Jonathan Kreisberg is a phenomenal Jazz Guitarist out of New York City who discusses his musical background, his latest recordings and his philosophy on teaching. A great read that is also entertaining.
This interview was conducted via email March, 2006. Check out his website at www.jonathankreisberg.com
JGL: What geographical area do you live in?
JK: Brooklyn, NY.
JGL: What was your first guitar and what are you playing now?
JK: My first guitar was called a Vantage. My main guitar now is my Gibson 175.
JGL: At what age did you first get into guitar playing and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz?
JK: I remember singing some amazing tunes in a school chorus like “simple gifts”, which I later heard in Aaron Copland’s version in Appalachian Spring. My dad had a great record collection, so I heard a bunch of great stuff. I started playing guitar at 10.
JGL: What excited you about jazz guitar or jazz in general when you were young?
JK: When I was young (like before high school), I loved listening to Jazz. My father had some Coltrane and Miles records. But playing wise, I hadn’t connected the guitar with that lineage yet. I was playing rock and classical predominantly. Then in high school, I began checking out guys like Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, Jim Hall and John Scofield. Then It all started to make sense to me. I started to find that I was most comfortable in an improvisation based context, and that I needed to learn to master the fundamentals and history of the guitar in that realm.
JGL: Before finishing high school you were featured in Guitar Player magazine and then Downbeat. That’s very impressive and quite an accomplishment for one so young. Would you describe how these features came about?
JK: They were both columns that focused on young, new talent. They came at a good time. I was really playing because I loved music, but of course a little positive reinforcement can be inspiring. I think it also may have helped my folks to be supportive when they saw that I was getting some recognition.
JGL: Did you take formal study or did you learn on your own?
JK: It’s always been a bit of both. I had some amazing teachers, but was also very driven to figure things out for myself and develop my own systems.
JGL: Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?
JK: Most commonly in the CD player lately would be Keith Jarrett, , Miles, acoustic Bob Dylan, Allan Holdsworth, Pre-Vegas Sinatra, and the new Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall!!
JGL: Did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice and if so, what were some of the things you did to make this choice work for you?
JK: It seems that I’ve always been driven by my musical choices. I’ve never really thought about the career thing quite enough– which is probably why I’m happy with my current musical situations and not so happy with my wallet situation. I guess we get what we ask for, haha…
JGL: Were your parent(s) and family members supportive of your musical career choice?
JGL: Could you describe some of your best musical situations or experiences and the worst?
JK: Once again, I always seem to choose situations that I’m attracted to musically. So they’re all satisfying for me…
JGL: What type of musical situation do you enjoy the most (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)
JK: Honestly, I enjoy them all for different reasons. Right now though, my trio and my quintet keep me pretty darn happy.
JGL: Looking at your gig schedule I see that you have recently been to Finland and Japan. Those must have been very cool experiences. In what context were you working in those countries and how were you and/or the group you were with received? What was it like being on those gigs?
JK: Finland was with Gary Versace on organ and Mark Ferber on drums (the band from my CD NEW FOR NOW). Japan was with my trio featuring Matt Penman on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Both of those tours were amazing experiences and very well received. We’ll be going back to both countries next year, and I’m really looking forward to it.
JGL: Have you had an opportunity to interact with other musicians from those cultures and what if any, were the differences and/or similarities observed?
JK: I played some really excellent compositions by Finnish composers with a big band in Finland. I felt that I could relate with many of their harmonic ideas. In Japan, we featured the Japanese trumpeter Tomanao Hara on a couple concerts, and he sounded great. We couldn’t talk too much due to the language barrier…but musically there was some really great conversations going on!
JGL: Every Wednesday, schedule permitting, you can be found playing at the La Lanterna in Greenwich Village, NYC. Is this a special venue for you or just another weekly gig place?
JK: It is definitely a special venue. It has a great sound and I’ve developed a lot of ideas playing there. The owner, Vittorio, is a great supporter of the arts and an all around great guy.
JGL: In your experience as an educator, what are the most important elements of jazz guitar study that young people (or any student of jazz guitar) need to acquire early on to sustain the goal of becoming a professional musician? Are there any common issues or problems that you encounter regularly that happen when beginners first start out learning jazz guitar?
JK: I haven’t taught folks at the beginner level in quite a few years, so I don’t deal with those issues so much lately. I just think that at the beginner level, folks should try and strike a balance between playing things that excite them and working on the fundamentals…hearing intervals, understanding harmony, scales etc. etc.
JGL: Are you still teaching and if so how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?
JK: Best thing to do is to email me at the website. I teach players who can already play jazz, but are looking to solidify and expand their abilities.
JGL: As a teacher and a player, what is it that you try and impart on your students? Any valuable life lessons that go beyond the mechanics of guitar playing?
JK: I feel that a good teacher evaluates every student and helps them on their unique path. With some players they need very specific information or a “push” to solidify areas of their development that may have been neglected. Other students will come to me to inquire about some of my specific ideas and vocabulary. That’s always fun. With others, it might help them more to just work on “shifting” or “defining” their philosophy of music. I guess that can cross into life lessons a bit, but I’m not sure how qualified I am for advice on girlfriend troubles or apartment searches…
JGL: Your facility on the guitar is truly inspiring. What was your practice routine like when you were beginning and how has it developed over the years?
JK: It was a bit more structured when I was younger. Lately it is a bit more task-oriented. Most of my time is spent working on the hard music that many of the cats that I play with, and I, write.
JGL: Could you describe your approach to improvisation and do you have any suggestions for study for those seeking to get deeper into the sometimes murky waters of jazz improvisation?
JK: I think that is tough one to sum up. But I’d just say, learn to play what you hear and always strive to hear new ideas….oh, and make it feel good. That’s probably #1.
JGL: You have played and performed in a diverse range of musical experiences from progressive rock to 20th century music. How has playing a wide range of musical styles benefitted your playing as a Jazz guitarist and do you find that you draw from those experiences even now?
JK: Sure, I feel that every tune(let alone experience) can be a valuable lesson, and that we need to always be open to change and growth….even if it hurts, as it often does when we throw ourselves into strange situations. I feel that In the long run those other experiences are what make us unique.
JGL: Speaking of your latest CD “Unearth”, which is an album that I thoroughly enjoy listening to over and over, could you talk a bit about how this CD came to be and how has the response been from the jazz guitar community at large?
JK: Thanks very much. That means a lot to me. Obviously it’s a very personal album, being all originals. And I wanted it to have a lot of layers so that it would grow on(or with) the listener. It seems to be the favorite of my CD’s for quite a few folks. Others seem to be crazy for NEW FOR NOW, my organ trio disc on Criss Cross, which is a nice blowing date type session. UNEARTH was also special, in that I originally funded it myself out of a belief in that music. I was lucky to get the great new label MEL BAY behind me along the way. They’ve been really great to work with, and actually managed to get many of the tunes played consistently on jazz radio here in the U.S. That’s pretty impressive and rare for a CD without any standard material.
JGL: “Unearth”, as far as I know, is your first CD to feature all original compositions. Why the decision to go with all originals rather than a set of standards or a mixture of standards and originals?
JK: I feel like a great standards record can put you in a club having an intimate connection with the band, while a record of all original material can sometimes take the listener to another world. There’s no rules, but that was what I wanted to try and do with UNEARTH.
JGL: Could you talk a bit about the writing process? How do you get from a blank piece of paper to a complete tune that you are happy with?
JK: The process is always different for me. I write on guitar, piano, and sometimes off the instrument. The first 90% of most tunes come in a rush. The final 10% usually takes days or weeks to obsess about,
JGL: If you could only pick one individual or group to play with (alive or dead), who would that be and why?
JK: I think that I’m playing with them already. As much as I love and admire my musical heroes, there is something to be said about playing with guys who speak your language. I’m lucky to play with some really amazing players who share a similar language, experience, and vision here in New York in 2006. That being said…..if Miles hooked up a time transporter and wanted to add some guitar to a 60’s quintet album…….hehe
JGL: What is it like being a Jazz guitarist in New York both from a professional player trying to make a living and from the perspective of being a music fan? Would you recommend moving to New York to follow a dream or should there more to it than that?
JK: I think it’s good to feel “ready” to move to NY, because it will knock you on your ass. But the rewards are many. I love this city. It truly is the Jazz mecca, so I say come one, come all.
JGL: Has your impressions and experiences of being a Jazz Guitar player been what you had expected when you first decided to become a musician?
JK: I first thought that I could truly change the world with my music… and now I just hope that I’ll be able to change my pants for the gig when I’m 70…..
JGL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to JGL Jonathan and much success in the years to come.
JK: Thanks Lyle!
Filed Under: Interviews
About the Author: Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/editor of Jazz Guitar Life, a popular web based publication focusing on the Jazz Guitar Community and related news.