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On his new CD Paul Meyers continues to explore the possibilities of improvisation solo nylon string guitar. Paul is a Potsdam native who lives near New York City. He teaches at two colleges in New Jersey, and travels all over the world playing in a number of musical settings. His new CD is called “I Let A Song Go” and unlike last year’s release, “Welcome Home”, this CD is almost entirely standards. And with good reason:
Because I didn’t have any originals to record, I recorded them all on the last one. That’s true; I mean I have other original music, but not that I work out for solo performances at that same level.
On the CD you do have some lesser note standards, but all of these tunes have been recorded many times before, some more than others. Do you ever think about putting your own stamp on these tunes when you’re playing them? Or do you just play them however they come out, and not worry so much about how they’ve been presented before?
I don’t worry too much about how they’ve been presented before. I feel like, you can’t help but put your own stamp on them, even if you try not to. I think that just doing them as a solo, I guess a big thing for me is as a solo guitarist, which is not the only thing I do, but I do do quite a bit of that. It is a tremendous challenge to perform any music, your own or standards. And make it something that feels there’s a continuity, there’s and interest in there. For me one of the biggest things was keeping the rhythm going, like the feeling of the rhythm going the whole time, without a bass player and a drummer. And that was probably the biggest challenge, and I felt like I got it on both these past two CDs. That was an important thing on the originals too, to keep the rhythm flowing all the way through each performance.
Are there some songs, no matter how hard you try they just don’t translate well to solo guitar?
Yea, some don’t seem to want to do that, and it doesn’t mean you can’t, but sometimes changing the key on them will help. But, yes some don’t work, a note to me, tunes that have a lot of notes in the melody that are very busy don’t work well. Because then all you can do is play the melody, and you can’t fill in anything harmonically. So the melodies tend to be not too busy, and there’s room to add cords. In a way I’m thinking of some of the great solo piano albums there are out there. It’s a little easier, it’s not easy if you ask piano players, it’s not easy at all, but it’s a little bit easier on piano to play solo, because you have two hands. You got a left hand that can play cords while right hand’s playing melodies. And on guitar it’s all done, all the melodies and the cords are being fingered by just your left hand, just one hand, or your right hand if you play left handed. You have to get comfortable also with using space, and feel okay that there’s going to be little spaces in between things, and that’s part of the music. You actually learn to incorporate the space, as long as the rhythm keeps flowing the space is okay; in fact it’s actually good.
Most times when you’re playing with a group, if you’re playing and you leave a space there is still music going on, because other people are doing things. You know the rhythm section is doing something, or another voice is happening. But if you’re playing by yourself and you let go for even just a second or half a second it can feel unnerving. And there can be a tendency to want fill all the spaces. But if you hear, a lot of my favorite music is music where that doesn’t have to happen. The space almost sets off the ideas, and frames them in a way. I think of, of course this is not solo, but I think of Miles Davis as a classic example, especially the way he played in the late fifties. His ideas were so great, but he was also very comfortable with using space, there were breathes in between the ideas.
Some of the songs could go to some pretty interesting places on this CD that may venture a bit away from the melody, but they always come back to the melody of course. Are you conscious of that when you’re playing a song? Of how far away from the melody you can take the song before you bring it back, or is that a purely organic moment-to-moment kind of thing?
Well, I think I’m pretty conscious of it. As a jazz musician you work on seeing how far you can with the. But basically this kind of improvisation has been something that’s been done for a long time, where you take a song form, a structure, maybe 32 bars is a typical song form. And it’s got a melody and set of cords that go along, that’s the song. And after you state that, the cords keep repeating, it’s like a theme in variations. But then you improvise your own melodies on top of the cords. And you may play a little bit with the cords themselves. And that’s up to taste of each musician, and the ability of each musician, and what they’ve also spent time in the practice room figuring out what works for them, and what doesn’t. And then you bring all that to the performance time.
That’s guitarist Paul Meyers, speaking to us via Skype from his home in New Jersey last week. His new CD is called “I Let A Song Go” and he’s playing a CD release concert tomorrow night at the home of Robin McClellan, just outside of Potsdam. You can get all of the details at the St. Lawrence County Arts Council website. That’s slcartscouncil.org, and you can learn more about Paul at his website paulmeyers.info.