JOHN ETHERIDGE: jazz has its very own guitar hero

PUBLISHED: 10:52 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

John Etheridge, who lives in Hampstead, is also widely recognised as one of the best guitarists in the world. Having toured the world playing with some of the greatest musicians of all time, he is to feature at Jazz at Ivy House next Tuesday (December 8)

John Etheridge, who lives in Hampstead, is also widely recognised as one of the best guitarists in the world. Having toured the world playing with some of the greatest musicians of all time, he is to feature at Jazz at Ivy House next Tuesday (December 8)

in a duo with John Horler. He speaks exclusively to Ollie Rosenblatt.

How would you describe your playing style?

Well it's hard to describe. A lot of jazz musicians like Pat Metheny and John Scofield seem to stick to the same style. Without sounding pretentious I suppose I've been inspired by the Picasso model. He's an artist that can work in various styles, models and the connecting thread is passion. Anything that takes my fancy I want to investigate. So I've found myself in lots of different contexts.

You played with the great Stephane Grappelli for a number of years as a member of his band. How did you get that gig and what was it like to be involved with his band?

Well at the time I was playing with Soft Machine, youthful, intense, anxious stuff. This came about because Diz Dizzie who was the leader of his backing group got in touch with me and asked me if I would do it. As with most big star musicians, Grappelli would not pick his backing band so usually someone was in charge of his backing group. I guess Diz picked me because he thought I was young and would be cheap! Me and Steph ended up doing 5 years together. Grappelli was incredible. It was such a pleasure to play with him and to know him. It was just blissful. When we used to do a featured solo we could do whatever we liked and just let rip and he was so relaxed stylistically. Half the time Steph was there probably dreaming about something anyway. He didn't actually want us to play like Django Reinhardt (who he became famous with during their 'Hot Club' years) because like most artists he wanted to live in the presence as opposed to in the past. He in fact loved playing with a piano. He would have absolutely loved John Horler- sensitive, harmonically involved. He loved the piano so it was great for us as guitarists as he wouldn't care what we did! He used to say the violin is my gimmick and the piano is my instrument. He absolutely adored it. That was the most fortunate thing I've ever done in my whole life.

What has been the highlight of your career and where is the most exciting place you've performed at?

Playing in Grappelli's group at the Albert Hall on his 70th birthday. (Clips of it are on Youtube) It was a great extravaganza, everybody was there. Now, I also do this duo with John Williams and we did Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House. Although I've done some great concerts with John Williams the Grappelli thing was, as an individual concert, probably the highlight. Also, for that concert my parents were there so I think it proved to them that I hadn't wasted my life!

You have crossed over many musical boundaries with bands like the 'Soft Machine' and your work with Kit Holmes (a young, exciting folk/jazz singer songwriter guitarist). How do you think your jazz background and influences help you to take on other genres of music?

Well my work with Soft Machine was really the first band I was with that explored jazz rock fusion in 1975 and that was early on in my career. The thing I didn't get into for years was the more contemporary jazz. It took a long time for me to get into that so I suppose I did the fusion thing first and then more contemporary jazz later. At the same time as playing 'Soft Machine' on electric guitars I was also playing for Grappelli on acoustic so I think that started to define how I went throughout the rest of my musical life. It's interesting, when I play jazz some people say they can see my rock background and vice versa! Guys of my age are all very eclectic. We all play in our own style because we didn't have lessons so we had to work things out.

What do you think can be done to get younger people interested in jazz?

Well jazz is an enormously broad word and people say things like "Oh I don't like jazz" but then you think well what have you heard! I think the improvisatory thing is a difficult one for people to grasp. But I think people enjoy Grappelli, Django, Louis Armstrong hot club stuff. Although they improvise they spin out melodies that have a dance like feel to it. It's linear and melodic. I know there are some things in jazz that are off putting. I find some things off putting but it's a matter of quality. Like Bebop. If its bad bebop it's tedious but if you hear very good bebop like Max Roach, Charlie Parker then it's great. Good Bebop's engaging and very exciting. It's like a rock band. It can be so electric and exciting. I think it's about giving it a chance, trying to engage with it in whatever feels comfortable to the person.

What is jazz to you?

Improvisation is very important to me. The possibility of something unprepared happening is exciting. Interest-ingly it's a lifestyle thing as well. Alot of the greatest jazz musi-cians live in the moment so they don't plan their careers because psychologically they don't do that. Responding to things in the moment and not planning. For me, I think that communicates to an audience and to life.

o Jazz at Ivy House: On Tuesday (December 8) John Etheridge will be playing as a duo with world-renowned pianist John Horler who has also been Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth's pianist for more than 20 years. Each will play a solo set and then come together for a duo set at the end. They will play a variety of jazz including jazz-infused festive songs. Ivy House is at 94-96 North End Road, Golders Green. Tickets are £13 in advance,

£15 on the door and £6 for students. To buy tickets, visit www.ljcc.org.uk or call 020-8457 5000. Doors open 7.30pm, music 8pm. Food and drink available.


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