The string wizard

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The string wizard

Monday, 20 February 2017 | Jigyasu Joshi

After recently performing at the Jazz Utsav, legendary guitarist Stanley Jordan gets candid on weaving his magic on the instrument and his love for all things Indian. By Jigyasu Joshi

There are guitar virtuosos of every kind. And then there’s Stanley Jordan. The American jazz, fusion guitarist and pianist is a maestro in his own right. Displaying a musical persona that exudes bold reinventions of classical masterpieces, soulful jazz explorations and stylish compositions, the guitar legend veers away from conventional strumming and picking, where he applies piano principles to the guitar fretboard, from his training in classical piano. He even plays simultaneously on two different guitars, or even on guitar and piano. For him, they are a single instrument with a wide range of tonal colours.

“My first instrument was the piano and when I took up the guitar, my piano background influenced my approach to it. I love the rich textures of the piano as well as the expressiveness of the guitar, and the ‘touch technique’ combines those two in a seamless way,” he said.

Pointing out that this is like a dream come true, Stanley said, “I’m looking forward to sharing my music, which is my number one purpose on the planet, with new people. I want this visit to be the one of many.” He adds that the classical music of India is one of the greatest traditions in the history of music. “And I find that it blends well with jazz. I explored this in a recording of ragas with two Indian musicians — Jay Kishor on sitar and Vedang londhe on tablas. This was one of my favourite projects ever and I would like to take this idea further.”

looking back, Stanley said children naturally gravitate to music and he was no exception. “My mother got me started with piano lessons at the age of seven, but I was already playing by ear and composing.” He went on, “My musical journey and my life journey are intertwined. Music inspires me to improve my life condition because everything that’s good for my life is good for my music. That includes good nutrition, positive thinking and gratitude. Also getting plenty of sleep, but I confess I haven’t been doing well lately in that department,” he laughed. Jordan added “Music is also spiritual because it promotes mindfulness by grounding the artistes and the listeners in the here-and-now.”

Stanley’s works involve many rock and pop works which he has mastered and reproduced in his own way.  “I have been criticised a lot for that. But then I feel that the purists play an important role because great traditions need to be kept alive. Now please pardon me for getting all geeky on you but I think this is relevant. In 1930 Kurt Gödel published his Incompleteness Theorem which was based in mathematical philosophy but I think it's relevant to music. It says that you can be consistent or complete but not both. Purists want consistency but to achieve that they sacrifice completeness, which is fine as long as everyone understands this. So all their rules are fine within one genre, but just don't try to apply them to all music,” he explained.

When asked about the scope of Jazz in India and if he sees this genre growing up here, he said, “I know jazz has a long history here but, like many other places in the world, pop culture marketing has been the predominant force. However, I feel that today is a time of change, with a newer generation of listeners who were brought up on popular music but are now looking for something that can maybe enrich their lives in a deeper way. My hope is to contribute to this by opening some new doors or, if you will, new windows into that vast room we call music.”

Talking about his future projects, he said that there are few interesting things he has his hands on. “I have some long-term projects that I hope to bring to light within the next year or so, including a jazz EDM project and a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra,” he added.

To musicians in India, Stanley had an interesting message, “It’s understandable to be attracted to the “shiny object” of popular music and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you are in the enviable position of inheriting an almost unbelievably rich classical music tradition that has been honed for thousands of years into one of mankind’s greatest cultural achievements. Anything you can do to help keep that tradition alive will be a great thing for yourselves and for the world.”

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