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Steely Dan's Jon Herington and Jim Beard

Mike Jacobs By

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While keyboardist / producer Jim Beard and guitarist Jon Herington are both solo recording artists with long and varied careers that straddle jazz, rock and beyond, they may be best known these days for being longtime members of Steely Dan's current touring band. They have also been close friends for nearly 40 years. They sat down for a conversation as they were preparing for their first-ever duo tour to start in June 2017.

All About Jazz: What was the genesis of the duo tour?

Jon Herington: Well, we had talked about doing something a few years ago. We floated the idea and it never got anywhere. I had been pushing to work with my guitar / bass / drums trio [The Jon Herington Band] for many years and that sort of exhausted itself. I felt like I had done it for long enough and needed a break from it. There were some holes in the calendar this year because Steely Dan hasn't been working quite as much as in past years and so I thought it might be a good time to revive the idea.We had some time coming up in June. We got together once for a couple hours and played just to make sure something might be possible and I guess we were convinced enough to gamble and book the gigs. We have six gigs to try this whole concept out.

AAJ: What kind of material are you planning to do?

Jim Beard: We had a good couple of days where we went through a lot of stuff. I think getting up to this first run of gigs, we're going to prepare a little too much material. I have a feeling that we're going to realize certain things aren't working and will want to drop them right away.

JH: So far it's a pretty wide variety. We spent quite a bit of time trying to find a way to play some of the songs on Jim's records and some of the songs on an older instrumental record of mine [The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, reissued and re-titled in 2009 as Pulse and Cadence]. Looks like we'll be able to do a couple from that record and three or four from Jim's many records. Some of those are pretty tricky to learn—there's a lot of music there.

JB: Some of the songs are more reliant on the rhythmic aspect of how the songs were realized in the beginning and just don't seem to work...

JH: ...and others were pleasant surprises. We're just learning how to do it so it's kind of an adventure in that way. We're also going to do some pop tunes and some jazz tunes where we'll do some soloing. So there's going to be a variety but we're still working it out.

AAJ: Some duos these days will supplement with multiple keyboards, loopers, drum tracks and the like. What instrumentation are you planning on?

JB: Piano. A little bit earlier we were trying out melodica too but mainly piano I think.

JH: ...and guitar. That's as adventurous as it's going to get.

JB: We talked about a drum machine but then we decided no.

JH: That takes away from that sort of riskier, intimate and direct thing we can make happen with just a piano and guitar. We're trying to keep it pretty pure that way.

AAJ: Are you playing electric, Jon?

JH: Yes. I want to play a guitar I'm comfortable with and the one I typically play is a semi- hollow that wouldn't sound like anything if it wasn't plugged in.

AAJ: Is a recording planned to come out of this?

JH: We talked about it. I think once we have a sense of what's working and most effective, we thought it would be nice to do a quick little recording. It will be easier to do once we've been playing for a while.

JB: After we get through this initial run, I think we'll consider that.

AAJ: So this is your first duo tour together but you've played together in Steely Dan now for how long?

JB: This is my 9th year. Jon's been in the band a lot longer.

JH: It's been 17 years for me.

AAJ: How has that gig evolved for you both?

(laughs)

JH: You first. (laughs)

JB: It's a great band. The core band, the rhythm section just keeps getting better and better. That never gets old for me at all.

JH: That's the big thrill for me too, just to get to play with a rhythm section that is world class. And it has gotten better being out on the road over the years, you get to that beautiful, sweet spot sooner. That's the biggest evolutionary element to the band, it seems to me. That's the great pleasure of it.

JB: Also, there are a few of us in the band that are always looking to find the best oyster place in every town. (laughs) That's an evolving thing...

JH: ...and that's been getting better because of GPS and smartphones (laughs)...so we've become a culinary tour as much as a musical tour (laughs)...

AAJ: When you both came up in the '80s and through the early '90s, the dynamics of jazz was a bit different than today. Do you have any thoughts on shifts in the dynamics of late?

JB: Well, one thing is, back in the '80s, '90s, and early 2000's; you used to be able to go to Japan with your normal band and do the Blue Note circuit. Now they pretty much tell you who they want in your band.

AAJ: Really? This is currently?

JB: They are doing it now. The promoters can tell who you should have in your band. They tell you, "We want you to have "So and So." That's become a very strange thing.

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