Jazz Guitar Legacy Interview with Jack Petersen – Part 2

With a large majority of our Jazz Guitar Legacy players passed on, it is a rare moment indeed when one gets an opportunity to talk with such a player, especially one who has been around for close to nine decades. Well our man in the field – Dr. Wayne Goins – had just such an opportunity with the legendary Jack Petersen!

If you haven’t read it yet, click here for Part 1 of this candid interview. Enjoy 🙂

But first…


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JGL: So, did you play in the Stan Kenton band?

JP: No, but I did his Stan Kenton camps, the jazz camps that he had?

JGL: Yes.

JP: And of course, he’d bring his band and I’d get up and play a couple tunes with the band. But I never went on the road with him, no.

JGL: Okay.

JP: But I did that for a lot of years, you know, and I did a lot of years of the Clark Terry Camp. I did 14 years of that.

JGL: Really?

JP: Yeah.

JGL: Now, how did that come about—the Clark Terry thing?

JP: Through a guy—his name was Bob Montgomery, and he called me to do that. Stan started those camps and he’d use side men that he had in the band over the years to be the faculty. Sal Salvador was on those.

JGL: Oh!

JP: Yeah. And one year, Sal couldn’t make it. So Stan had hired the guy that was in charge of the bands at North Texas named Gene Hall. And I had played under Gene at North Texas. And so Sal couldn’t make it and Stan, asked Gene, ‘is there anybody we can get?’ He says, ‘well, I know a guy in Texas.’ And so they called me to come up there. I was already on a gig, you know, subbing for another guy. I was playing piano six nights a week, at this club. He’d hired me to play that week so he could go to New York and visit his mother. So I called him and I told him what the deal was. So I went up, and that’s the way I got with the Stan Kenton camps. And then that led to the Clark Terry Camps, you know.

JGL: Now, where were the Stan Kenton Camps held?

JP: They were in Indiana. And they were also in Michigan. They were also in Connecticut too. All summer, they go to different places, you know.

JGL: And where was the camp that you met Clark Terry?

JP: It was in Emporia, Kansas.

JGL: Wow. That not too far from where I am now here in Manhattan, Kansas—what a coincidence!

JP: The drummer we had on those Clark Terry Camps was the guy that grew up in Emporia. His name was Jack Mouse, who later moved to Chicago. Yeah. Emporia, Kansas, man, Clark found a little town outside of Emporia where they had barbecue, man <laugh>. Ooh, man was it was good, and also there in Emporia, there was another little town south of there. Had a big river going through it. We’d go down and get river catfish, man. Whoop!!. That was good!. <Laugh>

JGL: <Laugh>. Well, let’s talk about you getting to the getting invited by Lawrence Berk to start the Berkeley program in 1962.

JP: That also came about from being on the Stan Kenton camps. They had a guy named Ray Santisi—a  great piano player who taught at Berklee. The administrator from Berklee came down there for some reason and I met him when I was teaching at the camps. What they had in mind at Berklee was to start a guitar program bigger than they had, ‘cause they were getting too many inquiries about it. So he asked me would I be interested in coming to Berklee to start that program and I said, ‘well, I’ll let you know.’ I mean, I was really only briefly in Dallas, you know, in the recording world and everything. But they liked the way I was teaching better than what Sal Salvador was doing. Sal was a great player, but he was not a great teacher. So they started calling me every year.

Some of those guys, you know…are great players but not such great teachers. Now, Clark was good. Clark loved the kids and he loved to get involved with them. And he would get to know ’em personally. He wanted to know how they think, and everything. He would really work with them, you know? He was a great guy, man—that guy was really superhuman.

JGL: Yeah he was! I got to meet him and play with him once.

JP: Well, you know, he was just super, man—and he loved me to be in the group because I knew all of his tunes. And if somebody else in the group didn’t know the tunes, he knew I could write it out for ‘em, you know. We really had a good close relationship, man. He and another guy—a saxophone player, Frank Wess.

JGL: Oh, Frank Wess from the Basie band!

JP: Yeah. He was on those camps too, with Clark. Clark would always bring somebody with him, you know, one year was Frank; one year it was James Moody.

JGL: Oh, wow! Ok, so now let me ask you about this 12-guitar band that you created.

JP: Alright. I started it up at Berklee. It’s nothing more than big band charts. I had five guys read the trumpet parts, five guys read the saxophone parts, and five guys read the trombone parts. Now, I had ’em all transpose back into regular keys—I didn’t make the guys transpose what they were reading. I had all the instruments put back in concert key. And I would make the guys read the high ledger lines, you know, and I made the guys on trombone read the bass clef.

And here’s a funny story, man: When I had to make the trombones play those parts, this one kid, he got there the first day and he was put on a trombone. He says, ‘I can’t read bass clef.’ And I told him, I says, ‘someday you’re gonna thank me for making you learn it.’ He says, ‘that’s probably true, but not today!’ <Laugh>. Well, I laughed about that.

JGL: That’s hilarious!

JP: Funny. But yeah, that’s what I wanted to do, give the guitar players a chance to read single notes such as the horns do, and not always have to play chords and rhythm, you know? I wanted them to feel what it feels like to play in a section of five parts where you’re playing a single note, playing in the inner parts.

JGL: Right.

JP: And the lead and everything. I wanted to have that same experience as that horn player. And they loved it. You know, they just thought it was great, man.

JGL: I’ve done this kind of thing like you did, and I encountered a lot of intonation issues with using that many strings…

JP: Intonation?

JGL: Yeah.

JP: Well, I would make the lead players get in tune, and then make everybody tune to them.

JGL: Okay.

JP: I never really had that much trouble with it because all of ’em had pretty good ears, you know.

Jack Petersen on guitar with the Mike Vax Sextet at The Nash Jazz Club – Joseph Berg Photography.

JGL: Okay. Now were they all playing jazz guitars?

JP: Yes. I had mixers on each section where you could plug six guitars into the mixer, or I would use only five. And they had their own tone control and their own volume control. And I’d make the lead player balance it, you know, each section.

JGL: Okay.

JP: And it worked out very well. Yamaha sent me those speakers, you know. And they sent me the amps too.

JGL: Really?

JP: I had two amps for each section and on the mixer that I could pan. I put the lead guy in the middle, and I pan the other two to the left, and the other two to the right a little bit.

JGL: Wow.

JP: So everybody could hear everything that was going on, each section was done that way. Now, what was really good is when I got a guy come in who had played a horn of some kind before he played guitar, and he’d already learned how to read on a horn. So he just transferred it over to guitar, you know. I had one time a guy came in and played trombone and played it very well, and he loved guitar. So I put him playing the lead trombone part on guitar, man. He could just sight-read it right away, you know? And another guy who played trumpet, I put him in a trumpet section playing lead, and he could read it. No problem. Same thing with all the saxophone players. So, I did have guys who had played the horn before they played guitar, and that helped.

JGL: Right. So now let’s talk about 1965 when you came back to Dallas and started doing the UNT program.

JP: Oh, I came back to Dallas first, and I went back into studio work.

JGL: Okay.

JP: I was in Dallas for a few years. I knew everybody up in North Texas, because, you know, Denton, Texas is my hometown.

JGL: Yes.

JP: And that’s where North Texas was. So I grew up around that. My friend Rich Matteson got a job at North Texas. And so when I was on the road with Hal McIntyre, we had met years before that in Reno Nevada with Mac playing in a lounge,

Leon Breeden got him up at North Texas, on the faculty up there. And Hal used to talk to me about ways to teach improv. And we discussed that, and I helped him a lot on scale theory. And so I knew everybody up in North Texas. I knew Leon Breeden, who was in charge of it. He recommended me for teaching and they hired me to be on the faculty.

JGL: And Leon Breeden was the department head at the time?

JP: At that time, yeah. Now, Leon Breeden had taken Gene Hall’s place.

JGL: Oh, I see.

JP: The interesting thing is, when they were students at TCU, they were roommates <laugh>.

JGL: Really?

JP: Yeah. So when Gene Hall left to go to Michigan, they hired him up there. They offered him a lot more money, you know, so he recommended Leon there at North Texas. before that, Leon was teaching high school in Grand Prairie, Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth. And when I was playing a lot of gigs around, Leon would be on some of those gigs. So we became very close friends. He was a wonderful clarinet player and saxophone player.

JGL: Now where did Dan Haerle come into the picture?

JP: Dan went to school in Texas as a student.

JGL: Okay.

JP: And then when he left, they hired him… when I was there, they needed a piano teacher, so they called him and he was interested. They said, ‘Are you interested in coming back and teaching?’ And he did. And they hired him to teach at the same time I was there. I met Dan way before that when he was in Dallas playing, just playing around. We played some gigs together.

JGL: He wrote some really good books on improvisation!

JP: Yes. Very good one. He’s very knowledgeable about all of that.

JGL: So let’s talk about UNF in Florida in 1988.

JP: Okay. Rich Matteson had been hired first to go there to Florida. They wanted him to start a program there in Jacksonville, Florida, so he says to me, ‘You want to go?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m doing pretty good. I wanna stay. I got a family, got a home and everything, and I’m doing all right…’ but he kept hounding me <laugh> to come there and finally offered me a lot more money. I said, ‘Okay.’ So I gave North Texas a notice and moved to Florida to UNF.

JGL: Wow.

JP: Because it paid a lot more money. I think about twice as much, you know?

JGL: Right.

JP: I remember that program when it got built, because I was living in Boston at the time, and I had moved to Atlanta, but I remember hearing about UNF right when that happened, because it seemed like they drained all of the greatest players across the country, and they all wound up going to North Florida.

JGL: Yeah. Well, Rich would go out and do clinics and recruit.

JP: You know, I mean, he was on top. I mean, he plays as good as anybody, man. You can put ’em with whomever. Students, when they heard him play, they’d say, ‘Oh man!’ And then he’d tell ’em about the school, what he had going, and the teachers he had and so forth. So they would come down there and he’d get ’em scholarships—he had full reign on that. And he got great players, especially trumpet players.

JGL: Did you know Barry Green?

JP: He took my place when I left. He’s a great player, man.

JGL: Yeah he is. And you left in 1995?

JP: Yes.

JGL: Okay.

JP: I “retired” <laugh>. I really just refocused, I went back to playing professionally all the time.

JGL: When you were at North Florida, what kind of students came through there? Did I understand you taught Mick Goodrick at some point?

JP: Yes, at Berklee. Goodrick and John Abercrombie.

JGL: And then Corey Christiansen?

JP: Yeah, Corey was in Florida. I had already retired, but I started teaching up at a university there in Tampa part-time and Corey came down there for that.

JGL: I also saw something that said you taught Marcus Printup, but isn’t he a trumpet player? He plays with Wynton Marsalis now in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

JP: He was a trumpet player at University of North Florida back then. And he was in the group, but he was in the combo that I helped him with, and I used to talk improv with him. You know, that guy had perfect pitch. He was talented, man. He was really good.

JGL: Yeah.

JP: And I introduced him to some trumpet players he’d never heard of, you know, like a guy named John Hurdley. I don’t know if you ever heard of that name.

JGL: No, I’m not familiar with that one…

JP: Oh, he was a brilliant player. And he [Printup] was surprised at all these guys I introduced him to.

JGL: Wow. So let’s talk about a little bit about gear. What kind of guitars were you playing back then, and what kind of amps did you use? Did you use any pedals or anything?

JP: Well, when I was in studio work, I had all the pedals and different kinds of guitars, mandolin, 12- string guitar, both acoustic and electric and ukulele guitars. I had a Gibson. And then I had a Fender and I had another round-hole, big guitar, you know, for bossa nova and finger-picking and things like that. Yeah, I had a lot of different guitars, but when I was teaching, I only used one guitar. I had a small Fender, not a ‘plank’ as we call ’em, you know. It was a small body guitar that had a great sound. It was a jazz guitar they made at one time. It was a great guitar, man. It had a good sound. You know, the funny thing is, when I first met Russell Malone, that’s the guitar I was playing.

JGL: Is that right?

JP: Yeah.

JGL: Fender’s not known for jazz guitars, but you were playing a Fender jazz guitar?

JP: Yeah, for a while there, they made a jazz guitar and they were really nice guitars, man.

JGL: Wow.

JP: They had a great sound. And of course, you know, Fender necks, man, are really easy to play. They’re really made well.

JGL:  Yeah, that’s right.

JP: And you put loose strings on ’em, man, you can move like a thousand miles an hour on ’em, you know? When I was playing with Clark Terry, I had to do that, ‘cause Clark could put those tempos up there, man.

JGL: How did you first meet Russell?

JP: When they brought Harry Connick into North Texas to teach with the students, he had Russell with him, and that’s where we met at the University of North Florida. He and I became very close friends, you know.

JGL: Did he just approach you from a guitar standpoint? I mean, did he know much about you, or was it just a natural thing?

JP: No, no, but he heard me play there, and right away he said, ‘I wanna talk to you!’ <laugh>. And he asked me all kinds of questions about stuff, you know?  I would play these chord solos. He said, ‘What are you doing there, man?’ And I would tell him, you know, and show him. And he appreciated it very much. That guy was really eager… he’s eager to learn anything, anytime. And he wanted to hear anybody, anytime, man. He was just, you know, engrossed in music like crazy, man. And I love people like that when they come around and start asking those questions, because I was the same way. You know, I got teach on Kenton camps with Johnny Smith.

JGL: Oh my God. Really?

JP: Yeah. We became very good friends over the years. Johnny’s approach is beautiful. You know, he would talk about his right hand, about tuning, about this and that. What he could do, man, a lot of people don’t know, they think of him as a ballad player. Man, that guy had more chops than anybody I ever saw.

JGL: Wow!

JP: He could move, man! He was amazing. His chops, you know, he was everything. he was on the NBC staff, back in those years, man. Under Toscanini.

JGL: Wow.

JP: A good description of Johnny is, he was a gentle man.

JGL: Yeah?

JP: A gentleman. Really. He really was.

JGL: So, would you say that that’s where you got your chord concept from—the chord solo stuff?

JP: That was one of ’em, and the other one was George Van Eps.

JGL: Oh boy!

JP: Both of them.

JGL: Did you ever play 7-string?

JP: No, but I have students who have. I have one named Chris Boselli, who is a wonderful player, and he plays seven string. But they did that after they studied with me, they decided they wanted that extra lower sound, you know?

JGL: Right.

JP: Like Carl Kress got, and George Van Eps, you know?

JGL: Right. Wow. So, Russell admired all of your chordal playing?

JP: Yes.

JGL: So did you write arrangements or did you have other…where did you get your arrangements from?

JP: Just made ’em up.

JGL: So you had your own original chord solos?

JP: Yeah.

JGL: Do you still have them?

JP: I took bits and pieces from other people, you know.

JGL: Do you still have them?

JP: Well, I still play ’em. I don’t have ’em written out.

JGL: Oh, so none of them were written down.

JP: No.

JGL: You have ’em in your head?

JP: Yeah.

JGL: Wow! Which tunes might you be thinking about?

JP: Well, on YouTube you can catch me playing. I remember one time, [saxophonist] Bunky Green—who I taught with at the University of North Florida, we would do something for the students, you know. Some playing and talking about things. And so I figured out a chord solo on ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.’ Come to find out, that song was written the same year I was born <laugh> which was 1933, man! So I did that one. And then on YouTube you can find me playing ‘My Romance,’ which everybody plays, you know?

JGL: Yeah.

JP: Mine’s a little different. There’s that one spot in there where I took off from Johnny Smith, you know. And then I also did one, based on Johnny Smith’s ‘Wait Till You See Her,’ the Richard Rogers song from the early forties.

JGL: Wow. Okay, I gotta go check out those YouTube videos of you! That sounds really fantastic. Well, let me ask you this last question: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that I should have?

JP: Hmmm…Oh, I’ll say this one last thing: One time, when I was at North Texas as a student, Gene Hall used to take me on some gigs with him. We’d go over and play. I remember one time we played and there was a piano player, so they had Gene sitting by the piano player, he’s sitting on the left side of him. And so on the first break he says, ‘Can I change chairs with you?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ you know, so I did. And then going home that night, I was riding with him. I asked him, I said, ‘Why did you wanna change chairs? He says, ‘I like your chord changes better than the piano player’s!’

JGL: <Laugh>. Oh!

JP: Wow. <Laugh>. That’s just something funny, you know?

JGL: Oh, that’s hilarious.

JP: Yeah.

JGL: Wow. Yeah. I just wanna say to you that this is gonna be a really wonderful interview, and I think it’s a rare thing because I don’t know how many people have had a chance to interview you for a magazine like this.

JP: Well, I  did it for Guitar Player one time. The old magazine of yesteryear.

JGL: I read that magazine religiously as a kid.

JP: Sure. It was a good magazine, man. I did too.

JGL: When did you do a GP interview?

JP: Oh, it was quite a few years ago, man. It had to be maybe back in the seventies, I guess, or maybe eighties. I’m not sure.

JGL: I have an almost a complete collection. I’m gonna have to go back and find it.

JP: Yeah. It’s somewhere in there…Oh, by the way, I have a book out on the market.

JGL: You do?

JP: Yeah. Mel Bay Publications put it out.

JGL: What’s the name of the book?

JP: I call it Chords Galore. You might wanna buy that. It teaches how to build chords on the guitar using theory.

Click here to purchase Chords Galore

JGL: Wow.

JP: Covers a lot of material, man. It really does. It’s what I taught at University of North Texas.

JGL: Maybe if I can get a chance to come and see you, I can have you sign my book in person?

JP: I would, man… I would love to. Now, here’s something—you know the thing about “Drop two?”

JGL: I’ve heard about drop two. Did you pioneer that concept?

JP: No. A lot of people think it was written for the guitar. No, that is an arranger’s technique. Both Glen Miller and Duke Ellington, all the big band arrangers use that technique, it’s a device used to open the chord up, make it fuller, you know? And here’s the thing about it. If you learn about it, it can be applied to the guitar because in the tuning of the guitar, there is a drop two—the first four strings—E, B, G, and D. That is a “drop two” voicing as they call it.

JGL: Is that right?

JP: Yeah. Now if you take the second, third, fourth, and sixth string, that is a drop three voicing. Now those chords, those kinds of voicings, you play all over the guitar, you, know?

JGL: Yes.

JP: It was not invented for the guitar but it can be applied to the guitar so easily, you know?

JGL: Yes. So that’s all that is included in your book?

JP: Yeah. I use the drop two, you know, but I do have the other way—I go from the bottom up, I take the chords and rearrange ’em. I call that a “raise-2” voicing. I make my students learn both the raise system, which they start on the bottom, you know, and start building chords that way. And then when I go through the drops, that’s where I teach chord melodies.

JGL: Okay.

JP: ‘Cause arrangers, when they would do drops, you know, they would arrange a line and put the harmonies below it and they would use a closed position, and then they would take the second voice and move it down an octave to give it a much fuller sound. And what Glenn Miller did, he did that and he put clarinet on the lead, and then he doubled the immediate lead an octave lower with the tenor inside that voicing, you know? That was the Glenn Miller sound.

JGL: Oh.

JP: And Duke Ellington used to use drops—all the arrangers did…that’s an arranger’s technique. So it’s very applicable to the guitar, man.

JGL: Wow.

JP: Oh, yeah. Well, it works. It’s very easy. So you’ll see in my book, I do it from the other way, you know, I was doing that before I got to Berklee.

JGL: Well, I’m definitely gonna check this out. I’ll buy three copies—one for me and two for a couple of my students!

JP: Okay, Wayne. That sounds good, man.

JGL: Listen, it’s so nice to get a chance to meet you. I hope to meet you in person sometime. I really do, and I’m looking forward to getting your book.

JP: Okay, Wayne, thank you very much. If you’re in town and you don’t call me, I’m gonna go over and kick your ass! [laughs].

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