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Adam Rogers holds a privileged position in the difficult field of jazz guitar. On November 16th 2007 he visited Madrid to perform at the Festival de Jazz de Ciudad Lineal with Chris Potter Underground. Between the soundcheck and the concert Arturo Mora had the chance to talk to him about his music, his last record and his guitars, among other things.

Adam Rogers © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: Your new CD, Time And The Infinite, is your first trio record. Why a trio record now?

ADAM ROGERS: I like playing trio, I’ve played trio for many years performing live, and it’s a different kind of setting for the guitar than with a saxophone or a piano, or with saxophone and piano. It gives you a lot of space in which to create music and in a different way because it’s just the guitar, you know, you play all the melodies, you have a lot of room to create the texture, given that you’re the main melodic instrument, and there’s a lot of space for you to work.

    And it’s something that I wanted to do in a way that it’s a little bit more of a challenge for me because in a guitar trio as the guitarist you have to play a lot more than if you’re playing with a saxophonist or a pianist or both. I get bored of textures very quickly, if I hear myself playing all the time I wanna change the texture, give it to the saxophone, or give it to the piano, so it’s a challenge for me to hear myself on the entire record and go: “OK, what can I do here to make this more interesting?” I have to change, even if it’s just for me. Maybe a listener might be fine listening to a whole record of me playing the guitar but I wanna change things, so it’s a challenge for me to sort of change the texture.

ARTURO MORA: So, that may help you structure the solos, as they are longer in this kind of setting.

ADAM ROGERS: You know, I don’t think about it while I’m playing, but it sort of gets in there, and when I’m thinking in the whole program of a record I’ll think about that, maybe after it’s done if I have fifteen songs that I recorded and I need to pick ten I’ll choose things so that the architechture of the record is interesting to me, or I’ll play acoustic on one song, or….

But also I think there’s a history of great guitar trio recordings that as a guitarist I feel like I want to make a trio record.

ARTURO MORA: Which guitar trio records have influenced you the most?

ADAM ROGERS: Well, there are Wes [Montgomery] organ trio records. The more influential trio records for me have been piano trio records, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Herbie [Hancock], even just Herbie playing inside the Miles Davis Quintet as a trio, that was very very influential… 70’s Keith Jarrett. Guitar trio, well there was Wes as a huge influence, although as they mostly were organ trios they were just like a quartet.

Adam Rogers / Arturo Mora © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers / Arturo Mora
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: In your first three CD’s you only played one standard, “Long Ago And Far Away”. Five out of nine tunes in your new record are standards, why that choice?

ADAM ROGERS: I had thought of this trio record as possibly being all standards initially, just because I’ve played standards my whole life, it’s a very important part of my history as a musician and a guitarist, and then when I got closer to doing the record I realised there were a couple of songs of mine that I wanted to play and I wrote two songs right before we played the record. But I tried to make my songs not similar to the standards that we were playing, but not something so different than the standards. A couple of them are sort of old songs of mine, there’s a song called “Esteban” that I wrote in the early 90’s, so it’s like a standard of mine.

ARTURO MORA: In a straight ahead melody-solos-melody context, what do you look for when writing a tune?

ADAM ROGERS: Material from which to draw in an improvisation, and in the solo sections chords that are not easy to play, but that make sense and you want to play over. Sometimes people work very hard changes that they don’t make sense. They may be conducive to improvisation. “Giant Steps” is a very hard tune but you want to play over these changes. Sometimes if somebody writes hard changes that don’t really make any sense it’s very hard for no reason to play over them.

    But in two of the tunes in this record, “Elegy” and “Ides of March”, the solo sections are completely free, so what I look for in writing a song not only for soloistic reasons is that is has some strong material, so that even if you’re playing completely free, that you can pull things from the melody when improvising.

ARTURO MORA: …some kind of motivic development…

ADAM ROGERS: Yeah, but not even specifically, just even in terms of like a smell of that particular song. You don’t have to quote the melody, but you may be put in a vibe, in a mood that you can play from, even if you’re not particularly using motifs from the melody itself.

ARTURO MORA: What do you look for in a rhythm section?

ADAM ROGERS: A lot of different things: people who have a great sense of sound, whoever it is on their instrument. From a bassist, great sound, somebody who is always listening, who’s a very strong soloist, a great accompanist, somebody who does not mind playing very simple ideas behind what you’re playing, somebody who has nothing to proof, like Scott Colley: he’s the perfect example of a great great bassist in many ways.

Adam Rogers © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: I was going to ask you about him.

ADAM ROGERS: He plays in this record, and he plays whole notes, and he plays whole notes as hard as when he’s playing the most involved solo, because no matter what you’re playing in music everything is important.

Also I look for someone who’s a great virtuoso but who doesn’t have to play virtuosically all the time, and whose concept of sound is fully developed. And also in this context somebody who can really really swing. You can play simply but swing incredibly hard, like Bill Stewart or Clarence Penn. These guys are kind of very different drummers, but when they’re swinging it could hold up a train, great feeling of rhythm.

ARTURO MORA: You’ve played in many different styles, you’ve played with John Zorn and with Randy Brecker, with Norah Jones and Walter Becker. Is it hard for you to switch styles?

ADAM ROGERS: No, I don’t think so. Whatever musical situation I’m in I try to be in that musical situation, I think because I listen to many different styles intensely. You know I started out just listening to Hendrix, I’m a student of funk and r&b, and I studied classical music really seriously for four years. I think maybe partially from studying classical music, when you play baroque music you play very differently than when you play romantic music, or 20th Century music, so I think maybe the study of classical guitar taught me to really listen to the music around you when you’re playing, and on guitar that frequently involves using different guitars, and different sounds, and to me that’s really interesting, I love that challenge to bring my personality out in a context that’s ever shifting, because I think if you have a strong identity that will come through no matter what you’re doing. If it doesn’t then there’s a problem.

ARTURO MORA: Although you play different styles, you chose jazz to present yourself as a leader. Do you consider yourself a jazz musician?

ADAM ROGERS: I consider myself an improvising musician most of all. I like to play music in which I can improvise most of all. If I play the same thing too many times I start to get a little bored, so I like to change and react to the situations around me. But I also like to play a song the same way and play a part that really feels great. So given that most of the music I play is jazz I guess I’m a jazz musician, but I’m just a musician, I like to think of myself that way, but it doesn’t really matter what I think of myself [laughs].

Adam Rogers © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: Let’s talk a little bit about your equipment. How many amps do you have?

ADAM ROGERS: I have a lot of amps.

ARTURO MORA: We know [laughs].

ADAM ROGERS: [Pointing at the interviewer’s notes] I see you entered my website [laughs]. It’s twenty-something amps. I have a lot of guitars too, I like different sounds and different instruments, and because I’ve also played in a lot of different kinds of records I can use these different sounds, even when I play not necessarily on my own, but when I play on various records I try different amplifiers, sometimes even an amp that I haven’t played that much I use it because I like what it brings out from me as a musician if I hear a slightly different sound. One of the things that I like about trying different instruments and different amplifiers is that you can never relax, you can never fall back on something you’re very comfortable with, I think part of me keeps myself in challenging situations, even if it’s by sound.

    But regarding my records back to the question you said before, I like to make a record that from beginning to end is one thing. I like records like that, especially from my own records. When I make my records I don’t want to say: “Oh, this is a funk tune, this is a classical tune, …”. I would make another kind of record, that’s all electric, or all funk, or all soundscapes or all something else. So I like to have a record that has a concept. And I didn’t think about this so much in the four records that I’ve recorded, it just happens naturally. When I’m writing for a record I’m thinking of all songs that fall under the same sort of category, and if I want to do another record I’ll do that.

    And back to sound, I have twenty-something amps, twenty-something guitars…

ARTURO MORA: …and most of them are vintage.

ADAM ROGERS: Yeah, in the last ten years I’ve got kind of a vintage collection, I like the sound of old instruments, the resonance that guitars and amplifiers have after years of being played, even old instruments that haven’t been played that much have the sound, especially old American guitars have a kind of lacquer and finish that they don’t use now, that kind of natural lacquer that makes the wood breathe through the lacquer as time goes along, like a bass or a violin, the sound of the instrument changes. New guitars have urethane over them and they can’t breathe with the urethane. Some of them sound good, but… You know, in the old days in Fender and Gibson there were few people in the factory, everybody’s looking at the thing, … Although the guitar that I play on my records is a 1999 Gibson ES-335, a new guitar. Gibson gave it to me because I have an endorsement with them, and it just happens to be a good guitar and perfect for my uses. This Telecaster [the one he played that night in the Underground concert] is from ’67, the other one that I play is from ’56, …

    But, you know, there’s stuff to be said about really beautiful new guitars too, they’re very even. Old guitars sometimes… you know, some part of the neck is like this [he bends his arm in one direction], the other part is like [he bends his arm in the opposite direction], they’ve got issues, like with an old chair, it’s not totally even. Some of these guitars have been re-fretted and really taken care of very well and they feel like a new guitar, but… My ’56 Telecaster has a very very interesting sound, but it’s not easy to play.

Adam Rogers © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: Many guitar players like the typical Fender sound or the typical Gibson sound, but never both of them, as you do.

ADAM ROGERS: I play different kinds of music, or even within my own thing between different songs, … Gibson’s for jazz, I like Gibsons because they are hollow body guitars, Fender doesn’t make hollow bodies – I mean they made a couple, but not a lot – and Fenders have a particular sound so I love both ot them. I started out playing Fenders, because I was a Hendrix fanatic.

ARTURO MORA: I just heard it at the sound check.

ADAM ROGERS: Oh yeah [laughs]. So it just depends on the music. For funk and r&b maybe most of the time I think of Fenders but I have and old [Gibson] SG that I play on record dates.

ARTURO MORA: Regarding your picking position, your guitar neck is almost completely horizontal and you don’t hold the pick like most guitarists, but like George Benson. Why did you choose that technique?

ADAM ROGERS: I have no idea, I don’t remember where that happened, how I came up with it. I think keeping my hand there allows a lot of precision as opposed to playing like this [he mimics the tradicional picking position], in which I cannot get very into little details, because I don’t play from the arm, I play from around here [he shows his thumb and first finger moving as if he was playing the guitar], but again I really don’t remember how that happened. I was a huge fan of Benson when I was a kid but I’m not sure it was from that.

    It’s just something that I had an idea of the way that I wanted to play, because I’ve always emulated saxophonists like [John] Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and I wanted to be able to play quickly in the way a saxophonist does without so much effort and I just figured out that playing like this allowed sort of an economy of motion, so I don’t get around a lot to get a result. But I never thought about it.

ARTURO MORA: You’ve played in many contexts with a piano, another harmonic instrument, like here with Craig Taborn or in your previous records with Edward Simon. How do you trade harmony with a pianist?

ADAM ROGERS: Just listening. This [Underground] is an unusual band because there’s not bass in it so we just play together and listen, and in my groups Edward and I are more conscious like if he’s playing I’ll let him accompany a soloist and then we’ll switch or for both playing at the same time we just listen, so if he’s playing rhythmic things I’ll play more textural if it’s possible. It’s all about listening.

Adam Rogers © Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

Adam Rogers
© Sergio Cabanillas, 2007

ARTURO MORA: What can you tell me about the experience of playing with the late Michael Brecker? What did you learn from him?

ADAM ROGERS: Oh God, that’s another interview [laughs]. Just a lot of things. Maybe primarily that when you play music that you play 250,000 % every time that you pick up your instrument. Mike played with such intensity and such dedication that I felt every time he picked up the saxophone it was a huge huge lesson for me. And playing with him on and off for the five or six years that I did, every night that he played, I learned, you know, to… God, I mean… a lot of other little things I think, but probably primarily this because he adds such force and power as an improviser, as a saxophonist, his sound, you know, every time he played it was like bam! you know it was so strong. And of course in that there were 200,000 little lessons, but it was like when you play it’s not like: [in a childish voice] “Oh, I’ll play something”, but playing with the full force of your whole being and humanity every time you play a solo, and I can’t think of a more valuable lesson. Not that you are successful doing it every time that you try, but that it’s a great aspiration, I think.

    And a lot of other things, he was a truly fantastic human being, and I learned a lot about being a better human being being around Michael.

ARTURO MORA: Just to finish, which are your future projects?

ADAM ROGERS: I’m doing another record, I’m working on the idea of doing a live record with a similar group to the group that was on Allegory and Apparitions, but that’s being planned right now, so it will be next spring or… And then I would like to do another maybe more sort of textural electric record also. I’m not clear about if I’ll release this myself or do it with the label. I had a band called Lost Tribe for many years, and it was kind of a very electric project. Doing these four records that were more of acoustic jazz was very important for me, and I’ll continue to do that, because that’s a great part of who I am, and put out other things that I want to record. So I’m figuring all that out.

Text © 2007-2008 Arturo Mora Rioja
Photographs © 2007 Sergio Cabanillas