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Pete McCann: Looking Forward

Matthew Warnock By

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Pete McCannJazz guitarist and educator Pete McCann has been a first-call sideman and bandleader on the New York scene for almost twenty years. Possessing a musical style that draws from the blues, jazz and rock genres, McCann's playing and writing styles are as diverse as his influences. Having worked with such world-class performers as Lee Konitz, Chris Tarry, Dave Liebman, Kenny Garrett, Greg Osby, Brian Blade and the Maria Schneider Orchestra, McCann has appeared on over fifty recordings as a sideman. Alongside these accomplishments, McCann has also released four highly-acclaimed albums under his own name, including Extra Mile ((Nineteen-Eight Records, 2009).

Having graduated from the University of North Texas' jazz program, and spending time at the Banff School of the Arts in 1988, McCann is also an in demand guitar teacher, as well as performer and studio musician. During the school year McCann can be found on faculty at the New School and City College in New York City, while during the summer months he spends time at the New York University Summer Guitar Intensive and the Maine Jazz Camp. Alongside his regular teaching gigs, McCann has also taught clinics throughout the world while on tour with the many different groups he has performed with.

With all four of his albums receiving praise from fans and critics alike, and a consistently busy schedule as a performer, educator and recording artist, McCann is keeping his sights set on the future. After building a strong foundation during his twenty years on the New York jazz scene, McCann's strong work ethic, diverse playing skills and love of music are pushing him forward into what is surely to be a long and successful career in the music industry.

All About Jazz: There is a strong element of rock on your new album Extra Mile, especially on tunes such as "Stasis." How much of an influence was rock, and instrumental rock, on you during your musical development?

Pete McCann: I'm definitely influenced by the great jazz-fusion guitarists such as John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. Even though I don't sound anything like those guys they're still some of my musical heroes. I've always been interested in the distorted rock guitar sound and what I can do with it in a jazz setting.

AAJ: It seems like the line has been blurred in recent years between being a jazz guitarist and an instrumental artist, especially with people like yourself drawing from many different musical backgrounds. Do you consider yourself to be a jazz guitarist or an instrumental artist?

PM: Well, my training comes from a jazz guitar standpoint. When I was coming up and first learning to play jazz guitar I was listening to more traditional players like Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and Lenny Breau. When I got to college my guitar teacher put on The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971) and that was it for me [laughs].

Then, when I was studying at North Texas, I got to see (John) Scofield live a few times and he blew my mind. It's hard to categorize what a jazz guitarist does anymore. As soon as we step on the distortion box it moves to the other category right away. I guess I try to walk the fine line between both fields.

AAJ: When checking out the tune "Angry Panda" there's a Bill Frisell influence that seems to be coming out in the writing and in your playing. Was Bill a big influence on you early on in your career?

PM: Of course, going back to the first album I ever bought of his, the ECM record Rambler (ECM, 1984), with Kenny Wheeler. When he stepped on the distortion box he got this beautiful sound. He's always been right there walking the line between many categories. He mixes rock, jazz and the Nashville vibe that he's gotten into recently and it comes out great. He's definitely on the list of twenty or so guys that have heavily influenced me over the years.

AAJ: Since you do straddle that line between the rock and jazz worlds, do you ever find it tricky to book a venue for your music? It seems it might be too rock for a pure jazz club, but too jazzy for a pure rock club. Is that ever an issue when booking your group?

PM: I do find it difficult to get into some venues around town because they expect people to play more straight ahead stuff. I've had luck at the 55 Bar and the Cornelia Street Café, since they're more into modern jazz. I've also been able to play at the Jazz Standard, though I don't think my kind of thing goes over too well there [laughs].

It's kind of frustrating though because I do feel like I've been pigeonholed a bit as the guy who likes to turn on the distortion and rock out, and there are only a few places in the city where I can do that type of music. At the same time, I'm too jazzy for the rock clubs, so it's tricky finding the right place to perform my music.

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