Being a guitarist's guitarist does not necessarily translate into fame, rock star status, or Grammy awards – Jeff Beck would be a notable exception.
They are often musicians whose artistic integrity, individuality, and musical passion are at odds with that which leads to widespread commercial appeal. For example, how many people in the general public are aware of these guitarists: Lenny Breau, Allan Holdsworth, or Ted Greene? Few, but ask serious guitarists about them and you'll quickly understand why they are held in such high esteem.
Imagine a music lover who is well aware of these musician's musicians, but also happens to be an entrepreneur in the music business. A love of music and an entrepreneurial spirit can lead to great things. The founder and head of the music label Abstract Logix, Souvik Dutta, is such a person.
Here's an example, he came up with an idea for a project that brought together three guitarist's guitarist, a bassist's bassist, and a drummer's drummer in a group. He called them, “The Ringers.” Although the individual musicians aren't necessarily household names, their talent is well known in music circles -- members of this group have worked with stars such as Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Seal, Sting, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, James Taylor, the Allman Brothers Band and many more. His plan was to bring them together for three days of rehearsals, and then do a two week tour.
We happened to be talking just as his plan was coalescing. I suggested doing something I had never done before, an an audio interview with the entire five piece band. He liked the idea and tasked his PR team to set up the interviews. A few days later I had a series of interviews with five musician's musicians. Generally I would have wanted more time to prepare, but fortunately I was on a similar musical wavelength as four of the five: that sweet spot where the feeling of the blues, the energy of rock, and the musicianship of jazz intersect.
However, the idea of interviewing Wayne Krantz was rather daunting. Although at times his music is playful and humorous, even referencing popular hit songs, his musical approach could be described as complex and challenging, and his unique style as edgy and angular. On top of that, Wayne Krantz is a cerebral person, someone who might easily be mistaken for a university professor. Discussing music with him seemed as intimidating to me as discussing the universe with a renowned physics professor. For that reason, it was not an interview I would have normally sought out, especially with so little time to prepare. Going in I felt like I was in way over my head, but thankfully my apprehension was utterly unfounded – he was attentive, thoughtful, and insightful.
Beneath the interview I've included a couple of video clips which will help you to better understand his approach to music, and to better appreciate what makes him so special in terms melody and rhythm.
Wayne Krantz: Hey Alan, how are you?
Alan Bryson: Fine. I know these are really hectic times for you guys, so I want to thank you for taking time out for me today.
Wayne Krantz: Sure man, thanks for asking.
AB: Wayne I'm curious if this is the case for you. Do you find that some of your favorite recordings are things you didn't fall in love with at the first hearing?
Wayne Krantz: That's probably fair. I've had this conversation before with various people, not just about music, but about anything – whether it's a painting, book, movie or whatever. Often, depending on the presentation and the format and everything, it's not necessarily designed to immediately please, but it's something that tends to please later and longer. So sure, that kind of thing happens to me, why?
AB: That was the way it was for me with your new album “Howie 61.” I thought about it a bit before I decided to speak with you. It seems when music is very distinctive and an artist is kind of pushing the envelope a bit, both rhythmically and harmonically, and then you add something like very interesting lyrics on top of that – it's going to take some time to digest something like that.
The beauty of it is that once you do, you discover there's always something to come back to, and you keep coming back and you keep discovering new things.
Wayne Krantz: Well I'm glad that was the result of that. What you're saying, you know that balance, that's something that kind of reminds me of Frank Zappa. Initially as a kid I didn't allow myself to really like Zappa's music much, because it had so much humor in it. I felt like there's no place for humor in serious music. Ultimately, as the years passed I became a huge fan of it and have great respect for him. My take on it now, if I happen to think about it, is that he had to have humor in it because there is so much going on in the music. There was so much content, that if he hadn't balanced that with something lighter, it would have been too much. It wouldn't have been possible for anybody to really listen to it because it had so much content.
I also read something by Leonard Bernstein where he was talking about opera, and I can't remember which one he was specifically talking about, but he was saying the music was so incredibly rich and heavy, yet the libretto was this trite, “Hey how are you. I'm Fine” He made the point that if there had been too much – if the libretto had been as heavy as the music, it would have been unlistenable.
So that balance that you're alluding to, it's something that I strive for. In the case of that record, I would guess that the element of that record that I hope enables someone to tolerate the potential of too much richness in the combination, is the groove of it. It's groovy, you know in a fun little way, and that's kind of been my attempt through the years to make my music more listenable. Because it wouldn't have to have that element. I could have a lot of that information without groove. I've experimented with that too, but it asks too much of the listener.
That's an interesting point.
AB: That's an interesting answer too. I was talking to my wife about this album, she was asking, “Why do you like this so much?” She's not an intense listener to music like that, so I said:
Try to imagine it like this. You're out on a boat, like a little cabin cruiser. You're down below, and you've got this really cozy cabin. And it's got these portholes and you're looking out, and all the sudden it's not smooth sailing. You start to feel uneasy like, ooh, what's this? But you just kind of get into the flow. You look out and you discover there is this rocking rhythm – oh, cool now I see the ocean, ooh now I see the sky. Hey, a bird's flying by. Then up on deck you might hear a rope banging rhythmically against something in time with the movement. You accept it and get into it.
So trying to visualize it for her, I explained that's kind of what's going on. That's how I found it to be.
Wayne Krantz: Wow, that's fantastic. That's great man, how cool.
Limits & Self Discovery
AB: I read something, I think this might have been written by one of your previous guitar students. He said your style developed because you imposed a self-limits on yourself, and that allowed you to find to you own voice and have your own style. Would you say that's true?
Wayne Krantz: That sounds a little harsh, but yeah, I think that's a fair assessment. I've definitely used limitation through the years to my advantage, at least I hope so – in the sense that for those people who play, or do anything creative, and care about trying to carve out something personal with what they're doing. But that isn't a requirement or a necessity. There's tons of good music that doesn't do that, I use the word “derivative” with respect, it's hard to be derivative and make it sound good. But obviously there is certainly a place for it in the world – that's kind of what most music is.
But some portion of those people care about trying to make something more personal for whatever reason, which was the case with me. I realized I couldn't continue to just draw on all my influences in the way that I always had. That's basically what anybody does when they are learning how to play, because you turn toward something you like and try to learn how to do it. So really, you're kind of defined by who you like more that anything.
So in my case, I had to intentionally turn away from my influences in order to find out if I had anything of my own. That had to do with how I was playing, the sound that I had, the kind of writing I was doing. You know, with those three things, I basically just sort of started over again. First, I tried to isolate what felt personal to me, and then flesh that out and find something that might be listenable.
So yeah, that's how it worked with me. I know it's not always that way with people. I've talked to people who have a personal style, and it's just kind of a natural transition for them. It's not something they had to rigorously decide to do. But in general, I'm kind of a rigorous decider, that's how I've always been with music. It's very intentional on some level, that's just how it works for me.
웨인 크랜츠 in S. Korea Wayne Krantz – “Rushdie”
Wayne Krantz, Guitar – Tim Lefebvre, Bass – Keith Carlock, Drums
AB: The result is clear. Before I read that from him, I wondered: how could someone go through musical instruction and come out playing the way you do. You know, I would have guessed they would have beat that out of you, because it's just so different.
Wayne Krantz: They certainly tried. When I went to college, to music school, that was before I had made those kinds of decisions for myself. At that point all I really wanted to do was just keep playing the guitar, and my parents wanted me to go to college. So that's why I went to music college. As a student of music in the greater sense, I think that's what coming of age is. You see what people are doing and you see what it's like to do that. So it's necessary for them to have a how-to program, because otherwise nobody would pay to go there. So to a certain extent that's somewhat of an obstacle in terms of finding yourself. I'm not sure if anyone has developed at school, you're just kind of learning how to do things that have already been done.
Whether someone goes to school or not, in my case, at some point I realized that every single person that I admired and who inspired me, was someone who had developed their own thing one way or another. That's when I got the message. The message is not, “Play like me.” The message is, “Don't play like me.”
Once I realized that, everything followed from there.
Something Quite Different
AB: One thing that struck me when I read about the self imposed limits, I thought, I can't think of another jazz musician who tapped that many people to play on an album as you did on “Howie 61”. So in that respect, you certainly didn't have any limits. So that must have been exhilarating to have that kind of a palette and mix all those colors and get your music the way you wanted it.
Wayne Krantz – Album Howie 61, “How the West Was Left”
Buy the album here
Wayne Krantz: Absolutely, because all I'd ever done up until that point, with the exception of my first record, “Signals” which had a bunch of people on it, was a trio, my live performance thing. So everything since then, with the exception of “Howie 61” has been a trio record. It was a huge departure for me to sort of let that go, and get a more embracing idea about who's going to play.
For me there's much less improvisation on that record than usual, and once you take that element out of the picture, which I consider to be the jazz element, then it opens up a lot of possibilities about who you can play with. Because if you're talking about improvising, the number of people who can improvise in the style you want – that number shrinks quite dramatically. But once you get away from that as a prerequisite, I need someone who plays really well and is great to work with, and is going to know how to play this music, then suddenly there's a lot more people in the world who are more than capable of doing it. So it enables me to play with more people. So that was intentional too.
AB: That's interesting. So even on the bass parts and piano parts, you wrote those out?
Wayne Krantz: Yeah, just about everything. Not the drum parts, but generally speaking, if I write guitar, I write bass too. I almost never use piano, so I had to write something. If you're walking into a session and it's not jazz, it's kind of hard to say, “Just play something.” Some people can do that, but I guess I'm more of a control freak, where I'd want to have an idea of what it's going to be before I heard it.
AB: Something else I'm curious about. Although you're often mentioned in connection with Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), as I listened to your record for the first time, I thought of Walter Becker's “Eleven Tracks of Whack,” and I imagined you guys probably get along well in terms of being on a similar wavelength.
Donald Fagen on Late Night with David Letterman, Wayne Krantz, lead guitar, Keith Carlock, drums, Tim Lefebvre, Bass
Wayne Krantz: I think we do. I guess over a couple of years I was playing with them here and there. We did a big tour and I spent time with him. We're as different as night and day, but I'm a huge fan of his and those solos he took on those Steely Dan records in the old days – I mean that's what I grew up with, and what I was listening to when I was in high school. So there was that thing happening, and I guess he liked me well enough to hire me for that period. But wavelength... I don't know. They do a different thing, and our language is very different, but it was effortless playing with him. It was so easy playing with him, rhythmically he's great. I know his sound really really well, having grown up with it.
AB: In terms of The Ringers, I was curious about Keith Carlock, he of course plays drums in your trio. Do you remember the first time you met, and when you first saw him play, and the impression he made on you?
Wayne Krantz: Sure, I remember it clearly because Zach Danziger, another drummer I work with up here, had gone down to a drum clinic and said there's this kid down there who is really good. So that was the first time I heard about him. And then a mutual friend of Keith's and mine called me to alert me to the fact that he was moving to New York City, and that we should get together. So I kind of had that in the back of my mind. When he got here, he was trying to get on the scene, along with everyone else in town, he called me and I kind of needed someone – which is not often the case really, but fortunately it was then.
I remember he got together with Tim Lefebvre (currently bass player with the Trucks Tedeschi Band) and me. Tim had been playing with me for a couple of years already, so we played and Tim and I looked at each other and thought, “This might work.” He's got that whole funky thing and lots of hand stuff, and rhythmically he understood everything. It was kind of a good fit right away.
AB: In terms of The Ringers, it's easy for me to imagine Jimmy (Herring) and Mike (Landau) together, but putting you into the mix it's going to be interesting.
Wayne Krantz: God knows what it will sound like! I'm not really a guitar guy, I don't spend a whole lot of time listening to guitar players. Like I said, I went through that period of not trying to sound like a clone, and at that point I stopped turning to the guitar for inspiration. I've certainly heard them play, but I've never heard Mike live, just on record, and I recognize they are both masters.
I'm coming into this resolved to learn as much as I can from these guys. They have other sides of the coin so thoroughly covered, and I'm really interested in that. I'm excited to have the chance to hang with them, listen to them play, and learn something.
The Ringers Video Clip -- 3 Very Different Master Guitarists
from L to R: Jimmy Herring g., Wayne Krantz g., Keith Carlock drums, Etienne Mbappe bass, Mike Landau g.,
AB: I mentioned this to Mike Landau when I spoke with him, all three of you guys are considered to be a guitarist's guitarist. I mentioned to Mike that it's kind of interesting being able to speak with all three of you and ask you about someone I always considered to be a guitarist's guitarist for another generation. So I wanted to get your take on Lenny Breau. Do you have any thoughts on him?
Wayne Krantz: I'm pretty sure I heard him play when I first came to the East coast. I'm pretty sure he came to Berklee, I'm not sure if this really happened, or if it's just a dream I had, but I seem to remember being in the room with the guy where he was playing and just being amazed by it. I don't actually know when he died, but towards the end of his life he had some kind of presence in Boston, that's where I was going to school.
He was one of the amazing guys at that time. I never tried to study him, or learn all that incredible stuff he did, it didn't hit me like that, but I did acknowledge that the guy was a master.
Something Surprising in His Music Collection
AB: I'll ask you one final question, would you share something from your music collection that might surprise your fans?
Wayne Krantz: There's this guy named Peter Frankl, he recorded maybe in the '60s, or maybe the '50s, I'm not sure. All the solo piano stuff, and I grew up listening to that because my parents loved classical music and it was constantly on in my house. So I know it very very well. Some years ago it was on this label called Vox Vox, and they issued the stuff on CD for the first time. This is some pretty obscure stuff , it's not like he's acknowledged as the master of that music.
Partially because it's all I heard as a kid, so for me it is the “right” version of this stuff, it's got the right sound. His interpretation is the right one, and I can't really listen to any other version because it seems wrong. So I'll always have that with me, it's part of my history. It's always something that I can refer back to, and get centered in that way. I don't know if that's surprising to anyone, but it's in there with all the other wild shit I listen to.
Peter Frankl plays Debussy "Pagodes"
AB: Thanks for sharing that and giving us your time, I appreciate it, and I want to wish you a whole bunch of fun out on the road with those guys.
Wayne Krantz: I really appreciate that, talk to you soon, thank you so much.
Some insights from Wayne himself
Guitar Power featuring Wayne Krantz – rhythm
All That Jazz: Wayne Krantz – musical approach
This audio interview appears for the first time in written form here on Steemit – made possible by @sndbox
All Photos are YouTube screen captures with effects by @roused
Musical Notes graphic labeled free-use Google image