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Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist

Mark Corroto By

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AAJ: I am reading a couple books on Flow Theory, which is about getting into 'the zone' for an athlete, like Michael Jordan or a surfer. Then they have extended Flow to teamwork like Navy Seals on a mission. They all try to work with one mind. All the Flow books cite the perfect examples for both individual Flow and group Flow as jazz improvisers. Are you familiar with Flow Theory? Obviously you're familiar with flow because you're an improviser, but is Flow the reason you keep to a consistent lineup for your recordings?

PM: Yes, definitely you have an internal thing that you can't describe. When you play with a musician and you get that happy little tingle in your spine, it really feels good. That's the first thing I think of when I'm playing music with somebody. We have a common shared sense of time and feel. My band and I have shared history, especially with Mark (Ferber), we used to play in this group, The Other Quartet. I think I've traveled more miles with this guy than any other musician. Henry (Hey) and I went to University of North Texas together. I'm very happy with his success and his ability to crossover into other markets that aren't jazz-centric. John (O'Gallagher) opened my mind to looking at music in a different way. He's such a unique alto saxophonist. He's coming at jazz from a different perspective. He's written a tremendous book which uses a lot of set theory and how you can apply that to jazz improvisation. He's one of my favorite jazz musicians on the planet. Last but not least, Matt (Clohesy), is just an amazing upright bassist. He can also play electric beautifully and that's a rare thing in New York when you get somebody who doesn't mind bringing two basses to a gig.

AAJ: For a Pete McCann record, you need a certain brand of musician because, it's not like you're doing a straight ahead date and you get a straight ahead musician who is comfortable. Pete McCann has to find musicians who can hit it with post-bop, hard rock, Brazilian, some blues and fusion. That whittles down the possible cast of musicians, yes?

PM: That's very true and I always think of that. If I'm doing a set of dates and somebody in my band can't do the tour, I think oh no, I've got to find someone I can fit in there. It's not easy, but that's the beauty of living in New York. There are so many great musicians and a lot of them are completely open minded, like myself and don't mind learning music and trying to step into somebody else's footprint. Even though shoe sizes are going to be different, they'll still bring whatever they play and their history as a musician to the table and it's always refreshing.

AAJ: Currently you have this quintet. You toured this year with Spin Cycle, Correct?

PM: That's true, we just did a nice tour in October and I am looking forward to doing some more gigs with them next year.

AAJ: Tell us about some other ensemble you are currently working with.

PM: I've been working a lot with singers lately. I've been playing with Kendra Shank, Susan Tobocman, Beat Kaestli and Jocelyn Medina. I've been in Jocelyn's band for a few years now and lately we are trying to write some new tunes together. In addition to Spin Cycle, I play regularly in a group led by Rob Scheps and Tony Garnier. Tony is the bassist for Bob Dylan, and has been for the last 27 years. He's kind of venturing into playing jazz and it's been fun playing with those guys. I've been working with a couple big bands led by Christopher Zuar and Migiwa Miyajima. Migiwa just had her CD release at Birdland in September. On Monday I'm going to Blues Alley in Washington D.C. with Joel Harrison, another great guitarist, so it's a two-guitarist band. I really enjoy working with him too. In addition to all those groups, I'm still on a list of people you can call to come in and sight read some music at the drop of a hat and play a gig. I'm always on call.

AAJ: How is it that you have all these different sides? You can step in and play a Jimi Hendrix song and then you can switch to some soft Brazilian acoustic music. How does that happen? How does one musician do that?

PM: I guess it comes from history, I'm not afraid to try anything. I just recorded some mandolin for Christopher Zuar's Big Band. That just scared the crap out of me. I was like, I don't really know anything about this. I had to get my mandolin chops together. The instrument is tuned in fifths, so it is completely foreign to me. But, I love a challenge. Some years ago I did a recording with Dave Pietro, a friend of mine from college, he wanted to do a record of Brazilian-influenced music, so I checked out as much Brazilian music as I could. I checked out João Gilberto's guitar playing and I love his comping style when he's singing. I love music, and if there's guitar in it, even if there isn't, I try to figure how I fit into the panorama and what I can bring to every situation.

AAJ: I don't know if you want people to know this, but at one time you played some banjo

PM: (Laughing) Yes, I do own a banjo. When I was in college Jack Peterson, my guitar teacher at North Texas used to say, "the definition of a gentleman is, a guitarist who owns a banjo, but doesn't tell anyone about it." (laughs) No, I play on one of Matt Wilson's early recordings. (note: Going Once, Going Twice (Palmetto, 1998) I'm part of a recording with an auctioneer and it's hysterical. I got so much press just from playing banjo on one of Matt's records. It was hilarious. I thought, man I should start playing banjo all the time. The banjo I play is called a plectrum banjo. It has a longer neck than a regular tenor banjo, so I can tune the banjo like the top four strings of a guitar. I get away with playing single note lines that way and I don't have to think about tuning the banjo in fifths, like it's supposed to be tuned. I had to play banjo quite often in college. I'd get gigs in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area playing Dixieland, like for a store opening or a parade. I still have the banjo, it's a 1927 Vega that I bought over the phone because I needed a banjo for a gig I was doing at the Dallas summer musicals, way back in, I don't know 1987.

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