John Acer is a local Montreal Jazz/Fusion/Rock/Funk Guitar Player who, at the young age of 47, rebooted his Guitar career to be the main focus in his life. In this interview, John talks about his early influences, why he loves the Jam scene, his new CD and his work with the Ultimate Drum Camp. An insightful and fun read.
This interview was conducted via email in 2011. For more info on John Acer and to hear samples and full audio tracks, visit John at http://www.johnacer.com/
JGL: How old are you?
JA: 50 …but maybe you dont want to exactly mention that
JGL: What geographical area do you live in?
JA: Montreal Canada…..to be more precise….. 45° 30′ N , 73° 33′ W
JGL: How long have you been playing guitar for and at what age did you first get into guitar playing?
JA: Well ……along time. I would guesstimate around 40000 hours over 30 years. I was 17 when i first started playing regularly and took an interest in developing musical skills.
JGL: Can you recall that particular moment that first excited you about jazz guitar or jazz in general? The one that made you say “that’s what I want to do”!
JA: There wasnt a moment that I recall really……maybe my cousin bill played a jazzy blues lick once and I was kind of fascinated by it…and that’s it for me you know listening to all these amazing guitarists. I wanted to play music on that level…and still trying to get there.
JGL: Similarly, Was there a defining moment when you decided that Jazz Guitar would/could be your career path?
JA: Yup, and that was only 3years ago.
JGL: How difficult do you/did you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player, or have you found it to be relatively easy?
JA: I think if you are active in the scene and constantly networking you will be able to find a variety of work. In my case I am playing a lot of other types of music that I love as well which probably increases the amount of work I get.
JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now?
JA: My first guitar was the cheapest nylon string guitar availiable at the time….horrible guitar but it did get me started. Now I mainly play a Godin LGXsa . Its a fantastic guitar, great neck, extremely versatile with a built in synth pick up…very cool.
JGL: On your latest CD “Pure Jam”, you get some wild sounds out of your guitar through what I assume is a Guitar Synth. What exactly are you using and are they just the preset sounds that come with that particular model or do you tweak the sounds to get a more personal sound?
JA: Ok …thats true it can get pretty wild at times. Often people including myself are amazed that all that sound can be coming from a guitar. I do a fair amount of tweaking because its all about combining synth sounds with guitar sounds. My set up lately has been using the Roland GR20 guitar synth in combination with a string of pedals. Chorus, Delay, Wampler hot wired dual dist, Ring modulater, wahwah and all sorts of other stuff gets thrown in .
JGL: Jim Hall uses a chorus and sometimes an Octave pedal, Bill Frisell is the master of tonal manipulation, Mike Stern loves his delay and overdrive pedals, Jonathan Kreisberg also uses a wide array of effects to create a rather unique sound and so on. How important are guitar effects in establishing one’s own unique voice? Should one work on acquiring a musical identity first before bringing guitar effects into the mix, or, does the effect become part of the artists voice early on?
JA: I dont know the answer to that. I think everyone has to kind of find out on there own through experimentation.
JGL: Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years?
JA: Guys like George Benson, Wes Mongomery, Tal Farlow, Hank Garland, as well as Larry Coryell, John McGlaughlin, Allan Holdsworth Oh yeah influences are always changing but the greats stand the test of time. And of course always discovering new players which is why I love your site so much.
JGL: Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?
JA: Lately …Pat Martino, Jonathan Kriesberg, check out Jon Gomm…. amazing, early Stevie Wonder, hip hop , neo soul, and a daily dose of Herbie Hancock
JGL: Who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?
JA: Well I think maybe Pat Metheny for his beautiful phrasing, Wes Montgomery for his amazing soul and excitement he created, and probably John McGlaughlin for his intensity and fire. But of coarse there are lots others.
JGL: Now, I may be wrong, but it appears that you have begun your musical journey later in life. First off, why now? And secondly, have you found it easier or more difficult to start a new life phase later in life?
JA: It’s been like an obsessive hobby for a long time now maybe semi-pro at times. But I was always earning a living some other way. I finaly decided to stop working and concentrate fully on music. And you know the moment I did that, doors started opening up. Opportunities came that I would have never expected , strange luck. Mind you, to make a living you have to hustle. I am extremely lucky to have a bit of support behind me and great friends.
JGL: Your new CD, Pure Jam is a wonderful setting of purely improvised music where you describe the outcome as “a spontaneous improvised collective experience”. How did this come to be and is it really 100% improvised? Were there any worked out parts or arrangements before hand?
JA: Essentially I wanted to reproduce a Miles Davis (another big influence) style recording where he was improvising alot. An engineer friend of mine, Paul Scriver had mentioned he could get the oscar peterson hall for a few days and he would love to record a project there. I immediatly arranged three days of sessions inviting different musicains to come and play. Paul did a great job engineering and organising the sessions. We produced over ten hours of music and edited to the best of the best to make “Pure Jam”. There was absolutely no written music. All the stuff with Peter Valsamis and Dave Rizk and P. Scriver on one track …we had no idea what was going to happen. We just started playing and that beautiful music came out. You know, very experienced musicains. Other stuff I would inject a tonal center or sometimes a chord movement and everything would just develop from there…Check out the bonus traks on the web site.
JGL: What is about the Jam that attracts you?
JA: The Jam is a “trip” it can bring you to the unknown to places you have never been…spontaneously!!
JGL: Does Montreal have a big Jam scene?
JA: Not to my knowledge. Kalmunity is one of the bigger scenes in Montreal
JGL: The Greatful Dead, Medesky, Martin, and Wood, Phish and even John Scofield, have embraced the total jam experience with very positive results intellectually, musically, and commercially. Were any of these bands a role model for you or did you just come to the Jam on your own?
JA: I just came to it on my own. Its what i have always done. All those guys you mentioned have had such an impact that yeah I would have to say they are role models too though.
JGL: How do you approach improvisation? Is it based on the usual scale/chord relationships or are you coming at it from a different angle?
JA: It’s really about what you hear more than anything. I’m playing modaly but also using a variety of scale types, superimposition and harmonic clustering devices.
JGL: What is your practice routine like these days? Do you work on specific things or just play tunes?
JA: A bit of both…not enough of either. Lately I’ve been trying to work the cycle of 4ths and 5ths into my playing. It’s pretty interesting where that can take you.
JGL: I’ve seen a few performances of yours in a variety of musical settings (ie: quartet, duo, trio etc.) Is there one particular grouping that you enjoy more than others?
JA: I really enjoy the freedom of a trio, but its even better when you add keys and trumpet…and a conga player
JGL: You have played with drummer Dennis Chambers, Horatio and others of their ilk. How did you get to play with such heavyweights and what, if any, experiences did you take away from these encounters?
JA: This is one of those things where I well I’m just incredibly lucky. One of my favorite things that happens every year it”s called the Ultimate Drum Camp. Tell your drummer friends about it cause its the best drum camp in the world! Each year I get to do a few shows with some of the best drummers in the world at a small outdoor venue. Its an unbelievable experience for which I am forever grateful cause there is nothing like hanging out with the best cats in the bizness. Come and check it out next year !!
JGL: If you could only pick one individual or group to play with (alive or dead), who would that be and why?
JA: Miles Davis ,cause it’s Miles
JGL: How would you like to see your life unfold in the coming years and what do you think would be needed to get you there?
JA: I think with a lot of persistence and dedication i see myself playing and touring internationally as a side man and a bandleader as well.
JGL: What else do you like to do apart from guitar playing?
JA: Writing and recording and now I’m getting involved in producing too.
JGL: Any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?
JA: Listen to Wes…
JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.
JA: I would have probably have continued with carpentry.
JGL: Apart from music, what else do you like to do for fun?
JA: Going to New York city.
JGL: Thank you John for participating on Jazz Guitar Life. It is most appreciated and I wish you great success in your career and life.
JA: Thank you Lyle all the best to you and long live JAZZ GUITAR LIFE!!