As a young guitar player, one of the most meaningful things that can happen is if an older ‘cat’ helps you out a bit. I was very fortunate that two people in particular made a huge impression on my life when I was starting to play.
When I was about 16 I was really into the Allman Brothers (still am) and would jam for hours with some friends from Mt. Doug High on tunes like ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, one chord things that we could play a blues scale over. I thought we must be playing ‘jazz’, not really knowing anything about it. I told a trombone player from the high school band that I was into ‘jazz’. He mentioned this to his teacher, Dave Keen, a tenor saxophone player who had recently moved to Victoria from London, England. Victoria didn’t have a big jazz scene at the time, so one thing led to another and Dave got hold of us and invited us out to play, thinking that he might meet some young jazz players. I went with the bassist and drummer from the group to Dave’s place, not sure what we were in for. We were, quite simply, terrible.
Dave could really play, but we were babes in the woods! We didn’t know any tunes of course, and couldn’t read charts. (This was before fake books, so Dave would write out chord charts for the tunes he liked to play for his less experienced rhythm sections). We had no idea what to do. I had recently picked up the Mickey Baker Jazz Guitar Method V. 1, one of the few instructional books at the time, so I knew a few grips, which helped.
Dave later told me that the only reason he ever agreed to play with us again was that we were so bad he felt sorry for us!
He told me to listen to Charley Christian. Dave had a huge record collection and was a real audiophile. As we struggled with a tune, he might say, “check out the Sonny Rollins version”. We’d go: who? He’d say, “ok let’s go upstairs”, and he’d play some Sonny for us, like The Bridge, and it would be like, ok, wow, I’d better check this out.
He asked me to meet him one day on his lunch break, and took me to a record store. I broke the bank and walked out with 4 records that he recommended. Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Barney Kessel. A short time later I discovered Wes, and then Lenny Breau. I was hooked!
A few of us young guys wound up doing a lot of gigging with Dave Keen, (Neal Swainson and Russ Botten being two of the bass players!!) and we had a blast. We learned on the bandstand. We also spent many hours in his living room listening to Trane, Miles, Joe Henderson, Cannonball. He was, and still is, a fabulous player and a great teacher, mentor and friend.
My next blog – Paul Horn.