We are quickly approaching the last Tuesday of June, which means we will be launching our Guest Artist Series this week at our weekly residency at Sonnys (6/30 @9PM)!!! We kick the series off with a set of music by Django Reinhardt, featuring guitarist Bryan Killough.
In order to help acquaint everyone with Bryan and Django, we put together a brief interview. Check it out! (We ask some questions...Bryan answers them as "I...")
When did you start playing guitar?
I started playing guitar at home. My father was always playing guitar and sing songs usually by groups from the sixties and seventies including The Beatles, The Eagles, The Stones, Dylan, and Donovan. I remember playing my dad's guitar as my dad got home from work and he took it away from me because he wanted to play. I think his love for music was what got me hooked. My parents bought me my own electric when I was in second grade. That year I performed a blues shuffle for the school talent show and in the third grade I played and sang 'When I'm Sixty Four'.
What are or have been some of your influences?
Our family moved to Germany when my father was assigned to work for NATO. I was nine when dad brought us to a Monsters of Rock concert in Dortmund. The line up included Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and The Scorpions. Dad also brought home music cassettes that became big influences on me, Prince's 'Purple Rain', Van Halen's '1984', and Sting's 'Dream of the Blue Turtles'. We went to see Sting in concert. It wasn't until later that I learned who some other guys in his band were (Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland). I was twelve when my dad died and I inherited his guitar and vinyl albums. I use to listen and play along with Cream, Hendrix, CCR, the Butterfield Blues Band, and others.
My love for Jazz really began in Dave Ervin's middle school Jazz band. He lent me a Charlie Christian album. I became a regular listener to the Jazz Show on WUNH and acquired recordings by Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and others.
When did you first get into Django?
I didn't really get into Swing music until I formed a band with a violinist friend of mine from Berklee College of Music, K. Ishibashi. (Kishi Bashi). We recorded a demo including the tunes Dinah, Lady Be Good, and Sweet Lorraine. It was a blast to play the music but I didn't understand Django until I saw the Woody Allen movie, 'Sweet and Low Down'. The fictitious character, Emmett Ray, played by Sean Pen, is modeled after Django. The guitar in the movie was actually played by Howard Alden. I had taken a few lessons from him when he visited UNH while I was there. When I needed a final project to complete my MA from UNH I called up Howard and set up a lesson with him down in NYC. At that point I had done a lot of transcribing of Django's solos but had no idea about his technique.
Can you tell us about his left hand?
When Django was eighteen he was returning from a gig into his trailer late at night. The floor was laden with artificial flowers that had been fashioned from old movie film. It was very combustible and when Django dropped his candle the place erupted in flames. He was so badly burned that he spent a year in the hospital recovering. They wanted to amputate his leg but he refused (good thing it healed). His left hand was badly burned and disfigured. Though he still had his ring and pinky finger they were pulled back only usable for some chording work. All his blistering melodic runs were played with two fingers!
How did this change his songwriting? His improvising?
It is hard to imagine how profoundly Django's injury effected his music. I am only aware of one of his compositions that was made before the fire, 'Montange Ste. Genevieve'. The music of this period of his life was more representative of the French Musette music that Django heard around the streets of Paris accompanied by accordion. It is an impressive piece with long arpeggios and chromatic lines. What profoundly influenced Django was american Swing music. Louis Armstrong's 'Dallas Blues' rocked his world. He heard that swing feeling and was able to start playing it right away. Django was a genius improviser. He used the tools that were available to him. Had he had different tools he would have created different art.
There are some compositions that are clearly influenced by his deformity, 'Appel Direct' in which the melody makes a rapid two fingered
pattern across the fret board. He quite often used voicing that played nicely with his two fingers. Django's compositions often have a real quirkiness about them, something a kin to Thelonious Monk, or as Michael Dregni noticed, Jimi Hendrix.
How has Django's technique had an influence on you as a player?
His technique influenced me and most other guitarists was not in his left hand but rather his right. His way of picking allowed him to slide one finger up the neck and articulate each note so that it sounded as if each note was fingered separately. The way the pick is held, the angle of the hand, the thickness of the pick, and direction of the pick are very unique to what is now known as Gypsy Jazz. I have not acquired this technique as many who have pursued this music but it continues to influence me. I do use a special pick that is designed for this.
Ironically it was through the music of this French gypsy that I first really discovered American music from the 1930's and 40's. I imagine I will continually be inspired by this exciting, happy, challenging music. It will be great fun to play with the Soggy Po Boys, Hot Club style!
Thanks to Bryan for taking the time to participate and share with us! We look forward to playing with you!!