A Word With Guitarist Stanley Jordan

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As a life-long Hendrix fan, historian, and biographer, I was thrilled to learn that jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan was doing a Hendrix tribute concert, and it was coming to the Big Island. I remember picking up Jordan’s debut release Magic Touch in 1985 and finding his interpretation of Hendrix’s heartfelt tune “Angel” as one of the tracks. Jordan’s double-hand tapping technique gave the song a new life 14 years after Hendrix fans first heard it.

Jordan and I both experienced a bookmark life moment when we learned Hendrix had tragically died – and far too soon! I began collecting archival material which led to writing three Hendrix books and working for the Hendrix family. In Jordan’s case, he pivoted from piano to guitar and went on to become a four-time Grammy Award-nominated guitarist. Hendrix’s music can have a profound effect on people.

In several interviews, Hendrix expressed that he wanted people to keep on playing his music after he died, and “go wild and freak out.” Big Island Hendrix fans will get that opportunity when Stanley Jordan will deliver a little “Electric Church Music” at the Honokaa People’s Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 25 – see details below.

When did you first discover Jimi Hendrix’s music, and were you fortunate to see him in concert?
I never saw him play live, but I think everyone remembers where they were when they first heard his music. I remember the moment when I got the news that he had passed away. At that time, I was a pianist and composer, and I remember the sadness that I felt. And I remember thinking we really had to do what we can to keep his legacy going. I made up my mind at that moment that I was gonna play guitar. Jimi was always a big influence on me, even right from the beginning.

“The Cry of Love” LP cover

What was the first Hendrix album you fell in love with? The first album I got was The Cry of Love (1971), and then I got Axis: Bold as Love (1967). I used to sit for hours listening again and again to every detail of that [record]. When I’m doing my shows now, I’m not imitating those records note for note. I’m trying to come up with an updated take on his music, but because of all that time I spent in the “woodshed,” so much of it is right there, just because it’s almost in my DNA.

In 1969, Hendrix briefly explored the jazz fusion genre with icons like John McLaughlin and Miles Davis. Have you heard some of that material, and what do you think of him branching out into new territory?
I think it’s great. Jimi was one of the main reasons that I got interested in jazz. There were certain rock artists who were pointing the way toward jazz. I liked jazz already, but I didn’t have a way in. It was the rock artists who were starting to work in some of the vocabularies from jazz… Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago, with some of their horn arrangements. Jimi was not so explicit in terms of the be-bop style, but in terms of the kind of extended vocabularies and taking to the blues and extending the blues vocabulary, and the fierce improvisational side of it. I love to hear what he would have done if he kept going in that direction. No one knows what he would have done, obviously, but if you have a feel for his music, I think you can make an educated guess and come up with something that has that same feel and plot direction he might have gone in.

In your Hendrix concert tribute show, are you using any similar pedals or effects that Jimi relied upon?
I’m using the classic Cry Baby (pedal), and sometimes I’ll use the Univibe for “The National Anthem.” I’m using more updated versions because I think the quality is better. I’ve got a nice-sounding reverb and digital delay panel that I use… things that weren’t around in his day.

What type of guitar are you using at these shows?
A Vigier Arpege, which has been my main guitar for over 20 years. I’m still using that and I’m so comfortable with the instrument. But at some point, I do want to get a Stratocaster as we develop the show. There are certain sounds that are definitely a Strat sound, and that I’m not getting out of my Vigier, so that’s down the road.

Besides performing Hendrix’s music at the tribute concerts, I understand there’s also a theatrical element to your show. Can you expand on that?
What I’ve found to really get into the spirit of Jimi’s music, is to try to tap into his spirit and persona and sort of try to channel his persona. So, I decided that I would make that part of the show… dress the part, act the part and appreciate it as an actor as well as a musician. And for me that has been one of my favorite parts of the show because when I was a kid, and learning his music, it wasn’t just the notes, it was Jimi that I was tapping into… his philosophy, the way he would think, and even just the name experience. It’s all about creating an experience. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to do the best to recreate that experience, even though I never actually went to any of these shows. But because I was from that time, there are certain things that I know that maybe some of the younger people today wouldn’t have as much access to just because it’s a different time. And I’m trying to bring us back to those moments and I try to recreate that experience as best I can. So, I find that the best way to do that is to approach it as an actor, too.

What are your thoughts on Jimi’s short-lived power-rock trio, The Band of Gypsys?
When Jimi first became well-known, he had the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was more structured, but he wanted to start going outside of those structures, and I think that with the Band of Gypsys he was able to take that to a whole other level. We can hear that on Electric Ladyland, there’s a lot of stuff there that’s going in that direction.

Tell me about the other members in your tribute trio.
Drummer Kenwood Dennard has been teaching the Jimi Hendrix Ensemble for 20 years at the Berklee College of Music, where he is a percussion professor. He can play keyboards and drums at the same time, and that comes in handy when we’re doing “Voodoo Chile.” Bassist Gary Kelly has a long history of doing Jimi’s music with several people [Jimmy Buffet, Mamas & Papas, and Martha and the Vandella’s, etc.].

I understand you have an upcoming solo album due out this year.
Yeah, we’re still working out when the date is going to be, but it’s called Feather in The Wind. I look forward to people hearing it, and there’s a fair amount of musical variety on it… all different directions that kind of fit together around a theme… of redemption and renewal in the face of a loss and change. There were some important people in my life who I lost in the making of the album, and there were people who were supposed to be on the album but passed away… there were a lot of things that I did to find some continuity in the face of all the changes that life was throwing at me… When life throws something at you what do you do about it? And that’s a lot of what this album is about. It’s about triumphing over that.

If You Go… Have A Good Show!

Event: Stanley Jordan Plays Jimi Hendrix
When: Jan. 25, 2020. Doors: 6:30 p.m. Show: 7 p.m.
Where: Honokaa People’s Theatre, 45-3574 Mamane St, Honokaa.
Cost:  General Admission: $38.  Gold Circle Seating: $55.
Ticket info: For online tickets and Gold Circle Seating, go to: www.bluesbearhawaii.com or call: 808-896-4845. Big Island ticket outlets: Kona Music Exchange – Kona; Kiernan’s Music – Old Town Kainaliu; Waimea General Store – Parker Square, Kamuela; Top Stitch – Honoka’a; Hilo Music Exchange, Hilo Ukulele & Guitar – Hilo, and Rogers Guitars – Kea’au.


This interview has been edited for space, clarity, and continuity.

Steven Roby is the author of three books on Jimi Hendrix including the bestseller Hendrix on Hendrix. He has been a guest lecturer speaking about Hendrix at universities in the U.S. and taught a college course on the guitarist’s life and music. From 1979-1996, Roby produced annual Hendrix radio tributes including a documentary on NBC’s Source Network.

 

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