ONE OF THE SACROSANCT RULES OF ANY MUSICIAN IS THE SIMPLE “DEVELOP YOUR OWN PERSONAL SOUND.” GUITARIST ADAM ROGERS HAS MADE A SUCCESSFUL CAREER WITH A PERSONAL TONE THAT FITS WORKING WITH ARTISTS RANGING FROM CHRIS POTTER TO JOHN PATITUCCI AND EVEN NORAH JONES, BEING ON HER MULT-MILLION DOLLAR SELLING ALBUMS
AS A LEADER OF HIS OWN GROUPS, HIS TENSILE TONE HAVE RESULTED IN IMPRESSIVE POST BOP ALBUMS LIKE APPARITIONS.
ALL THE MORE SURPRISING WAS HIS ‘SECRET LIFE’ BAND DICE, WHICH ROGERS RECENTLY RELEASED. ALONG WITH DRUMMER NATE SMITH AND BASSIST FIMA EPHRON, ROGERS (WHO ALSO PLAYS BASS CLARINET ON THE ALBUM) TAPS INTO THE SOUNDS OF HIS EARLIEST INSPIRATIONS, BEING THE BLUES AND JIMI HENDRIX. THE RESULT IS A RICHLY TEXTURED ALBUM OF ROCKING BLUES AND BLUESY ROCKERS THAT HIT THE VISCERA AS WELL AS THE GRAY MATTER.
WE RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH ROGERS WHILE ON TOUR PROMOTING THE ALBUM…
YOU DIDN’T START OUT ON THE GUITAR, DID YOU?
No. Actually I started playing drums and piano around the same time, when I was about 6 years old. My father showed me how to play drums and piano and took me for drum and piano lessons.
WHAT TURNED YOU ON TO THE GUITAR?
I was always fascinated with the guitar when I was young. In the late 60s-early 70s the electric guitar still seemed like some kind of space age instrument. So, every time that I’d see one as a little kid I was taken with the way it looked. When I heard the electric guitar from various recordings that I heard as a kid I would get just so excited about the sound.
For example the “Theme From Shaft.” I remember first hearing that when I was 5 or 6 years old at a house of a friend of my parents. When I heard that “wah wah” guitar, I remember just being not able to believe it. It was just the aural equivalent of seeing a UFO!
Then, some babysitters of mine had a red Stratocaster that I used to bang on, and another friend had a Stratocaster that I was really taken with. I started playing the guitar when I was 11. I knew a friend who knew how to play a couple Led Zeppelin songs, and “Roundabout” by Yes which he showed me. I was a pretty quick study when it came to learning a musical instrument. Both of my parents were musicians and Broadway performers, so I was around a lot of music when I was a kid
In elementary school, a guitarist a few grades ahead of me played me a Jimi Hendrix record, and I remember that it just blew my mind. Given that I was already playing, I became obsessed with it and tried to learn how to do what Jimi did. And the rest is “the rest.”
BUT SOMEHOW YOU VEERED INTO JAZZ.
In addition to my father being a Broadway singer/dancer/director/choreographer, he was a jazz drummer who played professionally in the midst of doing all of these other things. He played with Hank Jones for awhile and did a lot of local gigs.
So I was around jazz a lot when I was a kid, and given that my parents were Broadway singer/dancers, the literature of jazz standards was always playing somewhere. My father would be playing something on the piano, or my mom would sing standards. I was never really aware of it when I was young, but it was in my dna, so to speak.
And, after playing guitar 2-3 years trying to figure out how to play like Hendrix did, a friend turned me on to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which at first I didn’t totally understand, but was drawn to, because I knew enough about music 500 to glean the music that I was hearing. Their music was really sophisticated and it intrigued me, and I became similarly obsessed with trying to figure out what jazz musicians were doing that made this music sound so beautiful and sophisticated.
“Deep, amazing music is truly timeless. You can describe it in terms of specific technique and music theories, but I think that it’s more about energy. It’s almost like standing next to a fire”
Through my dad, I discovered Weather Report. He took me to a couple of concerts at the Beacon. I loved Jaco (Pastorius) and what they all did. Also Herbie (Hancock’s) Headhunters. So, I was coming to jazz from a couple of angles, discovering both Weather Report along with Bird, ‘Trane, Sonny Rollins and Miles and trying to figure it all out.
Coming up through the music of the 60s and 70s, there was a lot of overt musical instrumental musicianship, even in pop music. So it wasn’t such a stretch to start to listen to “fusion” and also grasp bebop.
I was motivated because all of the music that I became interested in had this musical/emotional impetus, something that I would hear. Even if I didn’t understand it, it would inspire me to try and figure out how through music these incredible musicians were conveying feeling.
WHAT GOT YOUR ATTENTION? WAS IT A TONE? A TEXTURE OR HARMONY OR RHYTHM?
What I heard prior to having any understanding anything technically, whether it was Hendrix or bebop, was something that I don’t know if I could verbalize even today to my reaction to. Music has a real strong affect on me. It’s something that sort of abstract, but extraordinarily powerful. It’s guided my path as a musician and human being.
If I had to try to describe it, I’d say it’s an emotional/musical sensations that made me think “Man! I have to figure out how people are doing that!”
I think that as a young person I would listen to Bird, ‘Trane, Miles and Sonny, and I could hear something incredibly beautiful and sophisticated that I couldn’t intellectually understand that inspired me to try to learn what it was that they were doing.
For my youthful ability to appreciate music, there was the technical aspect that was so impressive to me, to be able to hear people that could play at such a high level of instrumental mastery. Playing things that were so logical and beautiful really excited me and made me want to figure out how to do it on my instrument.
WHEN YOU’RE PERFORMING IN CONCERT, BE IT IN YOUR OWN BAND, OR WITH POTTER, PATITUCCI OR SOME OTHER BAND, HOW OFTEN DO YOU REACH THAT EMOTIONAL/MUSICAL SENSATION THAT YOU SEEK?
Oh, boy. That’s kind of rare. It’s a lot rarer than being “usual,” but it’s what has fueled my whole life; grasping for that thing, even with years and years of experience and study is difficult, and somewhat ephemeral. But it’s well worth the pursuit.
YOU TOOK LESSONS FROM JOHN SCOFIELD AND BARRY GALBRAITH. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THEM?
Good question. Neither one of them really taught me a lot of specific things.
With John, we would get together and I could play well enough at that time to at least play with him, although certainly not at his level. We would just play; I don’t remember how many lessons I took; it was before he took the job with Miles Davis.
Just being around him and playing tunes with him was incredibly instructive. I don’t remember in terms of methodology except for a couple technical/problem solving things that he conveyed. But playing with him was great; he was very encouraging and very complementary.
Barry gave me some very helpful technical tips, like practicing playing only eight notes with the largest interval you’re allowed to play being a Major 3rd. Things like that1137. He turned me on to solos that he suggest I look at and learn, and he was a real beautiful person who was quite sick with what eventually took his life when I was studying with him. I just remember him having a real beautiful demeanor as a human being. In addition to what I learned from him as a guitarist and musician he conveyed a lot to me just by example. He was really an extraordinary person.
YOU PLAYED WITH SOME HEAVY HITTERS LIKE MICHAEL BRECKER, BRIAN BLADE, CHRIS POTTER AND JOHN PATITUCCI. DID YOU EVER LOOK AROUND THE STUDIO OR CLUB AT WHO YOU WERE PLAYING WITH AND SAY TO YOURSELF, “HEY, I MADE IT”?
(laughs) I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way. There were times in my life, for example, when playing with Michael (Brecker) was a high point in my career. I was a big fan of his since I was a kid, and being born and raised a New Yorker, he was always on the scene, and so was a 1304 always a hero of mine.
When he called me to play in his group I was extraordinarily happy, to say the least. Having the experience of playing with him as much as I did was definitely a high point. I don’t know if I ever felt like I made it at any time in particular, but that was amazing.
WHAT DID YOU GLEAN FROM MICHAEL? DID YOU PICK HIS BRAIN?
We would talk about a lot of stuff. I didn’t set out specifically to pick his brain, but he was such an amazing person, open and approachable. We spent a lot of time as people do when traveling around, and he told me a lot of stories. We talked about music a lot.
He was a voracious listener and was very interested in hearing stuff that he had never heard before. He was always looking for new information.
He was into Eastern/Bulgarian stuff. He was studying with somebody in that scene. I saw him play one time; he had a residency at the North Sea Jazz Festival, and one of the groups of his that I played with played in this 3-4 day thing that he did with different bands. I saw him play with this really great group from Europe called Farmer’s Market and they played a lot of Eastern European music, and Mike played with them. It was quite something; he played with these guys who were masters of that style of music. He was an extraordinary person and musician.
THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY OF A MUSICIAN IS “GET YOUR OWN SOUND.” THROUGH YOUR CAREER YOU’VE HONED A SPECIFIC SOUND AND STYLE, AND WITH YOUR LATEST ALBUM YOU SEEM TO HAVE COMPLETELY CHANGED YOUR GUITAR LANGUAGE. IT WAS LIKE TIGER WOODS CHANGING HIS SWING. WHAT HAPPENED? HAVE YOU ABANDONED YOUR OLD SOUND?
I haven’t given up anything. I still play in the same or similar settings in regards to the stuff on my other records with the more “clean” jazz sound. I still play that way all the time.
The way that I play with DICE is something I’ve been doing since I first started playing the guitar. All I did was to put a band together to feature that way of playing and make a record of it.
So, in terms of my musical verse, this has been going on full steam amidst of all of the other things that I’ve done. I just finally documented it. The band has been together quite a long time; we’ve been playing regularly for 8+ years, so it’s something that’s been going on.
Of course, I could see from somebody’s perspective who’s only familiar with my record output how this would seem to be a pretty dramatic departure from what I’ve done before. But, all of these things have been percolating inside my musical salad.
YOU GAVE CLUES OF IT ON JOHN PATITUCCI’S BROOKLYN ALBUM, WITH A COUPLE OF THOSE SONGS HAVING YOU TAP INTO YOUR INNER ALLMAN BROTHERS.
Yeah; John wrote a couple of tunes that were sort of along those lines. Booker T and Allman Brothersy, and Steve (Cardenas) and I are from the same generation, so we were able to access whatever that thing is.
It’s all been part of my musical world since I was a kid. I’ve played on a lot of pop records that people in the jazz world have never heard, and would never know that it was me. I really love the different sounds on the guitar.
There’s this huge palate that you can access just by changing guitars, or amplifiers or pedals. And when I do that and change a sound, it elicits a different set of musical ideas that I hope come across as me, but I don’t play the exact same way when I’m playing my Stratocaster through a Marshall amp on 10 than I would a Hollow Body quietly.
Because the sound is different, it makes me play differently. I don’t know if there’s any preconception there, but it’s one of the byproducts of dramatically changing sounds that I really like.
It’s a different approach. You could play the same things the same way, but automatically I start to hear a different sound and a different tone, it pulls different things from my musical imagination.
YOUR NEW ALBUM HAS YOU ALSO PLAYING CLARINET AND BASS CLARINET. WHEN DID THAT TALENT COME ABOUT?
(laughs) It’s funny you should ask. When I started really getting into jazz music and John Coltrane’s music from every period, I started studying saxophone. When I was first trying to play jazz guitar I was listening to everybody, but I was learning from a combination of my teachers and listening to Wes Montgomery.
When I really started to explore ‘Trane’s music I thought that I should maybe play saxophone. So, I studied saxophone for a few months before I realized I should continue on guitar (laughs).
A few years ago I wanted to learn how to play clarinet, and with my teeny sax background, I got one and started to try to learn to play it a little bit. (sax player) David Binney loaned me his bass clarinet, I bought a couple of regular clarinets.
I really liked the sound of the bass clarinet as on those Herbie Hancock albums with Bennie Maupin. So, there were a couple of times on the Dice record I just heard bass clarinet things and sat down and worked on it until I got something that didn’t sound too terrible, I hope.
MANY PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW THAT OVER 7 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE HEARD YOUR GUITAR PLAYING, BECAUSE YOU ARE ON NORAH JONES’ CLASSIC COME AWAY WITH ME ALBUM. WHEN YOU DID THAT SESSION, DID YOU FEEL THERE WAS ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUT IT?
I thought (Norah) was really great the first time that I heard her. I don’t think I would have predicted the level of success that she’d get. I thought that she was so fantastic that she would do something really great. The height of her success I never would have been able to predict, but upon first hearing her I thought “Wow; she’s really fantastic.” She was also a great piano player and a lovely person, so I thought people would really dig her.
ONE OF YOUR SONGS IS DEDICATED TO FRED McDOWELL. IS THAT THE OLD TIME BLUES PLAYER?
Yes, there were a couple of his albums that I’d listened to a lot. There was a period where I was really exploring the Delta Blues tradition, and trying to learn the songs that those guys played. The particular picking patterns and alternate tunings, because those guys played in different tunings than the standard guitar tunings.
I transcribed a bunch of Mississippi Fred McDowell, and when I wrote that tune, I felt like I didn’t write it as a conscious tribute, but afterwards it reminded me of some of the feeling of his music. I thought it was more of an unconscious tribute to him.
The title of the song is “The Mystic.” There’s something on one particular recording of his, and I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but there’s a shamanistic vibe to his music. It’s also in the music of Son House and Charlie Patton, but I didn’t want to call it “The Shaman.” (laughs) It refers to the feeling I got from some of his recordings.
YOU’VE ALSO PLAYED WITH SOME DEEPLY SPIRITUAL GUYS LIKE BRIAN BLADE AND JOHN PATITUCCI. DID YOU EVER GET INTO SOME DEEP DISCUSSIONS WITH THEM?
Yes. John and I have spoken a lot. He’s a very devout person, and I’m not a religious person, but we’ve spoken a lot about theology, religious history and all kinds of stuff. He’s an incredibly smart person and great to talk to about such things.
WHEN YOU’RE IN A BAND LEAD BY BRIAN BLADE, JOHN PATITUCCI OR CHRIS POTTER, DO YOU THING MUSICALLY DIFFERENT FOR EACH LEADER, OR DO YOU JUST BRING YOURSELF TO THE TABLE?
If I could explain it in words, that’s how I’d describe it. I don’t think about it much. I’ll think about different instruments and different sounds to include in my “arsenal of choices” when playing with them, but everything else is intuitive.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU AT THIS STAGE IN YOUR CAREER?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if I could anything specific philosophically or spiritually. I’m sure there are such things, but I’m just maybe unaware of it.
I’m just really obsessed with music. I listen to music constantly; I think I’m always looking to have the experience that I had when I was young, hearing Hendrix, Weather Report or John Coltrane for the first time. Or Beethoven, Stravinsky…and by that I mean hearing some music that elicits a strong reaction from me emotionally and musically, and sort of mystifies me.
When I was a kid and knew very little about music technically, and I’d hear some extraordinary music (whether it was Hendrix, Bird, ‘Trane or Beethoven) I couldn’t put my finger at all on what about the music technically that was creating such a reaction within myself.
I’m better at doing that now because I know so much more about music and music theory. But, ultimately, that’s what I’m trying to convey as a musician to somebody who is trying to listen to my music. And, that’s what I’m looking for in music; that sort of mysterious thing that just blows me away in 20 different ways…intellectually, emotionally, spiritually that I still get from listening to John Coltrane, Hendrix, Mozart and Beethoven.
Those same things that when I was 12 years old made me so excited when I heard Hendrix at his best continue to give me that feeling.
There’s a lot of music that when I was 12 that maybe hasn’t stood the test of time. But, deep amazing music is truly timeless. You can describe it in terms of specific technique and music theories, but I think that it’s more about energy. It’s almost like standing next to a fire.
It’s undeniable. When you listen to John Coltrane, that’s energy. It’s not “that’s because he plays this over this, or he was an extraordinary saxophonist.” It is because of those things, but ultimately the subtext is that there’s an energy there that one could find an equivalent in other forms of energy. Nuclear energy, or heat.
It’s undeniable; you don’t even have to like it. You don’t have to like fire to feel that it’s hot!
IT’S FUNNY THAT YOU MENTION THIS SEARCH FOR THE YOUTHFUL EXCITEMENT. CS LEWIS WROTE IN HIS BOOK SURPRISED BY JOY THAT HIS LIFE QUEST WAS TO RECAPTURE THE INNOCENT AND INITIAL GLIMPSES OF JOY OF HIS YOUTH. WHAT YOU HAVE JUST SAID IS VERY SIMILAR, AND IS POSSIBLY IN ALL OF US.
I think it’s in Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time where he talks about how physicists, scientists and astrophysicists have to retain the quality that a four year old child has, and just say “What is that?”. There’s no presumption or preconception; when someone looks at a star 2 billion light years away, you just have to kind of say “What is that?” and… let it tell you what it is.
One of the beautiful things about music, if you’re really able to listen to it, is that the ideal place to be as a listener is to not put any preconceptions on it. You don’t try to associate it with something else. You just let music wash over you and describe itself to you based on its own parameters. It could be referring to 500 different things instrumentally and stylistically in genres.
But none of that matters. It’s one of the things about labels. How do you describe a sunset? And why would you want to?
Coltrane and Beethoven transcend genres. It’s just something that you want to let itself describe itself to you based on its own parameters. I think that’s where I find music to be the most rewarding.
If I can be in that spiritual, mental and emotional state and let music be what it is. As a musician, if I can really listen to what’s going on around me, and given that I’m in an improvised music context, you want to let everything that is happening around you it what you can’t describe and what you can inform how you play.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
That’s way beyond my pay grade!
THE SEARCH THROUGH MUSIC FOR THAT INITIAL JOY OF LIFE IS REMINISCENT OF THE QUEST THAT SAINT AUGUSTINE ONCE WROTE, “OUR HEARTS ARE RESTLESS UNTIL THEY REST WITH THEE.”
ADAM ROGERS IS TO BE COMMENDED FOR CONTINUING HIS MUSICAL SOJOURN, AND HIS WORK WITH DICE DEFINITELY ROLLED A SEVEN. CHECK THIS MUSICAL TRAVELLER OUT!