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Ken Hatfield

Ken Hatfield

Ken Hatfield grew up playing jazz on steel-string electric guitars and the dobro, but eventually switched to the classical guitar for two reasons: “I like the sound better, and the nature of the music I began composing required it.” Hatfield has ably surmounted the difficulties of playing jazz on the classical guitar and made full use of its “sensitivity and nuance” on five albums; The Surrealist Table (Arthur Circle), a trio record with drummer Jeff Hirshfield and bassist Hans Glawischnig, is the most recent. Now he’s extending a helping hand to classical guitarists intrigued by jazz with a new textbook plus recording called Jazz and the Classical Guitar: Theory and Application.

“The publisher, Mel Bay, initially wanted a comprehensive book designed to aid classical guitarists who wanted to explore jazz improvisation,” Hatfield says. “Many of these guitarists have limited experience ‘reacting’ to other players, so I had to find a method of presentation that would address the real-world issues that one encounters on gigs and at jam sessions.” Hatfield’s solution was to present basic issues in chord changes and harmony from a guitarist’s perspective, then to make the theoretical concrete with transcriptions of his improvisations, both solo and with groups, and a CD of the improvisations themselves.

Classical guitarists who can’t wait until Jazz and the Classical Guitar comes out later this year can buy The Surrealist Table right now. Befitting Hatfield’s description of the classical guitar, his compositions don’t scream for attention, as the guitarist weaves together melodic lines with an ease that belies the formidable technique his compositions demand. Instead, Hatfield’s music relies on contemplative themes, spiked with unexpected harmonic twists, to draw listeners in. His evident rapport with Hirshfield and Glawischnig allows the group to stay tight and focused during the improvisations.

A quick glance at the track list on The Surrealist Table confirms that Hatfield not only writes books but also finds inspiration in them. “Sometimes a story, like the myth of Ariadne’s thread, can inspire the structure of a tune,” Hatfield says. “At times a painting or drawing speaks to me so clearly that I compose a work that evokes the feeling I get from viewing that work, as with Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Surrealist Table.'” Yet the closing “Funkissimo,” which finds the trio playing fast and loose over a shuffling beat, should remind both listeners and readers that, despite his evident seriousness about his craft, Hatfield never lets his erudition weigh him down.

Originally Published