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David Gilmore: A Before & After Listening Session

From a remote location, the guitarist praises Martino and Malone—and gets hip to Emily Remler and Jeff Parker

David Gilmore
David Gilmore (photo: Fafa Moments)

When this Before & After took place, the pandemic crisis was less than two months old. The music community had been upended, everyone scrambling to re-navigate. David Gilmore, whose pre-pandemic activities included teaching guitar performance studies at Berklee College of Music and preparing his sixth career album for release, was ensconced in his home in upstate New York.

“As a part-time professor,” he noted, “I’d normally travel up to Boston two days a week but the lockdown has taken the commuting aspect away, which is kind of cool, but it’s really zapped the teaching experience. Trying to work with an ensemble from my home studio via Zoom”—a recent discovery for him, as for so many—“is just not the same thing and we’ve all had to adapt to delays and dropouts in the feed. Private lessons are a little better, but there’s nothing like being in the same room with a student playing. I prefer to be very hands-on with my teaching. At the same time, I can reach more students faster because I’m not traveling around, so there are pluses and minuses.”

Gilmore’s new album was called From Here to Here, and its title, like those of previous recordings Energies of Change and Unified Presence, points to his spiritual outlook: “It comes from a spiritual teacher named Mooji whom I’ve listened to a lot over the years. He once described life as a journey from here to here: a story of an apparent journey in search of one’s true self. We are always here, we’re never anywhere else, and there are a lot of themes that go along with that idea. I tend to write down these ideas, and when I write music I’ll go to that file and match the words to the mood of the piece. That’s the feeling I get from this new music—an extreme sense of presence.”

From Here to Here features Gilmore’s guitar along with an uncompromising rhythm section (pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer E.J. Strickland), performing eight originals, plus covers of Sam Rivers’ “Cyclic Episodes” and Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s “Interplay.” The album was his second for Criss Cross Jazz and faced a number of delays, including the death of founder Gerry Teekens in October 2019. Gilmore and the Teekens family—who continue to run the 40-year-old imprint from their home in Holland—dedicated the album to Gerry.

Gilmore invited us into his home studio (via Zoom, of course) to do his second Before & After for JazzTimes. The event proved especially interactive: In addition to commenting on a number of specially chosen tracks, he answered a few questions from among more than 40 fans who dropped by, including one that seems inevitable. “Have you met [Pink Floyd guitarist] David Gilmour?” His answer: “No, but I came close. I was playing with the British pop singer Joss Stone at the Live 8 Festival in 2004 in England, and a special Pink Floyd reunion was on the same bill. We were all backstage so he was somewhere in the vicinity, but I didn’t get a chance to run into him and tell him that he should change his name because it’s really messing with my career! I’m still waiting for that royalty check to accidentally show up in my mailbox.”

Listen to a Spotify playlist including most of the songs in this Before & After listening session with David Gilmore:

1. Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society
“Man Dance” (Mandance, Antilles). David Gordon, trumpet; Zane Massey, alto saxophone; Lee Rozie, tenor saxophone; Vernon Reid, electric guitar; Melvin Gibbs, electric bass; Reverend Bruce Johnson, fretless electric bass; Jackson, drums. Recorded in 1982.

BEFORE: I think the guitarist probably leaped at the end of that one, right off the stage! That’s killin’. There’s this Ornette Coleman influence that reminds me of [Ronald Shannon Jackson’s] Barbeque Dog album. It has that energy and that vibe of the mid-’80s. My brother and I used to listen to all that crazy Ronald Shannon Jackson stuff. Vernon Reid was in that band—I’m trying to remember who else. It could be him, but I don’t know about the tuba. It also reminded me of Henry Threadgill, and Liberty Ellman has been playing with Henry for a long time, but it doesn’t sound like him. It almost reminds me of Marc Ribot too. Is the guitar player the leader?

It has that Ronald Shannon Jackson vibe. I played with him for a little while around ’89, and did a tour with him. That was an interesting experience: Half of the dates got canceled and we were stuck in Europe and had to get back to the States on our own! 

AFTER: I was right! I said Vernon Reid but I didn’t recognize him. I’ve known Vernon through the decades and he really is, in a way, responsible for me connecting with all the musicians over the years. I joined the Black Rock Coalition, which he organized along with Greg Tate, and I went to some of the very first meetings in SoHo at this production studio a high school friend of mine owned, and through them I met the who’s-who of that day: Geri Allen, Steve Coleman, Melvin Gibbs, and others. I don’t think I know this record Mandance.

I remember when I auditioned at Ronald’s studio—this big warehouse studio with tons of percussion and cymbals on Sixth Avenue near 30th Street. I don’t know if it was right after Vernon, but it was me and [guitarist] Anthony Peterson [a.k.a. Tru Born]. Ronald handed me the sheet music and I could not decipher what I was seeing, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. No black dots or bar lines, just whole and half notes incorrectly stemmed here and there, and he said, “Just play it,” and started doing his thing. I soon realized that it was more about listening to him and following his rhythmic flow. It took me a while to get it, but it had a logic all its own. So I ended up in a two-guitar quartet with Ramon Pooser on bass. There’s some video out there I’ve seen—we’re somewhere in Connecticut and I was experimenting with a guitar synth a lot at that time.

Vernon’s one of the rock guitar legends at this point, but to me he comes from this avant-garde world where I first heard him. He’s so multifaceted, a great human being, very business-minded—he really led the way for a lot of us. I got to witness his band Living Colour, well before they got signed when they were playing at little venues like CBGB’s. When I was young, I wasn’t really hip to many black people playing rock music. I didn’t know who Jimi Hendrix was when I was growing up. I wasn’t really into him until much, much later, or any rock stuff. I was more in the R&B/funk/soul camp in high school. When I came to New York and heard Vernon’s band, Melvin Gibbs’ band Eye & I, and all these other black rockers, I was like, “Okay, I guess I should know my history more.”

It continues to this day—Vernon’s still playing experimental music, pushing the envelope, and is also a gadget geek like I was back then. I mean, all modern guitar players like their toys, but he’s taken it to the nth degree. He’s written patches for many companies and has a very elaborate setup with guitar synths and digital processing. He’s been a pioneer with that stuff.

2. Pat Martino
“Just Friends” (El Hombre, Prestige). Martino, electric guitar; Trudy Pitts, organ; Mitch Fine, drums. Recorded in 1967.

BEFORE: That’s obviously Pat Martino playing “Just Friends.” I can’t remember the album. El Hombre—yes, yes, yes. On Prestige. What can I say about Pat?  He was one of my biggest influences growing up. I think the first album I heard of his was Footprints on Muse Records. This must be like ’67 or ’68? I don’t know how old he was here, 22, 23—something like that. Yeah, Pat was a prodigy. For me it’s the rhythmic drive of it. I mean, as a technician he’s amazing, but there are a lot of guitar players who are great technicians. He has a certain bounce and swing and this percussive attack that is totally unique. Some people may say he’s kind of incessant with the eighth notes but that’s his sound, that’s who he is. But that’s not all his vocabulary, obviously—he’s a beautiful ballads player and a beautiful composer, and just steeped in the blues. Even though a lot of modern guitar players now are not playing that way—today it’s a more legato type of phrasing—he set the stage for being able to play more horn-like on the guitar than his predecessors.

I never learned this solo but I probably have transcriptions of every Pat solo from all his early records. [Former New York Times jazz critic] Peter Watrous gave this huge stack of transcriptions to me. I photocopied it, and to this day I share it with some students.

3. Jeff Parker
“Get Dressed” (The New Breed, International Anthem). Parker, electric guitar, sampler; Paul Bryan, bass; Jamire Williams, drums. Recorded in 2016.

BEFORE: That’s cool, man. I dig that. I have no idea who that is. The sound was a little pixilated but I could catch enough. It reminds me of what I do sometimes—I used to jam to the radio all the time, just playing over a groove. He’s definitely in the pocket and I like his phrasing. He’s using four- and eight-bar phrases, structuring his ideas around that, and I like the balance of these sort of bebop-ish lines mixed in with a little more whole-tone stuff.

This is something I tell my students all the time: There’s a difference between playing a form and phrases. It’s not just a vamp—you have to organize your ideas in a certain way. It’s storytelling, you know. [Listens more] I like what he’s doing in terms of that. That’s what the best jazz improvisers do—a certain call-and-response, tension-and-release type of thing.

It reminded me at first of that London scene in the ’90s, like Ronny Jordan, but it doesn’t sound like him. Ronny was much more straight-in-the-pocket, coming out of a Grant Green, Wes [Montgomery] sound. I thought of Guru and Jazzmatazz, and I was thinking maybe Marvin Sewell. But really, I’m not recognizing the vocabulary or anything.

AFTER: Ah, Jeff Parker. Yeah, I wasn’t hip to Jeff until a couple of years ago and I need to check him out because I think we both were on the Rising Star list in DownBeat, which is funny to say we’re still rising at our age. A few other guys have made that observation: “Rising again, huh?” [Laughs]

[Looking at photo on slideshow] He’s playing a [Gibson] 335 and he’s got his pedals. I like his groove. You have to tell a story.

Jeff is a great example of what’s happening more and more these days in jazz—player as producer, creating tracks with digital recording technology, using samples, then adding live instruments. Are you a self-producer?

[Laughs] I’m a self-reducer! I haven’t done that kind of thing with my own records. I’ve experimented with it in the past but not really put it out there. IT is my brother Marque’s forte. He’s a drummer and lives over in Stockholm. We’re getting ready to embark on a long-awaited Gilmore Brothers project. He lived in London for 15 or so years when the whole drum ’n’ bass/jungle music scene was jumping off, so he got into the programming and live-drumming thing and carried that forward. Now he uses electronic samples and triggers with his drum kit and is a wizard at putting sequences together. It just dizzies me when I see the [computer] screen with all these samples chained together in multi-colors—I get blurry-eyed. So I leave that to those people who are really good at that stuff. 

4. Emily Remler
“Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” (East to Wes, Concord). Remler, guitar; Hank Jones, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums. Recorded in 1988.

BEFORE: Burnin’, whoever that is. That’s not easy to take that many choruses in the studio and be burnin’ like that—the feel in the studio is always different from a live situation, and he’s bringing it [on] every chorus, and there’s a development there. “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.” It could have been recorded yesterday, it’s hard to tell. I think sonically within the last 10 to 15 years. I don’t know the recording, but he has a semi-hollow sound. I was thinking maybe Vic Juris but I’m not really hearing his vocabulary, although Vic was tremendously versatile and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s him. But I don’t think it is. He—or she—has got a great sound, very bluesy, in the pocket. I like the arrangement of the tune, the reharmonization is very intriguing. It’s hard to do with some standards like that one, and make it sound fresh.

AFTER: Emily Remler! Okay. With Smitty and Buster Williams. It did sound like Buster. And Hank Jones. I’m glad I said “whoever he or she is.” Emily was an amazing player.

I haven’t checked out a lot of her stuff, to be honest with you, as I don’t listen to that many guitar players and I don’t know if I do that consciously or unconsciously. I think consciously to a certain extent, because growing up I remember transcribing one of Pat Metheny’s solos, and after finally figuring out what he was doing, I had the thought that if I learn more of his solos, I may start to perhaps sound too much like him, as his vocabulary is so personal and identifiable. To this day I can still trace certain licks I play back to their origin. I love so many guitarists but I just never really delved deeply into any one person. I’ve definitely got to delve deeper into her stuff. I saw something recently, a video from long ago when she was performing at Berklee, with Mick Goodrick, John Scofield, and John Abercrombie. Amazing.

I’ve had a couple of women students who are really great, and it’s encouraging to see that because the balance has been way too male-dominated for a long time—I would say jazz in general. Sheryl Bailey just become assistant chair of Berklee’s guitar department, and the chair [of the department] is Kim Perlak, which is tremendous. I hope that continues.

5. Snarky Puppy
“Jambone” (We Like It Here, Ropeadope). Jay Jennings, Mike Maher, Justin Stanton, trumpets; Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds, tenor saxophones; Jan Johansson, piano; Bob Lanzetti, Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri (solo), electric guitars; Cory Henry, Bill Laurance, Shaun Martin, keyboards; Michael League, electric bass; Larnell Lewis, drums; Nate Werth, percussion. Recorded in 2013.

BEFORE: [Listens to climactic downbeat at end] He also jumped off the stage there. I don’t know who that is. When the solo started it had this Wayne Krantz kind of thing going on, but I know it’s not him. And then I thought of Nguyên Lê, the Vietnamese guitarist. It’s not him, for sure, because his sound is much different. He did a record with these African musicians that’s one of my favorite records: Maghreb [& Friends, 1998]. 

I don’t know who that is, but it’s burnin’! Is it a French band? Oh, hold on now.  That wouldn’t be Mark Lettieri, would it? 

AFTER: That makes sense now, because it’s a live thing, and [Snarky Puppy] had been doing a ton of live recordings, plus the horn section and the groove, and Mark is very much into African guitar, R&B, and gospel guitar and he’s a rocker. He does all that stuff. We did a workshop two summers ago not far from here in Big Indian [New York] that Joel Harrison organizes [Alternative Guitar Summit Camp] and it was me, Mark, Oz Noy, Nir Felder, and Joel, and that was the first time I had a chance to meet him. He’s super-knowledgeable with different styles and he’s got a huge vocabulary. 

I liked that a lot. I love the energy and I love Snarky Puppy. I’m really happy to see instrumental music of that size, how they’re carrying it forward, and pairing up with singers. They do everything, and they do it really well. Mike League, he’s a tenacious dude. He’s got a serious work ethic, that guy. He’s a hustler. More power to them.

[Gilmore notices a comment in the chat box about a Hendrix quote in Lettieri’s solo] I see Phil [DiPietro]’s post right there. Was it “Third Stone from the Sun”?

Anyone who’s chatting, please don’t give away anything before David gets to answer! 

6. Steve Khan and Donald Fagen
“Reflections” (That’s the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, A&M). Khan, acoustic guitars; Fagen, synthesizers. Recorded in 1984.

BEFORE: It’s Monk’s “Reflections,” I think, but I don’t know who the player is. Even though it’s stock synth sounds, the attack and the swell sounds like a guitar synth, so I’m guessing that the player is overdubbing with guitar synth. That’s my guess. He’s a great player—I like his playing over the changes and interpreting the melody, it’s nice. I like the arrangement of it and I like his sound on acoustic. A steel-string guitar can sound very tinny and abrasive when you’re playing single-note stuff. I always struggle with getting a good sound out of a steel-string. I tend to like nylon-string better, but this one has a very soft sound. It sounds like he’s using a heavier pick. It reminds me of Larry Coryell’s approach to the acoustic, almost leaning toward John McLaughlin—but vocabulary-wise it’s definitely not those guys.

I’m not crazy about the choice of synth sounds, a [Yamaha] DX7 or Roland, probably. It sounds a little dated—I would say the ’80s, unless someone is trying to go retro a little bit, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

AFTER: Man, that was a curve [ball].

It’s a deep track. But as we lost [producer] Hal Willner recently, I thought to play a track from one his tribute albums. I guess the flavor of the ’80s cannot be denied. 

No, it’s there in the presets. Presets don’t lie. Steve Khan—I haven’t heard him in years but I remember he’s a very strong player and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him on acoustic. And I just saw a video of Donald Fagen playing jazz piano—it was a Jazz Foundation [of America] live stream. It was very cool.

7. Miles Davis
“Splatch” (Montreux Jazz Festival July 17, 1986 performance, YouTube video). Davis, trumpet; Bob Berg, saxophone; Robben Ford, electric guitar; Robert Irving III, Adam Holzman, George Duke, synthesizers; Felton Crews, electric bass; Vincent Wilburn, Jr., drums; Steve Thornton, percussion. Recorded in 1986.

BEFORE: [Gilmore agreed to wear a blindfold before this video was played, but as our moderator forgot to remind him to put it on, he immediately saw the title card with the guitarist’s name. We played the video anyway.]

Man, I’ve never heard that track before, but I’ve seen other Robben Ford stuff with Miles. Miles just had a way of making everybody play to the best of their ability. It amazes me. He’s just playing out—it’s not the Robben Ford you hear when he’s typically doing his thing. [Laughs] It’s not the Yellowjackets. It’s the same thing with Mike Stern. I was a Mike Stern addict before coming to New York, just listening to We Want Miles and The Man with the Horn. He could put the jazz thing in with the rock thing, and it was just mind-blowing. And then, Robben Ford. He sounds amazing in that. 1986? I missed that year with Miles, but I saw quite a few shows before with Stern and Sco [John Scofield] together.

8. Pasquale Grasso
“These Foolish Things” (Solo Ballads, Vol. 1, Sony). Grasso, electric guitar. Recorded in 2019.

BEFORE: Ouch. 

You want to put your guitars away now?

Yeah, I think so. Wow, that’s some guitar playing, man. It sounds like … [Looks at chat window] Phil is writing “I know who.” Don’t put it in there, man! Is it Lenny Breau, by any chance? There’s a flavor of Lenny in there. I don’t know who that would be. Yeah, this is the hole in my solo guitar knowledge.

It’s virtuosity—well put-together and definitely a lot of great right-hand technique going on. This is what I like, when I hear solo guitar stuff that has harmonic support. It’s a tricky thing to have the melody and chords going on at the same time on the instrument. It’s got a lot of voicings going in contrary motion, which is a lot harder to do on guitar than piano. You really have to work these things out and whoever this is, is a master of that obviously. 

It’s something I’m working at a lot now, trying to do solo guitar in my own way. There is a huge lineage with Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd, and all these great players from the past who set the stage for that, and now you have modern guys doing it but totally differently. I like Gilad Hekselman’s playing a lot in that regard, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mike Moreno, where it’s not traditional, stock jazz chords. But this is more in the tradition, and it sounds like an older recording too. Wait, does the person have a Brazilian name?

AFTER: I was going to say Pasquale. I was thinking of him. He’s from Brazil?  Oh, Italy, of course. That makes sense. He’s a burnin’ player, man. I’ve been checking him out a little bit, and he’s been playing here in the city, at Mezzrow a lot. I’ve seen him recently on a video of an NEA tribute to Pat Metheny, playing a rhythm-changes tune and burning on it. He’s a guy who’s steeped in the tradition, plays it like the cats back in the past. Hats off to him, man. He’s done his work. I would not have thought it was a recent recording, even sonically.

9. Roy Hargrove’s Crisol
“Una Mas” (Habana, Verve). Hargrove, trumpet; Gary Bartz, alto saxophone; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Frank Lacy, trombone; Chucho Valdés, piano; Russell Malone, electric guitar; John Benitez, bass; Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, drums; Miguel “Anga” Diaz, congas; Jose Luis Quintana, timbales. Recorded in 1997.

BEFORE: This is a tricky one at the first. [Listens up to guitar solo, then almost immediately] That’s definitely Russell Malone—the way he’s playing, his whole vocabulary. Those are his notes, his intervals. When he goes into hyperdrive there after the second or third chorus, that’s Russell. But the guitar isn’t Russell. It sounds like he’s playing a solidbody and I’ve never seen him doing that, so I don’t know what recording this is. He’s a blues guy, you know. He’s got the blues in him and can rock out, but he’s a hollowbody guy. 

The first time I was hip to Russell was seeing Harry Connick on TV and he was doing one of his hyperdrive solos in the sort of George Benson, picking-almost-every-single-note attack, very aggressive style. He’s got a vocabulary all his own where he gets into this kind of dissonant, large-interval stuff and he always has a certain arc to his improvisation, and I can recognize that. 

I remember this record. I can see Russell playing this in the studio but only after he tells about 20 jokes and has everybody cracking up. His other calling is a standup comedian. He’s hilarious. Great guy, great player.

10. The Meters
“The Flower Song” (Cabbage Alley, Blue Note). Leo Nocentelli, electric guitar; Art Neville, keyboards; George Porter, bass; Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, drums. Recorded in 1972.

BEFORE: Wow, killing stuff. I likes, I likes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, but that’s got to be the Meters and that’s got to be Leo Nocentelli. It’s just an unmistakable sound, and I guess that’s Zigaboo [on drums]. I don’t know what iteration of the Meters that is, but that’s Leo’s sound and his rhythm and he’s one of the pioneers of in-the-pocket, groove-funk stuff. He had those Wes octaves in there and a little jazz sensibility thrown in too. 

It’s funny—I’ve seen in print a lot of people compare me to him and I wasn’t hip to the Meters until college years, so I was a latecomer to them. I mean, it’s a compliment to be compared because what I love about guitar is the rhythmic aspect. I was a drummer before guitar. I just love the fact that you can sit with the rhythm section and groove and interact, and then you can just leap up and take that screaming solo. So I gravitate toward players like Leo because they’re all about the groove, and with the Meters, it was their whole compositional thing, a mosaic of rhythm. Everything fit just perfectly. They’ve been imitated and copied and sampled countless times. 

I’ve seen Leo live in New York and was just blown away. He actually came to Berklee once and gave a clinic. I saw a little of it, but I had to run. He had it all laid out—a whole slideshow presentation—I remember him saying his guitar playing has been sampled more than anybody. Good for him. He deserves it. Originally Published

Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.