What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Jack Grassel

by Doc Dosco

This weeks featured jazz guitarist is Jack Grassel. He is a really fine player (with funny bio!). Check out his sound clips too. He does a wonderful duet with Tal Farlow.

Online Bio - in Jack's words...

Here's how it started. My parents had a piano. When I was 2 and able to stand up, I could put my hands over my head and reach the keys. I couldn't see the keys so I had to play by ear. I didn't know what "perfect pitch" was, but I knew that I could play melodies I heard on the radio with my little fingers.

My dad realized what a hard time I was having with the big piano keys, so when I was 3 he got me a kid size accordion and started me on lessons. I could play this instrument well. All of a sudden it seemed I was dressed in a cowboy suit and "Little Jackie Grassel" was being shoved out on stage to play solo gigs at 4 years old. I would get $10 for each of these gigs. (I never got the money because it was put in my "college fund"). I was forced to practice a half hour each day. (My mother used a timer). Music had been a lot more fun when I could play whatever I wanted to on the piano. I continued to play the accordion until I was 16, winning state contests, and playing weddings.

An important event happened when I was 10. Jim Brusky, the grade school orchestra director, told my mother that he would give me free lessons on the upright bass if I would play in the orchestra. Again, my fingers were too small for the instrument and it hurt. However, it was great to get off the accordion. Skip Wagner, another teacher, formed small combos and taught us how to play with each other and even got us paying gigs.

The next year brought another interesting development. There was a rock band (The Triumphs) of seventh graders that was very popular. They approached me and said that if I would get a bass guitar I could be in the band. They played for money at dances almost every Friday and Saturday night. Frank Cascio at the local music store said he would give me a bass guitar and amp immediately if I would bring in the money from my Friday night gig each week and he wouldn't charge me any interest. So here I was at 11 playing 2 nights a week. The bass guitar was easy, fun, and it didn't hurt my fingers. I continued this all through high school. It was a lot more fun than school work. I had a secret, exciting life at night. By senior year I was playing every night and bribing my future first wife with Twinkies if she would do my homework for me. Upon graduating from high school, I was pretty burned out on music. I had been drinking, taking sleeping pills and caffeine pills. After falling down drunk in the middle of a gig, waking up 10 hours later in a strange house, and not remembering what happened in between, I sold my gear at 17, and started college to be a Pharmacist.

College didn't work out for me. After 2 years of no music, I was walking past a record store with $30 my mother had given me for food. I heard jazz music coming out of the open door. I went in and spent the day there with the clerk, Mitch Covic, who played jazz records for me. I put the $30 on the counter and asked him to pick out 15 record albums from the $2 a piece "monophonic cut out bin". I took the records home, went hungry, dropped out of school, bought a guitar and decided to be a jazz guitarist. My parents said that I had to enroll in a music school. I did, and found out that I knew more about music than my instructors. After 2 years of straight A's, doing no school work, my first gig as a studio musician appeared. I took it instead of taking my final exams and became a full time musician. When I was 21 I heard that the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music was going to offer a jazz guitar degree. Wow! I went to get the enrollment forms. While filling them out at home, the phone rang, it was bassist Dave Phillips from my band. He strongly suggested I go audition to be a teacher for the jazz guitar degree. I must have fooled them at the audition because I was hired. I was there 12 years, teaching 2 days a week, and gigging every night. I practiced 6-10 hours the other days to stay ahead of the students. All the hard work has paid off. I made a rough count the other day to see how many gigs I've played, and it's probably around 8,500 gigs. I have been to wonderful (and some not so wonderful but interesting) places, met exciting people, and had (and am having) a lot of fun being a musician.

Check out Jack Grassel at:


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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