Jazz interview with jazz guitarist and composer Frank Gambale. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Frank Gambale: – I grew up in Canberra, the capital of Australia.. I was lucky to have had two older brothers who were way into guitar and, being the youngest, I just wanted to be like them.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the guitar? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?
FG: – I didn’t really choose the guitar. My oldest brother asked our mother for a trumpet. She couldn’t afford a trumpet so she bought a cheap Classical guitar instead. So, it was really fate and socio-economics that played a hand in me playing the guitar. My parents were hard-working immigrants from Italy so there was not much extra money around with three children to raise.
We had no teachers. We learned everything by ear straight off the recordings…which I still think is the best way to learn because you’re going straight to the source to learn the emotional content as well as the notes, the phrasing, the vibrato, the bends etc. etc.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FG: – Just like any other aspect of becoming a good musician, at first you must imitate the players you love and are drawn to. It took me a long time to figure out how to get a good sound. I bought many different amps and guitars. I worked in music shops and when there were no customers in the shop, I would plug in to everything just to hear the differences. I didn’t really have much of a tone or a sound I liked until I moved to Los Angeles when I was 22.
I can happily say that now I know exactly what I want tone-wise and have worked with Marco DiVirgiliis at DV Mark where we tweaked and rweaked with EQs etc. Having made over 20 solo albums, I’ve become quite proficient at engineering and EQ to create great guitar tones, or at least, guitar tones that I think are great. Tone is a personal thing, some folks love my tone and some don’t, but that doesn’t matter, you have to please yourself first!
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FG: – These days I mostly practice just by improvising over changes. This keeps my brain sharp. I do practice sub-divisions. As a matter of fact, I have just finished writing a new course for my online guitar school called Rhythmic Displacement which is full of rhythmic concepts and challenging exercises. It’s important to remember that rhythm is a HUGE aspect of playing. As guitar players we focus heavily on licks and chords and scales etc but Phrasing ( when to play the notes and spacing between the notes ) and rhythmic sub-divisions are just as important.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
FG: – That’s a wonderful question and a wonderful observation of my playing. Yes, it is a conscious decision to be more melodic and less dissonant. I think, as we progress as musicians, it’s hard to remember the simple things like a pure Major scale. Coltrane never stopped practicing the major scale.
I have studied harmony deeply and for me melody and beauty is at the top. I think dissonance is important sometimes to have contrast, but I don’t linger there. I have a hard time with keyboardists sometimes playing my music because they want to play outside too much. I know how to play outside, but I don’t do it all the time. I’m quite content to find the interesting qualities in the simple scales too. It’s a choice. I realized many years ago that I do not want to be esoteric and out there just for the sake of trying to be hip and different. I want people to enjoy the music I play, and the more listeners the merrier. Going too far out alienates too many listeners, and I don’t want to do that.
Having said all that, I don’t think my music suffers at all from that choice. Harmonic possibilities are endless. Take a song like Gioia from my Natural Selection album. It’s very beautiful but has some very cool changes and surprises in it. “Love Is Always The Answer” from my new album Salve has one of the most interesting chord progressions I have ever written in the middle bridge and there’s no altered chords at all in it. Another example from Classical music is Ravel’s Bolero. It’s probably my favourite Classical composition. It brilliantly trudges along in it’s repetition of the melody, mostly sweet with some tension, on and on it goes until it changes key at the very end, to where the tension has been building for 15 minutes. In the key change there is huge dissonance then it crashes down to the abrupt end….now that’s how you use tension!!!
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FG: – I think disparate things together are very interesting and can actually help you to discover new things. So, it’s not a problem.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FG: – For me there must be both present at all times. One’s intellect cannot overrule the soul or the emotion or the feel.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FG: – Yes I am happy to give people what they want, but one must also satisfy one’s self. Balance is key for me. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to be so far out there that only a handful of people get it and enjoy it. After all, as an artist, you must have an audience or why bother making music. I will never dumb down my music just to sell, I won’t go that far, but I do want to reach as many people as possible.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FG: – I was playing a guitar festival in Sweden recently with my Soulmine group. There were some great musicians from Spain performing at the same festival. They were not able to come to our show because they were performing at the same time on a different stage, so they came to our soundcheck rehearsal. The leader of the group was a long-time fan. His reaction to my new music was so enthusiastic and gushing that it proved to me that, my new music was reaching the mark and that was very gratifying.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FG: – To be honest, I love standards but rarely play any. I like to keep moving forward. You can’t stay in the past. Many jazz purists think jazz ended in the late 60’s. I have worked for almost 40 years with Chick Corea, a true jazz legend who never stopped playing at the end of the 60s. He embraced the new sounds, synthesizers, new movement and continued to pioneer the Fusion movement of the 70s and is as innovative and creative today well into his 70s. Plus, I think too much emphasis is placed on what young people think! Also, I think young people are the most exploited because they’re easy prey, less mature and less discerning. There’s so much music and so many artists out there these days that pretty much, he with the most money to promote usually wins the popularity contest and the most ears and fans.
Maybe the answer is good parenting?
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FG: – Music is my life without question. It is the highest artform and reaches a part of the brain and the soul that nothing else can reach. I am happy to have been a musician all my life. I always say that musicians and artists walk in a parallel universe to the rest of mankind.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FG: – I would get rid of all the sharks and thieves for a start. Musicians and artists are overwhelmingly exploited by suits and businessmen. The latest scourge in the music business is music streaming. Spotify just passed the 50 million subscriber mark. Each person pays $10 a month to hear whatever they want. That’s $500,000,000 ( $500 Million ) a month and they say they can’t make a profit. They pay artists .000006 cents a play for a song. It’s an abomination and the greatest music swindle in the history of the music business. Of course, it’s great and convenient for the public and the subscribers, but it is killing the livelihood of most independent and small artists. So,yep, streaming is the first thing to go for me.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FG: – Refer to the earlier list of artists that inspire me.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FG: – To another planet that has no wars, no racial discrimination, non poverty and no sickness and no streaming music sites…
Interview by Simon Sargsyan