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Artist Interview: Jimmy Bruno

by Doug Witherspoon at Chris's Café

How did you get started?
I don't really think there was one thing that got me started. Both of my parents were musicians; my mother was a singer and my father was a jazz guitarist. It was something that I've always done ever since I could remember. So I would have to say my parents started me.

What drew you to Jazz?
I didn't know there was a different kind of music until much later when I went to school. In my home, there was only jazz and classical music.

How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Well, the easiest way to do that is to change people in the band, which isn't always the most flattering- but that'll do it. A different drummer or a different bass player will make you play different. If you play with a horn player you kind of take on their style a little bit, or you get affected by it. Another way to do it is to practice technical exercises that deliberately make you play from different parts of the chord; that will lead you into areas of the harmony that maybe you have never heard or thought about before, and lead to a new idea.

What was your procedure on learning tunes as a student?
That was hard. In the beginning I would try to memorize them; then the more tunes I started to learn, the more I started to see similarities- that one tune was like another tune. Once you are able to hear the basic chord progressions- and I think there may be ten or twenty basic ones that happen over and over again- that solves a lot of the memorization [problem]. Lyrics have helped me remember melodies. Tunes that don't have lyrics, like Wes Montgomery tunes or tunes that I might write myself… just from listening to them, you kind of know where you are in the chord progression. And the more you do it, the more you learn and the easier it gets.

What guitarists influenced your style?
I would say everybody up until… If I could go back to Eddie Lang or Django Reinhardt- I think a little piece of everybody, you know: Tal Farlow, Joe Pass... Pat Martino, certainly. He was one of the first jazz guitarists that I saw live when I was sixteen. That was a big influence. Also Hank Garland, when I was very young- from a record. I wish I could cite a cut-off day when they [guitarists] stopped influencing me, but at some point I did stop listening to guitarists and started listening to saxophone players and piano players- but I would think if you took a tree [chart] of my guitar influences, there would be a little piece of everybody.

What do you look for in a good guitar?
For the guitar, it is mainly two things. First, it has to sound good and that is a subjective thing. "Sounds good" means that I need to get a round sound on the top strings. Any guitar can sound good in the middle. For me, when you play higher up the neck I don't want it to get thin.

Secondly, the way the instrument feels. I have played some guitars that sound great but just don't feel comfortable to play. Now that would probably vary from individual to individual, but there is a standard jazz guitar feel, and I think that a lot of luthiers today- even some of the [manufacturing] companies- have missed it. They make great-sounding instruments but they have missed that feel. I was lucky enough to be approached by Bob Benedetto, so I play his guitars which I think are the best in the world because they have all those qualities. I haven't found a guitar that sounds better than a Benedetto; in fact, I've stopped looking.

What makes a good teacher?
I think inspiration and more so, motivation- that's the word I want- to get someone to practice. That's the best, rather than imposing your style and aesthetics on someone. I teach in a way where I just let people figure it out for themselves. They can go in any direction they want. Music is music! There are twelve notes. People make all kinds of music with those twelve notes.

What makes a good student?
In a student, obviously you need to have someone who has a strong desire to learn, and somebody that is willing to prepare a lesson and come back. I can usually tell by the third lesson if a person is going to be a good student or become a musician, and those are few and far between as well.

What exciting things are you looking forward to in your career?
I want to play more original music; that is kind of different from what I have been doing. I don't know whether my fans or public expect it from me, but that is where I would like to go. It's very is hard to do because you shouldn't do it just to be different because you would also like it to be musical, and there has to be some growth from what came before. You can't just go, "Poof! I'm going to invent some new music."

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