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Talking Jazz Guitar With Peter Bernstein and Jimmy Bruno

By Published: July 9, 2013
JB: It's hard to put a name to that. I am not really sure what that means. I think it means we know how to play standards, we know the right chords. But it doesn't mean we don't know other kinds of music. Peter gets to record with a lot of different styles of music. Peter can play anything.

SK: What other projects do you have going on?

PB: I do get to play with a lot of different people. Soon I am playing with this bassist, Ben Allison. That's a stretch for me. He's got some different kinds of stuff.

JB: He's on the cutting edge; he can go this way that way. Anything you want, you know?

PB: [laughs] Well I try.

JB: So purists, that isn't the right word.

PB: You try to be purists with whatever you're doing. But with guitar, you don't play with effects, the sonic thing that rock 'n' roll brought, distortion or whatever. All the electronic things that have enhanced the sound of the basic guitar. We are coming from a place where you plug the guitar into the amp and amplify the acoustic sound of the instrument, in that sense yes, we are purists. You can't deny that because that's what we're playing, that's what we're dealing with.

But I will say, because I did an article with Jazz Times—I had just done a record of Thelonious Monk tunes and the guy is doing an entire article about why I didn't use effects. That was what the angle of the story was. I forget his name. He did a story about me and it was something crazy, the angle was, I was just a guy who played through an amp. It wasn't really about the music or the people I play with. [sic] And I thought, wait a minute, how come they don't ask the pianist why he just plays piano, how come that's a valid instrument; or a drummer why he doesn't play the drum machine, he just plays the drums, they don't ask him why he's such a purist. Some guys plug in and play with tremolo.

SK: Like Lou Pallo. He has some analog stuff.

PB: Lou is like early rock 'n' roll stuff like Les Paul. I am not saying people should not use effects. I Love Bill Frisell, I love people that use effects, but for me, the angle for people in your line of work, it is supposed to be what makes guys different, rather than 'he's this guy because he doesn't use effects, he doesn't use delay.' It is a little bit lazy on that part. He wouldn't ask a pianist why he isn't playing synthesizer, or a bassist why he isn't playing electric bass, so we should be able to play whatever instrument we want, and it is the job of the critic to take the music in its own context and react to it for whatever it is, rather than say I see this guy is playing with effects so he must be coming out of this bag, or he is not playing with effects so he must be coming out of that bag. Since you brought it up, purists and all that.

JB: I didn't read the article but I am sure Peter is accurate, I have had reviews too that have been about anything but the music. I think that a lot of music critics that review live or recorded stuff, they don't know enough music, so the only things they understand is the sonic portion of it, 'what a nice distortion sound' or—

PB: I think I understand the question. We are purists in that we play acoustic [guitar] through an amplifier, acoustic music. [sic] So we distinguish ourselves by our musical choices.

JB: It's about the note choices. If you take two notes, A and B, they are the same two notes if you play them with distortion or delay or reverb. What is the context of those two notes? I think it is going in a weird direction. The music critic is supposed to be hipper than the masses; he should know something about the music and not just the effects.

PB: And I was happy to have that article three years ago (or whenever it was), you can call me a purist, I just think...[pause] know, you're kind of being looked at by what you use. Whereas, with a pianist it is this guys plays this, this guy plays that.

SK: Tell me why you are both so faithful to your given guitars? Jimmy Bruno plays a...?

JB: That's a Sadowsky. I am faithful but not tonight—there's a Jimmy Bruno model designed and made by Roger Sadowsky. [sic]

SK: Peter, remind me what you're playing.

PB: I play a Zeidler. This guy makes it from Philly, John Zeidler. He made it in '81, so it's over 30-years-old. I've been playing it for about 15 years.

SK: So that's all you play?

PB: For 15 years that's what I play. I don't have anything else.

(Jimmy Bruno shouts to someone named Al outside the interview)

JB: Hey Al, do you see my guitar around somewhere, do you see some guy walking around with it somewhere? [joke]

AM: Yeah. He tried to sell it to me! [laughs]

(Al, the man Bruno is addressing shuffles away from the interview wearing a colloquial smile)

SK: What more affects the sound, the player or the maker of the instrument, Jimmy?

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