June 13, 2024


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Few guitarists are as beloved by fans and musicians as Lenny Breau: Videos; Photos

Few guitarists are as beloved by fans and musicians as Lenny Breau. He played the guitar with natural swing and elegance, treating the instrument like a piano. He’d play single-note melody lines while accompanying himself with chords, much the way a jazz pianist would on the keyboard.

While most guitars have six strings, Breau added a seventh string on the treble side. As a result, what you heard sounded like two guitarists playing a duet. His technique was that extraordinary and graceful.

Born in Maine, Breau’s family moved to New Brunswick in Canada in the late 1940s. His parents were professional country musicians who performed and recorded until the mid-1970s. In the late 1950s, Breau left his family’s country band and began playing jazz in Toronto. Breau’s albums are marked by ringing bell-like tones on the guitar and improvised lines that dance around on the upper reaches of the instrument. Underneath were unusual chord voicings that were enormously appealing to the ear.

One of his early albums was Guitar Sounds From Lenny Breau. Recorded in April 1968, the delicate album featured Ron Halldorson (b) and Reg Kelln (d). The songs are a delightful mix of pop and country hits, all taken with a gentle jazz lilt: King of the Road, A Hard Day’s Night, Georgia on My Mind, My Funny Valentine, Cold Cold Heart, Taranta, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Monday

Monday, Freight Train, Music to Watch Girls By and Call Me.
The reason I thought about this album yesterday is that I wrote about Ron Halldorson’s remarkable new leadership album, Happy Talk, over the weekend. Here’s what Ron had to say about playing with Lenny:

Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Lenny and me playing two guitars—only the two RCA albums on which I played electric bass. I reluctantly picked up the electric bass at his request and worked with his trio for many years. Supporting Lenny musically was a perilous task. He wanted absolute freedom and spontaneity. We never knew what he would play next, what key, what feel, how to start or how to end. It was like walking in a minefield but very exciting all the same.

Sadly Lenny had a drug problem from his late teens. And yet he continued to innovate through all that until his death in 1984. He was my dear friend and constant inspiration. I chose not to try to emulate his playing as I wanted my own voice to come through. I also knew that no one could ever match his ability. I am always surprised at how many people have never heard of him and yet all the big name jazz guitar players knew and adored him. [Photo above of Ron Halldorson]

I worked with Lenny for close to 10 years doing session work in Winnipeg until he began to wander from place to place. When we played together, we were constantly changing the time feel. That might come from any one of us. But we had a chemistry together that got us through. I think it’s called love. And respect.

The idea for this post started when I stumbled across the following cool clip on YouTube of a Canadian television broadcast in 1964 featuring guitarists Lenny Breau on the left, Jim Pirie in the middle and Ron Halldorson on the right…

 Here’s what Ron had to say about the video:

The clip of the three of us is from a CBC Winnipeg production. Unfortunately, ‘artsy’ lighting made it impossible to see anyone. I can’t remember how many tunes we did for this show but there were several nice arrangements that we worked out. As you can see, there were no wires running from our guitars to amps and speakers. That’s because we were syncing to music we recorded earlier during a rehearsal.

As I recall, we worked up the arrangements by ear at a Winnipeg club that Lenny and I were working in at the time. When we went into the TV studio for the rehearsal recording session, we had our stuff pretty much together, except for teaching the charts to the rhythm section.

Back then, the TV crew didn’t really want to be bothered dealing with live-to-videotape audio (though we did do live-to-air network TV in those days with all live audio as well). They wanted the audio to be a done deal so they could just focus on picture. The magic of television.

Eventually, Jim Pirie moved to Toronto and was a session player before picking up where Robert Farnon had left off as a string writer. Farnon was quite a Canadian icon in the music world. Anyway, people would compare Jim Pirie to Farnon as time went on.

Lenny Breau died in 1984.

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