What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Ron Escheté

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature jazz guitarist Ron Escheté. I heard Ron Escheté at Guitar Night with John Pisano and Dave Carpenter a few years back and felt it was time to do another feature on him. I had known about Ron for many years, however, that was the first opportunity I had to hear him live.

Ron played a Mapson 7 string guitar, and he coaxed some really beautiful chord melodies out of it. Needless to say, his soloing is very creative, and his technical skill remarkable. Of course, with fellow guitarist John Pisano (who always plays superbly) and 'Demon' Dave Carpenter, one of the world finest upright players, he had great support.

I also got Ron's 'Live at Rocco' CD that was recorded with 6 string bassist Todd Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. It is a marvelous CD, and in fact, was an 'off-the-cuff' recording done by a student of Todd's. The magic was there -- so it became a CD.

I must add here that bassist Todd Johnson is amazing in his own right. His bio says: "Todd Johnson is recognized as a pioneer of the six-string bass. With his custom Yamaha six-string bass, equipped with a midi pick-up, Johnson uses an innovative technique where he plays chord changes and bass lines simultaneously. Additionally his use of the midi interface, a technology which allow his instrument to sound like many instruments at the same time, adds both harmonic color and texture that further defines his unique sound. His instrument can, quite literally, sound like an organ and a bass at the same time."

At any event, Todd splits his 6 string bass through 2 pickups and separate amps and many times during the performance he comps chords on the high register of his bass while doing walking lines. All and all, it's very impressive.

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From Ron's online bio:

Ron Escheté (pronounced ESH-tay) is the consummate master of the seven-string guitar. Whether he is playing bebop, ballads or blues he is a musically sophisticated guitarist who plays with grace and dignity. "Escheté is one of the finest jazz guitarists in L.A. - no small achievement in a region dense with superb players," says Jim Ferguson of JazzTimes. His deft and nimble fingers paint a spectrum of sound so rich that his voicings are often compared with those of a pianist. 20th Century Guitar likens his sound to that of the great Bill Evans.

Escheté is currently performing and recording with the Ron Escheté Trio, featuring Todd Johnson on six-string bass and Kendall Kay on drums. While he has long been regarded as one of the finest guitarists in mainstream jazz, now Escheté ranks as an innovative leader for his work with this ensemble. "The Escheté trio is as polished as the classic Modern Jazz QuartetŠ This is a unit that speaks with a single voice. It is a voice of brilliant musical reason." - Jim Merod, Jazz News. What is most unique about the sound of this trio is the depth and texture created by the coupling of Escheté's seven strings with Johnsonís six strings. The outcome - "a rich tapestry of melody, harmony and teamwork," says Hal Howland for Modern Drummer Magazine.

Escheté was born in 1948 in Houma, Louisiana, and not surprisingly his early influences were jazz masters Jim Hall, Howard Roberts and Wes Montgomery. After receiving his first guitar at the age of 14, Escheté joined a quartet and was working clubs in Louisiana before he had even graduated from high school. He attended Loyola University where he majored in classical guitar and minored in flute. While there he studied with classical guitarist Paul Guma.

Shortly after Escheté left Loyola he was tapped to tour with Buddy Greco. While on tour with Greco, Escheté set his sites on the Los Angeles music scene. In 1970 Escheté relocated to California, working and recording with vibist Dave Pike. Then in 1975 he joined forces with pianist Gene Harris and quickly establish his reputation as a premier accompanist. Over the decades Escheté has worked with the greatest artists in jazz including: Ella Fitzgerald; Sarah Vaughn; Diana Krall; Dizzy Gillespie; Milt Jackson; Ray Brown and many more.

Escheté has appeared on the Tonight Show with Diana Krall, the Merv Griffin Show with the Mort Lindsey Orchestra, the Mike Douglas Show with Buddy Greco. He has played nearly every notable jazz venue in the southern California including the Catalina Bar and Grill, The Jazz Bakery, Steamers, Donte's, Carmelo's, The Parisian Room and The Lighthouse to name only a few. He has toured extensively and has played major venues from New York to San Francisco.

Escheté cites a 1988 gig in San Diego as a critical turning point in his career. There he began to shed his reputation as the quintessential sideman; he stepped to the center of the stage and he began exploring original material. "Long considered to be one of the finest guitarists in mainstream jazz by musicians and listeners alike, he has now taken over the reins, and "innovative leader" might be a better appellation,"

says preeminent jazz critic, Zan Stewart. In 1994 he released his first solo recording for Concord entitled, A Closer Look (CCD-4607), showcasing his masterful fingerstyle sound and his seven-string Benedetto arch-top. In addition to this solo recording Escheté has recorded four CDs with his trio ("Softwinds," "Rain Or Shine," "Mo' Strings Attached" and "Live At Rocco"). "In The Middle," their fifth CD,was released in 2006 and is the first to feature the current line-up of Ron, Todd and Kendall.

While his career has been primarily focused on performance, this master musician has dedicated nearly twenty five years to teaching music at many colleges and universities, including among others: North Texas State University, Utah State University, Loyola University, Louisiana State University at New Orleans, California State Universities at Long Beach and Fullerton, and Musicianís Institute in Hollywood. He has authored three books: Melodic Chord Phrases (R.E.H Publications), The Jazz Guitar Soloist (Alfred Publications), and a book of Howard Roberts solos entitled Super Solos (Payback Publications).

Ron Escheté has been described as a masterful musical chameleon, switching melodic lines and ideas with cool efficiency and beauty. He transforms from accompanist to soloist to band-leader; from musical master to musical mentor.

Escheté is one of the best there is at playing the "traditional" melodic jazz guitar style; a keeper of the flame. - Adrian Ingram, Just Jazz Guitar

Ron Escheté homepage:

http://www.revjazz.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 now endorses Peerless Guitars and has the website Jazz Guitar Zone to help promote Peerless jazz guitars in the US. He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!)

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Thanks for this review. I saw Ron play at a club in the LA area years ago and have been looking for something about him for a while. The local "jazz" (if you use the term rather loosely) station didn't know what I was talking about. You can bet I'll be linking this article and Ron's homepage to them.
Greatly appreciative!
Chip Smith

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