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Teaching is the highest thing you can dohelping people to help themselves or maybe fulfill their dreams. People say I'm a good teacher. It's not easy, though. Some people get energized by it. I don'tI'd much rather be playing and creating, but the economics are such that you can't make anything as a club musician. Teaching is not just one sidedit teaches you a lot. It may start you in a direction you hadn't thought about. That's happened to me many times. Somebody asks me to teach her the chords to this tune. While we're learning the tune I'm learning some new changes or a new reharmonization. I may inspire the student or the student may inspire me. I don't teach formulas. I take each individual where he's at at the moment. I help him work with his weaknesses. I was one of the first teachers at the Guitar InstituteRon Eschete, Howard Roberts, Don Mauch, and myself. I only expected to stay there a few months. The next thing I know I got stuck in it. They finally let me goit was a strange thing. A Japanese guy took over and said, "Jazz is an East Coast thing. Well Joe, we love you, but that's it."
Somewhere along the line I started playing that way. This is just an example: you play a simple scale from C to C. Let's take every other note and put it in another register. So you've C and you've got D. But D is not in its normal positionit's an octave above. The next note, E, will stay where it is. The next note F goes up an octave. G is in its normal position and so on. You're jumping aroundit's almost like watching a heartbeatit doesn't stay in one direction. A lot of people became interested in it, but it takes a good technique to do it so I don't teach it too early on. You should learn how to play more inside first. These wide intervals make you sound more contemporary or outside.
Books and videos
I've got some pretty good ones out. A lot of people have commented. I've gone back and started working out of them myself. The first book I did was Intervallic Designs. It's those wide skips we were talking about. It's good for your technique and your ear. The next book was Fusion Guitar, but it's not "Fusion" fusion. It's the fusion of earlier jazz and more contemporary jazz. I'd write one solo more inside and the next solo more adventurous. There are tons of ideas in itthat's what you really need for jazz. The next one, Hot Licks, just had simple licks in it. Last year I wrote Jazz Structures for the New Millennium. It's like book II of Intervallic Designs, but expandeda lot of incredible, different sounding lines are in it. It's for someone who's adventurous. I wrote a blues book, Jazz Blues Stylestaking the flavor of Bird [Charlie Parker], Sonny Rollins, and Monk: putting it together the way I've digested itplus chord progressions. I also did one called Giant Steps. I never intended Giant Steps to be a book. I was just writing out the solos so I could understand the tune better. Don Mauch happened to see them and said, "Why don't you make a book out of this?" I said, "Man, these things are hard. I'm still learning how to play them." He said, "No, it'll be alright. Go ahead and do it." Warner Brothers approached me, and I sent them the draft. They liked it and published it. There are twenty solos on "Giant Steps," chord progressions, harmonizations, different ways to play through the progressions. It can help your technique, your ears, your chords. I try to include as much as possible in each book. I have a video, Creative Jazz Guitar, that helps people get in touch with their own creativity.
Starting in the fifties when he came on the scene he dominated everything. He taught us how to hear a different way, how to approach things differently. The combination of Coltrane and Bird togetheryou've got it all. Obviously the earlier period is easier to hear for most of us. Towards the end it sounded chaotic, but it really wasn't. I like all of it, but it's not for everybody. Actually some younger people have told me they like the latter period much moremaybe their heads are more open.
He's one of my greatest inspirations. He taught me how beautiful Indian music is and how deep you can go with music. It's always spiritual. He said, "Whatever the path is go toward God." I used to try to imitate him, but I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't understand Indian music that much and still don't, but I liked what I heard. Certain things he did would stand out in my mind, and I'd try to play them. There were certain "drone" pieces I wrote. ["Chetananda" from Peaceful Journey, Spitball Records] In the early 60's there wasn't anybody around to teach it, and I couldn't find a sitarthere were none available. I just left it at that. That's an art form you have to study with a deep commitment.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.