Pete McCann: Looking Forward
PM: The new album took about four years to put together and during that time I sat down with the first three Mahavishnu records to try and find new inspiration for the tunes I was writing. They really broadened my mind to odd time signatures. I would sit down with pen and paper and try and write a tune in 11/8 or 15/8, then find a vamp that fit that time signature and see where it took me with a melody line. I love to play in seven and I live to play in five-four. I wish the traditional jazz guys would play in odd meters more often, so I try and do what I can to explore different time signatures in my music.
AAJ: There's a track on the new record, "Pi," that features you playing acoustic guitar. What draws you to the sound of that instrument in particular?
PM: I read the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel and that tune was inspired by the storyline of the book. The acoustic guitar is in my palette of sounds that I choose from when I'm writing new material. I played nylon string in college, and the steel string guitar is in the matrix of sounds that I like to draw from. I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm the world's foremost accomplished acoustic player, but I like the sound of it, and more importantly so does my wife and so does my mom [laughs].
AAJ: Do you bring the acoustic guitar onto the bandstand or do you prefer to only use it in the studio?
PM: It's pretty much only for the studio. These days I'm happy playing my Gibson 335 or my PRS solid-body electric. I can get a decent acoustic sound out of my 335, which was one of the reasons I bought that guitar. When I'm playing with singers I can just turn down the volume and, if it's quiet enough in the room, people can hear the acoustic sound of the strings ringing through.
AAJ: You run your guitars through Mesa-Boogie amps and there seems to be to camps of players when it comes to Mesas, those who prefer the older models and those that prefer newer models. Which Mesas do you prefer to use, vintage or newer models?
PM: I've talked to a bunch of guitarists who use Mesas and some are very set on using the Mark series from the early '80s. I have three different Mesas. I have a hundred-watt Lonestar and a fifty- watt F50, both of which are new from the last three or four years. The reason I bought an older Mesa, the Studio 22, is because it's half as loud as the fifty watt so it breaks up right away. They're all unique amps, but they have that crispy top end and full mid-range Mesa-Boogie tone, which is something I'm trying to embrace more in my sound.
AAJ: Guitarists seem to be picky about playing with pianists and keyboardists. You've done a lot of performing both with and without a keyboard player in your band. Do you prefer to play in an ensemble that has a keyboardist or one that doesn't?
PM: When I'm playing at a place like La Lanterna, where there's barely room for guitar, bass and drums, I like to use the guitar trio set up. When I play at the 55 Bar I like to have a keyboardist there with me because there's room and they have a really nice Rhodes there. It's become kind of the Rhodes piano room in New York, because there aren't that many other places that have that instrument in house. When I plan a tour with the band if I can afford to bring a keyboardist along I will, but in the past I've just gone out without one. It's very expensive these days to bring a band out on the road, so often times it's just a matter of finances.
AAJ: As well as being an accomplished performer you are also an in demand educator. Do you find that being a teacher has positively affected your playing career and vice-versa?
PM: I think my teaching does kind of seep into my performances. I did my CD release party at the 55 Bar back in July, right in the middle of the NYU guitar camp that I was teaching at. It was great to have an audience that was made up mostly of guitarists from the camp, so I could get some good feedback after the gig. I can tell just from their comments if they dug it or if it wasn't their thing.
Teaching opens my ears to new players as well. Students will turn me on to new players all the time, really opening my eyes and ears to players I haven't heard of before. I'm always amazed that when I teach someone about jazz guitar I rediscover some element that I've neglected in my own playing, and that I have to go back and check out on my own.
I think that these days anyone playing jazz for a living has to be involved in teaching somehow, even if it's just to supplement their income. Whether it's teaching fulltime at a college or private studio, or just doing clinics out on the road, it can really help out at the end of the year with trying to make a living in the jazz world.