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Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist

Mark Corroto By

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I guess it comes from history, I’m not afraid to try anything. —Pete McCann
A mainstay of the New York scene, guitarist Pete McCann released his sixth recording as a leader Pay For It On The Other Side (McCannic Music, 2018). He is also an in demand sideman working in everything from duos to big bands, and his guitar can be heard on 100 recordings. McCann shared with us what it is like to be a busy husband, father, and working musician in the 21st century.

All About Jazz: Thank you for doing this Pete. I wanted to start off, I want to talk about your new record Pay For It On The Other Side, but before that, can you tell us what a day in the life of Pete McCann is like?

Pete McCann: It can usually be a variety of things, but since I have two kids in college now I have a lot more flexibility in my schedule. My wife and I are enjoying the other side of life right now and so usually what happens, I wake up, she's usually gone to work and I have to look at my calendar and see what I have to do for the day. That can usually be a variety of things like rehearsals, teaching lessons, getting ready to do a recording or transcribing a chart. The most important thing is finding some time to practice! Then of course whatever time I can find to book gigs in advance and do correspondence. I do some sort of exercise for a ½ hour (chuckles) because at my age its really entirely necessary. Lately it is any combination of teaching, transcribing, a gig, a performance recording, anything. It's different everyday and I'm really happy that I'm not in a set sort of thing.

AAJ: Are the lessons private, or are you at a university?

PM: I do some private lessons at my house, and then I have a couple students at City College in New York. So, for them to get to me in Jersey is kind of a pain in the neck, so i usually end up meeting them at City College to do lessons up there.

AAJ: You didn't mention travel. But I know from following you on social media that you are on the road quite a bit.

PM: I try to be, that's where you make the most leeway into meeting new people and getting a gig in the future for either your own band or another band you already work with, so that's super important.

AAJ: You mentioned your kids are in college, and I know your son is interested in music. Is that correct?

PM: Yes. My wife and I are very proud of our son, Joseph, who just started at Eastman School of Music for Jazz Performance on alto sax.

AAJ: I know from many musicians' stories they always talk about their parents supporting them, but always telling them they need a fallback degree or fallback profession. I don't know if that happened to you with your folks in Wisconsin. And a follow up question, have you talked to your son about what its like to be a professional musician?

PM: I sort of had the jazz bug early, from 7th grade on. I had a guitar teacher named Steve Sturcell who urged me to go to the Shell Lake jazz camp in the summer and dig in. So I did, and that inspired me to really get into music. I started gigging when I was 16 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin with some college students who went to the Univ of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Just being around those guys and doing little gigs at this hotel restaurant bar inspired me to become a musician because I thought it was the greatest thing in the world to be paid money to play music and this was music I was going to play anyway. My mom was entirely enthused about it and my brothers and sister were into other things and weren't necessarily into music like I was. She was happy that I was doing something different and unique. My father was a more practical common sense sort of man, and he said during my senior year in high school, "Do you want to try to make a living playing music? It is going to be harder than you think." (laughing) He was right! (laughs) But I told him "this is what I want to do, I can't think of anything else that I'd rather do more." He was apprehensive and who can blame him. Now that my own son wants to be a musician, I have told him, "you see how hard I work, I'm pretty much working all the time. If I get a day off, I'm usually doing something around the house. That's really not a day off." When you're not working, or not teaching or touring or playing gigs you fill the rest of your time with other things that have to be done like cleaning out the rain gutters or getting the oil changed. When my wife comes home from work, she's very tired and doesn't have time for other things. She's a teacher and has to prepare for the next day. My son has the advantage of seeing what life can really be like as a musician. He knows what he's getting into.

AAJ: OK, so you didn't have to give him "The Talk"

PM: "The Talk" (laughs). Recently when he was about a month in at Eastman and started second guessing his whole decision he said "how am I going to make money doing this?" I said, "Look, just finish college first. You're in a great school that will prepare you with a variety of skills that will make you marketable. Your sight reading will be amazing, your ensemble playing is going to be top shelf. With those two things alone, you're going be able to step into situations and not feel like you don't belong there." Wherever he ends up as a musician, I think he is going to be well-prepared.


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