Friday, April 13, 2018

Interview with Frank Wingold

I first heard Frank Wingold on a live recording that was made to celebrate Wim Overgaauw's 65th birthday in 1994. It was recorded at Nick Vollebregt's Jazz Cafe in Laren, a year before his death, Wim performed with his (ex) students Maarten van der Grinten, Jesse van Ruller, Martijn van Iterson and ... Frank Wingold. But I only heard these recordings many, many years after the event when they appeared on Youtube and I kind of forgot about him. Until recently, when I came across a few clips that featured him playing solo guitar and I was so impressed that I caught up on him and his career and decided to ask him for an interview. I added two of his video clips that you should watch in full ...




Here's the first solo guitar clip "Darn that Dream." Out of this world ...



At what age did you pick up the guitar and what did you first study?

I picked up the guitar at the age of 9 but I was a very bad student in the beginning. I had some very traditional and classically orientated lessons and that was absolutely not my interest at that age. That changed rigorously at the age of 12 when I met a teacher who was into acoustic blues, folk, ragtime, western etc. He was a very open minded guy teaching young people in groups - chords, melody, fingerpicking, all playing together, singing and hanging out. I really got into fingerpicking then, ragtime, blues, fingerstyle guitar. I started to teach there at the age of 15. Around that time I also got some very good classical guitar lessons which changed my approach from finger gym to really understanding music. I also got interested in jazz but mainly self-taught since it was hard to find a teacher back then in the little town I grew up in. I only got a few lessons as a preparation of the auditions. But I had a band with a group of friends, we tried to play everything from standards to Steve Coleman and Frank Zappa.

Why did you go to the Netherlands to study jazz?

Back in that time there were very few places to study jazz in Germany, the classical tradition was very strong there. The conservatory in Hilversum had a very good reputation so I tried there and they accepted me. To be honest I was pretty naive at that time, unlike students today who check all study places thoroughly before they apply. I had a great time there and it was good to leave my hometown to start learning jazz from scratch.

Could you tell us a bit about Wim Overgaauw’s approach to teaching jazz guitar?

His approach was mainly to play together and then he would make some remarks about certain changes, voicings, endings, turnarounds, rehamonisations, etc. He never seemed to have a very strict methodological concept, perhaps because he also learned rather by playing, listening and teaching himself. I think we all learned a lot from him on an subconscious level, just by playing and listening. I always sounded way better when I played with him just because of the way he was comping. Somehow that’s still a miracle to me. But he also had a couple of pretty advanced concepts, hexatonic scale patterns or cello like chord voicings with the use of the thumb in front of the fretboard.

In his last years he was very much into Steve Coleman and Gary Thomas, the whole M-Base scene. When I got to know him better he invited me to his house and he showed me the first computers which could do hard disc recording (first the last Atari, then one of the early Macintosh computers). That was pretty surprising because he was well-known for being a post-bebop and standards player. He composed tunes in that style and recorded all parts in the computer with a MIDI-guitar-interface and with hard disc recording. He was always fresh and modern in his mind, interested in recent developments of jazz. I think few people knew about this side of his musical personality.

The lessons with Wim were very valuable and inspiring. But I’d like to mention that I am also very grateful for the lessons which I had with Henk Sprenger en Maarten van der Grinten.

Your peers during your time in Hilversum were guys like Martijn van Iterson and Jesse van Ruller. Did you guys study and play together? Did you learn from each other?

There was a group with 5 guitars, Wim, Maarten, Martijn, Jesse and me, plus bass, drums and saxophone. We played mainly arrangements of Maarten and did a couple of gigs in Holland. Later we played in several universities in the U.S. as representatives of the Hilversums Conservatory to make contact with some universities there, Berklee, Miami and New York. Unfortunatly Wim was too sick to come with us then. At that time we played together and I think we all learned from each other at school.

Are you still in contact with MVI and JVR?


No, today we don’t meet any more.

You also got a degree in classical guitar in Hilversum. How did you manage that?

I was very much in classical guitar as a teenager. I was also thinking about studying classical guitar for a while, but then I was much more fascinated by improvising and creating my own music. In Hilversum I had the opportunity to get very good classical guitar lessons as a secondary subject during my study. In my last year I was basically done with all theoretical subjects and had only jazz guitar lessons. I thought why not ask if I could do an exam in classical guitar at the end of the school year. The school said it´s okay if the teacher would accept me and estimate my level as high enough. I played for the classical guitar teacher Lydia Kennedy and she accepted me. So I had one year of high level classical guitar lessons plus some really interesting theoretical subjects like analysis of 20th century compositions. That was a great year for me full of music, learning and practicing. It was a lot of work of course because at the same time I was starting my first bands, composing my own music, etc.

I never intended to become a professional classical guitarist but my approach to playing the guitar and to composing is very much influenced by classical music. I always loved music of the Rennaissance and Baroque era and especially by 20th century composers. This influence is still very strong in my approach to playing, especially when I play solo, and in my compositions. But I also regularly play contemporary classical music for electric guitar, solo, duo or with bigger ensembles. I also composed two works for chamber orchestra and electric guitar.

Which jazz guitarist(s) had the most influence on your jazz playing in your years as a student?

Jim Hall always was and still is a great inspiration for me. I still think that his direct musicality and endless stream of fresh ideas is outstanding and beyond categories of traditional, modern or anything else. As a student I also was very much into John Scofield and Bill Frisell but this became less during the years.


What happened after your graduation from the Hilversum conservatory?

I didn’t want to go back to my hometown area because there was basically no jazz scene back then. I was thinking about staying in the Netherlands but I didn´t have a lot of perspectives there. In the last years of my study I made some connections with the jazz scene in Cologne and I decided to move there. It´s still close enough to Holland to keep up the connection, you can travel basically everywhere in Germany from there and the city has a strong jazz scene. In the beginning it was pretty tough but after a while I could earn some money by teaching and I started to play in some bands there. I made my first CD with Dutch musicians and then life went on.

Could you tell us something about your current teaching activities?

I´m teaching jazz guitar in Groningen. It’s a nice school with a special program called "NY comes to Groningen",which means that every week there’s a different additional teacher from NY at school to teach his instrument, group lessons and Masterclasses. It’s nice to be in touch with all these musicians and especially I like that students come from all over the world to study in Groningen, the atmosphere is very lively and inspiring. I also have a professorship for jazz guitar at the university in Osnabrueck, Germany. It´s also a great school with a fantastic line up of teachers from the current German jazz scene. Meanwhile there are a lot of places to study jazz in Germany nowadays, but Osnabrueck grew to be one of the biggest and most influental jazz departments of Germany over the last years. The study language is German, not English like in Groningen, so there are fewer international students. But it’s a unique and ambitious school with a huge potential and I like working there a lot.

Could you mention some highlights in your career as a musician?

With my dutch trio "Agog" we won the Dutch Jazz Competition in, I think, 2001, and we made a very nice CD and played a concert tour with the string quartet "Zapp". With the quintet "Underkarl" we had a lot of concerts in the late 90s and we played at the Berliner Jazzfest 1997. We had a couple of great tours in Central America and Pakistan. With "Agog" we had some very nice tours in India, China and South Korea. I made two CDs with a Cologne based quartet "Clairvoyance" which I’m still very proud of.

I love your solo guitar playing. Could you tell us something about your picking technique and approach? 


Since my first love in guitar music was fingerpicking, blues, ragtime, etc. it’s blueprinted in my basic understanding that you should be able to sit down with your guitar and play in a way that nothing is missing. That’s why I always played solo, even before I had any ambitions in that area. My solo playing is strongly inspired by the contemporary classical guitar repertoire and my fascination of the possibilities of the piano. I’m not so much into the rather linear approach when you play with a pick and you combine lines with chords. I prefer to break up everything into different layers, use more orchestral techniques and switch the melody line from top to the middle voices to the bass. I played some transcriptions of Keith Jarrett solo piano pieces for guitar, that opened my ears and eyes. I think there are endless unexplored possibilities on the guitar which are still to be discovered. I try to develop a dynamic and emotional way of playing, many solo guitarists have the tendency to prepare a lot and then sound very controlled.

Do you still like playing jazz standards?

Of course I do. That’s where it all comes from, I think that jazz originaly evolved from varying melodies, mainly well-known melodies. The energy comes from the tension what is familiar and what is new to the listener. I find it important to come back to this point in playing and composing regularly, especially because I have the tendency to move far away from that area in my compositions.

What music do you like listening to? Any favorites?

I come back to my old favourites like Jim Hall and Keith Jarrett regularly. Of course I follow the current American and European scene and try to stay up to date. I’m fascinated by music which manages to create a whole new world within itself. In that sense I like the music of the piano trio "Dawn of Midi" very much. Many pieces of composer Conlon Nancarrow are very inspiring. He did his own thing basically isolated from developments of classical music of his time and composed for player pianos. By composing directly on the paper rolls he was able to realize rhythmic and textural structures which are impossible in written music. There are arrangements of his music for the contemporary music group "Ensemble Modern" which are extraordinary beautiful and touching.

You live in Cologne. What’s the music scene like over there?



Cologne and Berlin are the strongest jazz scenes in Germany. There are plenty of great musicians in Cologne, of all styles and colours. Cologne was the first unversity with a jazz study in Germany. The scene is pretty open, there are a couple of initiatives by musicians and established organizers. Additionaly the radio stations WDR and Deutschlandfunk contribute in supporting the jazz scene. Unfortunately the opportunities to play are a little weak compared to all this potential. But as a jazz musician you have to travel anyway.


What future do you see for current and future jazz students?

The academic education of jazz helped to raise the general level of musicianship in all non-classical areas. Private and music school teachers are much better educated and experienced in Jazz, Groove and Afro-American culture then 15 years ago This is especially important in Germany where the classical tradition is so strong and all non-classical styles are often regarded as a nice but inferior "extra", not the "real thing". Of course it’s hard to say which perspectives jazz students will have in the future. Surely they will not all end up in the club and festival scene, but my experience is that young students are very realistic and well-informed nowadays. The chance to get rich is small in that area, but they know about it. They want to play and teach, be creative and often find their own way of living and realizing their creativity. Education helps them on this way. Guitar is still the most popular instrument among kids and young people and there is a certain demand for teachers on the market. And it´s important that jazz musicians get organized and do lobby work - in Germany there are many new initiatives by young musicians.

What guitars do you play currently?


I’m totally into 7-string guitar playing these days. I’m very fascinated by the possibilities of the extended range. I have a Schecter semi-acoustic (ES 335-like model) and an Eastman Archtop guitar, both 7-stringed. Especially the Schecter is not a high-profile instrument, but after I changed the pickup to a handwound Kent Armstrong I really like its sound and playabiliy. I’m thinking about selling all my 6-string guitars and get a collection of high-quality 7-string guitars in the future. But for now I’m happy with the ones I have. The best guitar which I have is a Guild Artist Award Archtop - this one I will definately keep.

Any future projects we should know about?


This year two recordings of mine will be released. In May there will be my trio CD with Robert Landfermann on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums with trio compositions by me. It’s called "Entangled Music" and the compositions work a lot with sublime textures and uncommon interweaving of the instruments. It’s  very special music and I’m curious how people will react on the release and how it works in live concerts. In october there will be a release of a duo recording with singer Martina Gassmann, it will be our third release. Also there we are following some new pathes, the music is hard to categorize and I do some challenging guitar work there. In some tunes I use the 7-string guitar. I think I will mainly be busy with promoting these two projects and do some touring. For the future I’m thinking of releasing some solo work on YouTube and on CD. And then we’ll see where the road leads.

Thanks so much for the interview Frank!

To order a CD or contact Frank mail him at mail@wingold.de



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Checking Out Some Vintage ES Guitars


Every once in a while I take a trip to check out some guitars. I noticed MusicWork Waalwijk had a few vintage guitars in their collection so I paid the store a visit last saturday. I took my own 1964 ES 125 with me as a point of reference and my own trusted Mambo amp. The guitars I wanted to check out were all vintage ES guitars. The store owner proved to be an elderly - and very nice - guy that told me running a music store was hardly profitable anymore due to the presence of internet giants such as Thomann and Bax. Fortunately for him, he had reached retirement age, so he could close at any time now and it was more a hobby than necessity. I felt for him though. What if all the smaller stores have to close and you can only order your guitar online ... Yikes.


First guitar I tried out was a 1950s Gibson ES 125. It was a cool guitar (very responsive) with a darker sunburst than my own 1964 one. It sounded very good, but I liked the tone of my own 125 even better. Much more punch and woodiness in it. Check out the video. You can hear it easily. Quite a relief though that the guitar you already own is the better one! In fact I already suspected this, for the 1951 ES 125 that I owned earlier, was very much like the one in the store and I always suspected that the 1964 one that I own now was the nicer guitar ...




I was very happy to finally be able to play a 1950s ES 175 with a P90 pup. I have played vintage ES 175s earlier |(from 1959, 1961 and 1964) but an earlier P90 equipped one was new to me.


It proved to be a very nice guitar but sound wise very much in the vein of a 125, which is not surprising. The playability of the 175 was a bit better due to the 175 being a mid end guitar and the 125 an entry level one, but sound wise the difference was not shocking. The price tag for the 175 was too steep for my taste, almost 5k. I played the same lick more or less on the 175 as on the 125 so you can hear the difference.


The next guitar I wanted to play was a 1946 Gibson ES 300. Unfortunately some strings were missing but the store owner quickly put on a few fresh ones. The guitar had some serious issues though, as you can hear in the video. It really needs some work and possibly a complete refret. It sounded great though, as far as the limited playability allowed. The sound was big and deep. The price tag too unfortunately. Way, way too steep for the condition it was in ...






I could have played some more guitars. The store really had an impressive collection archtops for its size. He had a few older GB 10s, an Ibanez Joe Pass, a Peerless Jazz City a Gibson Herb Ellis and some thinline vintage ES 120 and ES 125 Gibsons but the only guitar I played further was a Conti model. I had never seen one before actually. Not sure what exact model it was. Anyway, it was a pleasant afternoon and I hope the vid gives you some idea of the sounds I heard.



Monday, March 26, 2018

No more free gigs


Where I live there are few jazz gigs available. It's probably the same where you live. Venues that have jazz on the agenda are more the exception than the rule. This means that amateur jazz musicians usually play for free, for lack of opportunities. I know I have been doing that too often since I started out on my jazz journey. Sometimes, I do not even get expenses paid, which simply means that I have to PAY to play somewhere. For, my car runs on petrol, my guitars need strings and I did not get my instruments and my amp for free. As a matter of fact, I take about 4k worth of gear to any free gig. And then there's the time investment. A local gig takes up about 5-6 hours of my time. And what about all the years I put in on the instrument? The talent and time it requires to even be able to play jazz on a certain level is considerable. It takes years. Funny, how people expect me to play the stars from heaven (Dutch saying) and then offer me two free consumptions as a fee ... They even think that is perfectly normal and acceptable. O yeah, don't believe in the "exposure" myth. It is so stale I'm not even going to explain why it is rubbish in most cases.

So why do people play for free? Probably because they rather rather play for free than not gig at all ... At least, that's how I used to feel. But this has changed. As I'm getting older, I'm not so keen anymore to be on that stage. More and more I find free gigs downright insulting. Every free gig reminds me that my art and skill level is worthless and it invariably leads to me driving home with a bad feeling. Was it worth it? What is THAT great? Nah, usually not.

I came across an article that sums it up nicely. Let me quote:
3 reasons why you should not play for free
1. It devaluates the profession. When you play gigs for free, you are sending the message that the title “musician” is not worthy of being an occupation. We don’t need more people believing that being a professional musician is nothing more than a silly dream or something you can “always do for fun on the side”.

2. You are cheating yourself. Think about everything that you have done to get to where you are now. When you play a gig, you are displaying thousands and thousands of hours of hard work to an audience. You’ve suffered through lots of frustration, sacrifice, and even money to hone your craft. Don’t let all of this time and energy go to waste by giving it all away for free!

3. It hurst the music economy. So maybe you’ve read all of this so far but you’re thinking: “I’m not really a professional musician. I don’t care about getting paid; I just love to play. So what if I play a gig for free? I have a day job!” Well hear me out on this one. If there is any reason why you shouldn’t play gigs for free, it’s because you are hurting the music economy by doing so. A huge problem professional musicians are having right now is that venues are not willing to pay for music, or are only willing to give insultingly low amounts.
This I can relate to. Venues know darned well that they can get most amateur outfits for free. And sometimes the quality of the music on offer may even deserve little to no pay. So it's probably not all black and white. But for advanced players and experienced musicians - even those that have a day job - it should be at least doubtful.

I came across this diagram that can help you decide if you should do that free gig or not. It was created by the folks of Work Not Play – a UK-based musician’s union. It is very helpful to make a decision.


I have made up my mind about free gigs in the meantime. I'm not doing them anymore. For local gigs that require little travelling, the least people will have to offer me is to cover my expenses. Outside my region, I will expect a reasonable fee. Or I will stay at home happily ... I have other channels that enable people to listen to what I am doing on that guitar.



Thursday, February 15, 2018

MVI the solos II




5 Years ago I uplodaded a video complitation of a few Martijn van Iterson solos to my Blog that I recorded a few years earlier during a live show at the Crow. Click here to view them. He was playing in a quintet with Simon Rigter and Ruud Breuls at the time. This week I was going through my video vault and found a second compilation from that show that I have never published earlier. These tunes are a bit lesser known than the ones on the first compilation. But you will hear the same great playing and the same great sound on his ES 125, captured with my old camcorder just a few yards from the stage ... So after 5 years ... here's the second instalment of MVI the solos.




Saturday, January 20, 2018

Praise be to the Gibson ES 125


Wow, It's been months since my last Blog entry. I haven't been active on Facebook either. I have had some better times and let's leave it that.

Last april I got my 1964 Gibson ES 125 from a store in Amsterdam.I wrote about that in an earlier post. I have been playing it with great pleasure ever since. It's an amazing vintage guitar, considering its relatively low price on the market. There are many around (I read somewhere that it was Gibson's most produced and actually mot successful model ever) so it's not that collectible. It was designed as en entry level archtop in the late 40s  and it had no fancy appointments. Still, I like to believe it is not THAT different from a 1950s P90 equipped 175. It has a maple top, mahogany sides and maple back, a one piece Honduras mahogany neck, an unbound rosewood fingerboard, nickel-plated Kluson Deluxe tuners and one P90 pup in neck position. No fancy bindings and position markers. The body size at lower bout is 16". Scale length 24 1/2". Nut Width: 1 11/16".

What is so nice about the 125? Well, to begin with ... its price.If you are lucky, you can get one for under 2k. And make no mistake, it IS a genuine vintage Gibson guitar. You'd have to pay at least twice that money for a 1950s ES 175 ... So price wise, the ES 125 has no competition in the vintage electric Gibson archtop market. None whatsoever.

And then there its sound of course. It is of a much lighter build than contemporary Gibson laminates and together with the old woods and vintage production methods, this results in a very responsive instrument. It is really nice to play unamplified. A great couch guitar. Plugged in, you can get that old school 1950s bebop sound easily.

Considering what the 125 has to offer, it is remarkable that so few actually play them.

Here's two clips that I recorded recently. One features the guitar unplugged and one plugged in. Mind you, this guitar was never intended to be used unamped ... The chord melodies are mostly my own arrangements, but not all.








Saturday, October 21, 2017

It seems the Gibson Barney Kessel wasn't designed by Barney after all ...


I have been playing my 1963 Gibson Barney Kessel for over a year now and I still dig it a lot. It's a very resonant guitar with a more complex high end than my other laminate guitars.

In my earlier post on the Gibson Barney Kessel I stated that:
"Though the Kessel obviously is a signature model I am not sure to what extent Barney was really involved in designing this guitar. Some argue the model had been designed already and Barney was only asked to endorse it after that fact."
 It seems that George Gruhn has provided the definitive answer to who really designed this model in an article he wrote for vintageguitar.com.

The article states that in 1960, so two years before the Barney Kessel was introduced on the market, an experimental prototype was bought by a guy named Hines from a store in Nashville. You can see it on the left. The owner of the store told Hines
the guitar was one of a pair, and the other was apparently exactly alike except it was single-cutaway and went to Tal Farlow. Apparently, When Hines obtained the guitar, the tailpiece plaque was blank, so Stone sent it back to have Gibson engrave Hines’ name on it.

Gruhn writes: 

"Walter Carter checked Gibson’s records on this guitar and found it listed as being made for Tal Farlow in October, 1960. He found no record of the other guitar. Since Farlow is now deceased, we are unable to ask his personal recollections, but it’s clear this guitar pre-dates the introduction of instruments made with the Barney Kessel endorsement. It would appear Kessel was shown an instrument of this type and decided to endorse it rather than designing a Barney Kessel model on his own."

Maybe this explains Barney's reluctance to play it. For the article, click here.

I have always found many similarities in the BK and the Tal Farlow model. I played a 64 Farlow a few years ago and it was a very similar instrument sound. It was of a lighter build than the current TF models and more resonant therefore, kind of like my BK. Sure, my own TF reissue has a less hifi/complex sound than my BK but even here there are still many similarities, the most obvious difference being the spruce top (BK) and maple one (TF).

Interestingly, at the time, the BK custom was more expensive than the TF. Even more expensive than a Byrdland. The BK is a class act.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

But Not For Me

Every once in a while I hear a tune played in a way that really knocks me out. I came across Joe Pass' "But Not For Me" and somehow I had missed the tune and the album it is on completely ... until now. The album is from 1981 and is called "Ira, George and Joe." It is a wonderfully relaxed but totally swinging take. On the album Joe is accompanied by John Pisano (rhythm guitar) Jim Hughart (bass), and Shelly Manne (drums).


I was so inspired by the track that I wanted to do video of the tune in the same key of D and the same tempo. Of course I could not find one so I had to manipulate an existing (slower) track in a different key. First I had to transpose it and then speed it up. I used Cyberlink Wave editor to do that but there's plenty of other software that can do that too. However, the quality of the sound is often impaired. The instruments usually sound a bit funny after transposing or tempo changing ... I added a comping guitar to cover it up a bit though and then I had a usable backing. Not perfect, but usable.




Time to record my own video take! My turn ...



How about your turn? Here's the backing if you'd like to have a go at the tune. Have fun ...