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Interviews

Meet Joe Diorio

By Published: July 24, 2006

Teaching is the highest thing you can do--helping people to help themselves or maybe fulfill their dreams.

Early interest in jazz

I got interested in jazz early. One of my first inspirations was hearing my uncle play. He was an accomplished mandolin, banjo, and guitarist, and he used to play all the time. My father played a little guitar, and he had a large collection of records: Django [Reinhardt], Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, boogie-woogie, all that stuff. I started listening to a lot of music. In Connecticut where we lived it used to be very cold in the winter so we would close a couple of rooms off. The phonograph was in one. I used to put on my coat, hat, and gloves and listen all afternoon after school. After I learned to play I started sitting with in the better guys around New Haven and Hartford. They were much better than I was, but it was good experience. They'd play a lot of tunes I didn't know. I tried to play them right on the spot, and I did pretty good. What I didn't know I went home and practiced. I learned a ton of tunes. I used to go to a jazz gig every Friday and Saturday. The guys in the band asked me to sit in. I didn't get paid a penny, but I didn't care—I was having so much fun learning. I went to New York to listen. I wasn't quite ready to play—for one thing I was too young. I had some fake ID, and I got in to hear Art Tatum, Bud Powell, the Sonny Rollins trio, Phineas Newborn, Count Basie, Bird, all the great ones in their heyday. I had a Hell of an education.

Chicago jazz scene

I went on a tour with a circus band. It was really funny—they were dancers and musicians, but they were much better dancers. The music was rough, but it got me out of Connecticut. We got stranded in Dayton, Ohio. I called my cousin, a guitarist, in Chicago, and he said, "What's Happening?" That's how I got to Chicago. In Chicago I played with all the great ones: Eddie Harris [Diorio played on Harris' hit record Exodus to Jazz, 1961], Von Freeman, Jodie Christian, Billy Wallace (taught me a lot about reharmonizing), Willie Pickens, Harold Jones, Bill Yancey who played straight bass. I watched Muddy Waters perform—that's the blues. I played and recorded with Sonny Stitt and [trombonist] Bennie Green. Sonny liked me, and he used to tell me things—take your time, let the music breathe. Playing with him every night was a great experience because I would go home after the gig and try to imitate his lines. It was the way I wanted to play.



Miami jazz scene—Ira Sullivan and Jaco Pastorius

I met Ira Sullivan briefly in Chicago, but I got to know him better after I moved to Florida in the late 60's. As far as I'm concerned Ira's the best. I joined his quartet, which was like going to finishing school. Jaco Pastorius was very active on the Miami scene. [Pastorius and Diorio played on Sullivan's Horizon record, 1975]. We played with Ira several gigs, and Jaco continued to play with Ira for several months after I left. I used to go by Jaco's house and play with him. He played stand-up [bass violin] sometimes, and it was as good as anything you heard, but he had broken his wrist one time so it was painful. He had the right flavor and the right everything to play that stand-up. Sweet guy, he was totally straight [no drugs], and we had a nice rapport. I recognized his talent, but I had no idea he'd take off like he did. He was a genius musician—a great pianist, great composer, just a gifted guy.

Guitar duets vs. playing with a piano

I love playing guitar duets. The problem is finding the right guitarist. I think the best accompaniment for a guitar is another guitar. The piano is a little too percussive, and unless you transcend the everyday kind of playing—you're playing and the piano is comping or the piano is playing and you're comping—it doesn't work. If you're both playing (in the spirit of a Bach Invention) I think you can get away with it. There are certain piano players I like: Hod O'Brien—we've known each other since we were teen-agers. It was great to rediscover him last year. I was very disappointed I couldn't get on the gig with him last December. I almost delayed the operation, but they told me I had to go in. [Diorio suffered a heart attack and had a bypass operation from which he is recovering.] Hod's coming out [to Los Angeles] again in the summer, and we'll do something.

Teaching

Teaching is the highest thing you can do—helping people to help themselves or maybe fulfill their dreams. People say I'm a good teacher. It's not easy, though. Some people get energized by it. I don't—I'd much rather be playing and creating, but the economics are such that you can't make anything as a club musician. Teaching is not just one sided—it teaches you a lot. It may start you in a direction you hadn't thought about. That's happened to me many times. Somebody asks me to teach her the chords to this tune. While we're learning the tune I'm learning some new changes or a new reharmonization. I may inspire the student or the student may inspire me. I don't teach formulas. I take each individual where he's at at the moment. I help him work with his weaknesses. I was one of the first teachers at the Guitar Institute—Ron Eschete, Howard Roberts, Don Mauch, and myself. I only expected to stay there a few months. The next thing I know I got stuck in it. They finally let me go—it was a strange thing. A Japanese guy took over and said, "Jazz is an East Coast thing. Well Joe, we love you, but that's it."

Wide intervals

Somewhere along the line I started playing that way. This is just an example: you play a simple scale from C to C. Let's take every other note and put it in another register. So you've C and you've got D. But D is not in its normal position—it's an octave above. The next note, E, will stay where it is. The next note F goes up an octave. G is in its normal position and so on. You're jumping around—it's almost like watching a heartbeat—it doesn't stay in one direction. A lot of people became interested in it, but it takes a good technique to do it so I don't teach it too early on. You should learn how to play more inside first. These wide intervals make you sound more contemporary or outside.

Books and videos



I've got some pretty good ones out. A lot of people have commented. I've gone back and started working out of them myself. The first book I did was Intervallic Designs. It's those wide skips we were talking about. It's good for your technique and your ear. The next book was Fusion Guitar, but it's not "Fusion" fusion. It's the fusion of earlier jazz and more contemporary jazz. I'd write one solo more inside and the next solo more adventurous. There are tons of ideas in it—that's what you really need for jazz. The next one, Hot Licks, just had simple licks in it. Last year I wrote Jazz Structures for the New Millennium. It's like book II of Intervallic Designs, but expanded—a lot of incredible, different sounding lines are in it. It's for someone who's adventurous. I wrote a blues book, Jazz Blues Styles—taking the flavor of Bird [Charlie Parker], Sonny Rollins, and Monk: putting it together the way I've digested it—plus chord progressions. I also did one called Giant Steps. I never intended Giant Steps to be a book. I was just writing out the solos so I could understand the tune better. Don Mauch happened to see them and said, "Why don't you make a book out of this?" I said, "Man, these things are hard. I'm still learning how to play them." He said, "No, it'll be alright. Go ahead and do it." Warner Brothers approached me, and I sent them the draft. They liked it and published it. There are twenty solos on "Giant Steps," chord progressions, harmonizations, different ways to play through the progressions. It can help your technique, your ears, your chords. I try to include as much as possible in each book. I have a video, Creative Jazz Guitar, that helps people get in touch with their own creativity.



John Coltrane

Starting in the fifties when he came on the scene he dominated everything. He taught us how to hear a different way, how to approach things differently. The combination of Coltrane and Bird together—you've got it all. Obviously the earlier period is easier to hear for most of us. Towards the end it sounded chaotic, but it really wasn't. I like all of it, but it's not for everybody. Actually some younger people have told me they like the latter period much more—maybe their heads are more open.

Ravi Shankar

He's one of my greatest inspirations. He taught me how beautiful Indian music is and how deep you can go with music. It's always spiritual. He said, "Whatever the path is go toward God." I used to try to imitate him, but I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't understand Indian music that much and still don't, but I liked what I heard. Certain things he did would stand out in my mind, and I'd try to play them. There were certain "drone" pieces I wrote. ["Chetananda" from Peaceful Journey, Spitball Records] In the early 60's there wasn't anybody around to teach it, and I couldn't find a sitar—there were none available. I just left it at that. That's an art form you have to study with a deep commitment.

Dom Moio [drummer who occasionally plays with Diorio]

I love him. Dominic is just incredible, a big leaguer. He lives in Arizona. He teaches at the University of Arizona and plays around that area. Dominic and I have some things in the making. He can cook that Italian food—you go over to his house, you'll walk away with about three pounds on you.

Electronics

It's not part of my bag. I've tried a chorus a couple of times, but I lose something of my own sound. It works great for a lot of people. I was listening to Mike Stern yesterday. I thought he sounded great, exceptional. All those electronics work for him. Same thing with Sco [John Scofield]. The minute you hear it you know it's him. I think maybe Pat Metheny, too—the early Pat. I think he's playing a lot clearer now. I'm a staunch jazz musician from the old school.



Antonio Carlos Jobim

My interest is in the beautiful melodies that come from the culture. I recorded a beautiful album, To Jobim with Love. When I play Brazilian tunes I swing 'em—I just go straight ahead. Every now and then it's OK to do a Latin tune, but it seems limited. The bossa nova for me gets boring. It's the same kind of rhythm over and over—especially American bossa nova. It's not jazz—the harmonies are limited, and if you put a bossa nova rhythm on a piece it stays in the same place all the time. I don't even know the "right" bossa nova rhythm—I'm always thinking about swinging.

Stateside (new trio CD)

We have a business here, my son and I, my wife and his wife. There's a web site for people to order my products. We decided to do a play along (Timeless Standards) with [bassist] Bob Magnusson and [drummer] Jim Plank. While we were recording it I realized, I've got these great players here. I might as well just play some—let's do an album. We called them back the next day and did it. We just said, "You know this tune?" "Yeah." "OK—this key." We just went for it. Usually it was one take; two at the most.

Future projects

I'm writing a book to simplify jazz. I've been teaching this system around the world the last couple of years, and I've had a lot of results—a big light goes on. I'm thinking about developing a course in jazz. You write for the lessons every week or every month. I want to do another album with the trio from Stateside. Hod and I thought about doing an album together, possibly this summer. I have another friend, Bob Mover. He plays alto, and I've known him since he was a kid. He's coming out this summer, and we're talking about doing something. I'm thinking about doing an acoustic guitar album—maybe with just bass or solo. Those are all in the making. I don't know what's coming first. I got interrupted when I got sick, but that's OK.



Wrap up

I think guitar players should try to find which way they want to go and commit to it. I see people trying to do too many things. Each style takes a great commitment.

Photo Credit
Bob Barry



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