Interview with Tom Guarna (October 2017)
When did you start playing the guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?
My father played guitar. So Music was always played in the house. I have always dabbled with the guitar since I was about five or six but I did not get serious about playing the instrument until I was about 16 years old. I started playing rock and classical guitar and got into Jazz later.
What were and are your main musical influences? Listening to your last record “The Wishing Stones” I felt the presence of Wes Montgomery, John Abercrombie…, do you like their way of playing?
I love both Wes Montgomery and John Abercrombie. I took some lessons with John when I was around 19 or 20 years old. Some of my early influences were Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page. I later discovered Allan Holdsworth. Then I started listening to George Van Eps, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino, Barney Kessel, Charlie Christian and Jim Hall.
How did start the idea to release a solo album like “The Wishing Stones” and why did you choose Destiny Records to produce it?
The idea for “The Wishing Stones” began on a trip I took to Aruba several years ago. I went to a place in Aruba called Rock Wish Garden. This is where tourists build stone structures on the beach. It is a very beautiful place and very powerful. That experience was the inspiration for the recording. I met Cameron Mizell from Destiny about 2 years ago and we began talking about the possibility of recording. Cameron then put me in touch with Mike Shields. I sent Mike my 2014 release “Rush.” Both Mike and Cameron liked it and they decided to record me. It has been a great experience and opportunity recording for Destiny.
In “The Wishing Stones” you “show” us an amazing sound, do you use pedals? Or is it just guitar and amplifier?
I do use a bunch of pedals and an amplifier custom built for me by Daniel Klein at Port City Amplification. The model is a 50 Watt Pearl. On the recording I used a Strymon Timeline and Flint. EP Boost, Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive Mod and Giggity, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Electro Harmonix Pog 2, Keeley Compressor and TC Electronics Polytune Mini. The guitar I used on the recording was my Collings Soco Deluxe. All of these things are very important elements that enable me to achieve my sound.
I have to confess to be a John Patitucci’s fan I have his records with Chick Corea and the things he did with GRP, how did you meet him?
I met John a long time ago while he was playing a concert with the Elektric Band in New York. I think I was around 18 or 19 years old. We have stayed in contact over the years and I have wanted to record with him for a long time. I’m glad I was able to get him for this recording.
How do you express your “musical form” both under execution that improvisation? How did your instruments changed the way you play and think about music?
I feel at this point that I am in a much more comfortable place when it comes to hearing and dealing with harmony/chord changes. I feel that I do not have as many technical issues hindering me from expressing myself. However I do spend a lot of time addressing technical issues, different approaches and devices to negotiate harmony/chord changes. The playability and sonic quality of your instrument is extremely important to your musical expression. I have a few different guitars that vary when it comes to playability and sonic quality. I have settled on my Collings Soco Deluxe because it offers me amazing sonic quality and great playability across the whole instrument. Having an instrument that contains both of these elements enables you to search and reach for things that you might not be able to do on an instrument that does not contain both of these qualities.
What does mean improvisation in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
I have spent many hours learning the jazz language by listening to recordings of various jazz artists on all instruments. It is very important for me to keep digging deeper into the jazz repertoire and listening to all the greats. Learning new tunes and listening to different instrumentalists improvise on them. If I hear something I like I will transcribe the idea and eventually try to put my own twist on it. I look and listen to all styles of music for inspiration and ideas. I don’t restrict myself to Jazz. I just gravitate to what I consider to be great music regardless of style.
And what do you think is the “function” of a moment of crisis?
I see crisis as a challenge. There are many things that can happen when one is faced with adversity. I try to take a step back and stay calm. If I can do that, then most of the time I can make the right choices whether that relates to a musical situation or beyond.
What are your essential five discs, always to have with you .. the classic five records for the desert island ..?
That is a difficult question. Today I would answer: Jim Hall – Jim Hall Trio live John Coltrane – Coltrane Sound Barney Kessel – The Poll Winners Keith Jarret – Whisper Not Joe Henderson with the Wynton Kelly Trio
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
I’m always composing. I am working on new music for another Quartet recording. I am also thinking about doing a trio recording focusing on standards.
Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries” Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important then talent, obviously.” I think you have a great talent, but … what is your vision?
My vision is to keep developing my musical voice and skills. Writing music that moves people and hopefully reaches a larger and broader audience.