Chris Buzzelli is Associate Professor of Guitar & Jazz Studies, Bowling Green State University.
First the disclaimer: at an IAJE conference, at any given time, there may
be as many as a dozen events going on simultaneously. I will limit my
comments, for the most part, to the events at which I was in attendance. I
will say that in general, guitaristically speaking, this was the best IAJE
conference that I have been to (and I've been to quite a few). While I
spent a fair amount of time catching up with friends that I see once a year
or less, spending money at the exhibits, and trying not to spend money on
things such as food and parking, I managed to catch most of the guitar
sessions as well as a sampling of big bands, vocal groups and non-guitar
This years conference was extended to include an opening Wednesday night
concert of headliners. John Scofield's quintet was sandwiched between
Steve Turre's Sanctified Shells and Abbey Lincoln and her trio. All of the
recent publicity shots of Sco have him pictured with his nylon string
guitar and so I suppose I had myself prepared for that particular timbre.
In retrospect, that was wishful thinking on my part (I admittedly have a
propensity for nylon strings and minimal effects). Alas, Scofield played
nylon string guitar on only one tune, which for me was the highlight of the
set. Still, the playing was quite good and diehard Scofield fans would
have been pleased.
Thursday's events included no less than four guitar clinics (more than most
IAJE conferences have all week). At 11AM, Bret Willmott (Berklee in
Boston) and Morris Acevedo (Berkeley in California) presented a clinic
entitled "Contemporary Concepts in Comping". For those of you who missed
this, most of the material could be found in Willmott's books which are
published by Mel Bay. This was followed at Noon by a clinic entitled "Jazz
Harmony on the Guitar", presented by Stan Smith of Capitol University.
This clinic was geared toward beginning and intermediate guitarists and
non-guitar playing teachers and, therefore, was appropriately less
sophisticated. The material was well presented and would have made a good
segue into the Willmott clinic had the order been reversed. From here I
went straight on to "Contemporary Guitar Techniques" by Russian guitarist
Alexander Kostikov. Kostikov discussed and demonstrated guitar
articulation in the style of Pat Metheny, et. al. While Kostikov
apologized for his English a couple of times, I found it more than
adequate, and far better than my Russian. Finally, after a break, there
was "Understanding Your Guitar Player: Defining the Guitarist's Role in
Ensemble", presented by Bill Purse and other members of the Duquesne
faculty. As this was also geared somewhat toward band directors, the
highlight of this session for me was the playing by "Catch 22", their
faculty guitar ensemble. I should also mention that I did not hear Wilbert
Longmire with Hank Marr's group and Jeff Pakker with Ronnie Cuber's group.
They were scheduled opposite the above mentioned clinics. Word was that I
missed two very good sessions.
Friday started out bright and early at 9AM with two guitar events,
unfortunately both scheduled at the same time. I split my time between the
Hot Club Quintet of San Francisco and the Randy Johnston Quartet. The
level of playing of both groups was quite high and, culture shock aside, I
wish I could have heard both sets in their entirety, perhaps with a little
sorbet in between. Later in the day Frank Potenza did a duo performance
with vocalist Sunny Winkinson. My only regret about this concert is that I
didn't get there in time to get a good seat. Still, from a football field
away, the chemistry between these two outstanding musicians came across.
Late in the afternoon I heard the Jim Widner Big Band. The band was very
good and guitarist Sean Hennessy played several fine solos. Still I
couldn't help but notice that on some charts he was having to stand up and
read over the piano players shoulder. They could have at least given the
poor guy a photocopy or something. I was reminded why, after many years of
playing in big bands, I don't do it so much anymore.
Saturday, Potenza was featured once again in a duo with Joe Diorio. This
time I was right up front and I enjoyed the playing of both guitarists
immensely. Diorio also does a pretty fair stand-up routine. After that, I
heard a bit of guitarist Jesse van Ruller. He is the winner of the 1995
Monk competition. At only 24 years old, van Ruller really gets around the
guitar, very George Benson-ish.
The rest of the day was spent trying to get the front desk to get my bill
right, looking for the hotel baggage check, and trying to get my car out of
the parking garage. After four days of sub-zero wind chill, with the help
of a kind stranger and a pair of jumper cables, by 6 PM I and my students
were on our way back to Ohio.
I hope I didn't leave anyone out here. The fact is that there were so many
guitar events at this year's conference, it would be easy to forget
something. I suppose I see that as a good problem to have. I hope that
IAJE continues to program guitar events in significant numbers at future