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Sam Dunn Interview

I had the pleasure of meeting Sam in the shop and as is the way of the socially connected world we live in I saw we had many mutual musical aquaintences. I’ve since had the pleasure of checking out Sams playing which seems to cover the whole range of jazz guitar from gentle solo guitar to burning bebop playing. I strongly recommend you head over to his website and check out his fantasic playing, teaching concepts buy a cd or even better try and catch him live with one of his many musical endeavours.

Cheers Sam!

Q: What/who were your initial influences?

Blues, and bluesy rock was my way in! I loved, and still do, guitarists like Albert King, BB King, Stevie Ray, and of course Hendrix. I had a band when I was at school, just jamming on 12 bar riffs that we’d learned, with my friend playing bass and his dad playing drums. His dad is a massive jazz fan, so after we’d finish playing, we’d have dinner and he’d put on jazz record or two. One evening, when I was about 13, after attempting to rock out on ‘3rd Stone from the Sun’ or something similar, he put on ‘Bean Bags,’ which is a really swinging album led by Coleman ‘Bean’ Hawkins and Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson. The guitarist on it absolutely blew me away, I was instantly hooked. Bluesy, but playing ‘weird’ notes! It was a real moment of epiphany for me, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. So it’s all my bass playing dad’s fault! The guitarist on the album was a very young ‘Kenny Burrell.’ This was in the pre internet days, so finding out information was a lot harder than it is for students of jazz today- I’d visit local libraries, and take the train up to London to visit jazz CD shops. I eventually discovered Django, Barney Kessell, lots more Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Joe Pass in particular remains a massive influence; I love how he would just sit and play a tune, as opposed to working out a formal arrangement. I found a few transcription books, and made my way through them as best as I could, and learned a lot from magazines like ‘Just Jazz Guitar’ and ‘Guitar Techniques.’ There was nobody that lived near me who could teach jazz guitar so I taught myself, transcribing (very slowly at first) and learning songs from records, CDs and tapes. I think that it should be a challenge to learn this music; it really is a life long mountain to climb, which is something to be celebrated. I feel like I’m still scratching the surface, and it’s exciting to be in my mid thirties and still feel I have a ton of music to learn! I continued to teach myself as best I could until I ended up going to Leeds College of Music and then later the Guildhall, to study formally. Later on I discovered more contemporary approaches to playing jazz, but I’m glad I did it in an almost chronological way.

Q: Are you gigging much at the moment and any projects in the pipeline?

I’m kept pretty busy between my teaching and gigging around Yorkshire and beyond. I have a few projects on the go – my trio is always fun, with Bassist Garry Jackson and drummer Steve Hanley. It’s pretty loose and open, we play standards, and my compositions. Rehearsals are great fun, we tear the music to pieces and make it our own. I play as a duo with pianist Paul Wilkinson, we’ve just released an album of originals called ‘Open House’ which got a nice review in JJG. I’ve got a new band that I’m really excited about which will be a lot of fun – called ‘The Perpetual Motion Machine.’ Its got myself and my old pal Jamie Taylor playing guitar, and Riley Stone Lonergan and Ben Lowman on Sax, with Garry and Steve on drums. We have our first rehearsal in a few weeks, and have a few gigs booked in later in the year. I play with vocalist Sophie Smith when our schedules allow, and we have a few gigs booked in for the spring, and in a few projects let by others. I teach guitar at a local private school, and also run weekly jazz workshops for Sheffield Jazz, and Heart in Leeds. So it all keeps me busy to say the least!

Q: What’s your ‘desert island’ guitar or have you got it!?

I finally got it! Last year, an old friend was selling his late father’s 1966 Gibson ES175DN. It really is the best guitar I’ve ever played, the sound is just magic, and the neck is to die for. I have a 7 string Benedetto prototype that I bought from Howard Alden, which was an early incarnation of what later became the ‘Bambino Deluxe,’ and I just got a Comins GCS1ES for gigs where I’m too scared to take either of the above. I love the sound of 7 string, but I think I’m going to always be a dabbler at best – I love playing my 175 too much!

Q: Best (jazz guitar) gig you’ve ever seen?

Thats a hard question! I loved seeing Russell Malone with Ray Brown and Benny Green many years ago in Wigan of all places! So strange, being in Wigan and thinking, there’s the bassist from ‘Charlie Parker with Strings!’ Anytime I see Adam Rogers he always blows me away. I’m not fussed if there’s no guitar on a gig – I’m more interested in the music than the instrumentation. Brad Mehldau always has something new to say. I recently saw Derek Trucks, and he was great! His tone and phrasing were just fantastic.

Q: Which guitarist(s) would you recommend for other people to check out?

I’m sure anyone reading this will be familiar with the ‘biggies’ playing contemporary jazz guitar; Adam Rogers, Gilad Hekselman, Lage Lund, etc etc so I’d like to mention a few of the excellent players near me if I may. There was a group of us at Leeds College of Music that have gone on to be working pro jazz musicians, playing in very different styles. Simon King is an outrageous guitarist, and also plays several other instruments to a baffling level. Tam De Villiers is now based in Paris, and is quite amazing, check him out! John Kelly, Nick Svarc, Jamie Taylor are all great as well, and have totally different voices on the instrument.

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