Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman on John Elliott
The following is a small part of an interview with Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman in the April/May issue of Jazz Ambassadors Magazine. I've copied the part where they are talking about John Elliott. Danny was kind enough to mention my book. The entire interview can be found here.
JAM: What was John Elliott's influence in making this all possible?
Rod: John was important to all of us, not just the guitar players. Everybody.
Danny: There's something about the guitar in Kansas City , it's hard to pin it down why there are so many good guitarists.
Rod: It's definitely a guitar town. No doubt about it.
Danny: And John Elliott certainly solidified the stuff we needed, helped us pull the harmony and theory thing together. It wasn't about lines or single lines, it was more about the whole chordal and keyboard aspect. He helped the guitar player to understand the keyboard. Heck, we just wanted to play our guitars!
Rod: He was teaching the theory, it was especially important to guitar players, because guitar is an instrument where you are prone to fall into patterns.
Danny: Especially visual patterns.
Rod: It's like once you know this shape, you can move it up the neck and as long as you know where the root of the chord is you can almost turn your brain off. But John would turn the brain on, he would force you to sit down at the piano and think about things. John knew all the tricks. I'd say, "well, that particular chord, I don't think you can play it on the guitar", and he'd say "oh, you can, keep looking! Try that lower string group."
Danny: He knew how to write and voice for the guitar. The piano can be voiced in thirds, but the guitar, the voicings need to be broken up. He understood this. He knew what we could play and what we couldn't.
Rod: He really nailed us!
JAM: So how did you get to John?
Danny: It was all word of mouth, all the guitar players knew, I think I went to him after Rod had started. You had to wait, I was on the list for about a year. Rod was taking lessons from him, and Pat had taken lessons with him before that. I put in three solid years, and could have done another but I went out to LA. He just taught privately. He had ninety students a week at that time, and he had a studio at 99th and Holmes for years. He didn't hand out stuff, he wrote it out in our spiral music notebook. We all still have them. He filled up about four or five books when I was with him.
Rod: You'd go ahead and perform the lesson he had given to you from the previous week and while you were doing that he'd be writing out the next lesson. But he'd hear everything you were doing, he'd be writing and he'd say, "that's not right, do that again", and keep on writing.
JAM: How did he influence your teaching?
Danny: That's the way I start everybody.
Rod: Yeah. I can't get away from it. I plagiarize him like crazy.
Danny: It's tried and true, it works, you know? One thing I do, I split the lesson up in two parts, half theory and chordal stuff, and half technique and solo kinds of things. But the theory half of it is John Elliott. I think John's glad to hear it, that we're continuing on with his method. He'd like that. I don't copy his material verbatim, I write out my own stuff, but it's the same concepts.There's a guitar player in town that has come out with a new series of books, Jay EuDaly, called Vertical Truth - Chordal Mechanisms for the Guitar. He plays a little jazz, he's good, but he's more out of a rock perspective. He studied with John for seven years. He put this book out of John's method, under the auspices of John, with the blessings of John. He had me review it for JAM a few years ago. [Editor's note: Danny's review is in the December 2000 / January 2001 issue of JAM ]. I remember when I got the copy, looking at it, thinking 'yup, this is it'.
[Danny's review can be found here.]
Rod: John would never put a book out, although we all wanted him to, it was such a great method that he had. He just wouldn't do it.
Danny: But we all took from him and then he retired, some people wanted to study from him but he retired. I assume Cardenas took from him, he was probably the last of the line. Jake Blanton, he's too young to have studied with him, same with Matt Hopper.
Rod: But when we've taught them, we've really exposed them to John, so his influence continues. It's really far reaching.