Steve Howe: Great Guitars and Great Guitarists
Howe name checks guitarists from a wide range of backgrounds, all of which have been key to the development of his style: "Charlie Byrd, a player with a more classical feel, I believe. And Laurindo Almeida, another classical player with jazz connectionsI saw him on television last night." This was on a re-run of an episode from a 1964 BBC program, "Jazz 625," which also featured the Modern Jazz Quartet. The presenter, pianist Steve Race, had been extremely dismissive of rock and roll guitarists in his introduction to Almeida, displaying obvious contempt for their abilities and styles, condemning their use of "picks and plectrums" and declaring that finger-style was the only correct way to play the instrument. "Yes, wasn't he terrible?" laughs Howe, "His attitude was already old-fashioned and outdated, even then." Coincidentally, 1964 was the year in which Howe bought his beloved Gibson ES175.
Steve Howe Trio, from left: Ross Stanley, Steve Howe, Dylan Howe
Howe briefly adds flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia to his list of favorites before turning his attention to a contemporary, and occasional playing partner, British guitarist Martin Taylor. "He's a highly individual guitarist," says Howe enthusiastically. "I produced his album Artistry (Linn Records, 1993). We also recorded Masterpiece Guitars (P3 Music, 2002) together, using instruments from Scott Chinery's marvelous collectionwe played a few live dates after that as well."
Howe's enthusiasm for music and musicians means that he leaps constantly from one admired artist to another. He reveals that he saw Jaco Pastorius at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1979, describing the performance as "amazing." He also speaks enthusiastically about the occasion when he saw Miles Davis, and the trumpeter's abilities had a very strong influence on Howe's ideas about playing and composing.
"Miles was a father figure of jazzand Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960) is a very important album for me. Along with Gil Evans, Miles took Rodrigo's music to another place. Hearing music re-interpreted in that way made me feel that I could do it, too."
Of all Howe's many references to his favorite musicians during the interview, one memory in particular stands out: seeing guitarist Wes Montgomery playing at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London, when Howe was only 16-years old. "Wes Montgomery was one of the most original jazz guitarists," he declares. "But what I remember most about seeing him at Ronnie's was his smilehis smile was remarkable all night long."
In 2007, Howe joined his son, Dylan, and Hammond organist Ross Stanley to form the Steve Howe Trio. This year will see the Trio taking to the road again to tour the UK, as well as releasing their second album, Traveling (HoweSound Records). Jazz features heavily in the Trio's repertoire, as Howe explains: "Dylan started to play drums when he was about 20. Soon afterwards I invited him to play on a recording with me but he said 'No, not yet,' which impressed me. He wanted to find his own sound before we worked together." Dylan went on to play with a range of bands and musicians including alt-country outfit Wilco and also The Blockheads. Playing with the latter band, Dylan met Israeli-born saxophonist Gilad Atzmon: "Dylan introduced us and subsequently Gilad played on Elements (Inside Out Music, 2003)." Atzmon is a larger-than-life character who greatly impressed Howe: "Yes, you really do get plenty when you work with Gilad" he laughs.
"In 1993, Dylan and I recorded together for the first time and we played together on and off after that. Then, four or five years ago at Christmas, we talked about playing together in a small group. We decided to put together a band to play some of my stuff, some old Yes material and a selection of jazz by guys like Kenny Burrell or Jimmy Smith." A desire to play Jimmy Smith material necessitated the presence of a top Hammond organ player: "Ross Stanleya hell of a musician. He has a terrific ear, which is really important to me. I don't read or write music, apart from occasional chord charts. All my composing is done in my head, so someone like Ross is very important." The Trio released an album and toured during 2007 and 2008, including Canada. The United States has yet to see the Trio in action but, according to Howe, "it's just a question of time."
Howe and his fellow trio members are always looking to introduce new material into their set. "We've just added two new numbers" he says. "Ross Stanley and me are going to duet on the old Hollies number, 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother,' and we've also added a Miles Davis number, 'Tune Up.' There will probably be more additions soonwe want to keep things fresh."