Adam Rogers Discusses His Imminent Debut Release and More
AAJ: Will you continue to work with Chris Potter?
AR: Well, I'm playing on his next record in a couple of weeks, actually. I'm on it and John Scofield is on it. I'm playing acoustic guitar.
AAJ: Who's this Scofield guy?
AR: John, I think it is, who I studied with in the early eighties, just before he started playing with Miles. He's a great person. I did a record for Chris Minh Doky, the bassist, that Scofield also played on, called 'Listen Up!'.
I also studied with Barry Galbraith, who's a great soloist and an amazing reader. He's on those 'third stream' records in the 50's and 60's with George Russell and others' a really great guitarist and a great man. He's known for working on Billie Holiday sessions. He's on Coleman Hawkins bossa record with another guy I studied with, named Howard Collins.
So I studied with Barry, Howard and Sco while I was in Mannes and before. I studied with a guy before Sco named Tony Baruso at GIT in California. I spent the summers there because my dad was out there. Anyway, Baruso was really into Martino...actually, Pat used to teach in the abutting room during the period he was recovering from his illness. Tony was a really great teacher, who really taught me the theory of jazz. He laid out everything about substitutions, etc. Some guys who are great players are not great teachers, but he was. I was an obsessive listener. I got into Miles and Bird and listened to the Savoy recordings of Charlie Parker all day long, and Milestones, and Steamin' and Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet'.
AAJ: So while you were doing the classical thing you were a jazz nut?
AR: Totally. And I was playing gigs around town all the time.
AAJ: How old are you now?
AR: 36. A friend of mine from high school named Mark Ettinger went to private high school in my area, and the band director in the school was Aaron Bell, who was Duke's bassist and is on that Ellington/Coltrane record. I joined that band as a ringer and used to play with them. It was a small big band and we'd do Duke charts like Mood Indigo, with a real jazz bassist. But the end of my professional studying was the end of college. I've always been an obsessive listener and when I've taught people who are interested in playing jazz music, I tell them the biggest part of it for me was listening to jazz records. But the way I learned was getting a certain amount of information and then listening to classic records, you know?
AAJ: Well, guys like you can hear them!
AR: I think a lot of people can if you train your ears well from listening and transcribing consistently. But the point is that there is nothing for a student of jazz music that is going to substitute for that. After all is said and done, it's an aural tradition and language. The people who are my idols learned how to play the music before there was any such thing as a jazz school. They apprenticed with people that were their elders, and they listened to music all day long and played it and went through all the trials and tribulations of that and figured it out, you know.
AAJ: That's an interesting perspective' it worked just as well if not better.
AR: Well, let me ask you this. Thirty years ago, generally, there were a few more original voices'so? One of the things people have told me over the years is develop your sound, whatever your sound is 'find out what it is that's unique about yourself as a person and a musician and try to bring that out. Who are you are and what do you have to offer as that's special as a person and as a musician? It may be simple. With a saxophonist it might be the difference between a rubber mouthpiece or a metal one'with a guitarist, it may be the use of a particular distortion box'or whatever. Every person has something unique to their experience as a person on the planet'nobody's had the same exact experience.
AAJ: Were you implying that schooling or academics of music has created an homogenization of style?
AR: I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that. An academic program is not necessarily going to change to accommodate each persons special qualities. Guitar is a specific instrument where there are teachers galore and a specific one teaches this and another does that. I've had a lot of people who've come to me to study, and I like to teach. I don't know if its my calling, but the tendency is for people to want to be shown how to do something. There's a certain amount of that necessary to get someone going, but to me, after learning certain techniques and theories, you've got to go figure it out for yourself. Not to be insensitive, but there is this incredible tradition of music that's been recorded. You learn scales and substitutions and every position and key and how to read, but then you've got to go listen to the music. It's like learning how to paint. If you study orchestration, you go and listen to Wagner and Beethoven and Stravinsky, and see how its done. Someone's got to lay on the concepts, but people aren't going to tell you what to do. Or how to do it.
A great example is people will periodically tell me, 'Oh, you use sweep picking.' And I say, 'Oh, ok, I guess!' I don't even know. I was constantly listening to saxophonists playing intervallic passages that don't naturally lay on the guitar, so I think somewhere along the line I learned to translate that to guitar. If you play fourths on a sax you move your lip and an octave key'on guitar you have to move through space and across the fingerboard, and you've got to do down strokes on the way down and up on the way back. Hey that's sweep picking'right? The point is that the inspiration is the music. I just heard some music I wanted to emulate somehow, so I figured out some way to do it. I mean techniques are fantastic, it's a cool thing to do, but it should come out of,and be at the service of, the music. Just to have that obsession and excitement about some music that you just want to figure it out is so important. Of course, some stuff I don't want to analyze and just leave it as incredible music to be influenced by.
AAJ: Who are your influences?
AR:Both of my parents were singer/dancers/musicians. My mom was a serious opera student and my father played drums and piano and I started playing guitar in the school basement, 'Roundabout' and Zeppelin, and when somebody played me Hendrix..I mean just his name sounds electric. I was so moved by his music I just wanted to play like that'but just the overall vibe of his music freaked me out. What I realized is that I get the same thing form him and 'Trane and Stravinsky' that transcendent extramusicality that certain musicians have. For me, Listening to Miles Davis goes beyond jazz trumpet playing. It sounds like poetry. It transcends the idiom. Certain musicians seem to rise above and beyond their particular styles, or even the medium of music, through emotional intensity, brilliance and talent. That energy and emotional intensity is something that Hendrix, Miles, Coltrane, Stravinsky and Beethoven all have, to me. You can point to a great many innovations as they relate to specific aspects of each of their particular genres but there is a similarity between them on a more broad artistic level. There is an energy and spirit that is similar to me in all of their music and I feel is truly transcendental.
In terms of contemporary influences Frisell was a big one' a phenomenal guitarist and musician. As a conceptualist and a composer, just amazing. Sco is one of my all time favorites- an original and a real improviser. Talk about having your own sound. They both really get a sound out of the instrument. There's a lot of stuff I listen to, ranging from pop to jazz to ethnic to classical and Brazilian. I'm always looking for music that gives me the feeling that music gave me when I was a little kid...I want to be moved by it.