Archive for December, 2009

The Kessel Approach to Picking

December 21, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Anyone who has seen a Kessel video (e.g., this fun footage with Barney playing “I Love You” with an unknown rhythm guitarist, probably late in the 1980s) will know that he used a highly unorthodox approach to picking: Rather than resting 1 to 3 fingers on the pickguard while picking or, alternatively, keeping the hand entirely free of the strings (like the Manouche players), Kessel rested the hand on the strings, removing the hand from the strings as the picking approached the bass strings.

I use the same approach myself (I didn’t emulate Barney — there were no videos around in those days — but just picked it up somehow (sorry!)). I don’t know of anyone else who uses it. The only guitar teacher I had, Nicolai Gromin, commented that as long as this unorthodox appraoch worked for me, there was no reason to change to the orthodox, finger-resting approach.

However, I wonder what are the benefits and costs of what we may call the “Kessel Approach.” It seems to me that it makes it possible to pick really fast in a small “neighbourhood” of the fretboard; however, it it not so easy to pick clean and fast when the picking involves large intervallic jumps. (In fact, this seems to me to be the problem that Kessel confronts in fast tempos where he sometimes sounds sloppy). Any opinions?

Michele Ariodante’s New Blog

December 21, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Michele has recently launched “Guitar Idea” –” dedicated to the art of guitar playing and to the artists who use this instrument as a way to express their visions.” Check out the über-cool clip with a young Lenny Breau, and Tuck Andress in Christmas mood.

Sacha Distel, Jazz Guitarist

December 6, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Before Distel-the-crooner, the affairs with Brigitte Bardot and Dionne Warwick, etc., there was Distel-the-jazz-guitarist. Strongly influenced by his uncle Ray Ventura, one of the first jazzmen in France, Distel (1933 – 2004) began playing traditional jazz, becoming a professional musician 16. He quickly moved in more modern directions, working with Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Bobby Jaspar, and Tony Bennett, but he continued to work with the older generation, for example, Lionel Hampton. This clip with Louis Armstrong seems to be the only one on YouTube where Distel’s jazz guitar is showcased. Distel was clearly highly adaptable, because there are little traces of bebop in his playing which is probably best as “robust” and Tiny Grimes-like.

The great “Jazz in Paris” series has a twofer with Distel’s early recordings. Here is another collection of his jazz cuts.

Hommage à Di Mauro

December 5, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Here is a website dedicated to Di Mauro guitars (and here are a bunch of Di Mauros, all sold, unfortunately). Di Mauros are often mentioned alongside classical original “gypsy guitars” like Selmer, Busato and Favino, but usually ranked a little below these (which is reflected in their considerably more accessible prices).

Many contemporary manouche players have played Di Mauro guitars, for example, Moreno Winterstein. And they were a favorite of French pop singers from the 1950s and until rather recently (e.g., Sascha Distel, Henri Salvador). These guitars — and their three builders: brothers Joseph and Antoine Di Mauro and Antoine’s son Joseph–certainly deserve a site. This one has been put together by (the younger) Joseph’s daugther, Dorothy.

My favorite Di Mauro is the delicious Special Chorus, probably Di Mauro’s best known design, and imitated in recent time by Dell’ Arte with their Swing 42. Pat Metheny is the proud owner of one of these (or at least he was in 1982). offers this beauty, which is identical to the 1942 Special Chorus in the “museum” section of the site (and apparently built by Antoine Di Mauro).

UPDATE: Have you ever speculated about the nature of Sacha Distel’s “premiere guitare“? Turns out it was a Di Mauro.

Overlooked Jazz Guitar Albums

December 4, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Jason Shadrick lists seven overlooked jazz guitar albums. I don’t think Jimmy Raney’s “Live in Tokyo” is exactly overlooked among jazz guitar afficionados, and I am too much of a traditionalist/reactionary to be familiar with the other ones he lists, so let me instead add my own take on a few (at least somewhat) overlooked jazz guitar albums:

George Benson: Giblet Gravy. Benson was arguably the greatest straight-ahead jazz guitarist of the late 1960s/early 1970s. This album features Benson in full flight in front of a big band with pop melodies of the day, and with a quartet (featuring Herbie Hancock). The album is worth buying for the quartet’s version of “Billie’s Bounce” alone.

Elec Bacsik: The Electric Guitar of the Eclectic Elec Bacsik (reissued in 2002 by Gitanes Jazz Production but now out of production). A tour de force. ‘nough said.

George Barnes: Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. This is the quartet with Duncan James on rhythm. Recorded live in 1974. Funny, lively, hardswinging, and complete with George’s silly jokes. His version of “When Sunny gets Blue” should be sufficient to dispel talk of Barnes as a “Dixieland guitarist” (with the implied put-down) (transcription here).

Tal Farlow: Cookin’ on All Burners. OK — admittedly this is not exactly an unknown album (there is a even a wiki on it). But I maintain that given how fabulously good it is, it is underrated. One of the top 10 albums, ever!

Billy Bauer: Plectrist. Bauer’s only recording as a leader. Perfection!

And your candidates for overlooked albums??