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Artist Interview: Carl Filipiak
by Stephen Rekas
Who or what events inspired you to play guitar? Was music a part of your household when growing up?
Like any guitarist born in the 50's, the Beatles were a huge inspiration and remain so to this day. Elvis Presley shook things up quite a bit as well, and most of the music I heard throughout my teens was on the radio.
How old were you when you began to play? Do you feel that your starting age has been a critical factor in playing your current style?
I started playing guitar in 1964 when I was 14 years old, a perfect age for what was about to come. I came in on an era of great music, creativity and change. My playing will always reflect some of things that were happening at that time.
Do you remember your first guitar?
Unfortunately, this was the dark ages of guitar availability and to have even seen one was a major event. I am not exaggerating! Fortunately, the arrival of the Beatles changed things and soon guitars were everywhere.
My first guitar was a Japanese electric with four pickups and a baseball bat neck .It would be a while before Japan made some great guitars. My next guitar was a Fender Telecaster and I wish I still had it! I still own the Japanese electric. How did that happen?
What styles interested you when you first began to play? How do those preferences influence your current music?
When I first started playing, rock and blues guitar sounds were simply the coolest things on the planet. A few years later I heard George Benson, Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery and another world suddenly appeared. My CD Looking Forward Looking Back is dedicated to my early influences in jazz, and my next CD will be a set of tunes written and recorded with the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in mind.
How did your Jimi Hendrix tribute concerts evolve and what kind of response have you had to them?
Over the years I've always included a Hendrix song in our set list of otherwise original material. After hearing enough people say they want to hear more, I decided to rehearse 25 tunes and play a few gigs. The response is overwhelming and we're now playing for 400 to 700 people a night. It's inspired me to combine some of what Hendrix was doing in my new music. It also attracts a larger and younger audience. The bottom line is it's an incredible amount of fun to play! I'm working on a website to promote this new music at www.jimijazz.com.
Did you study rock or jazz guitar with anyone, or just pick it up on your own?
I studied jazz guitar with Walt Namuth (of Buddy Rich's band) and local Baltimore legend Larry Wooldridge.
What are the key areas a student jazz guitarist should pursue? In your role as teacher, what areas do you emphasize with your students?
Have someone point out the harmony, rhythm, and scales that are unique to the jazz language and apply it to tunes. I can't overemphasize this: Listen to jazz, especially Miles and Coltrane plus Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, if you want to hear great guitar playing.
What is the best way to enhance ones chord palette or overall harmonic concept? Is there a method you would recommend for learning to apply chord substitutions?
One way is to think in intervals other than thirds- fourths for example- and build chords on every note of the scale of the key or mode you are in. My book, Rock Fusion Improvising, has a whole chapter dedicated to this concept and I hope you will check it out. Mel Bay's Private Lessons Series also has many interesting books on chord substitutions, particularly the one by Vic Juris [Modern Chords/Advanced Harmony for Guitar].
Did any Mel Bay books figure into your development as a guitarist?
Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method, Level 1 was the only guitar instruction book that was available back then that I can remember! This was the dark ages for books about the guitar and finding anything else was difficult. I've suddenly realized how ahead of his time Mel Bay really was.
Which of your albums would you recommend to someone buying a Filipiak recording for the first time?
Hotel Real. It features Dennis Chambers on drums and the late great Bob Berg on sax. It includes lots of cool guitar and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" plus liner notes by Bill Milkowski.
Please describe your practice routine.
I'll play through some of the tunes that I know I'll be performing prior to the gig. Usually the more prepared I am, the better I play- although it's quite possible to be "over prepared". Teaching and playing have become my "practice", and I have to make time to work out any new ideas I might have.
How do you go about teaching a new tune to your band?
At rehearsal I just play the melody or the changes to a new tune and let the band play what they hear. I may suggest a groove or feel but the group creates their own parts. Very rarely is anything written down and I never tape anything. If I can't remember it, how can I expect anyone else to? I know this is old school but it works for me. If I were writing anything that was really complex, this method obviously wouldn't work.
Do you recommend any particular teaching/learning techniques, such as maintaining a log of practice time?
I recommend repetition as a tool to internalize basic fretboard knowledge. I suggest that to play fast one must play slow. While maintaining a log of practice time may work for some, I'd rather put that time into playing. I have found that a direct approach is very useful to most of my students.
What is your opinion of tab vs. notation?
Notation conveys much more than tab and is well worth learning. Tab, however, is cool because anything that gets people to play is a positive thing to me. For playing jazz or classical guitar, notation is a must.What do you do to keep your repertoire sounding fresh?
I get the band to rehearse by having my wife cook for everyone. This week we're having salad, pasta and apple pie for dessert. For some reason everyone is on time!
What are the key elements of your style?
Jazz harmony with elements of blues.
Inquiring minds will want to know, what are your preferred guitar, strings, picks, amp, and mike?
I use a Guild Bluesbird when I need the sound of humbucking pickups.
Do you have any product endorsements?
I endorse Fender Guitars and Amps and Dean Markley Strings.
Is there anything on your wish list as far as equipment?
I wish I still owned the guitars I had in the sixties!
Who are the other band members in the Carl Filipiak Group, and how long have you played together?
Paul Soroka on sax, keys and Lyricon.
I've been playing my own music for about 17 years. Steve and Paul have been around for the last 5 or 10. Bruce is the newest member.
Any upcoming performance dates, travels, workshops?
If you're in the Annapolis Maryland area on April 30th, we'll be at the Rams Head. For more information, check out my website at www.carlfilipiak.com.
What is your advice to students who are considering becoming career guitarists?
Think about what you want to do, every day.
Can you offer any advice in dealing with agents or promoters?
When possible, get someone else to do it for you.
How has your family affected your music?
Any success I have in music always points back to the support of my wife, family (and friends) that helped me get to this moment. As a result, I've been able to play what I love for the past 17 years. I'm very grateful but if they see this I'll probably have me write songs with their names in them!
What keeps you interested in the music business?
It never ceases to amaze, that's for sure. But on a practical level, it's the business side that allows me to play the music that I love.
Apart from music, what are your interests?
Movies, eastern philosophy, Rod Serling, prestidigitation, baseball, foreign restaurants and vintage cars are a few things that I enjoy when not playing music. Can you imagine saying that on one of those dating game shows? It's a good thing I'm married!
Thanks for an entertaining and enlightening interview, Carl.
My pleasure, Stephen.
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