Dan Phillips: Jazz Guitar - Basics and Beyond

Ian Patterson By

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Dan Phillips

Jazz Guitar: Basics and Beyond

Self Produced


With 20 years' experience as a jazz educator, guitarist Dan Phillips in a position of some authority to be giving advice to guitarists learning their craft. Two decades and many musical adventures later, Phillips occupies the chair of guitar teacher in the faculty of music at Bangkok's Silpakorn University. This useful instructional DVD is suitable for guitarists with a fair degree of competency. If chord inversions, leading tones, adding tensions, quarter notes and accented upbeats sound alien then it would be advisable to begin elsewhere. However, for competent guitarists stuck in a rut and unable to expand their improvisational skills, this DVD should be a valuable tool in shaking off the shackles and moving forward.

Technical directions apart, Phillips dishes out plenty of sound advice too, stressing the importance of building repertoire as every new tune learnt imparts some grain of knowledge. The metronome is a constant companion and its use Phillips describes as essential. Without too much preamble, Phillips and colleague Nakarin Teerapenun present a gorgeous version of "Stella by Starlight," switching roles as lead and accompanist. This same tune is central to all the techniques demonstrated, and Phillips urges practicing new techniques in the context of a song being learnt and memorizing the tune, in order, as he puts it, "to get inside a tune better."

The DVD deals with chord voicings, arpeggios, scales and rhythm practice, chord melodies, listening and transcription, and the necessity for creativity. Phillips repeats demonstrations of some technical points which saves having to always hit the rewind button. He explains the mechanics of a walking bass line and the tools required for improvisation are clearly spelled out. Not only are they spelled out however, they are above all encouraged.

Particularly useful for students wishing to improve their comping skills is the section dealing with chord inversions, where Phillips demonstrates various inversions to avoid straying into the register of the bass line or another comping instrument. His flawless and seemingly effortless ascending and descending arpeggios are followed by the comment—perhaps reassuring, perhaps not—that these runs are difficult even for him.

The control of rhythm is paramount and Phillips highlights the benefits of practicing scales rhythmically. He underlines the necessity of mastering straight 8th notes with accented upbeats in order to have syncopation in the playing and control where the upbeat is. Phillips' demonstrations on guitar elucidate the theory. One exercise in particular shows how it is possible to practice straight 8th notes with accented upbeats while keeping the form of the tune. Another beautiful solo recital of "Stella by Starlight" highlights chordal harmonies played without rubato.

These exercises will not, Phillips warns, make the student a jazz musician. They are designed for students to improve their technique and sense of time. Listen a lot and listen to a variety of music from a variety of periods, implores Phillips, in order to understand swing and its language. The habit of transcribing is deemed essential to improve the ear, the depth of understanding of the music, to improve phrasing and finally, to enable the student to get inside the head of the improvising artist.

Phillips stresses the absolute necessity for a jazz musician to seek to be creative. He encourages composition as the path to develop an individual voice. However, in sympathizing with students who may feel daunted at the work that lies ahead, Phillips reminds them that he too is still working on a lot of this stuff too—for a true musician the learning never stops.

The DVD also contains over an hour and a half of absorbing live in the studio playing from Phillips excellent trio, with the inventive Chanutr Techatananan on drums and Pornchart Viriyapark on bass. Students can see Phillips' techniques and theories flow in a natural, unbridled setting. Phillips displays the full range of his skills from intimate, minimalist playing where a beautiful harmonic chord is allowed to hang in the air as though framed for its beauty, to thrilling improvisational runs . Hopefully, these mostly new tunes will find their way onto a CD soon, but in the meantime this DVD serves not only as a learning tool of some quality but as a fine introduction to Dan Phillips, one of the most original guitarists and composers currently on the jazz scene.

Part 1: Stella by Starlight; Bass lines; Chord inversions; Arpeggios; Scales; Chord Melody; Listening and Transcription; Creativity, a Jazz Necessity. Part 2: Frazzled; The Observer; Blues for ?; Schizofriendtoya; Downtime; Unchartered Trek; Have you met Miss Jones; Motion in the Line.

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