Gerry Beaudoin Interview: “American Idol? Jazz is our contribution to the world.”

By: Rick Landers

Hailing from Boston, Gerry Beaudoin first took up the guitar at the age of 10 and has since evolved into one of the finest jazz guitarists and music arrangers in the country. He is the recipient of the 1992 National Association of Independent Record Producers award for best jazz recording, 1994 Cadence Magazine Editor’s Choice Award for his CD Sentimental Christmas, as well as a submission for a 1998 Grammy nomination.

Beaudoin has also defined himself as a businessman through his experience with the logistics, legalities and other sundry affairs related to the business side of the music industry.

In the ’90s, Gerry founded the elegant Boston Jazz Ensemble that mixes it up with ‘50s-style jazz that shifts between toe-tapping swing and cool. He subsequently teamed up with bluesman Duke Robillard and mandolinist David Grisman for their recording of “Minor Swing” and later asked Grisman to join him again, this time with legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

Gerry has a knack for pulling together musicians from varying styles to form exciting collaborations. Players such as Frank Vignola, Jay Geils, Howard Alden, Andy Summers, among others, have contributed to and shared in his musical vision.

Gerry Beaudoin (second from right) with the J. Geils Jazz and Blues Review (From left: Fred Lipsius Saxophone, J. Geils Guitar, Jesse Williams Bass, Doug Bell Guita,r Les Harris Drums(hidden), Gerry Beaudoin Guitar, Gerard Beaudoid vibes)

Gerry Beaudoin (second from right) with the J. Geils Jazz and Blues Review (From left: Fred Lipsius Saxophone, J. Geils Guitar, Jesse Williams Bass, Doug Bell Guita,r Les Harris Drums(hidden), Gerry Beaudoin Guitar, Gerard Beaudoid vibes)

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Rick Landers: Your collaborative work with J. Geils and Duke Robillard is an interesting array of guitar talent, bringing together musicians known in their own worlds of blues, jazz and rock. Are you just friends playing for fun or is there some overriding musical ambition going on when you’re together?

Gerry Beaudoin: Of course we play together because it is so much fun and also because we admire each other and are the best of friends. But we also are trying to promote that jazzy, bluesy style of swing guitar that is our common heritage.

Always in concert we see people snapping their fingers and tapping their feet. We also are enthralled with playing in three part harmony together like a sax section. We also enjoy hanging out, so the road life and gigs give us that opportunity.

We just finished a really successful tour of western Canada, and at the end I jokingly told Duke I was going to miss having breakfast with him because when we tour with Duke, we are the early risers and the only ones at breakfast.

Rick: How did you guys meet?

Gerry Beaudoin: Long story. Jay and Duke have known each other since the ’60s when Jay was with the J. Geils Blues Band and Duke was fronting Roomful of Blues. They weren’t really close friends then, but were aware of each other. I, in turn being somewhat younger, was aware of them both.

First, because of their music, then some time in the ’70s, my older cousin Paul took me to see Roomful of Blues in Rhode Island. He’d seen them the week before and told me they had a great guitar player. I went with him and have been a Duke fan ever since.

Rick: What about Jay Geils?

Gerry Beaudoin: My father had bought me The Morning After by the J.Geils Band for Christmas one year and I spent the whole day Christmas trying to figure out Jay’s riffs. I must have been in junior high school then.

Fast forward to the ’80s, and I was pretty much on the radar at this point as a jazz guitarist on the Boston scene, but no national recognition yet. My good friend, Jerry Portnoy from the Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton band took me to see Duke one night in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He introduced us and Duke invited me down to jam at his house.

I believe this was 1986. Duke and I started playing gigs when time was available together. And we’ve done that ever since. Duke is not only a close friend and musical inspiration, but I also credit him for getting my career off the ground.

Duke produced a demo recording of my trio in 1987 and played it for Richard Waterman from NorthStar records, and I got my first record deal. That led to gigs with saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, pianist Jay McShann and mandolinist David Grisman. And now my new recording is about the 40th one I’m on, and I believe I have been the leader or co-leader on sixteen of them.

Rick: What about pulling together the trio?

Gerry Beaudoin: I met Jay at a guitar show I was playing at in 1994. After I finished my set Jay came up to me and introduced himself and told me he had some of my records and enjoyed my playing. We chatted about jazz and he said he had the itch to go out and perform jazz gigs, his first love until he got sidetracked by the J. Geils Band. We exchanged numbers and a few weeks later a local promoter who heard about our meeting called to see if we would do a gig together.

It was in my hometown and was packed in a pouring rainstorm. We had a great time! The audience enjoyed it and we figured we should do some more. Before I knew it I was playing gigs with Duke and gigs with Jay! One night in 1997, Duke and I were playing a club, and Jay came by to sit in. The electricity and rapport between the three of us was so unbelievable that we decided to book gigs together.

Our first gig was at Boston’s City Hall Plaza in front of five thousand people! We even made the local news that night. We then really saw the possibility of touring and making records together and have done so since then.

Rick: You and Jay have a new CD. Can you tell us about it?

Gerry Beaudoin: The New Guitar Summit is signed to Stony Plain Records and we have a CD and a DVD out on that label. That is a non-exclusive contract and only binds us when the three of us appear together. So, Jay and I have made a few records in between New Guitar Summit projects. Arbors Jazz asked us to make a recording last summer and since they are a great mainstream jazz label with great distribution we accepted.

As you know, I have made two totally acoustic recordings where no amps were allowed. Mandolinist David Grisman was my guest. I wanted to get back to that and Jay and I decided we would make an acoustic recording. It is called Jay Geils-Gerry Beaudoin and the Kings of Strings.

It features a really mature young mandolinist and violinist named Aaron Weinstein who’s at Berklee College of Music, as well as my longtime bassist and jazz artist in residence at Brandeis University, Bob Nieske, and Les Harris Jr. on drums. Aaron Weinstein is real comer in the jazz world and we all will be hearing about him in the future. Let’s shine the light on him. Someday he’ll be a legend!

It’s a really nice laid back swinging session with some great old standards and a few original tunes from me and Bob. Jay produced it and captured the beauty of each instrument’s sound wonderfully, as well as the music. We are quite proud of it and are already doing some Kings of Strings gigs.

It is distributed by Allegro Music so it is available everywhere. All our other recordings can be found in some stores or on the Internet. CD Baby is a great place to get our recordings or direct from us at www.francescarecords.com.

Rick: Your jazz playing reflects some nice sensitivity and nuance, but Jay has been quoted as saying you laid out some “bitchin’ chord solos” on the new CD. When you’re at home alone, do you ever crank up your amp and wind up like Pete Townshend to shake the rafters?

Gerry Beaudoin: Never! Not since I was a kid. My chordal style comes from Bucky Pizzarelli, so I owe him a lot. My two influences are Bucky Pizzarelli and Kenny Burrell. The day Bucky came to play on one of my records I was in heaven! I was nineteen years old. It was a real honor. Bucky’s my mentor.

Thanks for the compliment. Not in years, but once I did that for my son and his friends and they thought I could “really shred.” The New Guitar Summit just finished a recording with Randy Bachman from the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive. We did his big hit “Taking Care of Business” as a blues shuffle and when finished Randy said to everybody, “Hey, Gerry finally rocked out.”

Rick: Tell us about your guitar teaching experiences.

Gerry Beaudoin: I’ve been teaching guitar for a long time. For the past four years, I’ve been teaching at a community college. I love teaching one on one. Especially someone who’s young and wants to learn guitar. There was a kid here tonight, he’s twenty, who never heard of me and Duke. He knew Wes Montgomery and Bucky. He came by to see me. He flipped out. I gave him a CD. He was inspired. Nothing greater than inspiring a kid.

Rick: What are the three biggest stumbling blocks for developing guitarists?

Gerry Beaudoin: Ah, the kids don’t really know what jazz is and they haven’t listened to a lot of real good music. And their chord knowledge is nil. Because you can play rock with three or five chords. And to watch them get into it and develop is like a real thrill. Chord structures are very important; harmony is very important. Theory, and that’s something musicians use to always learn thirty and forty years ago. But they don’t learn that way today.

Rick: For a first year student, what are mandatory things they need to learn?

Gerry Beaudoin: They should know all their major scales and they should have a real good knowledge on how to build chords. The problem with how some people teach guitar is teaching them form. That’s not what they should know. They should know the notes on the guitar, so they can find them anywhere on the guitar. I can find C in, like, fifty different places. It’s like a big map, you go around and go around.

And a part of it is intuitive. Real good students, you can show them stuff and they’ll come back the next week and they’ve learned that and want to learn something else. You should know where every note, that is, all the notes are on the fret board and you should know where all the pitches are. That’s extremely important. You can play C on the fifth fret third string or C on the tenth fret fourth string.

It’s the same pitch and you should know it’s the same pitch. Most people don’t learn that way. I always custom make my lessons or course of study based on where they are and what they need to learn. Then I develop a course of study. I teach at home and at Quincy College. Duke does some teaching too.

Rick: What types of helpful hints do you always give them to help them make breakthroughs in their playing?

Gerry Beaudoin: When they get stuck and frustrated I tell them to go back to why they wanted to play music. If that means go back to Led Zeppelin or the Who, go ahead. It’s all music. That’s fine. Then you get your enjoyment and you come back fresh and ready to study.

Rick: Teachers are expected to inspire students, have any students in particular inspired you?

Gerry Beaudoin: Oh, yes! Quite a few. I had one student, and he was fifty years old and he was a lawyer. And he played great, great jazz. I asked, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I want to get back into this. I’ve been away from it for a while.” He was in New York in the fifties on 52nd street, playing with all the cats! Man, I wasn’t even born yet!

I may have had more facility because I was playing every day, but he had the gift to play great jazz guitar. Now he’s retired living on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. I was playing at the Avalon Ballroom and I asked him to sit in with us and he was like, “No, no I don’t want to play with you guys!” But, he could have. He’s great.

Rick: Younger students?

Gerry Beaudoin: Yeah, I had a very young student named Joey Belluccii. He’s self-taught. He came to me to learn swing music and jazz. He’s a great blues player. I mean he was twenty years old and a great blues guitar player. He won a Boston Battle of the Blues Bands. I was so proud of him. Now he plays everything, surf music, rock ‘n’ roll, he’s gigging everywhere. I haven’t seen anybody who plays as many gigs as him.

Rick: You’ve played with some highly regarded musicians including sax player Fred Lipsius (Blood, Sweat and Tears), David Grisman (mandolin) and Jerry Portnoy (Muddy Waters harp player), Andy Summers (Police), as well as a long list of incredible guitarists. Do you find you work better in a structured environment with them or are you more into improvisational journeys?

Gerry Beaudoin: Oh, definitely improvisation. I mean, it’s funny, I work with Howard Alden. He and Bucky are my favorites, but you know Howard’s my age. He’s my favorite guitar player. He and I have played together for ten years now. I learn something from him every time! I embarrass him on stage when I tell the audience that he’s the greatest guitarist of my generation. But from that caliber of player, I learn something from Howard all the time.

Rick: Jazz seems to be gaining in popularity. Your thoughts?

Gerry Beaudoin: I think Americans are finally realizing that it’s an art form. And we don’t have a lot of art forms. We have a lot of crassness. We have TV, movies, reality TV. The same people look back and ask what has America produced artistically? It’s not grotesque. American Idol? Jazz is our contribution to the world. Jazz and blues.

Rick: What are you playing tonight?

Gerry Beaudoin: It’s a custom made Benedetto made for me by Bob. I have two Benedettos. I’m an endorser. My first guitar was a beautiful blonde that Bob made, and he mentioned my guitar in a lot of magazines. I was quite proud. It was the first guitar Bob made that was supposed to be totally acoustic. It didn’t need a pickup. His wife, Cindy says it’s the prettiest guitar he ever made. It’s so gorgeous! In fact, it’s too nice! I can’t take it on the road. It’s a solid top, I don’t like plywood. ([Laughs]

I’ve been using Polytones since the 1980s. They’re a great, easy jazz guitar amp and you can find them anywhere in the country. I can always get my same tone. They’re not heavy like a Fender Twin. I gave up Twins years ago.

Rick: How do you handle the publicity, marketing, management and booking sides of the business?

Gerry Beaudoin: I work with some agents on a non-exclusive basis, but I’m a real music business person. I do all the bookings for the Summit. I’m the one who got the record dates and negotiated the contracts. I designed a course that I teach at the community college. I decided I want to be in charge of my career.

I learned it from the ground up. So, I do all that work. It’s a lot of work. Musicians are always bitching about the agent. I’ve got news for you; a guy works awful hard and sometimes fifteen percent is not enough! [Laughs]

Rick: A lot of musicians are leaving the old studio scene and recording their music at home. What do you do and why the preference?

Gerry Beaudoin: I record in a studio because I don’t have the time or inclination to learn all that home studio stuff. I’ve been on 40 or 41 records, and I don’t want to deal with that. I want to play music and let someone else deal with the engineering. In fact, Jay produced, mixed and mastered the Kings of Strings record. I trusted him so much that I didn’t even show up for a mix or a master!

Rick: Duke Robillard has a home studio, right?

Gerry Beaudoin: Duke loves it. He loves his home studio. We recorded the Summit record in his studio. But again, during the sessions with Jay, all I did was go play.

Rick: Do you explore other styles of music or instruments in order to stretch your boundaries outside of jazz?

Gerry Beaudoin: Not really. I’m pretty solid where I am. The one music that I love and I love playing is blues. I grew up playing blues and I’ll always play blues. BB King is my favorite guitar player. I saw him on TV last night, came home from a gig, television was on and BB was there, couldn’t go to bed. I had to watch it!

Rick: What have you been listening to lately?

Gerry Beaudoin: To tell you the truth, I’ve been listening to a lot Bucky’s older records, Bucky and Zoot Simms. The next thing I want to do is make a solo 7-string record. Today on the train coming down, I listened to Bucky and a violin player duo. That was inspirational. And since I want a solo 7-string record, I’ve been listening a lot to Howard Alden’s My Shining Hour. Howard Allen’s the best solo guitar player I’ve ever heard.

Rick: What are your top five favorite albums of all time?

Gerry Beaudoin: Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald’s Take Love Easy, any Django Reinhardt. I also love Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue and Bucky Pizzarelli’s Nirvana.

Rick: First guitar?

Gerry Beaudoin: An old Danelectro and an Alamo amp I got for my tenth Christmas. I’ve owned everything. I went to Berklee with a 335. Bill Levitt who was the Chair of the Guitar Department and another great inspiration to me sold me a Super 400. He started the guitar department at Berklee in the ’50s. I’ve had Strats, Les Pauls, and 335s. I’ve owned 175s, Super 4s, L5s and in ’96 I got my first Benedetto. I still have at home a ’53 Stromberg that’s on all of my acoustic records. It’s on the new Arbors label record. It’s one of the best years with a single transverse brace – a real prize instrument.

I’ve got an L7 from 1939 that’s got a Charlie Christian pickup. I’ve got my two Benedettos. I’ve had everything, including a D’Angelico. I sold the DA. What do I need a DA for?

Rick: If you hadn’t developed a career in music, what do you think you’d be doing today?

Gerry Beaudoin: I’d be a plumber, like my Dad. I’m a licensed plumber. I’ve got a license in my pocket right now!

Rick: Good to have a backup.

Gerry Beaudoin: That’s what my dad said! He told me, “Go to Berklee, I’ll pay for it, but get your plumber’s license.”

EDITOR: This interview was originally published October 28, 2011.

2 Comments

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