What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Ron Affif

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature New York jazz guitarist Ron Affif. I saw him at
John Pisano's Guitar Night at Spazio's last week and was very impressed.
Besides his nimble finger gymnastics, he is quite creative in his
playing style. I have a number of his CDs already and highly recommend
you check him out.

Online Bio

At the age of 33, guitarist Ron Affif has gained a reputation for his
personal approach to jazz, playing with a muscular realism as he looks
for new expression in tunes from the Great American Songbook on his
fifth Pablo release, Solotude.

It is his first completely solo recording, just Ron playing his archtop
Buscarino electric guitar. On four songs he moves to a nylon-string,
classical acoustic guitar. Just as he switches guitars to fit the tune,
he includes a few of his own compositions among the standards, beginning
with the lead-off track, "Mark," for his older brother, the first member
of his family to pick up the guitar, and other tunes inspired by people
close to him.

When it comes to that Vernon Duke standard, "Autumn in New York,"
singers and instrumentalists alike tend to take it at a happily swinging
pace. Affif, who has adopted the city as his home, interprets it with a
melancholy introspection as if he were sitting on the front steps of his
apartment, watching red and brown leaves turn in the cool breeze as they
drop to the sidewalk.

"The thing about all the standards on this record is that I didn't
prepare anything," Affif explains in the liner-note conversation with
his guitarist-composer uncle, Ron Anthony. "I really didn't want to go
in the there and have my arrangement, let's say, of 'Autumn in New
York.' I was trying to be on the tightrope a little bit, trying to
challenge myself to come up with something right at the drop of a hat."

Along the way he was able to revise his approach to the songs, not only
because he no longer had a rhythm section to turn to for support, but
because the tunes lent themselves to new interpretations. That was true
even of his own compositions. He first recorded "Holly" on his 1997 live
album, Ringside, but later wanted to try it at a slower tempo. Thus a
new interpretation is presented here.

In Affif's process of mixing old and new, of revising his thoughts to
this most intimate of settings as a soloist, Solotude becomes a series
of musical sketches from his own life and those who have meant something
to him. Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," for example, features an intro
developed by his friend and sometime playing partner, the late pianist
Kenny Kirkland, to whom Ron dedicates this album.

Even in solo setting, Solotude for the guitarist is the kind of
performance that draws knowing comparisons to the titled elite of jazz
guitar such as Joe Pass and Pat Martino. No less a personage than fellow
Pittsburgh native George Benson has commented that "There's a kid from
my hometown, an Italian fellow: his name is Ron Affif--yeah, he's a bad
dude"; and "My favorite type of guitar player is one that plays with
fire, and the first thing that becomes evident listening to Ron is that
is that he has plenty of that." Yet in the course of acknowledging the
praise and those who inspired him, Affif has evolved his own voice that
comes from his life experiences.

Born on December 30, 1965, Affif learned all about passion from his
mother Marlene, and discipline and endurance from his father Charlie
Affif, a fiercely competitive middleweight boxer who numbered Miles
Davis among his fans and close friends. "He had all these records around
the house that my brother, Mark, started listening to," Ron recently
told his hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. "Mark had a
guitar in the house. I guess I was around 12, and I picked up the
guitar. I just had an urge to play an instrument."

His uncle, Ron Anthony, was a superb guitarist who worked with the likes
of George Shearing and Frank Sinatra. "When I was 12, Uncle Ron gave me
my first guitar lesson." Affif played music with friends through high
school. When he turned 18, rather than take the music scholarship
offered by Duquesne University, he moved to Los Angeles to be near his
uncle, who had offered to let Affif sub for him on dates he couldn't
make. "From an early age, I did all kinds of gigs. I've worked with
everybody from Al Martino to Roger Williams, and I learned a ton of old
songs from Gershwin on up. That whole working musician vibe really
helped me grow as a professional. So, if a singer comes up and wants to
do a tune, it doesn't matter what key--because I'm cool."

Eventually Affif moved to his current home, New York City, drawn because
it's "where all the other guys are, and that's what brings out the most
of what you have. I mean there are guys who play great everywhere. But
in New York there's just more of them. When I first came to New York
[guitarist] Gene Bertoncini gave me some solid advice. He said to let
the singers know I did that kind of work, because a lot of the joints
they work don't have pianos, and when the jazz gigs dry up for a minute,
they'll have work for you."

That singing quality is what distinguishes Affif from most of the other
high-octane guitar-slingers, and informs his phrasing with a sense of
rhythm and pace all too rare on the instrument, as he allows each note
to blossom and recede with a breathlike purity and relaxation that belie
his fiery chops. And unlike many hot players, Affif respects the power
of melody too much to simply concoct a series of dancing bear tricks as
a prelude to the blowing choruses.

As for repertoire, "When a lot of cats write tunes, they're not thinking
tune, they're thinking improvise. But it's not like they've written a
melody you can sing to your girlfriend...that's why my main man is
Sinatra. There's this yearning when he sings, just like Miles--a very
expressive, lonely sound."

While some moments on Solotude capture that lonely, autumn-hued quality,
most of the recording allows Ron Affif to explore an array of feelings
and thoughts, from the wide-open romance of "Charene" to a fresh
examination of beauty in "Honeysuckle Rose." Solotude collects the
guitarist's most personal and mature musical statements. "For any
musician, you are truly alone. There are people all around you, but your
life is basically down to you and your music."

Ron doesn't have a website, however clips can be heard and CDs purchased
at Amazon.com

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com, where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot with Jazz Guitar' columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc endorses Heritage Guitars and is featured artist on their website. He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!)

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