Brian: What got
you interested in guitar playing and were you drawn to jazz from the beginning?
Mark: I was exposed to jazz early on. My grandfather was a jazz enthusiast
and I first heard recordings of Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Tony Mattola, Oscar
Peterson, and many others with him. I didn’t start playing at that time though.
In fact like most other kids in the late 60’s I was listening to Hendrix,
Allman Bros., Beatles, Eric Clapton and Led Zepplin among other stuff. I started
playing’ around with the guitar around 1970 trying to imitate Bluesy stuff.
But in ‘73 I took a lesson with a guitarist around Pittsburgh named Mark Pattack
and got re-introduced to Wes Montgomery. Totally mesmerized by Wes Montgomery,
I started taking lessons, and began practicing a minimum of 6 hours a day.
I was lucky enough to take some lessons with a great Pittsburgh guitarist
named Joe Negri and he arranged for me to meet Joe Pass. After a couple years
of occasional lessons with Pass I moved to Boston to attend the New England
Brian: What was
your first synth guitar set-up?
Mark: My first synth was a killer! A friend named Sully Chelimli here
in Boston bankrolled me and in ‘87 I got the works- Roland GM70, Roland S550,
GK-1 pickup, mixer-the whole tamale. All the junk, including sound processors
(no onboard signal processing back then), took 14 rack spaces to crate. The
stuff was state of the art, but there were still a lot of problems related
to synth. I remember dragging’ that stuff all around Russia on tour there
in ‘89. The Russian guys thought I’d flown in from outer space with all the
blinking lights and knobs.
Brian: Is the LGX-SA
your main guitar?
Mark: The LGX SA is my main solid body guitar-has been for a couple
of years. I always take it on the road. You hear it exclusively on my latest
recording Last Trip “Up with ‘da Funk” I also use a ‘42 D’Angelico for straight
jazz stuff and an old Gibson 335 on occasion, but the Godin is center ground
Brian: What is
your synth set-up?
Mark: My current synth set-up is the LGX played with a Roland GR9 played
with an old analog delay. I take the synth and delay onboard with me, it’s
very compact. I occasionally use an old Roland Gr300 module and that’s it
for guitar synth, though my studio has several keyboard and synth engines
which I use for recording non-guitar synth stuff.
Brian: A few years
ago I read an interview with Pat Metheny and when asked why he seemed to stick
to a particular synth sound for soloing he replied that it had taken a long
time to learn how to play that sound. Which suggests that each new sound needs
to be approached almost like learning a new instrument.
Mark: I agree totally with Metheny regarding the sound influencing
the way you play. First of all too many sounds to me gets gimmicky-its like
some guy in a hotel trying to do synthesized record covers. Not that I’m putting
that down, it’s just not my cup of tea. The synth allows me to breathe with
woodwind and brass players and opens up phrasing possibilities not possible
with standard guitar. The sound I use is a Flugel Horn kind of timbre. And
it definitely takes a lot of time to learn how to control the sound as well
as learning its’ musical possibilities.
Brian: Do you program
original sounds, or is it more a question of creating new sounds by experimenting
with new combinations of electric guitar/acoustic guitar/and various synth
Mark: I don’t spend much time programming the synth, but I do look for
new blending combinations with traditional timbres. I tweaked the GR9 as far
as playability, touch, etc, but basically mine is not a complicated set-up-I’m
trying to improve my pitch language and grow musically so I’m not so involved
with the technological side of things.
recently ran an article that was called something like “Why Jazz Guitar Sound
Sucks” or something close to that. Do you find that your jazz-minded students
are going for that classic no-definition-mattress-in-front-of-the-amp sound?
Why is this?
Mark: As far as the Jazztimes thing goes. Tone on jazz guitars is a
real tough issue. I love the traditional sound of a guy like Wes or Jim Hall
and when I’m playing that type of music I gravitate to that kind of sound.
It helps the music feel right to me. On the other hand I’m kind of turned
off by the “clone” thing. It’s complicated because young guitarists invariably
imitate their guitar heroes and it takes a lot of playing experience to learn
how to play in adverse acoustic settings. There’s also the issue of “the tradition”
in jazz guitar. The combination of those factors alone takes a long time to
resolve. I find my students at Berklee widely varying in their tone quality
and advise them to experiment with instruments, amp, strings, pick but also
phrasing concepts, location and fingerings of ideas. These have as much to
do with tone quality as the instrument itself. The combination of experience
and experimentation will ultimately yield a personal sound. Hopefully the
sound will be unique like a Scofield, Goodrick, or a Henderson because a trademark
sound is gold.
Brian: Do you get
calls for gigs that specifically ask for guitar synth?
Mark: I have on occasion been asked to bring synth to a recording session
or a gig, but I’ve also been asked not to bring it! More “traditional” type
of players have trouble with the concept-some associate synth with putting
live musicians out of work (and I can relate) so they dislike it from that
perspective. Other guys find the sound so powerful that they feel overwhelmed
by it. Still others want a traditional guitar sound if they call you for guitar.
People who listen to the music for the music and are adventurous in their
playing tend to dig it, those who have a narrower perspective don’t.
Brian: You recently
got your hands on our ‘Multiac Jazz’ prototype what was your first impression?
Mark: I really liked the Multiac Jazz. I was particularly impressed with
it’s sound and feel. Because of the straight string pitch at the headstock
it allows me to use detunings without the string flop factor, a real big plus.
The neck is bigger and chunkier like a vintage jazzer, that’s important for
those of us that play different guitars constantly. It doesn’t take so long
to adjust. For me it could be the best of all worlds. With it I have a good
“box” sound, the feel of an acoustic guitar, and synth access. It’s also smaller
than a regular jazz box, and for traveling that’s really a concern, and a
Brian: We’re thrilled
that you have offered to provide us with some lessons for our web site. What
kind of stuff can we expect to see?
Mark: Basslines for guitarists (a great tool for playing with others
in a duo setting and a great way to learn tunes by root progression among
other useful aspects). Harmonic construction and implementation on guitar.
Improvisational language concepts. Composition to develop a personal guitar
voice and bad jokes and personal war stories.
Brian: What’s coming
Mark: I’m preparing now for a week of clinics and a performance at
the Heinekin San Juan Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico, and more clinic/performances
at The Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy in July. I’m involved with two
different recording projects that will happen this summer, My record/publishing
company has several projects going including support of our group’s new CD
Last Trip-”Up with da Funk” (check out our website: www.lasttrip.com) new
guitar ensemble arrangement series written by yours truly featuring compositions
by Bob Mintzer, The Yellowjackets, and Latin composer/vibraphonist Victor
Mendoza, and the realization of a new Performance Ear-Training book/CD by
master saxophonist/teacher Greg Badolato. In addition to local gigs- (look
for me with The Kenny Hadley Big Band here in Boston in July and August) I’m
going to enjoy some great cigars and libations of varying type and origins!
*Brian McConnell is
the former Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Godin Guitars.