If Phil Upchurch would unroll a list of albums on which he has played, ever since his start in the very early 1960's, it would be as long as his armand it would still dangle from his hand for at least the same length again. Always busy as a back-up guitarist, Upchurch's versatility and his ability to slip into any format obscure his true musical personality.
Is he a blues guitarist, as he was with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy? Is he a pop guitarist, as he was with Chaka Khan and Donny Hathaway. Is he a big band guitarist, as he was with Woody Herman? Is he an organ circuit guitarist, as he was with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff? Is he an R&B guitarist, as he was with Dee Clark and The Spaniels? Is he a contemporary guitarist, as he was with Najee and Kirk Whalum? Is he a jazz guitarist, as he was with Stanley Turrentine, Wynton Kelly and Stan Getz? Is he a soul guitarist, as he was with Aretha Franklin or The Staple Singers? Is he a singer's guitarist, as he was with Natalie Cole, Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn?
Well, he's all of that, and more.
Phil Upchurch is one of those talents who make categorization meaningless What is important is talent and a love of the music. All of that comes through without a doubt on Tell The Truth!
In his sixty years, Upchurch has crossed over into more genres and uprooted himself to live in more jazz scenes than one can comprehend in a single description. Today he's living in Los Angeles, where he recruited the musicians of his working band that plays on Tell The Truth!
Upchurch has noted that this CD is one of the few on which he got to choose the style and the tunes. Perhaps intentionally, or perhaps not, Upchurch has chosen to exhibit not only his assertive and yet sensitive mastery of the instrument, but also to demonstrate his flexibility. Referring to his work with Nat Adderley, Upchurch opens the CD with "Jive Samba," and we find that he digs into the harmonic underpinnings of the tune, as well as the dramatic flair of its first ending. And yet, he reveals the often-overlooked or underestimated talent of Steely Dan (at least by jazz listeners) when he eases into "Jack Of Speed." Pianist David Arnay's "Home Again" remains in the same vein of casualness, allowing for Upchurch's relaxed flow over gradually evolving changes.
But then for contrast, Upchurch performs "Take Five" not as a repetition of the Brubeck approach, but as a Latinesque version that views the tune from a guitarist's perspective of melodic fluidity alternating with atmospheric soundscape. On "St. Louis Blues," Upchurch goes it alone to add a stroll to the tune as he becomes bassist and guitarist in one. Adopting yet another style, he plays "Misty" as a solo as well, but more in the lyrical, rubato and rich manner of a Kenny Burrell. "Girl Talk," backed by his trio of back-up musicians, seems an extension of the chorded and confident manner of "Misty," but with the addition of humor and bluesiness.
Tell The Truth! provides the occasion to reconsider Phil Upchurch's contributions to some of the major recordings of the past 40 years and to appreciate his embodiment of a mixture of styles that contains the essence of American music of his generation.
Track Listing: Jive Samba, Jack Of Speed, La Costa, Manhattan, Take Five, Home Again, Long Gone Bird, Tell The Truth, Back In Love Again, St. Louis Blues, Girl Talk, She's Alright, Misty
Personnel: Phil Upchurch, guitar; David Arnay, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; Vince Wilburn Jr., drums; Mike Smith, percussion
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.