Jazzman 2012 - Machine translated

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Original French: Le Geant Modeste Et Son Croque-Monsieur (JazzMagazine 2012)


The Modest Giant And His Croque-Monsieur


His Parisian comeback at the Sunset will remain one of the events of the year. While waiting for a new record, one of our certified "Holdsworthophiles" went to meet this singular genius of the jazz fusion guitar.


When we met Allan Holdsworth, he had not come back to France since 2007, during his tour with Alan Pasqua, in the group in tribute to Tony Williams. Most of the festival organizers, who are probably unaware of his name, have been thrilled by the fact that he filled the Sunset during his visit last May, in trio with Virgil Donati and Jimmy Haslip. And despite the brevity of its services (the Parisian club was forced to organize two concerts per evening to meet the demand), the audience was delighted to hear this exceptional musician with his long sentences while legato, his symphonic chords to improbable fingerings, and, above all, his heartbreaking lyricism. Considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Allan Holdsworth is not a star. The proof: When asked what would make him happy for lunch, reminding him that in the center of Paris we have access to all the cuisines of the world, he answers: "Just a croque-monsieur and a half, in a bistro! " (Wikipedia: A croque monsieur (French pronunciation: ​[kʁɔk məsjø]; French for "mister crunch") is a baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich.)

Q: Where did you get that curious desire for croque-monsieur?

AH: It was Gordon Beck who made me discover these pleasures of Parisian life when I played with him in France in the late 1970s. He trained me in small neighborhood bars and popular restaurants. I loved it! Pepper steak and jambon-beurre (ed. note: ham sandwich made of a baguette sliced open, spread with butter, and filled with slices of ham) are the two best things I've ever eaten in my life! [Machine back translated.]

Q: You must miss Gordon…

AH: Terribly ... We were really very close. He was part of the family and always came home for the holiday season. We played a lot together for thirty years, and it was he who insisted that I record an album of jazz standards, choosing most of the themes. "None Too Soon" was his project, even though I treated it in my own way. [Machine back translated.]

Q: You had never worked the standards?

AH: No. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, but without playing standards. I have always tried to do new things. In my youth, I listened to guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, two masters who influenced me a lot, and Jimmy Raney, Joe Pass and Barney Kessel. But I never tried to copy them. I just wanted to understand their minds, their approach, to know how to improvise on chord sequences. That's all that interests me. But my biggest influence is John Coltrane. He was "connected", like Michael Brecker ... [Machine back translated.]

Q: You could have played with Michael Brecker. Why has this never happened?

AH: I will regret all my life for not doing it. I never even met him when I played with his brother. I had his number, but I never dared to call him, for fear of annoying him ... But I know his music well, and I feel very close to him; we feel the real personality of people through what they play, a kind of link is established. He had something unique, with deep sadness, and this "connection" ... It's a great source of inspiration for me, even today. [Machine back translated.]

Q: We do not really know your background in the British jazz scene, with musicians like Ray Warleigh or Pat Smythe ...

AH: [The croque-monsieur arrives.] I owe Ray a lot. He is an excellent saxophonist and a charming guy who welcomed me to his home when I arrived in London, and who gave me many opportunities to play by introducing myself to musicians much more experienced than me, while I was starting. This is how I met Pat Smythe, a remarkable pianist, with a long experience and a great jazz culture. He was much older than me and taught me a lot. We played together at various times, in the 1970s, but without recording an album. It is in his memory that I wrote 54 Duncan Terrace: this was his address in London. One day, I even received an email from a guy who lived there and who asked me why I had titled this piece as well! Funny, no? Mmm, this croquet-monsieur is delicious! [Machine back translated.]

Q: It's partly thanks to Pat Smythe that you met Tony Williams ...

AH: Effectively! At that time, we often played together at Ronnie Scott, opening for great artists. Once, while Chuck Mangione's band was in the lead, Chuck became ill, unable to stand on stage. The musicians asked Pat if he knew anyone to support them, which I did. That's how I played with Alphonso Johnson, who played bass in Chuck's band. Back in the United States, Alphonso learned that Tony was looking for a new Lifetime and he told him about me. Tony called me asking me to join him in Sweden. We recorded with Jack Bruce on bass, Webster Lewis on organ and Tequila, Tony's girlfriend at the time, singing. The tapes of these sessions remained in the drawers (they circulate today on the Net, NDR), but, four months later, Tony called me to announce that he had just signed with Columbia, asking me to join him to form his new Lifetime. I obviously accepted! I immediately left for New York and, after a few days at the hotel, I lived at Tony's place. We spent a bit of time working on tracks, just two [of us], before inviting different bass players like Jeff Berlin and Jaco Pastorius; a great experience for me! But Tony had recovered a demonstration tape of Tony Newton that he really liked. We went to listen to him in a big band that was playing at Carnegie Hall, with Alan Pasqua at the piano. We were convinced right away! We did a rehearsal at SIR Studios in Manhattan: the band was born! And after a concert at the Bottom Line, we recorded "Believe It". [Machine back translated.]

Q: A flagship album, an absolute reference ...

AH: I'm not proud of what I did in this album ... But the others play really well! Tony was really amazing. totally unique. His playing is simply amazing. By switching from jazz to fusion, he played things that no one had ever done, or even ever since ... Including on "Millions Dollar Legs", which was less successful. I know I was lucky to participate in all this. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful periods of my life. I learned a lot from Tony's attitude, who never imposed anything on me. He gave me no direction, always letting me find ideas exploring. I have adopted this approach. I do not indicate anything to the musicians who accompany me; I leave them free. [Machine back translated.]

Q: This should be especially the case with those who have been following you for a long time, like Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson or Chad Wackerman.

AH: Absolutely. We do not even need to talk, to put words on the music; we play, that's all! Gary is like a brother to me, we have a permanent mental connection. And it's the same with Jimmy. Everything is just obvious, immediate. But that has nothing to do with time; it was like that when I played with Gary the first time, when he was just eighteen. In fact, he plays the drums as I would play if I knew how to do it! He is a complete musician, an excellent pianist; it's not by chance that he's holding the keyboards in John McLaughlin's band! [Machine back translated.]

Q: You know he's playing with the UK band, which has reformed?

AH: Yes. I wish him courage ... Not because of John Wetton, whom I love very much; he's a good guy, kind, and a very good singer. But I think he will suffer with Eddie Jobson, who is very directive. He wants to have control over everything. That's why UK did not last. There was great tension in the group. Eddie absolutely wanted us to play exactly like on the record. He did it for his solos, which he played note for note. And I guess he's doing it again today ... It was inconceivable for me, not to mention the fact that I was unable to replay what I had recorded. [Machine back translated.]

Q: The first UK album remains a masterpiece, a reference in the field of progressive rock ...

AH: I would not say that. I definitely preferred working on Bill Bruford's albums. Especially "One Of A Kind", which is very successful. At that moment, we formed a real group, with an overall sound. And we had time to work, which was not yet the case for "Feels Good To Me", where we were rather like guests on a personal project of Bill. Still someone adorable. And a very great musician. I loved playing with him. [Machine back translated.]

Q: Why did you leave this group?

AH: It was a complicated time for me. I was looking for a lot, from jazz to fusion. I wanted to find something personal. Less sophisticated music, more free and more open to improvisation, because that's definitely what I prefer. And with a lot of sound space. I began to choke a little with the keyboards that limited my role in these groups ... I wanted something between jazz and rock, with voice. [Machine back translated.]

Q: That's when you started a trio project with Jack Bruce and John Hiseman?

AH: Yes. I had known John for a long time; he had produced "Belladonna", when I was playing in the band of Ian Carr, and had at once proposed to me to go up Tempest (a group "à la Cream" with which Holdsworth will record a single album, NDR). With Jack, on bass and vocals, we recorded in trio a demo of some compositions that we sent to record companies, anonymously, without specifying who was playing. Nobody wanted, while John and Jack were well known! A disaster, and the end of the project ... [Machine back translated.]

Q: But the beginning of IOU ...

AH: It took a long time. I tried various lineups in the late 1970s under different names until I met Gary [Husband]. And we auditioned many bassists before finding Paul Carmichael: there were so many who were trying to play like Jaco, which made no sense! I wanted something else, a really personal style... [Machine back translated.]

AH: I often came to France at this time, especially at Riverbop, where I played with Benoit Widemann, excellent at both piano and synth. But after the concerts, he told me that there was no need for a pianist in my music! [Machine back translated.]

Q: Since "Flat Tire", in the early 2000s, you have not recorded a new studio album, but mostly shot in trio with different formations, while participating in various projects. Why?

AH: The last ten years have been very hard on a personal level. I divorced, leaving the house to my wife, and I lived for a long time with various friends who hosted me, before finding a home in the San Diego area, to stay close to my children. I did not have a personal studio anymore to work. And, above all, more morale ... It was easier to leave on the road and let me carry the projects of others. I made an album and tour with former members of Soft Machine, including John Marshall. I really enjoyed the tour in tribute to Tony Williams, with Alan Pasqua, who is an incredible musician; he hears everything, reacts instantly, and always brings something new to his accompaniment as well as to his improvisations. The tour with Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto were significantly more experimental; we had no songs, no themes, it was just long collective improvisations. I do not think there is much left ... I measure my chance to have rubbed all these incredible musicians over the years. But I'm just a privileged witness, I do not think I brought much ... [Machine back translated.]

Q: You are the only one to think so! Everyone quotes you as a giant, a master. Frank Zappa said there were two important guitarists in the story: Jimi Hendrix and you!

AH: I know, but I do not consider myself a good guitarist. There are lots of things I do not know how to do. And I still have so much to learn ... I did not really choose this instrument, because I dreamed of playing the saxophone, and I developed my playing by frustration, looking for a fluid phrasing, to approach a blown sound. That's why I use distortion, which allows me to hold and modulate my notes. [Machine back translated.]

Q: I saw that a new guitar pedal carried your signature [the Rockett Allan Holdsworth Overdrive/Boost signature). Are you still involved in the development of musical material?

AH: Yes. I would have loved to be an engineer in electronics ... If I had the intellectual capacity! I tested all kinds of guitars, amps, pedals and effects, to find the sound I had in mind. And I keep looking, trying, hacking ... That's how I combined two amps in stereo, inserting a slight delay between the two, so as to have a wider sound, with an effect natural chorus, without pedal. I think I was one of the first to mount humbucking pickups on a Stratocaster. I loved this guitar, but the sound of single coil pickups, which is perfect for playing chords, is not suitable for what I like for solos. So I dismounted the PAF of my SG (Gibson) of the time to mount on my Strat! Subsequently, I met Grover Jackson, from Charvel, who built custom guitars, with a flat and a wide neck, a bit like a Gibson. Several manufacturers have since offered to work with them to develop products. Ibanez made a guitar in my name in the 1980s, but the models out of the factory had nothing to do with those I had validated, which were handcrafted by a luthier. A disappointing experience ... Since then, I have collaborated with brands like Rocktron or Yamaha on electronic devices. And I I mostly used Steinberger, little headless guitars, which I love, and custom made models by Bill DeLap, an excellent luthier. For about fifteen years, Carvin has produced a series of guitars built to my specifications, with a thick neck with very flat fingerboard, large frets, and an acoustic chamber. These people are doing really good work and the new guitars I'm using right now are fantastic. I am also very happy with the Hughes & Kettner hybrid amps, which replace the Yamaha digital modeling I used before. [Machine back translated.]

Q: Are there any guitarists you like today?

AH: Lots ! In addition to John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny or John Scofield, I really admire Luis Salinas, who is just amazing. And, above all, Sylvain Luc, whom I discovered just at Sunset a few years ago. He is amazing! And his music touches me deeply. When I listen, I want to throw away my guitar ... He offered to play with him, but I declined, I do not have his level. That said, the instrument does not matter, it is what we say with that counts. These guys could play the trumpet or the piano, it would be wonderful ... This croque-monsieur is too big, I can not finish it; you think I can ask for a box to take to the hotel?  [Machine back translated.]