Malone breaking rule for six-string heroes

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GUITARIST Russell Malone has been influenced by a number of players from a mix of genres, but usually avoids tribute shows.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/02/2015 (2733 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GUITARIST Russell Malone has been influenced by a number of players from a mix of genres, but usually avoids tribute shows.

He’s breaking that rule next month for three shows in the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series, billed as a tribute to jazz guitar greats such as Charlie Christian, Charlie Byrd, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery.

“I usually avoid doing tributes,” Malone says in an email exchange before his performances here in March.

SUPPLIED PHOTO Russell Malone says he generally avoids playing in tribute shows because they ‘come off sounding more like assignments.’

“I’ve seen and heard a lot of them, and some of them, to be totally honest with you, come off sounding more like assignments than personal statements from the musicians.

“When Steve Kirby (Asper series artistic director and director of jazz studies at the University of Manitoba) first approached me about doing this, I was a bit apprehensive at first, but Steve is very charming, and I really respect him as a musician. We talked about it and I said, what the heck, let’s give it a shot,” Malone adds.

Malone has performed and recorded as a leader and with musicians such as Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. Ron Carter, Benny Green, Sonny Rollins and pianist Cyrus Chestnut, who will join him in Winnipeg.

Both musicians are familiar to Winnipeg jazz fans, having performed here several times.

Their shows will include material from jazz greats alongside Malone’s own compositions, the guitarist says.

Malone’s influences don’t end with well-known jazz guitarists. When asked if he was influence by any guitarists, say from other genres, he replies:

“Absolutely! B.B. King, Howard Carroll (the guitarist from the gospel group, the Dixie Hummingbirds), Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, just to name a few. I just love good guitar playing, regardless of the genre.”

But was there one guitarist who really set him on his career path, one who gave him that Aha! moment?

“When I heard George Benson at the age of 12, that did it for me. I knew immediately that there was a whole other level to aspire to,” he says.

Malone is no stranger to guitar/piano duos, having performed and recorded with Green, and he looks forward to his appearance with Chestnut.

“Cyrus Chestnut is an exceptional musician. We’ve played together quite a bit, and we’ve also done a few recordings together,” Malone says.

Malone and Chestnut will be accompanied by Kirby on bass and Quincy Davis on drums.

Malone sees himself as a jazz performer and not a preacher, even in a tribute setting.

“When I play my guitar, I don’t put a lot of thought into trying to educate the audience, or to ‘hip’ them to anything. My job is to make them feel good. If they hear something they like that inspires further research, then that’s good,” he says.

Even though he will be paying tribute to great jazz guitarists, Malone remains his own man.

“What I try to be is open and flexible, without having to be a chameleon. No matter what musical situation I’m in, I’m going to play like Russell Malone. We’ve all heard musicians who can fit into any ‘bag,’ but we don’t know what they sound like. They have no identity.”

Malone’s latest album, Love Looks Good on You, was released Feb. 17 on the HighNote label with his working quartet of pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III.

WBGO.org, New Jersey public radio’s website, describes the new disc as melodic magic.

“As Russell says in the liner notes, ‘I prefer to play songs that stick in my head, and the listener’s head — paired with harmonic schemes that might prompt imaginative improvisations,” the website says.

“Malone’s investigations are always fresh — whether he’s playing amazing single lines, displaying form, history and humour, or playing in hushed tones that make notes weep,” it adds.

Malone and Chestnut perform Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 8 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Berney Theatre. Tickets are $38 at radyjcc.com and 204-477-7534.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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