JACK PANTAZIS
With The Little We Have
(JP Records)

 

The affinity for instrumental jazz guitar fusion music is a world wide phenomenon and case in point is a 2010 recording from Australian guitarist Jack Pantazis entitled With The Little We Have. At the start of the CD, Pantazis gives up some of his key influences—the Latin feel and Spaghetti Western swing of the opening “The Stand Off” and the solid jazz vibe of his self-styled tribute to jazz icon Thelonious Monk entitled “Monk Me.” The John McLaughlin influence on Pantazis comes across here on “The Winds Have Changed”, while two of the three cover songs on the CD—a version of “If I Were A Bell”, by Frank Loesser (first featured in the musical “Guys And Dolls”) and the jazz chestnut “On Green Dolphin Street”—both feature guitar duets with acclaimed NYC jazz guitarist Mike Stern. On “Heartsong”, Pantazis and company renew a composition written by keyboardist Fred Hersch while the CD closes out in style with a super energized jazz-rock track that sounds a little like Bill Connors era Return To Forever, entitled “I’m Outta Here.” Excellent players appear backing Pantazis throughout With The Little We Have, which also roundly benefits from superb studio sound, CD packaging and cover art. www.CDbaby.com


MWE3.com presents an interview with JACK PANTAZIS


mwe3: What was the inspiration behind the making of With The Little We Have and how would you say the album defines your guitar playing?

JACK PANTAZIS: Inspiration was part of the reason to make this album but I probably have to say there was more a ‘need’ to do it. I had made an album a few years earlier called What? and whilst I was happy enough with that recording I knew that in the years leading to the next recording, I was gaining some ground in the area of composition. Not monumental leaps but small ones that gave me enough courage to try for another album. I needed to get these tunes played, heard and recorded. And I was getting plenty of people around me pushing me into the right direction and encouraging me. I’m not, what you say….a prolific composer but one who tinkers with the process when I have the time and the inspiration. And now this gets me to the next point…inspiration.

I think any honest musician is and always has been influenced by what they listen to, who they have played for and even seen in live performances and also what good and bad experiences they’ve had in life that determines the direction that person will take musically. It’s not very easy I think to suggest it’s one thing that inspires us or me, for that matter, in doing this album. It’s always the sum of many inspirations.

Because I have always been opened minded to music and especially to different types of styles, the album, I think, shows how I can move between genres. I am predominantly an improvising musician and I love to play in a variety of musical settings and styles....it keeps me challenged and entertained and it helps me to focus on material I need to work on, harmony, melody, concepts etc, etc. My practice routine is always being updated with new things to look at.

mwe3: Can you compare With The Little We Have to your other recordings?

JP: As far as comparing this album to my last one, I have to say that the material is stronger. Stronger in the sense that the tunes go somewhere for me, set a mood, go to a natural conclusion. And I also think my playing is stronger and more defined on this album. The other comparison I have to make is that while the last recording only had one group of musicians playing on the album, With The Little… employed many musicians who I always wanted to record with. And I mixed them up into different combos ranging from quartet to octet. I also, for the first time, took a stab at arranging a horn quartet for the title track.

mwe3: Can you say something about the musicians who play and record with you on the CD?

JP: Yeah okay... Some of the musicians I’ve known my entire life and some I’ve known for a little less. Firstly my brother Gerry, who plays drums on the album, has always been a very important person in my life because he inspires me to keep working hard at what I do. Gerry has been and continues to be on a lot of peoples ‘A’ lists when they want it done right and with great care and musicality. I think he’s currently finishing an album for guitarist Brett Garsed, who I hope a lot of your readers will know about. The keyboard player is Phil Turcio. Phil is one of Australia’s marvels and most exciting players to watch. Phil is another of those A list players who has released a few albums recently and who has collaborated and recorded with people like Dave Weckl, Ric Fierabracci, Frank Gambale to name a few. You should check out his albums, absolutely stunning. Adam Spiegl, bass player, has been with me since the first album and has worked many live gigs with me too. As a young player this guy has it all, great time, tone, attitude…and a great guy who is just all smiles when he’s playing. A joy to listen to and watch. To round out the core group of musicians on the album we have Lachlan Davidson playing alto sax and flute. Lachlan is an amazing composer, educator, performer, arranger…oh and he juggles too….literally. My first association with Lok was, and still is, through us playing together in The Daryl McKenzie Jazz Orchestra. He composes and arranges many of his pieces for that group to the point we now have 3 CD’s of totally original Australian big band music all available on iTunes. I also needed a tabla player for the track “Hot Tin Roof”, so I contacted an ex-student of mine who I had heard on the grapevine was seriously devoted to the instrument. We got together, played through the piece and immediately thought wow, this is the guy. Glen Kneibess.

mwe3: What guitars do you feature on the With The Little We Have CD? What are you favorite electric and acoustic guitars, strings, amps and effects?

JP: Well, my main guitar for the past 6-7 years and on a lot of tracks on the album, has been my Godin Montreal. It’s had a few modifications done to it, namely an installed custom built pre-amp that has given me independent control of trebles/bass tones and an improved output from the pickups too. For the acoustic pieces I used my Godin Grand Concert classical guitar and Martin Custom for the acoustic pieces. Also, on “I’m Outta Here” I used my ‘old’ 1980 LR-10 Ibanez.

As far as amps go I haven’t changed my set up for almost 30 years! I use 2 amps in stereo, or quasi-stereo as I call it depending if I hit the chorus pedal or not. I’m still using my first amplifier my dad bought for me when I was 15….it’s called an ‘Elfa’. Stands for Electric Factory. It’s an Australian amp that was made here in Melbourne some time ago. It’s basically a 60 watt combo with a 12 inch speaker, transistor amp. Small and compact. And the other amp I use is a Polytone Mini Brute IV, 100 watt with a 15 inch speaker, which I’ve had for at least 15-20 years.

Sitting on top of the Polytone I employ an Alessis Nanoverb which is set to Hall Reverb 3 and it’s from this juncture that one signal goes straight to the Polytone and the other to the ElFa.

With effects, my pedal board has on it the following: Boss Tuner TU-2, Boss DD-3, Eventide Modfactor, Exotic AC+ Plus, Boss CH-1 and a custom built power supply. Not a great deal I’m afraid but it works for me. I also use an Ernie Ball VP-JR Volume Pedal.

My string choice on electric, for a long time, has always been a flat wound set made by an Italian company called Dogal. Gauge being .012-.046. They even have a wound 2nd! Heavy tops, light bottoms but a very even, consistent sounding and feeling set of strings, very responsive, even for a set of flat wounds that have been on for at least 5-6 months!

Classical strings, I use Saverez set 520 PI, nylon wound treble strings and normal nylon wound bass strings….great set and for the acoustic, Elixers 11’s-52’s.

mwe3: What is your musical background and how did you become introduced to the guitar and become a recording artist?

JP: My father is now a retired musician with over 40 years of experience playing piano in restaurants, bars, cabaret, etc, so I was always exposed to music from an early age. All kinds of music ranging from jazz, classical, latin, Hungarian gypsy, you name it, was always being played on records at home. We also had some kind of string instrument around to play on at home, like a violin, a uke or some kind of guitar. My brother and I began piano lessons with Dad but that only lasted a year before I asked if I could have guitar lessons, at age 11. My Grandfather played some guitar and sang a little so I think that may have triggered the decision.

My guitar teacher was Lou Dalla-Riva who was my only guitar teacher and with whom I had 6-7 years of weekly lessons. He is still my mentor and a strong driving force in my life. He was the one who introduced me to guitarists like Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Jim Hall, and other players like, Oscar Peterson, Errol Gardner, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald…the list goes on and on. It was an immediate reaction when I heard these players that this is what I wanted to do….to learn to improvise and play great tunes and melodies.

It was through the study and listening to these players that I eventually moved on to other players such as John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Keith Jarret, Ralph Towner, Michael Brecker, Michel Camillo, Chick Corea, Miles Davis…..etc, etc. And then I got serious about classical guitar playing and classical music in general too. Studied and worked through the Sor, Aguado studies/ pieces and then finally finding Bach’s Lute Suites, Violin Sonatas and Partitas, some Dowland lute pieces, Tarrega and Barrios to name a few. I’m not great at classical guitar playing but I work at it and I enjoy the repertoire very, very much. And, I have really begun, over the last few years, to listen to more and more classical recordings of anything I can get….Beethoven symphonies/piano sonatas, Mozart, Bartok, Shostakovich, Holst, Mahler.

mwe3: Describe working with great great Mike Stern on the two album covers of “If I Were A Bell” and “On Green Dolphin Street”. What about those songs are special to you?

JP Well, first and foremost what a pleasure it was, and an honor, to have Mike play on this album. In fact, truth be told, the tracks were almost used on the first album but they got done a little late so I just held on to them for this project. As I said previously, I had began listening to Mike’s music quite a while ago and even seen him play live a few times here in Melbourne with some great groups. The guy is always ‘on’ and loving every minute of it…isn’t he?! Anyway, I got to meet him in 2000 when I had to talk to him about his upcoming workshop at where I teach. We spoke, told him the specifics, times, etc, etc..and left it at that. Well, a couple of days later he calls me and says…’You wanna come around and have a play?’….I immediately said and foolishly..’Yes, loved to’. So it was from this and another subsequent play together that he said he would be available and love to record a couple of tunes with me. ‘Couple?!’, I said….man, one would be amazing! So to cut a long story short, 8-9 years later I called him up in New York and reminded him of his ask and to my surprise he said he would be delighted.

Now, the only problem was that a tour he was coming out to Australia got canceled so we had to do our recordings on opposite sides of the world. I spoke to him about my intentions and arrangements of the tunes and got them recorded and then they were sent to Jim Beard, Mike’s long time producer and great keyboard player, in New York so that he could record Mike. I think the end results speak for themselves because had I not told you this story I think most people would think we played opposite each other in the same room. I think the playing between us sounds very interactive and respectful of one another considering the circumstances.

In actually playing along side a monster like Mike Stern, when we did sit side by side, I have to say it was a great experience. He is very giving as a musician and as a human being, very humble. I had a ball playing with him, I just hope he enjoyed it as well.

The reason I chose those two tunes are simple...they are great tunes! And they are tunes that I’ve played through, butchered’ through, sang through, pulled apart etc, etc, for many years. I was especially happy with the way “Green Dolphin Street” came out, its feel, and use of some altered harmony in the A sections. I hope people like it when they hear it.


mwe3: Can you say something about where you live now and where you grew up in Australia and can you tell the international audience something about the Australian jazz-rock music scene?

JP: Well, I live in a suburb called Reservoir in Melbourne, Australia. I pretty much grew up around this side of town too. It’s north of the city and it’s pretty much a blue collar, factory based area. It’s only a 20 minute drive into the city and nearby suburbs where plenty of music can be heard. It seems when I was much younger there were more venues that had a variety of jazz styles of music being played regularly, people seem to be more open to the different jazz styles. Unfortunately today things have changed. There may be lots of music but not a great deal of variety I feel. Especially when it comes to jazz. We don’t have a venue or venues that cater for all sorts of styles of jazz. If you’re not playing standards in your sets then good luck getting to play original, jazz/fusion/rock type gigs. Even the Melbourne International Jazz Festival doesn’t cater to a great number of amazing, local, musicians who fall into this category who could offer something different to this fantastic festival. And this goes for Latin Jazz too. Sounds like I’m having a gripe but hey, if I don’t who will? So to answer your question, ‘tell the international audience something about the Australian jazz-rock scene’…..I’m afraid it really doesn’t have a forum. We only have two local radio stations in Melbourne that will play music like mine and of my colleagues and even then it’s very difficult to get ongoing airplay of a new CD after it gets released. Ah, well…..

mwe3: How do you balance your guitar career with your teaching career?

JP: Because I’ve been teaching for 20 years, 5 full days a week, the art of balancing between the two is something that comes very easy to me. I know that I have to practice every day, so I find the time, whether it’s in the morning before I go to work or when I get home. Of course there are gigs to do, rehearsals to attend etc. But I find that all this activity is crucial to being a good teacher and a player. You have to be immersed in it every day, hour, minute...And of course I love every minute of it and I see playing and teaching music as a privilege and sometimes as ‘one’. I get lots of satisfaction out of both careers. You have to be organized and plan everything in advance so nothing gets in the way, if you can avoid it.

mwe3: What do you want people to come away with after listening to your CD and what are your future plans?

JP: I would like to think that people, after hearing my CD, have heard something a little different and something that they can relate to and identify with. And of course the compliment...’I feel good after listening to your music’ would be the best compliment I could possibly hope for.

As far as the future is concerned, write more tunes, keep working on things musically and possibly attempt a solo/duets type of project and maybe even record some classical type pieces. Anything’s possible! And definitely try getting more gigs to expose my music to more people around Australia and maybe one day taking it overseas. Who knows? Have to wait and see...

Thanks to Jack Pantazis @ www.myspace.com

 

 
   
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