PHILIP CATHERINE - Interview
Philip Catherine: Ma Guitare, Ma Vie...My Guitar , My Life
by Jim LaDiana
"November 25th was the last day of my official Army. 25th of November is also Saint Catherine in the Christian calendar. That was my last day in the Army and was the day I received a letter from Jean-Luc Ponty as well asking me to join his group. And since then I never did anything else but music." __Philip Catherine
Life is strange. A young man possessing a soul driven by music and love for the guitar, gazing upon words received from an important musician on the last day of his military service, perhaps sent a tremendous surge of confident energy through his entire essence. His eyes now wide open, perhaps for the first time, to unlimited creative possibilities, French guitarist Philip Catherine embarked on his own artistic journey. This talented, sincere and humble man has actualized a very prestigious and rewarding musical lifework, which continues to progress. He is himself, an important musician and esteemed European jazz guitar counter-part.
PHILIP CATHERINE was born in London in 1942 of an English mother and Belgian father and developed his musical abilities at an early age. As a young teenager the guitar entered his life upon discovering the French singer George Brassens. His first guitar teacher, who also played jazz, exposed the budding guitarist to the art of improvisation. The young student embraced this form of musical expression and diligently practiced at home. He also began to listen to American jazz greats: Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Meanwhile, Catherine's high school education was prolonged because of the war and he graduated at age 19. Five years of University studies followed, including two years of law - the two first years. In that period, after the first two years you were able to choose another major - Catherine chose Economics. His guitar skills improved greatly as he played with a variety of groups at numerous venues in and around Paris. Soon after, he landed a gig with American jazz organist Lou Bennett. Throughout this period, although he played often with professional musicians, he lived in a studio apartment at the University, visiting his parents on the weekends and had no plans of becoming a professional musician. He continued college until 1969 then spent nearly all of the following year in the military. Fortunately, he had a lot of time to practice his guitar during the Army. Oddly enough, he still didn' t expect to be involved in music after that. At that point music was just a "great hobby."
The "hobbyist" would eventually go on to play and record with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world and perform at many famous concert halls including the Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Olympia and Salle Pleyel in Paris, Palais des Beaux-Arts of Brussels and Carnegie Hall.
His list of awards are perhaps even more impressive - "The Most Promising Duo, Record Jazz Award Winners" (USA 1977), and "Artists of the Year" (1977" Deutsche Phono Akademie) for his duo recordings with Larry Coryell. The "Sax" prize in 1988, unanimously awarded by the Association Belge des Critiques de Jazz, for his album Transparence. In July 1990 he received the "Bird" prize "Django d'Or" the Sabam Prize in 1997 and in 1998 the "Django d'Or" in Paris as Best European Musician. Additionally in 1998 the Belgium referendum organized by Belgium radios RTBF and VRT, Catherine was elected best Belgium and European electric guitar player. In the Belgium jazz critic poll (French speaking), best Belgium electric guitar player and best European acoustic guitar player.
Philip Catherine and Kenny Drew from the back of Morning, Kenny Drew Trio, Inner City 2048, 1976.autumn leaves (intro)
His 1997 album Live on the Dreyfus label received 4.5 stars in Downbeat and "Best Album of the Year" in Jazz NU. Guitar Groove followed in 1998 and featured Jim Beard on keyboards, Alphonso Johnson on bass and Rodney Holmes on drums. The recording received a great deal of airplay in the US, exceptional for a European CD. It also broke the top 20 Gavin Jazz Chart where it stayed for several months. Blue Prince was released in November 2000 was voted "Record of the Year" in JazzMari magazine and was selected as one of the best albums of the year in many other periodicals as well.
Although his grandfather played first violin with the London Symphony Orchestra, the maestro died when Catherine was just six years old. However, his mother was very musical and a great inspiration. In fact, it could be that one of the guitarists' greatest assets: clear articulation, was an important musical attribute his mother impressed upon him.
Listening to Catherine's technique you will quickly realize that he wants every note to be understood, to mean something. Every note is important. His playing style and tone is uniformly soothing, calm, warm and cool. As important as the lyric is to a classic melody so too the guitarist' s instrumental take.
Philip Catherine: My mother was very musical. She played a little piano but she was an inspiration for me, in a particular sense when she was listening to something. Whatever it was - a nice voice, a nice piano player, classical or jazz or whatever, folk music or any kind of music - she could express herself a certain way. I think she had some deep understanding of what touches people when they listen to something, which is played in a nice way. I got the feeling that she had a very intuitive sensitivity to the way a note would sound. She would talk about the "touch" of a piano player. She would say, "Very well" or "That one is banging on his piano!" She wouldn't like it, or if somebody would have a weak musical voice. She didn't like people showing off also. She could hear that very quickly. So I have a feeling she was very helpful in a way. And I understood that, only in my later years, that she had a big influence, I think, on the way I was trying to improve my playing. I was listening to how people with a nice touch could move our souls.
Jim LaDiana: Who or what influenced you to take up the guitar?
PC: The first time I heard a guitar I was about 14 years old. Of course I had never heard jazz at that time.
I heard a French singer George Brassens. He was singing French songs but he was writing very, very pretty songs by the way. I liked his melodies, they were very nice and I liked the rhythms in which he was playing them. I mean his voice - he had a nice rhythm in the text. That was the first time I heard a guitar because he was comping himself with his guitar. He?s dead now but he was very famous in France and Belgium and maybe in French Canada, I guess. A few months after that, I went to buy a guitar. Then I went to a teacher who was more a kind of jazz fan, which, I didn't know. I learned some of the chords of George Brassesns and my teacher was playing the melody on his acoustic guitar and improvising them. And then I started doing the same at home. I understood quickly that you could do different notes then the melody on the chord changes. At the same time everything went together very quickly. I started hearing some jazz records, you know. One was Django Reinhardt on guitar but then, very quickly, was Clifford Brown on trumpet. Clifford Brown was still alive when I started listening to him or he had just died it was in '56. So, I was attracted to a few people who were nice soloists. I was very attracted to that. The Jazz Messengers I liked very much because they had nice tunes. Then I started listening to Miles Davis Quintets with Coltrane always liking the soloist who would either swing or make some nice lines and hopefully both.
JL: Tell me about you first guitar.
PC: It was a Framus, a German guitar, just acoustic. But quickly I added a microphone on it to give it an electric guitar sound. It was a DeArmond with a little piece of metal and you could slide it from the bridge or to the neck so you could choose different tones.
At around 16 years of age during the late '50s, the fledgling guitarist quickly formed small bands with some neighborhood friends and played at the local cafes. A little later he began playing with 19 and 20 year olds in a student band. He played with this band for about a year and a half, earning enough money to acquire his first electric guitar, a Gibson ES-175.
PC: We went to play dance music for rich people who could afford a band in the late '50s. Finally I paid for my first electric guitar and my first amplifier too. I still have it. I still play on it. I bought it in '60 so I have it for about 41, 42 years now.
JL: That's great.
PC: (laughs) I'm getting used to it!
THE BREAK IN BRUSSELS
By the late '50s jazz organist Lou Bennett had firmly established himself on the jazz scene in New York and throughout the East and the Mid-East. Along the way he helped to develop the concept of soloing with the footpedals, up until that time, were used primarily for accompaniment. Like many other black musicians searching for musical acceptance and receptive audiences, he accepted an offer to play in Europe and 1959 performed at the Blue Note in Paris. His subsequent tours of Europe were so well received that he later became known as the ambassador of the jazz organ to the European continent. By a mere twist of fate, Catherine landed a gig with the master of the organ.
PC: Lou Bennett was playing in Paris. He's a black organ player. He's dead now. He came from Baltimore. He moved to Paris in '60, I think, something like that, and he was playing with Kenny Clarke on drums, and American guitar player living in Paris at the time named Jimmy Gourley. He's still alive by the way. He lives in Paris. That trio was supposed to come to Brussels one day in '61 but for some reason Kenny Clarke couldn't make it and Jimmy Gourley either so Lou Bennett came with a French drummer. The club owner in Brussels who knew me phoned me the day before and asked me to play with Lou Bennett. By coincidence I had his record and knew all his tunes and it was very easy for me to join in. So my first experience with professional musicians was with a Black American trio. The second time he came, he came with a wonderful drummer called Oliver Jackson. He was the drummer at the time with Buck Clayton. He was a wonderful drummer. He's dead also, unfortunately. We recorded, thank God, a record under the name of a Belgium saxophone player who put us all together for this recording. So my first recording, I was 18, 19, and it was with this trio and this saxophone player. I still kind of like it (the record). It was a great experience for me. It was the first time that I really could hear and be around people who were giving this groove. You know, because I was listening at the time. I was listening to
Paul Chambers and Philly Jo (Jones) and Red Callendar - the rhythm section of Miles Davis at the time. And I could feel something similar and real around me. That was something I never forgot. Once I was on Scandinavia playing with Lou Bennett and for two tunes at a festival we played with Dexter Gordon - that was in '63 at a jazz festival. So I even had the chance sometimes to play with some great musicians. That also I will never forget. He was giving such great emotion in his music, you know ? And I didn?t really know at that time who Dexter Gordon was because I didn' t really know him. I knew people like Coltrane, Miles and all that but Dexter Gordon was quite unfamiliar to me. And so I played with these guys and I thought, "Jesus Christ, it sounds great. Who's that ? Dexter who?? "Dexter Gordon." "Yeah!"
Philip Catherine and Dexter Gordon from the back of Something Different, Steeplechase 1,5.polka dots and moonbeams
JL: Your time in the military came after that?
PC: Yeah, the military was the whole year of '70. I stayed one year, well, eleven months in Germany. And during that time I still didn't expect to do anything about music after that. I had the chance to practice a lot my guitar during the Army. November 25th was the last day of my official Army. 25th of November is also Saint Catherine in the Christian calendar. That was my last day in the Army and was the day I received a letter from Jean-Luc Ponty as well asking me to join his group. And then I said, "Wow, yeah, well I'll try" but it was just fifteen days. And since then I never did anything else but music.?
JL: You were blessed twice. You got out of the service and you received the letter from Jean-Luc.
JL: Bada boom! You're destiny was sealed on that day.
PC: Absolutely yeah. (laughs) You can say things in a very nice way Jim.
JL: Oh, thanks. That's wonderful. I mean, I love hearing things like that because it's those kinds of things that change lives and it's wonderful. How long did you stay with Jean-Luc?
PC: We' ll stayed from December '71 until summer of '72.
JL: In May '72 I had the chance to go to Berklee College of Music (Boston) for three months - June, July, August, I think. I could study there for free for twelve weeks. It was a great opportunity.
JL: How did that situation come to be?
PC: An American musician, Jiggs Wiggem, living in Germany told me that he knew the director of the school and that it would really be a good experience for me to go and study there because I had never studied anything in music. I just studied with friends and playing with musicians but I had never studied music at all. So I had twelve weeks of heavy training in '72. That's why I left the band of Jean-Luc because I really wanted to take this opportunity.
JL: Do remember any of you teachers at Berklee?
PC: Yeah. Herb Pomoroy, was one of the main ones, Ray Santizi and Jackson Stock who was a trombone player teaching substitution chords. At that time John Scofield was just a student there and we would spend, often times, together. I would come to his apartment and he would come to mine and we jammed just in duo like that. But I had no idea he was going to get famous and all that because he was unknown at the time.
JL: Were there any other players you spent some time with?
PC: I had the chance also to spend two afternoons with George Benson during that period. I met him in a music shop and then he came to my apartment and we played for two afternoons and I went to see him at this club in Boston: Roxbury. I was the only white guy in this club (laughs). I was scared.
JL: Yeah, I know that feeling.
PC: He was playing so wonderful, man. George was playing absolutely wonderful.
JL: Yeah, he's too much.
PC: He was unknown at that time. He wasn't unknown to me but he was unknown to the large public. He was still traveling with the organ trio in a funky van.
Fresh from his self-imposed musical exile, when Catherine returned to Belgium, he began a heavy writing regimen as he was filled with many ideas from his three months at Berklee. He also married in October, 1972 and moved to Berlin. He took up playing in a major big band there for the first six months of '73 and was paid by the month. Responding to his inner desire to play other gigs with smaller groups he left the big band, taking with him additional reading skills and the experience of being a guitar player in a big band.
The coming years provided Catherine with many excellent musical opportunities including: performances, tours and recordings with Stephane Grappelli, Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, Toots Thielmans, Chet Baker. Les McCann, Larry Coryell and Bireli Lagrene.
Around '63 Catherine met Stephane Grappelli and three years later played with the master of the violin for the first time - all the while he was still in school studying economics. In '71 he recorded an album with Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty. That same year Grappelli asked Catherine to perform with him on the score for the French film which became quite famous in Europe. He continued to play on occasion with Grappelli and around 1979 recorded the album, Young Django with himself and Larry Coryell on guitar, Neils Hennig-Orsted Peterson on bass and Grappelli. This band went on a tour of Europe in 1980.
JL: How long was your association with Stephane Grappelli?
PC: I stayed friends with Stephane until the very end of his life. We would play once or twice every year. He invited to come, in 1989, to play at the Wolftrap Festival close to Washington in Virginia I think. It was an important festival. I played once in the States with Stephane.
Another fortuitous event took place in 1980. Benny Goodman was preparing for a tour of Europe and while assembling the group, the tour promoter suggested that he use the Belgium guitar player.
Although he was probably unknown to the "King of Swing", Catherine was chosen to play.
JL: Tell me a little about the tour with Benny Goodman.
PC: Benny Goodman was making a tour in1980 in Europe with a Scandinavian rhythm section and I was asked to be part of that little tour. That was also like a total surprise. I never expected I would even meet Benny Goodman. That was even a more funny surprise for me. I wasn't expecting that at all. I just did about thirteen gigs with him. It was a quintet bass, drums, guitar, a violin player from Denmark, Sven Rassmussen and Benny Goodman himself. And I learned that beautiful tune which I recorded after, "Goodbye" by Gordon Jenkins. I still play it sometimes and I learned it while I was working with Benny Goodman.
Catherine found himself working once again with another great name in the world of jazz, Chet baker. For the entire year of 1985 the guitarist played gigs all over Europe with the legendary trumpet player. Baker's instrumental strength could easily push a big band to its maximum energy limit or softly coax the deepest subtleties from his horn to convey the perfect melodic emotion. Catherine's recollection of his experience is, as the trumpeters' own prowess.
JL: Playing with Chet Baker must have been something.
PC: It was one of the nicest experiences of my life. Chet is the one, which touched me more deeply. I was just listening to a record yesterday, a record he made in Germany a little bit before he died, with a big band in Germany. His sound is absolutely?it's like incredible. It sounds like it comes from heaven or I don't know where it comes from but it?s really amazing how he could play. I can't forget any moment of that.
JL: It must have been an experience.
PC: It was really so deep. It was so easy and deep at the same time - how he was playing and so correct, so right. And yet a lot of power. I didn't know that before I played with him that he could play fast tempos strong. A lot of chops and wow! But he never played a note too much. It was really incredible.
JL: You have also worked with Toots Thielmans.
PC: I work sometimes with Toots Thielmans. We are great friends. We phone each other quite a lot. He's a beautiful man. He's a beautiful guitar player. People forget that he?s a guitar player. He's a wonderful guitar player. He knows a lot about harmony on the guitar. He thinks very brilliantly on guitar. He doesn't play fast but he's got good ideas.
JL: Really nice phrasing.
Catherine toured and recorded the albums Twin House (Atlantic 50 342) and Splendid (Electra 52 986) with Coryell. (On the tune "Father Christmas" Catherine plays an electric fretless guitar). The idea for forming the duo was not the idea of the guitarist but actually came about through the interaction of several individuals.
JL: I have never played a fretless guitar. What was it like?
PC: I was just playing the melody very simply because I cannot really play a fretless guitar. Just to play a simple melody it was in my possibilities. (laughs)
JL: How did your association with Larry Coryell come to pass?
PC: Well that came from several sources. I made my record, September Man with the drummer and the bass player who became the drummer and bass player of Larry Coryell afterwards John Lee on bass and Gerry Brown in drums. They spoke a lot to Larry about me and they had some of my cassettes so Larry got interested in me through John Lee and Gerry Brown, you see. So it was decided during a festival where I wasn?t there, they were speaking to George Grunz who was making the Berlin Jazz Festival at the time. He was responsible for the choice of the bands that would play there. The idea came there, "Why don?t you invite Phillip with your band on that occasion?" And at the same time somebody else was interested - the guy who was making the Montreaux Jazz Festival wanted to put us together.
The first time I played with Larry was at the Berlin Jazz Festival. The president of WEA Germany, Siggy Loch, was there and he proposed us to do a duo album very quickly after that concert in Berlin. There was George Grunz, Siggy Loch, John Lee and Gerry Brown, Claude Nobs from from the Montreaux Jazz festival. There was about five people who pushed us together in fact. And Larry Coryell as well because he felt like playing with me also. That next year, because of Siggy Loch I played with Les McCann for a tour of fifteen days. There was also Buddy Guy in the band. That was also a surprise.
JL: Buddy Guy?
PC: Buddy Guy, Les McCann, Johnny Griffin on saxophone and myself on guitar. The four of us were featured with the German fusion group Passport.
JL: That sounds like an unusual mix of players. How did Buddy Guy fit in?
PC: He was very humble. He played when he felt it was fine for him, you know. He had some tunes where he was featured. He knew really when to play and not to play. He was very nice. What a feeling this guy has. He plays wonderful. And Les McCann was grooving like hell man, swinging like crazy. He was very funny too. I enjoyed it very much. It was very happening.
JL: Do you think those American musicians had an impact on you and other players and listeners as well?
PC: Well for me they had a big impact actually for sure for me. And I think for a lot of people as well, of course. I had the chance to be so close to them and to really feel what it sounds like. That's very wonderful. And we?ve stayed friends, in fact, with Les McCann. I haven't seen him since a long time now but I went to visit him once a few years afterwards in Los Angeles.
Following the release of their two albums, Catherine and Larry Coryell had obtained some deserved notoriety while touring in Europe. The duo performed at the Montreaux Jazz Festival where their set was filmed. The festival's producer called Catherine and informed him that Charlie Mingus had seen their performance on television and was interested in speaking with them. So expeditious was the session that one of the "key" players almost went unnoticed.
JL: How did the gig with Mingus evolve?
PC: I think it was an idea of the record company I was signed at the time with WEA, Atlantic Records. When I was in the office one day, on my way back to Europe - I was saying goodbye to the people at WEA one of the producers of Charlie Mingus came to me and asked me if I could stay a few days more in order to make this record. I did the recording. It was two days in the studio with different musicians on both days but I was on both sessions.
JL: Who were the other players?
PC: The first day was Larry Coryell and me on guitar and the second day was John Scofield and me on guitar. I'm on both sessions.
JL: That's great.
PC: Yeah it is great (laughs). And George Coleman was in the band. That recording went so fast that I didn't have time to recognize one of the players. Do you know who was on piano? Jimmy Rowles.
JL: Jimmy Rowles, wow!
PC: I didn't notice it was him. It was when I got the record after I saw his name on the cover. The only person I had a chance to speak with after the recording, everybody went home except Mingus, so we spent about one hour chatting together about music, life and common friends. It was a great honor for me to be close to Mingus because I was always loving Charlie Mingus records. I never imagined that I would record one day with him. After that recording we were supposed to play a tour in Japan and then he got ill.
JL: What was the title of the album?
PC: Yeah, Three or Four Shades of Blue (Atlantic SD 1700). It's not his last record - it?s the one before the last record he made.
During the '70s, Catherine organized a number of duo concerts with French gypsy jazz guitarist Bireli Lagrene. Although their performances were met with critical acclaim, unfortunately, the only recording of the duo was never released.
JL: Bereli was about 14 when you met him?
PC: Yeah, and he was playing exactly like Django Reinhardt at that time. He was really playing like that and he could do it very well, man, very well. It was very impressive to see a kid of 14 years old play like that.
PC: Yeah, really. I was wondering what I was doing with a guitar in my hands you know when I saw him the first time. It was like, "Wow. Jesus Christ, give me a break."
JL: I know what you mean. Everytime you turn around you hear somebody play and you think ?
Oh my God. Which guitar can I sell first??
PC: Yeah. (laughs)
JL: He's a terrific player.
PC: Yeah, a wonderful player, man.
PC: I've always liked Django. About a year or two ago I picked up another solo of Django. I wanted to know what the hell he was doing on that tune, so I studied it. It's so wonderful how he plays. He was playing in a very modern way I think - very universal his music. I can?t put any date on it because I really think he was very avant-garde player. And I like very much electric to hear of Django which people don't speak so much about. He has beautiful records with a clarinet player in Berlin. In '46, '47, '48, he made some tunes for Vogue - they're wonderful. His compositions are very modern and his comping is great too. His comping sounded like a whole big band himself with chords and all that - like a whole saxophone section behind a soloist. It was wonderful!
JL: Like section accents on rhythm guitar.
PC: Yeah, yeah, Jesus Christ, man. Yeah!
JL: That's wild.
PC: It's really wild and on top of it he only had two fingers to do all that.
JL: That's another amazing thing.
PC: Yeah, that's another amazing thing. His music is so complete, man. So for me Django has always been somebody I love. You know I had the chance to play with B.B. King two years ago in Brussels.
JL: You're kidding?
PC: He made a tour in Europe and in every country he invited a guitar player. So I was chosen, not by him, but by the record company to represent guitarists in Belgium. We played together half an hour and I had the chance to speak with him only 15 minutes. And the only thing we spoke about, I mean he brought the subject up, not me, was Django.
PC: He absolutely loves Django Rheinhardt's music. Well I knew that he did like Django, I heard it already before, but I heard it from his own mouth.
JL: No kidding, that's wonderful.
PC: He really spoke a lot about Django.
Many American instrumentalists such as Thelonius Monk, Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired Catherine's early compositions. Besides playing many jazz standards he was also playing many popular standards as well citing Americans Rogers and Hart, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin as his favorite composers.
JL: Do you follow a particular writing process?
PC: I've got many different ones. I start with a little cell which can be rhythmical or which can be melodic. Sometimes I just start with a melody and do the chord changes afterwards or the opposite or I start with a rhythmical idea with no pitch, just rhythm for 32 bars, then I put the chords and then only at the end I do the melody. Sometimes I do it like that, it all depends or sometimes I start thinking in terms of harmonic modes, it depends. The tools I use are tape recorder, pen, pencil and later on I started working with computers just because it's practical. So I could hear even faster what I was writing, changing the notes with the mouse and checking things. I try to use everything around me which can help for writing a tune.
In quite a few cases, guitarists, when trying to convey an emotion through their instrument, will usually add some sort of effect to the original sound of their guitar. Perhaps it is a section where a heavy mood swing or groove has taken an abrupt change in direction and needs to be effectively convey the players feeling or sense of direction at that particular time in the song. In any case, this change in the tone or "coloring" of the tone may be obtained in many ways. Perhaps if the song takes on a more aggressive side, the guitarist will usually apply a distortion or overdrive effect via a pedal or other effects type processor unit. Unfortunately, in more cases than not, the transition may be likened to enjoying a nice comfortable drive along a quiet country road, taking in the natural, beautiful surroundings of the area. And just at the moment when you're about to take that long, deep breath of satisfaction...BAM, you're hit broadside by a Mack truck doing 60! That might sound a bit extreme, but in the genre of music where subtlety and sensitivity are important, without exhibiting restraint, a misguided segue will either maintain the listener's interest or not. Aside from Catherine's articulate technique, when he applies these ?modern? sounds it isn't a whisper to a shout, or a sudden slap in the face. Not unlike a gesture or exaggerating your voice when making a point. Obviously you hear the change in sound but it isn't a major clash or change in direction but a textural means to a harmonic end.
A specific example would be Catherine's original composition, "Coffee Groove." As stated in the aforementioned example, cruising comfortably down a country road, perhaps instead of suddenly being hit by another vehicle, a change in route finds you on a transition road that runs into heavy, city traffic. It is a definite change but without the sudden impact. You momentarily deal with the development, take the next exit and backtrack to that serene countryside. He realizes various moods and textures without going to extremes.
PC: I always like to stop a solo as soon as I feel its getting boring.
JL: You don't overplay that's for sure. You make your statement and you get out.
PC: I'm quite aware of that when I?m playing with my group on stage. I feel when, okay, this tune is getting too long, we should go to something else. As I am the bandleader its very easy for me to change the mood. I will not decide exactly before the concert in which order I play the tunes. Maybe I'll figure, okay, now its time for a ballad or for something else. I don't like things to get boring. Because when I'm bored on stage I don't feel alive anymore you know.
PC: If I get bored myself on stage I feel horrible. I have to do something about it.
JL: I like your CD Blue Prince a lot. It has a nice flow. Different textures, different rhythms, interesting tunes it doesn't get boring at all.
PC: Thank you.
JL: The trumpet player (Bert Joris) is really great - what a smooth player.
PC: Yeah, he's wonderful. He's a great musician. He's also a great composer as well. He makes arrangements for big bands. You know he's really a complete musician.
JL: That's terrific.
PC: He's got absolute pitch. He's got so many qualities its disgusting?(laughs)
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Catherine's Gibson ES-175 has been his musical workhorse for over 40 years. His signature tone is pure and clean however, he does incorporate different guitars and a variety of external electronic devices occasionally to added color and texture to his music.
JL: Guitar players will lock in on a sound that they feel comfortable with. Besides your ES-175, what other instruments and effects have you used?
PC: Well I did a lot of different things in my life. Even now, recently, I still have a Les Paul at home - Les Paul, Gibson. Sometimes I do some demos at home and I use my Les Paul. I got a wonderful sound with that. I think I even have a better sound it's just that I?m afraid to change guitars onstage and to suddenly have something with a different weight. My used to how many kilos my normal guitar (ES-175) has and I?m afraid to bring another one, which is thin, solid body and heavy.
JL: Yes it is a heavy guitar.
PC: The Les Paul is heavy but I must say that the sound is great. Another thing is that I was playing synthesizer guitar before the midi came out. In '78 when I was playing with John Lee and Gerry Brown in trio I used to play a Roland GR 500 which came out before the GR 300. Strange, it started with a bigger number. With that you could put on different strings different sounds and it was very nice. In fact, I did that for about two years. I would only play two or three tunes on stage with the synthesizer guitar during the concert because the sound of that guitar wasn't very good. When I wanted to play normal I had to immediately switch to another guitar. At that time I was playing Les Pauls'. I really enjoyed that. It was great, man. But it's a lot of shit to carry.
JL: It's like carrying a couple of extra instruments and their equipment and everything else to get it to sound good.
PC: Yeah, so the only thing I have now, I've got some little Boss pedals with me the same since ten years. I?ve got a volume pedal, a compressor, a Rat for distortion. I have two delays one I use for the reverb and the other one I use as a delay when I do some effects with the volume pedal. I have, as well, an Octave Divider, which I use very seldom but it's there if I need it. And more often I use a chorus pedal.
JL: Are they set up on a pedal type board or something?
PC: I asked somebody to fix a piece of hard plastic and they (the pedals) are, they are not glued on it, they are with velcro so I can move them around if I need. I put them in a little bag and that bag it goes into my suitcase with my clothes. So I only need one big Samsonite with wheels. I travel like that and on my back I've got my guitar.
JL: You're pretty much self-contained. What kind of amplifiers do you usually play through?
PC: I use different kind of amplifiers, it changes with the time. For the moment, theres two kinds of amplifiers I like to play. I still like playing on mini-brutes Polytone but also on Marshall the valvestate series. I like them.
JL: Do you run two amps?
PC: No. I always play mono. I kind of like the sound.
JL: Is that like one 12" speaker?
PC: Or whatever, whatever they have in the club. I send a rider and I give a list of the amps I prefer. I've been changing my strings also with stronger and stronger gauges. I play from .14 to .60 now which is extremely hard but it's not hard at all in fact because I put my strings very low on the neck and it sings.
JL: Any particular brand?
PC: Whatever brand. I'm just concerned with how thick they are like .014, .018, 024, .039, .049 and .060. That's what I'm using and I?m not using the flat gauge.
JL: Just the regular round wound.
PC: Yeah, but I like playing on flat gauge as well. It has its charm as well.
JL: For certain things they sound great.
PC: Yeah, absolutely.
JL: I hear the occasional string bending and double-stop licks in your improvisations. I think it's kind of a neat little change, it's nice, it's different and it's not overdone.
PC: I must say I don't do much of it but when I listen to rock guitar players or blues guitar players they do so wonderful bending, man, I feel like in kindergarten as opposed to them, you know.
JL: Interwoven with your solos I hear some really nice blues phrases also. Not necessarily bending but the notes.
PC: Yeah, yeah. I guess the first musicians I heard when I started playing were using "blue" notes that stayed into me. I mean, even if I mention Horace Silver, the piano player, he was playing some great blue notes in his solos. Every great jazz musician has been doing that.
JL: Absolutely. As far as you're own recordings, are there any that you particularly feel better about?
PC: Well there's one I like very much but I guess you don't know it, it's Transparence. I like that album very much. It was made in '86. I'm playing all the melodies myself with some keyboards behind me. I had just played in Montevideo (a city in Uruguay, close to Buenos Aries) a gig, you know, and there was a piano player opening up the concert and he had a synthesizer as well and I asked him to play with us a second set. I had some of my romantic kind of tunes and I had these strings behind me. It was so wonderful to do. I really want to do more of that for my next album to really have the guitar like a voice singing songs. That's the reason why I'm coming back to your question why I liked Transparence very much cause I"Homecomings" especially, but other things too.
JL: Tell me about your gig in Montevideo.
PC: I was there for two days and I played with a very good drummer called Oscar Giunta a wonderful drummer from Buenos Aries. He's 27 - he's wonderful, man. The bass player was fine to but especially the drummer great
Since the '60s, Catherine has played countless clubs dates in Europe and abroad. He has graced the stage of many renowned concert halls as well. Regardless of venue size, the main thrust of his live performances is to create a direct connection with the audience.
JL: You enjoy playing in clubs don't you?
PC: I enjoy playing anyplace. As long as the sound is good and there's a good balance between the size of a place and the number of people inside, you know. It's very nice also to play in front of a big audience - I like it as well. The concentration can be very good as well. And I don't see what is more difficult or more easy. I like them both. I really like both. And I like playing also in studios but don't have much time. I don't have many opportunities to record records but I like doing that as well.
JL: I have spoken with players who tour Europe and Scandinavia and what really impresses them is the knowledge of jazz by the local community. Sadly, that's not always the case over here.
PC: Yeah, I heard about that.
JL: Do you feel this to be true?
PC: I don't play much in the States but I know that in every town in Europe there's some jazz fans who know a lot about jazz. I will not say that there's millions of them but everywhere you can find some - everywhere you can find some. I've got a friend in Italy, his name is Adriano Petiri, he's 71 or 72, he's retired now but man, his only hobby is to buy jazz records. He sends me sometimes copies. He buys something he says, "Listen to this." I learn a lot from him! Because he's a jazz fan and he's buying records every day nearly, you know.
JL: That's great.
PC: Yeah it's great, I mean just to give you one example. Theres' many people like that but theres' not millions of them of course.
PC: Sadly, yeah but of course, yeah.
JL: Out here on the West coast we have the Musicians Institute and the Los Angeles Academy of Music where an individual may dedicate every minute towards the study of the guitar.
PC: I don't know them but sometime I would love to go there like three, four months and just study eight hours a day with all the teachers there. Sometimes I feel like doing that. Theres' quite a lot of schools in Europe. There's a school in Brussels for instance. There's a school on Antwerp, which is in Belgium too. There's another one somewhere else and there's some summer teaching also in a town near Brussels. For two weeks every year in a particular place students and teachers get together and sometimes we bring some American teachers as well like Billy Hart comes often for drums. There's a lot of education I think but when I started that didn't exist.
JL: There are many learning tools available to young people now. There are videos, tapes and the computer.
PC: Oh yeah the videos, Jesus Christ. We had to figure out everything by listening to a record. There was no real books at the time when I started. People had their changes and you would go beyond somebody else's private book, the changes of a tune. It wasn't like now.
JL: They have everything available in every key and they'll transpose it for you and the whole nine yards.
PC: Yeah. (laughs) Things have changed yeah, but it's cool, it's cool.
JL: Have you noticed any trends as far as what the young people are listening to?
PC: Young people listen to all kinds of shit like Bjork or house music, some people listen to techno music and rock groups. My 18 year old stepson is listening to stuff I don't at all but it sounds great. He was listening to a Californian group, it's a pity I don't have the name now, but it was great, man. Great stuff. But they don't listen much to jazz huh? No, no.
JL: When you have some time to relax are there any particular musicians or music you like to listen too?
PC: There's some music from Jobim I like very much when he sings and when Elis Regina (a Brazilian interpreter of Jobim) sings some of his classical kind of romantic music which is absolutely beautiful. I like George Guinga. He's a wonderful Brazilian composer - guitar player - singer. I've got four of his albums and I really love listening to his music. He's wonderful. I listen a lot these days to Chet Baker I must say. I've always been a great fan of Erroll Garner. I've always been, since I started playing guitar. Erroll Garner is somebody important for me, rhythmically. I think he's under-rated in a way. He's not under-rated, he's very well known but it doesn't seem that musicians take him seriously enough the way I do. I really love his playing.
JL: Do you have thoughts about the strength and the future of jazz?
PC: You know I'm very selfish and egocentric. I think. I think I'm just trying to figure out what I'm going to do. When I was younger I had more ideas about what things were going and all that. Now I feel like; what I don't know...I don't know. But there's one thing I know is that music with soul, whatever style and whatever century - whatever type of music it's always going to be good. Like when I go to a record shop for instance - just to mention Chet Baker. Chet Baker has nobody to promote him. I mean he doesn't have any company putting money to promote that music, especially that he recorded in so many different labels. Nobody is really interested in selling Chet Baker but you can find his records all over the place. There's not one single shop in the world with not one Chet Baker record. And it's not the matter of putting money to promote it - it's just because he's got so much soul that people like to buy it. I think that's going to stay for always, you know. Maybe not all of his records but a lot of them people will continue buying it. So I
think that whatever is done well with honesty I think is going to remain. And now about jazz?it's difficult for me to say. Jazz has been a place where all kinds of music can get into, a melting pot of many things. I think there's still a lot of surprises, which we don't know yet about which may happen.
Things are very busy for Catherine these days. At 60, he shows no signs of slowing down. An important figure on the European music scene, the guitarist conducts interviews on a regular basis, teaches at schools in and around Berlin. He has also released a new CD, Summer Night, on the Dreyfus label and maintains an active concert itinerary performing with his own group, as a guest with other groups or with string orchestras as well.
JL: So you've got the teaching, you've got your concerts?
PC: Mainly concerts. That's what I live from. Sometimes a record when I have a chance to make a record. And the practicing, practicing and trying to improve my playing all the time because that's really what is my goal in fact. You know, to play better, to know more...yeah.
JL: Any ideas for any future albums?
PC: Yeah. I've got about three or four different ideas for future albums and I hope I can make them all. I would like to make one very simple one with just guitar, bass and maybe I would play some overdubs and Toots Thielmans.
JL: Oh that would be nice.
PC: I would like to do an album like that. Then, there's a second idea of an album is having me playing all these melodies, either originals or tunes by a composer who I forgot to tell you earlier, Irving Berlin. He wrote some beautiful tunes. I've made some demos already and I would like a record company to give me not a red light but a green light to make that and play some of Irving Berlin tunes. Very simple you know and maybe some short solos on it but mainly a record, which is nice to listen and to listen and to listen because I like to make records which I like to, listen to myself. You know it's funny when you are in a jazz recording company they want you to sell a lot of records but they don't want you to be commercial. It's like; "How To Succeed In Failing" because you have to do something that sells a lot but which is not commercial and it's quite a bitch to achieve I can tell you that. (laughs) You know I made the project of making tunes of Irving Berlin and all that and they told me, "Yeah it's nice but don't you think it's a little too commercial." What are the critics going to think about our record company ?" Then that gets really strange.
JL: It does, it does.
PC: But I would like to make a record with songs like that and I write, I think, nice melodies too. On my new album I recorded only one tune with two guitars I overdubbed. I would like to make a whole record like that as well. I would like to make a record with strings also.
JL: You have a busy concert schedule. Is there a particular group that you prefer to perform with?
PC: I have concerts coming up until the end of the year. I don't know what's happening next year because I don?t have my calendar here in front of me. I play a lot with my trio or quartet with bass, drums guitar and sometimes in quartet also with Bert Joris on trumpet, but I enjoy more and more playing in trio as a matter of fact. It's not because I don't like playing with a trumpet but I feel more focused in my music when I play in trio but I like them both in fact. I like the inter-playing also - the sort of inter-playing between trumpet and guitar, especially on stage where we take more risks, more than on records. I would love to play more in the States, man. I'd love to play there. I really have so little opportunity. I really would love to come and play there.
JL: Any final thoughts?
PC: I'm happy I don't smoke anymore, cigarettes because that was killing me. I'm happy I don't drink anymore as well, that's about ten years.
JL: Good for you.
PC: I feel much better.
JL: Well you probably added another twenty years to your life.
PC: Yeah I hope so. I feel like I'm starting a new life in fact so I'm very positive about the future. Even through the difficulties I just try to stay faithful to what I think ...it doesn't mean I don't listen to advice of other people because that's important as well. I try to be faithful to what I feel in myself is right. And that's not easy sometimes. Sometimes we don't know what's right it depends how we feel. I have to work on it. To be honest with myself is important.
JL: Looking back on your our life; being a musician and a guitar player, what are your feelings about your life as a professional musician?
PC: Well I think I've got a lot of gratitude, which I can express, to all the people who trust me since so many years. I got so many trust from so many people, artists, promoters and people around me who encouraged me to play music because I was afraid to do that profession. So I am really grateful of all the confidence I received from so many different people. I got the feeling as well that...it's pretentious to say
but, I'm just starting. (laughs) It's true, in fact, I feel and I just hope that I can live long enough to progress and make more nice music.
Jim LaDiana is a musician, journalist, and educator residing in Southern California. Although he tends to gravitate towards jazz players, Jim strives to spend time with those who cause his inner chord to resonate. Besides being available on several web-sites, his articles and reviews also appear in Just Jazz Guitar and Vintage Guitar magazines featuring Tommy Tedesco, John Pisano, Robert Conti, Randy Johnston, Guild, and Benedetto to name a few. In his column, "Studio Aces" Jim introduces Vintage Guitar readers to many of the major West coast session players. Jim is also writing the biography of legendary Hollywood recording studio guitarist Bob Bain.
In addition to songwriting, playing the guitar and singing in a variety of musical contexts, Jim also works with children with disabilities. His unyielding compassion and enthusiasm coupled with a fun; animated hands-on approach has resulted in accelerated progress with many of these "special" kids. He has also created a unique music program with an emphasis on rhythm and group participation.
Jim can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
©Copyright 2002 Classic Jazz Guitar