What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Stanley Jordan

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature jazz guitar phenom Stanley Jordan.

From the moment he made his debut in 1985 with the gold-selling Grammy nominated album Magic Touch, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan has proven himself as a forward thinking innovator. With his nimbly executed "touch" or "tap" technique, he ushered a dazzling and spellbinding new sound into the world of progressive instrumental music.

Over the course of five major recordings and several smaller independent releases, Stanley has explored earthly and astral musical trailways. Because of the extraordinary originality of his approach to guitar, Stanley has been looked upon first and foremost as a musical original, orbiting in an artistic universe without predecessor or immediate successor. With his groundbreaking new album, State Of Nature (his first mainstream release in over a decade, and his debut for the Mack Avenue label),Stanley Jordan makes another bold step by using his music to aurally illustrate profoundly unifying truths about man's relationship to nature and humankind.

It was a convergence of experiences that led Stanley down this thematic path. "Part of the reason that I made this album were revelations I discovered in my journey to try to become a better person," he states. "The other reason is that I discovered some disturbing information aboutenvironmental issues such as global warming, the deterioration of our planet and man's role in it. When I was a kid, my family lived in what is now known as Silicon Valley, which used to be a vast swath of open land with farms and orchards. People talked a lot back then about taking care of the environment, but fast forward to today and it's still a

problem. It made me wonder how humans can know about things like global warming and still not do anything. What is it about humans that makes us so intelligent and yet so unwise?"

This thought process led to the underlying inspiration for the song structures and themes of State Of Nature. Recording at Tarpan Studios in Northern California allowed Stanley to take time off for retreats to beautiful Santa Cruz and surrounding areas, where he immersed himself in nature awareness courses. The resulting music finds Stanley weaving classical, jazz and rock textures to get across his messages of atonement and harmony. Beyond his signature touch technique on guitar, Stanley utilizes other revolutionary techniques, such as playing two guitars at once, playing guitar and piano simultaneously, and

incorporating sounds of nature that he recorded himself. Stanley also features the cello work of 19 year-old Meta Weiss, a classically trained musician whom he once tutored as a child in jazz and improvisation. He also includes three short pieces called "Mind Games" - mini canons, palindromes and interludes (inspired by those that Earth Wind & Fire slipped into classic albums such as That's the Way of the World) that gave him an opportunity to include some musical ideas on the album without changing its focus.

Stanley states, "The two main ideas that consumed my thoughts were these: Human beings need to get back to nature, which extends to the environment as well as our bodies - the part of nature we carry around with us, and we need to evolve intellectually, spiritually and politically. Neither will work without the other. I believe that when we become more educated, we'll be better problem solvers."

State Of Nature also includes a return to piano. That Stanley is also a pianist may be surprising, but it was his first instrument as a child because there was one in the house. "My sister says I was messing around with it as young as 3. I composed my first song at 5 and I started lessons around age 7. I didn't start on guitar until I was 11. Piano was a natural instrument for me. I find that when I sit at the piano, I make music. But I don't have the same training as I have on guitar. So that's always been intimidating. I realized that for my own personal development, I had to get out of my comfort zone and overcome my fear of performing on piano. There are aspects of my music that live in the piano. If I want those elements, I have to go there to get them."

To describe Stanley Jordan is to think of him as a world-class musician who marches in all aspects of his life to the beat of his own drum. He is a progressive thinker with goals and ideas that stretch far beyond record deals, fortune or fame.

Each project that followed his classic Magic Touch (Stanley was also nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy that year) has taken him into thrilling virgin territory. Those projects included a solo guitar album titled Standards Volume 1 (1986) where Stanley made the bold statement that songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Beatles deserved recognition as standards as much as chestnuts like "Georgia On My Mind." He followed that with the band album Flying Home (1988) and an

especially edgy album titled Cornucopia (1990, a Grammy nominee in the Best Pop Single category for the title track), half of which was straight ahead jazz recorded live and the other half, multi-dimensional originals recorded in the studio. Still later in 1994, after a move to Arista Records (then-helmed by pop music maverick Clive Davis), he recorded the bracingly eclectic Bolero album, featuring covers of Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon," Jimi Hendrix's "Drifting," his original "Plato's Blues" and the CD's centerpiece, a 17-minute arrangement of Ravel's "Bolero" broken up into rock, African, Latin, "groove" and industrial

versions.

Frustrated with the demands of the commercial music industry, among other things, Jordan went into a self-imposed exile from the rat race in the `90s that included a retreat to the mountains of the Southwest. He re-emerged with a new life's direction. "Most people - if and when they find their calling - come to see themselves in some sort of service capacity," he states. "Right now I feel a strong desire to bring my music to the people not just for entertainment, but also for inspiration and healing." Though he maintains a busy international touring schedule, his broader interests stretch into the studies of Music Therapy and

Sonification. He also owned and operated the Sedona Books and Music Store in Arizona. Before the completion of State Of Nature, he recorded several independent CDs, including Ragas (a collaboration with musicians from India featuring Jay Kishor on sitar) and Relaxing Music for Difficult Situations I, an audio extension of his Music Therapy interests.

In addition to touring for State Of Nature, Stanley has set up an extension of his website that - much like major motion pictures have their own websites - will further explain and illustrate the intensely complex messages he aims to get across with his new album through the use of photos, video, essays and more.

Themes duly noted, nothing can take away the simple beauty this long-awaited collection brings. Stanley ultimately wants his international fan base to enjoy it on whatever level they feel at the moment. This truly shines through in the album's radio-bound closing track "Steppin' Out," a cover of the feel-good 1982 single by British musical maverick Joe Jackson. It features Stanley's daughter Julia among the vocalists on a newly penned chorus.

Passionately engaged in his train of thought, Jordan concludes, "If you think about space and how empty it is, here we are on a planet that is so nurturing to us. We need to get back to that. Look at the cracks in the sidewalk. The power of life is so strong that a little seedling can crack the concrete and come through. So at the end of 'Steppin' Out' - like the end of a night on the town - we return to nature sounds. The urban and the natural can co-exist."

Stanley Jordan's website:

http://stanleyjordan.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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I met Stanley Jordan at a Music Therapy conference. I was struck by his quiet gentle nature, and amazed at how much he swung on some standards. His technique is so amazing, that he occupies a unique place in the guitar world.

Oh! I want to meet him so bad! I would love to go to his Books and Music store in Sedona, too. I looked up the phone number online to the store, since I didn't want to drive all the way to Sedona (from Phx area) unless it was open; the number was disconnected. Does anyone know if that store is still open? Or how to get in touch with Stanley Jordan or his "management" to find out about his Sedona Books and Music store??? PLEASE!!!
Thank you!

Jordan's real first album was actually called "Touch Sensitive," and I know for a fact his first tour debut was well before 1985. I met him on that tour in (I believe it was) 1983 in Western NY. It was not a major label LP; looked much like a self-pressing, but it was incredible. At that early show, the small theatre and seating was filled with every regional guitarist with jaw dropped, mouth gaping and eyes steadily fixed on young Stanley. A young, relatively unknown bassist named Billy Sheehan from Buffalo was also in the audience (notable later for his own tapping explorations on bass). We all knew and most had already mastered EVH's tapping tricks by then, but no one was doing the full two-hand tapping Jordan used. He was playing a Travis Bean aluminum-necked koa solid-body through a small amp. I checked the guitar to discover the highest two strings were tuned up one fret each to C and F, to remove the fretboard warp-zone pattern going from the G to B string. The strings were very light guage; he had the lowest action I've ever seen on a guitar, strings practically lying on the frets. He was the first known for this technique, and that solo concert was a real wake-up call. He was amazing! He also told me afterward that it was Tal Farlow, not EVH, who "invented" the whole tapping technique back in the '40s-'50s.

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