The Scratchy Record Hour

Feb 13, 2020
Years ago my friend Matt Weiner played bass in a New York band I'll describe as retro and jazz-oriented, along with our mutual friend and absolutely killer guitar player Matt Munisteri. Both of these Matts were, and are, some of the most musical people I have had the pleasure to know, and from time to time Matt M. would suggest particular songs to the band's lead singer. According to Matt W., the ensuing conversation would often go something like this:
Singer: Where do you find all these incredible tunes?

Matt M. From musicListening to music.

I remember this conversation every time I finally spend time with recordings of musicians I've heard of and read about over the years, but never really listened to. This week, it's been Fletcher Henderson. Short version: Henderson was most active as an arranger and bandleader from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, but didn't achieve the longevity or broader cultural recognition of a Count Basie or Duke Ellington. The official ironic and/or infuriating twist to all that, depending on your point of view, is that at least some of Benny Goodman's subsequent success, including his coronation as the "King of Swing," can be attributed to his use of Fletcher Henderson charts for his own big band.

Suffice to say, Henderson is an important cat, so when I came across him in yet another anthology of assorted swing-era music, that finally inspired me to chase down further Henderson recordings. The earliest tracks, like the earliest Ellington, have both the late-Dixieland tinge and rough recording quality that can make everything sound like the Scratchy Record Hour. But by the time you get to tunes like "Christopher Columbus" and "Stealin' Apples," things are grooving and riffing, with hot solos and hip accompaniment figures. It's smoother than the early stuff, but not as brassy and bossy as what the phrase "big band" often conjures up. It's bluesier than that, and more conversational, both things I personally like. The emphasis is less on demonstrating the sheer power of all those blasting horns, and more on how the different sections can spark off one another, set up the soloists, and groove with the rhythm section.

Last week, during the live Zoom session for my Fingerstyle Five members, I mentioned something in passing about putting some of the various elements of a swing ensemble onto the guitar: "Here's a half-time descending bass line, that's the rhythm section, and you could put some kind of chordal vamp on top like so, there's your saxophones maybe, and oh, maybe you could answer that with a kind of repeating blues riff, now you've got your trumpets on top..." It was all a little ridiculous, but fun too, and I never would have thought of it that way if I hadn't been listening. Listening to music.

So for this week's video, I've posted a lesson on how to put those swing band elements together on the guitar. You can check it out here:

Six String Swing

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More soon,