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Stanley Jordan’s touch

Laura A. Ball

VAIL – When he was 12-years-old and living on Stanford’s campus while his mom attended graduate school, the young Stanley Jordan snuck out to see a concert at the university’s outdoor theater. To his delight, Carlos Santana showed up to play an unscheduled performance. The then-aspiring guitar player stood almost in the front row. The music was so loud he stuck his fingers in his ears. Meanwhile, a big branch holding kids that had climbed trees outside of the venue to get a better look tumbled down with a crash, and the motorcycle gang that was hired for security started beating people up. Jordan was unfazed.”A guy tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘It isn’t polite to put your fingers in your ears. It might offend the musicians,’ and just the idea that the musicians and Carlos would actually see me was quite exciting.”Jordan quickly returned home, pretending nothing had happened. But something had. His love for music was stronger than ever after seeing one of his idols on stage.”He and Jimi were my two favorite guitar players, and Jimi had died the year before, so to get to see one of my favorite guitar players was great.” If Jordan wants something, he doesn’t let much hold him back. Some might call him a magician, a contortionist and occasionally a rebel. Known for his “touch” technique, using both hands at once, playing multiple simultaneous lines, he makes the guitar sound more like a piano. He turns pop songs into widely accepted jazz tunes. He sometimes even plays two guitars at once.Well, maybe it’s just determination and hard work.Jordan, the guitar virtuoso, brings his touch to Samana tonight at 9:30 in Vail Village, where he’ll treat listeners to his two guitar setup.”It’s not just more possibilities,” Jordan said. “It’s almost easier in a way. I’m thinking more about the music and the notes I want to play and not about allocating my fingers.”He said tonight’s audience will hear things that they have never really heard before since he’ll be playing two guitars. Jordan loves to bring his music to the mountains. He’s played in the Vail area a handful of times.”I’ve always been really in love with the natural world, and I get a lot of inspiration from the natural world,” he said. “Some of my best ideas come from being out in the wilderness.” Scott Stoughton, manager of Samana, has witnessed Jordan’s talent firsthand and thought the intimate lounge was the perfect venue for the musical maverick.”I booked him to play State Bridge a couple years ago, and it was the best show of the year,” Stoughton said. “It’s one of those shows where you’ll just be in awe. Stanley Jordan is one of the best in the world.”I’ve never heard anyone do what he does to Led Zeppelin. It’s a show you’ll never forget in your life.”Scott Jones of Vail can’t wait to see Jordan in action tonight.”He’s a real soulful, intense musician,” Jones said. “He really gets in to what he’s playing. He’s very passionate. I think you can tell the difference between musicians who play from the heart and those who play for the dollar. You can tell he takes his craft seriously, and he’s definitely a craftsmen.”Because he’s such a powerful person individually, and that transcends through his music, anyone that has any appreciation for music can appreciate him.”Guitar for a pianoJordan’s first instrument was the piano, but when his family needed money, the piano was sold. He persuaded his parents to get him a guitar, but he couldn’t create the same melodic layering he played on the piano. Desperate to find it, his touch technique was born. A system Jordan, at 15, didn’t know anyone else had ever done before. Jimmy Webster had done it, and musicians like Eddie Van Halen continued it, but no one brought it to the level Jordan did.”One of the problems with guitar technique is that you have a lot of interdependencies, so you’re thinking about how to arrange the fingers instead of the notes,” Jordan said. “It’s because of how the guitar is laid out. The piano is one-dimensional, where as the guitar is more two-dimensional. The grid is more complex. On the piano, you know the F sharp is here, where as on the guitar the f sharp is over here and there and over there.”He says his approach is a really good mix of the two.”It was difficult in the sense that it’s a hard problem to solve, but I persevered,” Jordan said. “I realized this was a totally viable technique, then it was just a question of spending the time.”Starting out, Jordan caught a lot of flack for his technique in the real jazzer’s world. And he still does.”If you’re really good at one thing, then people tend to assume your not good at another thing. They say, ‘He’s all technique and no feeling,'” Jordan said. “Almost every day I have people come to me after the show and say, ‘man, the feeling was overwhelming. I cried. I could really feel what you’re playing.’ The stereotype doesn’t really fit. The musicality was there first.”You know the man can play jazz when he takes songs like The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and by the time he’s finished with them, they are accepted in the jazz world. Jordan says he never changes the form. “I heard those things when they came out. That’s the music that I grew up on so that’s the first music I learned when I was playing the guitar.” Jordan said. “Some of the jazz critics were complaining about that. They would say ‘We’ll you’re just playing pop tunes, you’re not a jazz artist.’ “I’m not just a jazz player. I never was just a jazz player, but it is my core. I categorize in the sense of what am I going to do today. I want to get all my vitamins and minerals musically, and I need to know them.”Jordan even tunes his instrument in fourths to obtain his complex sound. He discovered it accidentally the first time he ever tuned his guitar.”When the interval is always the same, then the tuning is more simple,” he said. “Simplicity is power. Conventional tuning makes the chords more complicated.”Play what you feelJordan’s music starts with a feeling, only then does the sound come. To help him release what’s inside, he uses relaxation, meditation.”If I’m going to play all day, I might spend the first hour on physical exercise, meditation, relaxation, visualization, Imagining the sound, the feeling,” he said. “I’ll imagine different situations, being on stage or being in the studio, and I start to feel so good I can feel the music swimming through my body. It’s indescribable. Then I pick up my guitar, and everything I’m going to do is musical.”Letting the feeling flow out of you and still playing something that sounds good is not an easy task, but Jordan is extremely disciplined. If he plays something without feeling, he will play it over and over again until he gets the feeling correct, he said. “The energy that you bring to the music is almost more important than what you play,” Jordan said. “This is something a lot of the advanced musicians can easily forget. It’s harder the more complex your music is. You can get distracted by the form and lose the essence of what the music is in the first place.”Composing and rendering on the spur of the moment and while pouring his soul into it, Jordan says he has to have reusable knowledge all around the neck. “When you’re on the spot, and you’re performing and improvising right now, it takes you a certain amount of time to think. If the thought is too complicated, you’ll never get it. So if you simplify the idea is not so complicated to get out. It actually changes, expands what you can play.”‘Dreams of Peace’As a musician who believes in incorporating a message into his music, it would only make sense that Jordan uses his talents to help others. He has many students and in fact will offer to pick up students at his show for the time he is in Colorado. He’s also been busy producing up-and-coming soul singer from California Tami Brown.Jordan’s most recent release, “Dreams of Peace,” is a collaboration with the funky jazz group from Italy, Noveciento, an effort to share across cultural boundaries.”It’s really vital that we keep our cultural connections open and put the pieces back together on a world level,” Jordan said. “I feel like that’s a really important thing to do. I grew up believing that music should make a difference and really make the world better.”Jordan takes the same approach with the audience, taking the time to talk with them during and after the show.”When I play music it’s not just an abstract thing. There’s a reason I play beyond the entertainment and the job, there’s a community level. I like to be in touch with the people. I get really good feedback from the audience. When I stop and take the time to talk a little bit more I find the audience really appreciates. It’s more humanistic and then maybe you can understand the music more.”Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 619, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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