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December 2014
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Interview: Martin Taylor and Tommy Emmanuel: Duo de Swing

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Interview: Martin Taylor and Tommy Emmanuel: Duo de Swing

Martin Taylor

The sound of your instruments is very present and clear on the album. What guitars did you use?

Taylor: I went direct with my Peerless Maestro. I used very little of the pickup, and there were two stereo mics in front of the guitar. I can't remember what they were because Kim [Person, engineer] used her mics. That was it. Very simple.

Emmanuel: I used my Maton on "Secret Love." On "Wonderful Baby," I used a guitar made for me by David Taylor. On the rest of the album I used a brand-new Godin 5th Avenue with just a mic on it. I also used a 1930 Martin 0-17, a little-bodied mahogany guitar, which is what I use when I play with Martin and Frank Vignola when we play swing music and Django tunes.

What tunes did you use the Martin on?

Emmanuel: I used it on "Won't Last a Day" and "Bernie's Tune." On "Jersey Bounce," I used a Martin D-28 because I wanted a deeper sound.

It sounds like you used minimal effects.

Taylor: That's all done later on in the mix. Once Kim mixed it, she sent over the mixes and I just asked for some small things here and there

just some EQ on my guitar, a couple of balance things, and some reverb. It was all done fairly simply.

Let's talk about how some of these tunes were chosen. What about "Jersey Bounce?"

Taylor: Actually, what happened there was it was a tune I knew and, many years ago, I played in a band that was like the Benny Goodman small group, with clarinet, guitar, and vibes. We used to play that, and it just seemed like it was a nice, swing-y tune. I had forgotten about it, but when I wast starting to make my list for this album, I was doing some work for my guitar academy and one of my students sent me a video of him playing "Jersey Bounce." I helped him with some things on it, and then I told him it could be a good one for Tommy and me to record. He was really thrilled with having some input on the album [laughs]. I'm a big fan of a lot of the early guitar players, like Charlie Christian. There are a few references in the album to some of those early guitar players. Tommy and I do come from slightly different backgrounds, and I had spoken to him about those albums. I played them for him and he loved them. A lot of jazz guitar players that I speak to are unaware of some of these players, like Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, and Nick Lucas. So, I'm on a little bit of a mission to get these guys recognized againbecause they started it. They were fantastic players playing things that even now aren't that easy to play.

Emmanuel: That was our little tribute to Charlie Christian, who is one of the fathers of jazz guitar and one of the first soloists in the big-band contextguitar was only for rhythm until Charlie Christian came along. There are a few other tunes that Charlie did that Frank Vignola and I do together.

You also did Benny Goodman's "A Smooth One." I remember listening to a recording of that tune with Barney Kessel.

Taylor: I used to work a lot with Barney in the ’80s, and that was one of the tunes we did. We also played it a few times in the Great Guitars group when I took Herb Ellis' place on some tours with Barney and Charlie Byrd. Herb used to like to play it, too. I played it quite often with him. But it was one of these things. I think I've forgotten more tunes than a lot of people know. I need to delve back into my head.

You come from pretty different backgrounds, but you still find common ground in jazz standards and old-school pop tunes.

Emmanuel: I didn't really discover jazz until I was in my early 20s. I didn't hear people like B.B. King until about 1975 or '76. Martin had a great knowledge on the history of jazz, jazz guitar, and its players back as far as Eddie Lang and people like that.

Taylor: I come from a jazz background and Tommy comes from a rock and country background. First of all, he plays great rhythm—amazingly strong. And he loves doing that. Also, when he would solo, because he didn't come from that jazz background, he didn't play a lot of clichés. It was very, very fresh sounding. I've spent quite a number of years moving away from the clichés within that vocabulary, whereas Tommy didn't really have that in the first place. He was kind of learning them [laughs].

Tommy, what was the tipping point that got you into jazz?

Emmanuel: It was Wes Montgomery. I heard Wes and just fell in love with that style of playing. I heard Django, as well. I read about so many guitar players because I was really into Chet Atkins, and Chet often talked about people like Joe Pass and Johnny Smith and Django and people like that. So I started checking out players that were recommended to me by Chet, and discovered a whole world of music. Both Martin and I are very melodic jazz players. We aren't the "outside" type of guyswe have blues roots in our playing. People ask me when I do workshops, "Who do you listen to?" Actually, I listen to everyone, but if I want to be inspired by a guitar player I always go to Django. He does it to me every time. If I want to be astounded, I usually watch Wes, and if I want to be entertained I watch Elton John, Billy Joel, or Stevie Wonder.

The artificial harmonics in the intro to "Secret Love" sound like an homagé to Chet or Lenny Breau.

Emmanuel: I can't remember what I did on the introbecause I only did it once. When I play the song live, I do that type of thing, too, though. I did the arranger's thing of altering every chord in the bridgeall those unresolved chords each time you get to the bridge. [Sings melody.] When you get to each chord change, they’re completely different.

Taylor: Tommy is undoubtedly the best at doing harmonics of any guitar player in the world. He's taken it to another level.

The ballads on this album are especially strong. What's the most difficult thing about playing a ballad?

Taylor: Playing the melodyinterpreting the melody. I say to a lot of my students now, if they are learning a melody, don't listen to jazz players play itbecause very often it's been changed and changed. You want to listen to singers like Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee or Julie London, singers who could really interpret a song. That way you not only get the melody right, but you also get an idea of the pace of the phrasing. If you don't know that, you can kind of phrase things wrong. Of course you can play around with that, but phrasing is the most important thing. Tommy chose “The Nearness of You,” and he loves to get a melody to sing out and squeeze every ounce from it, and he's great at it.

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