this day, that competition continues to be something so many want to know about, granted they’ve just had 3 guitar competitions in the history of the institute, so I’m honored to have participated.

JGL: On your website bio it states: “Since 2018, John has been on faculty at Pierce College in Los Angeles. He is currently an artist-in-residence at his alma mater California Institute of the Arts conducting his class Concert Booking and Tour Planning for the Self-Promoting Musician.” This sounds like a very practical course on the business side of things. Can you talk a bit about the curriculum you bring to this class and what has been the feedback from the student body over the years? Was it your course originally or have you expanded on it from previous profs? Either way, it sounds like an important class to take.

JS: I really believe in sharing the knowledge I’ve gained as a working musician to college students. When I went to school I found there was a lack in teaching students how to get gigs, and for that matter, what to expect when you’re planning a tour with your own project. Since the pandemic, the seminar has shifted more to musician money management, teaching students how to live on a musicians wage and how to grow their business.

JGL: Do you teach privately and if so, how can one approach you for lessons? Is there a specific level of student you are looking for?

JS: Yes! I love private teaching. My main philosophy of teaching is to show the student the very next step in their learning. I want them to understand what they need to develop with their playing and musicianship which will get them to the next level. I feel like many jazz guitar teachers philosophize too much, and often overwhelm students by showing them too much of the bigger picture rather than the week-to-week. These days I seem to be teaching most students who are already at a proficient level on their instrument.

JGL: The New West Guitar group – of which you are a founding member, along with Guitarists Perry Smith and Will Brahm “…perform exciting originals, jazz standards and popular covers. Their signature sound comes from an innovative style that highlights rhythm, beauty and virtuosity through combining acoustic and electric guitars.” This sounds like a wonderful group! Can you talk a bit about this group and the how and why it came about?

JS: Yes, the group began in 2004 with Perry, myself as well as Brady Cohan and Matt Roberts. Since then, Perry and I have continued to evolve the group and there have been a few other additional members. Will joined us in 2015. Its a guitar trio and we perform mostly originals but some arrangements of classic standards and pop covers. While Perry and I were at USC, the group was really born out of the requirement we had to fulfill of being in a guitar ensemble for our major. By the time we graduated SC we had already recorded a record and planned a few tours, so the momentum has stuck with us now for 17 years.

JGL: Speaking of groups…you play in the “Mildred Snitzer Orchestra” which features actor/musician Jeff Goldblum. How did this gig come about and the obvious question…what is it like working with Jeff Goldblum? What kind of recognition have you received by being in this group? Have you been able to up your fee? – LOL – Oh…and is there an actual Mildred Snitzer?

JS: Its such a fun band and Jeff is amazing to work with – he’s an incredible improvisor in life – he knows how to work the audience, and he’s one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met in my life. Its been fantastic to play on the major TV networks with him and have gained some press in the pop culture world. I’ve been  playing with Jeff since 2012 and he’s been gigging most of his life in piano bars alongside his acting we know him for. Mildred was an old neighbor of his in Pittsburgh where Jeff grew up!

JGL: In 2019 you released “Ponderosa”, a duo album with pianist Josh Nelson. I have listened to it on your Band-Camp page and it sounds great…which I was expecting. What I was NOT expecting was to hear you singing. I enjoyed the variety and wonder if you feature your voice all the time or are your vocals reserved for special projects only? How has your album been received by the critics and general public? Any plans on doing more?

JS: Thank you!!! I continue to get strong airplay on a few radio stations in the US and the album was well received! I’m a bit bummed I couldn’t do the promo tour in 2020, so I’m hoping the next album Ill be able to have some tour support dates. I like singing on my own projects, but I also sing in Goldblum’s band as well!

JGL: You have obviously found your stride in this business and seem to be doing quite well and I assume will continue to do so. How difficult do you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player and are there any “tips or tricks” you can lay on those interested in doing the same?

JS: I think like any self-employed profession there is certainly volatility in being a professional musician. But being in LA there always seems to be new opportunities to pursue. I like that my business has challenges to meet and to constantly be on the work search. I feel like the best tip I can give someone is to be as good as they possibly can be on their instrument and always compete against yourself, not others.

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? 

JS: At first I would be nervous to play shows, but over time the more gigs I did the less nervous I would be. I feel musicians need to put themselves constantly out of their comfort zone in order to grow – and surround yourself with great mentors who are willing to tell you what you need to work on.

JGL: How do you handle the other side of being a working musician – the business side?

JS: I try every day to measure out my month for a work quota, and when I meet it, I commit to less work so I have time to work on my own music.

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.

JS: Never had second thoughts on being a musician. Not sure what I would have done other than music.

JGL: What you’re not on the band-stand or in the recording studio, what do you like to do to unwind?

JS: I love fly fishing and I’m an avid outdoorsman. I spent a ton of my summer this year camping.

JGL: What does the future hold for John Storie?

JS: I’m going to continue to fulfill my purpose as a musician and finding new ways to serve others!

JGL: Thank you John for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. I wish you much success in all your endeavors!

JS: Thanks for having me!

Please consider spreading the word about John 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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