A Conversation with John McLaughlin
AAJ: I know you tried to go hear the Mahavishnu Project perform in New York recently- but that you couldn't quite make it happen. Can you share your feelings that music you have written over the years is being interpreted not just by the Mahavishnu Project, but by many others... such as Doves of Fire, England's Wild Strings Quartet, The Groningen Guitar Duo, Bassist Lucas Pickford... and of course there's Gary Husband's upcoming tribute...
JM: Yes, Gary what a sweetheart. It's all very flattering. If I was younger I would probably have more to say... but, I am in my 60's now, Walter... I am very appreciative, don't get me wrong.
AAJ: What is exciting is that when you go out to hear this music, there are a lot of young people there.
JM: It's very encouraging because particularly in the U.S. there's been this peculiar derogatory aroma around fusion music. I was there at the beginning of jazz fusion. To see this kind of stain or slur start to disappear is very encouraging. This negativity is a U.S. phenomenon. You don't have this type of stigma to fusion music in Europe. What I really and truly want for all of these musicians is for everybody to be themselves. I have heard the Mahavishnu Project and they are outstanding players, but I also want to know who they are...
AAJ: Yes. The Project players do their own things as well.
JM: Yes, I know. Gregg told me. [Drummer Gregg Bendian leads the Mahavishnu Project.]
AAJ: I have seen Gregg in different formats. He is a monster.
JM: I know he is. He is unbelievable! He's got a jazz trio too. He can play those drums. He is wonderful. It was a great pleasure to meet him.
AAJ: I am fascinated with the cover of your new album, Thieves and Poets. Is that your dog? Does he like fusion music?
JM: Yeah, that's my dog. No he doesn't like fusion either. [Laughs.] He wants to be up on the chair all the time and he wants to cuddle all the time.
AAJ: What's his name?
JM: Skip. He's a very soulful dog.
AAJ: I can see that. The other thing I see on the cover is that guitar. If I am not mistaken, that is the guitar known as "Our Lady" that was made for you ten years ago by Abe Wechter. Your fans have been waiting a decade to hear it on a recording.
JM: Yes it sounds gorgeous. [To see detailed images, visit www.wechterguitars.com/custom .]
AAJ: We?ll get back to that cover and the new album itself later on. In addition to Thieves and Poets , you have two very exciting projects coming out soon. First there is your Guitar Instructional DVD. How did this project come about?
JM: First of all, I have done quite a few master classes. I have been playing guitar my whole life. I know what problems can confront the enthusiastic guitar student. I've seen some guitar instructional videos and they are pretty lame, Walter.
AAJ: You have to rewind...
JM: Yes, that's it. The medium is all wrong. I have seen one I think is of some value from John Scofield. And there have been some great people out there like Eric Johnson and Scott Henderson. My solution is to address the problem. Principally, the young student doesn't know how to work effectively alone. If some guy in Frozen Sneakers, Idaho is passionate and wants to really learn to improvise, this is going to help him. But it will also help someone who lives in New York City or South East Asia where a player may have no access to a teacher. The DVD will be in six different languages. The other problem with video is yes, sometimes you can get a split screen- but never any notation. Everything I play has a score or notation video that is in sync. And I think it really works well.
AAJ: When do you expect it to come out?
JM: Well, it is not one DVD. It is three. It is everything I have in my pumpkin, Walter. The DVDs go from absolute beginner to very advanced. The last two chapters are called 'tough Tunes.? I go through analysis of my own improvisations with a score on a big screen and I stop and explain things. But there is one point at the end I start laughing because it is so crazy. I am coming at a thousand miles an hour with these complicated chord sequences and I say "hey if anybody can get this, I'll hire them." After you finish this course, you can play, believe me.
[Note from author: At this point a very proud and excited John McLaughlin started to give me the rundown of each chapter of the DVDs in painstaking detail. I listened patiently for five minutes.]
AAJ: John, I am going to have to interrupt you because you are going to use up the rest of my tape and there are other things we need to discuss.
JM: Yes, yes I know I get carried away with it. It should be out in January. Nothing exists like this anywhere. I think it can be very useful.
AAJ: Also due out is a box set of your Montreux Jazz Festival performances from the past 30 years.
JM: How about that, huh?
AAJ: What's on that, John?