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Jamie Murrell / Blog

Hop-a-long James!

Hop-a-long James! Well I broke my fibula bone in my right leg. It is a hairline fraction, & not as bad as what a lot of people do when they break the fibula. But, it's still broken & it hurts a lot. I was walking out to my car when I stepped down on an uneven concrete step. The top part of the step looked as if it had been just chipped away. I didn't notice. My body slipped out under me, my ankle twisted, then I hurled to the ground. Now I'm in a splint boot. I can't drive. I can't get up to walk without crutches. I use a chair with wheels to scoot myself around my home & office. This is the kind of thing that makes you appreciate being able to walk, & use your legs normally. The doctor told me that the bone is healing well. I'll be able to put some weight on my right leg in a couple of weeks. It should heal within 4 to 6 weeks. In the meantime, I have to hop-a-log on my left leg. I can still play to guitar setting down. I have been practicing guitar a lot more since I broke my leg. I also have had some quiet time to sit & think about my life, & what I want to do next with my music. One thing I really think that I should do is to go back to college, & finish my Bachelor degree in Jazz Studies. I've been putting that off for a long time, & I don't think I can go forward with my career until I do that. I have been looking at different colleges & universities, & I've decided to try the University of Dayton. UD offers a BA in Music with a concentration in Jazz Studies. I may have to re-take some classes in order to be in the program, but I feel as though it would be worth it in the long run. I live only a few minuets away from the campus. The University of Dayton is also a highly reputable university, & I know many of the professors there. Although breaking my leg has been a drag, I think it has been good for me to put my life into perspective. Hopefully my leg will heal quickly. Peace, James Murrell www.jamesmurrellgtr.com

Jammin' In Columbus

Jammin' In Columbus! 

Jazz Improvisation is a very complicated thing. Tuesday night I went to a jam session in Columbus, Ohio at the Park Street Tavern. 

I got on stage & they called out to play the standard "Stella By Starlight" which I was cool with playing. But, instead they started playing another standard called "Have You Met Miss Jones". That was a little confusing but I adjusted quickly. 

I know that song but I haven't played it in many years. It's a very complicated song as far as how the chord progression goes through different keys, especially on the bridge of the song. I had a chord chart in a book with me for the "Have You Met Miss Jones" but they launched into it before I could open the book so, I had to just wing it from memory. 

For the melody of the song I just stood there & listened to the pianist play the chords. Then I found my hands just going to the places on the fretboard of my guitar automatically where the chords are voiced.  I had a hard time with the bridge of the song at first but, after going through the sequence a few times, my hands were going to the right positions for the chords. 

When it came to my solo single note improvisation, my brain kind of went out there. I was going for notes inside of the key (F Major) at 1st but, because of my development as an improviser since having played the song before, I found myself going outside the familiar notes that I had used in the past on the song for improvisation possibly due to things that I had learned from improvising on new songs since then. I was truly improvising! 

After everyone soloed over the chord changes of "Have You Miss Jones", we traded 8 measures of soloing with the drummer. Then the melody was played by the horns in unison. I remembered how to play the melody so I joined in with the horns & let the pianist play the chords. Then we ended the song by repeating the last 2 measures in a tag ending.  

It was a strange experience for me to play the song off the cuff like that. I must have done well though cause I got a huge applause from the crowd. I was sweating bullets inside though! 


James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

The Forgotten

Recently I have noticed that many of the great Jazz artists are being forgotten. It's really sad because they paved the way for all the music we hear in American culture today.  Popular music was started by Jazz artists in many ways. 

One of the things you have to understand is that the classic Rock, Pop, and R&B artists that we all love like the Beatles, James Brown, the Who, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gay, the Rolling Stones, etc. did not study Rock or R&B music because, the music didn't exist before them. They studied Classical, Folk, Blues, Country, & Jazz music styles. That's why you hear big band style horns in Aerosmith songs! They studied Jazz. 

When I was a child I would hear older musicians, like my teachers or people in music stores, mention these Jazz artist to me. The music magazines like Guitar Player, Musician, Rolling Stone, & even People magazine, would have articles about these artists often. I even remember MTV announcing tour dates for Pat Metheny once. 

All this sparked my interest in Jazz music. I dove into the music both from a playing point & also from a historical point of view. I studied the history of American music & I found myself attracted to the joy of Jazz improvisation. I found that I could both enjoy the tradition of the language of Jazz and bring my own language into the art form of Jazz - I could be both original & traditional at the same time! 

 Here are the names of some great Jazz artists that I feel like are being forgotten that you can check out -  Cal Collins (Guitar),  Shorty Rogers (Trumpet),  Sonny Clark (Piano),  Al Harewood (Drums),  Billy Bean (Guitar),  Wayne Marsh (Sax),  Shirley Scott (Organ),  Sonny Criss (Sax),  and thousands of other great Jazz artists not mentioned here. 

Check them out. Do your own research. All the great Jazz artists are worth checking out. Go to the library and google their names on the Internet. Don't let these great Jazz artists be forgotten! 


James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

Beginner's Mind

I was playing through an exercise in Pat Metheny's new book "Guitar Etudes" on my guitar yesterday & I realized something profound - I'm still learning to play the guitar. Even after 32 1/2 years of playing the guitar, I'm still a student of the music & I learn something new on the guitar every time I pick it up. 

It's what Zen masters call beginner's mind. I'm not a Buddhist or Martial Artist at all but I've read a lot of books on the philosophy behind the religion and, I believe that there are many truths in Zen philosophy. 

One of my favorite books on Zen philosophy is called "Zen Guitar" by Philip Toshio Sudo. I've read this book at lease 10 times & every time I read it I learn something new. 

"Zen Guitar" is broken down into several sections. The 1st section of the book is called "Beginner's Mind". There are 4 important points to this section -  They are -  1. Wear the white belt - the white belt represents an empty cup - approaching the guitar with a blank slate as if it was the 1st time you had ever played the guitar.  2. Pick up your guitar - means two things - first go get a guitar & second, pick up your guitar with a sense of purpose.  3. Tune - means to learn to bring the guitar into harmony with itself & to learn how to hear - it also means to tune into yourself & your surroundings - to bring the body, mind, & spirit into harmony.  And lastly,  4. Play - "Play 1 note on 1 string & pour in every ounce of your heart soul. Then repeat." Play as if you mean it even if you don't know how to play. He says in the book to play as if your are shouting at the roar of waves crashing against the shoreline - to use katsu - the roar of someone who knows what it means to be alive! - its the shout that martial artists use when they kick or throw punches. Play it like you mean it!!! 

Through out the rest of "Zen Guitar" Philip Toshio Sudo goes into many ways to expand these 4 points into mastery of the guitar. I have learned a lot about playing & teaching from this book. For example quote "The 1st rule of mastery is this: Those who think themselves masters are not masters." - I've found this to be absolutely true - the more that I've learned, the more that I've realized that my knowledge is minuscule in comparison to the grand scope of musical knowledge that exist.  Another important thing that I've learned from "Zen Guitar" is that a teacher, what they call a Sensei in martial arts, is one who has gone before - a guide to the way to enlightenment because they have been on the path longer than you have been. So I approach both teaching & learning from this point of view. I am a teacher because I am further along the way and there are many that are further along than me that I can learn from. 

It is needless to say that I highly recommend the book "Zen Guitar" to everyone even if you don't play guitar. I would also recommend the books "Effortless Mastery" by Kenny Werner for all musicians & "The Advancing Guitarist" by Mick Goodrich for guitar players. Also listen to as many masters of music on all instruments in every genre as much as you can - Jimi Hendrix, Yo Yo Ma, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Duke Ellington, Bach, Billy Joel, Brad Paisley, The Beach Boys, Elton John, John Coltrane, Eric Johnson, The Beatles, Beethoven, John Mellencamp, or whoever you consider the most wonderful music artists in the world - listen to them & realize that the greatness that they possess is within you also - all it takes is the effort to bring it out of yourself! 

So now I'm going to go and put on my white belt, pick up my guitar, tune, & play. 


James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

The Birthday Boy!

The Birthday Boy! 

Well today is my birthday. I'm 43 years old today. I was born June 7th, 1969. A lot has happened in the last 43 years - men walked on the moon (Apollo 11), Woodstock, Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, the Farm Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the Energy Crisis, 9/11 when the World Trade Centre twin towers fell, etc. 

A lot has happened in music also - Acid Rock, Fusion, World Music, Glam Rock, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, Soft Rock, Minimalist Classical Music, Young Lions Jazz, Retroactive Rock, Punk Rock, M-Base Jazz, Pop Country, Mainstream Jazz, Americana genre, Singer/Songwriters, Rap, Funk, Christian Rock, A.O.R., Jam Bands, Outlaw Country, Ska-Punk, Avant-guard Noise Jazz, Praise Music, Nuevo Flamenco, Gyspy Jazz Revivalist, Retro-swing Rock-a-billy, Grunge (my attire was finally in fashion!), Speed Metal, Smooth Jazz (to me not the real thing but everybody needs to make a living), Pop-Punk, New Wave, Hair-Metal, New Age music, etc. etc. 

I have seen a lot of my music heroes pass away - John Lennon, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Tom Jobim, Michael Brecker, George Harrison, Tony Williams, Danny Gatton, & many others that passed away before I was aware of them like Jimi Hendrix & Grant Green. Three musicians that I knew personally that passed away were Lester Bass (Bass player & mentor), Gene Bishop (teacher), & Lloyd Hazlebaker (teacher). All these people had a huge impact on my music & life. 

In my personal life I have lost my grandparents Lloyd Murrell, Violet Murrell, Pete Boothby, and Jesse Boothby. I loved all my grandparents so much. I was especially close to my Grandma Boothby. I was in classes at college when I learned that she had died. I had put off seeing her when she got sick. One thing I regret is having not said goodbye to her. I wish I could go back and see her one more time. 

Sorry for sharing such a sad part of my life with you. I guess I'm telling you so that you don't have to have that pain in your heart of regret. Go see your loved ones if they are seriously sick - you can live without that one day of practicing. The price of a missed or unprepared test is nothing compared to never being able to say goodbye. 

On a happier note, my stasis as a 43 year old is pretty good. My health is good. My teeth are okay (I went to the Dentist 3 times last month). I could stand to make more money but who doesn't! A paying gig would be good!!! - now I'm sounding like a creachy old man - lol! 

Old man billowing shout out #1 -  Speaking of paying gig, is there such a thing anymore?  Everywhere I go they want you to play for exposure, tips, or money at the door?  I'm not going to do it anymore. Not unless it is like really good exposure like national T.V. or playing at the White House!  I might not get to play out as much because of that but I don't care. I don't know what the solution to this is. Let me know what you think about the situation. 

Well anyway, it's been a good 43 years of my life so far. I have played guitar for 32 1/2 years of it. I'm glad that I can share this Birthday gift that has been given to me from God - the gift of music! 

Peace & happiness, 

James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

Guitars, Guitars, & More Guitars!

In my life I have had hundreds of guitars. I've had Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, SGs, Electric & Acoustic Hollow-body Arch-top Guitars, Semi-hollow Electrics, Classical Guitars, Solid-body Classicals, Flat-top Steel-string Acoustic Guitars (including Dreadnought, OM, OOO, Jumbo, Mini-Jumbo, & Travel-sized models), and different Bass Guitars. I even had a guitar that imitated most of these guitars (made by the Line 6 Company).   I've never have owned a 12-string guitar but I had a 7-string guitar once for about a week. I have never had more than 4 guitars at one time though. I've always have bought & then sold or traded them off. Most guitars last me about a year. There has been a few that I have gotten & then sold or traded them off within a day or so.  "Why?" you might ask. I don't know why exactly. I think it's the thrill of the hunt. I can't afford to own all those guitars at one time so that's why I end up trading or selling a lot of them. I would've kept every one of them if I could've. They were all great guitars!  Some might think that it's because I haven't found the "right" guitar for myself but I disagree. I have had the "right" guitar in my hands over & over again. It's the "right" guitar anytime a guitar is in my hands (oh how arrogant!!! - lol!). To me a guitar is a guitar.  There is a difference in sound between different kinds of guitars & guitar makers but, about 99% of the sound is in your hands. If I was to pick up Eric Clapton's guitar, I wouldn't sound like Eric Clapton. I could play the exact same notes that Eric does, but I would still sound like myself. The difference is genetic. You could spend your whole life in the pursuit of trying to sound like Eric Clapton if you want to but, that would be a waste of your life & talent, 'cause your aren't going to ever sound like Eric no matter what you do, because you are not Eric Clapton. There's only one Eric Clapton, one James Murrell (that's me), and only one you. If you try to sound like yourself, you will be more like Eric Clapton or any other hero that you are trying to imitate. There's nothing wrong with being inspired by your heroes though (I rip off Eric Clapton's tone all the time - lol). One of the reasons that you & I want to sound like our heroes is because, they have the tone that we hear in our heads as being close to our own personal sound.  Hey maybe that's it - I have had many guitar heroes and they have all had different guitars. Maybe I just have G.A.S. - Guitar Accusation Syndrome.  Peace,  James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

What Is It?

What Is It?

What is it? That's what the band Faith No More asked over & over in the song "Epic" in the 1990's. I find myself asking that same question over & over. What is the thing that would make it all make sense to me. More importantly, what is it that I want to make sense out of? 

I'm a guitarist & guitar teacher. My whole life I have focused my attention on being the best that I can be at those 2 things - guitar playing & teaching the guitar. I went to school for both things. I practice as much I can. I research everything I teach. I'm at the top of the best that I can be. 

Yet, what is it? What is the point? It seems like music artists don't even care if the music is good or it doesn't matter if the music has no originality.   They are mostly concerned with becoming famous. Guitarists today don't seem to care about expressing their inner feelings or getting inside the song. It's just look at me I can play a bazillion notes or I can solo for 20 minutes long.  John Coltrane soloed on songs for 20 minutes at a time because that was what was required for those songs he played. Often he didn't solo that long. It was only on songs that were set up to be played that way that John does solo that long.  Eddie Van Halen can & does play a bazillion notes in his solos. But, that is because the music he plays requires that. Also there are many songs by Van Halen where Eddie doesn't solo at all. 

It would be cool to become famous. You could have a fancy car. Have all those people paying attention to you. Light cigars with $100 bills etc. but, it that a realistic goal in life? Can everybody with music on the Internet become famous? Do you really want to be Brittany Spears? I know I don't want that at all. 

So, what is it? I think that what it is for me is this;  1. I'm a guitarist & teacher - those are the 2 things I was meant to do with my life, and  2. I should make a living (enough money to live on) doing those 2 things. 

That's it! That is what it is all about for me.  Now it's your turn to ask - what is it? 


James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

What Is Jazz?

What is Jazz? 

I just finished an online class last week at Berklee College of Music in Jazz Arranging. One of the questions that the class made me think about is - What is Jazz? 

If there are no horns - is it Jazz?  If it is simplistic - can it still be Jazz?  If I use effects on my guitar - can I still be playing Jazz?  Can I love playing Jimi Hendrix songs and still be a Jazz guitarist?  Is Boney James a jazzy instrumentalist or an instrumental jazzist?  If "Stella By Starlight" was a pop tune then why can't I do my Jazz version of "Whip It" by Devo?  What's so weird about arranging "Back In Black" for a Jazz Orchestra? 

Here's a real question - can I break tradition and be original in my own way of playing instrumental music without worrying about what anyone thinks about it? I think the answer is yes! The answer is yes because that's the answer to the question "What is Jazz?" Jazz is freedom! The only limitation that Jazz has is that which you put upon it. If you want to sound like John Coltrane then John Coltrane is your limitation. If traditional jazz guitar is your thing then an arch-top guitar with no effects are your limitations. 

Is there anything wrong with limitations? Of course not! Clint Eastwood said it best as Dirty Harry "A man's got to know his limitations".  

I think the problem is when you impose your own limitations on someone else. If your limitations include the traditional Jazz guitar sound then you shouldn't impose that on me. After all I'm not you & you are not me. I like playing a Telecaster guitar with effects. I have chosen to not be limited be the tradition of Jazz guitarists using only arch-top guitars. 

Wes Montgomery & Joe Pass chose to not be limited by the tradition of using a guitar pick. Charlie Christian chose to not be limited by the tradition of playing without amplification.  Eddy Lang chose not to be limited by the tradition of playing banjo in the rhythm section of the band and played the guitar instead of the tenor banjo. There were plenty of other musicians that went along with the tradition of their times, but choosing not to follow the tradition is a big part of the history of Jazz, and is quintessential to the development of the music.    So that's the answer to the question -  What is Jazz?  Jazz is freedom!  Freedom of choice.  An American art form because -  Jazz is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!  That's what it's all about right there!!!


James Murrell  http://www.jamesmurrellgtr.com 

To bebop or to rock? - That is the question!

To bebop or to rock? - That is the question! As a guitarist, that question is hard to answer. I have spent many years playing both jazz and rock music. I've also spent many years studying other styles such as country and blues guitar. I enjoy playing all those styles but jazz and rock have been the two styles I've enjoyed playing the most.

To a non-musician, the question may seem ridiculous. After all music is music - right? So why not play all the styles of music? The problem is that each genre of music has it's own intricacies and music language. To truly master a style of music, one must commit themselves to that music style completely for a time until it is completely understood.

One answer might be to play what they call fusion music. Fusion music is where different languages are combined from different genres within music. Like where you would use the sound of a rock 'n roll guitar with distortion, but the note choices you would use come from the jazz language. Almost all guitarists are fusion musicians to some degree because rock 'n roll primarily uses the guitar, and is the most popular form of music in the world. There's one problem with playing fusion music - in order to fuse together styles of music you must understand all the intricacies and the language of both styles. In other words, you must be the master of all the styles of music that you're fusing together.

I think that the answer for me is to play jazz music, because it is the style that I have spent the most time mastering and that I understand the most. Of course the wild rock 'n roll beast in me will always exist and will come out in my playing. But if you listen to real jazz - that is in there - that rock 'n roll beast came directly from it. Swing era big band music made people go wild and made them dance. Bebop was the music of the underground current within America in the 1940s and 50s. The first popular political protest songs were written by jazz musicians.

Jazz music is about rebellion and going against the grain of what is acceptable within main stream society. Jazz questions authority and asks of the audience to think about the music that they are listening to. Jazz asks of it's players to reach deep within themselves and to pull out that which would not normally come from them, because - Jazz is Freedom!


James Murrell http://jamesmurrellgtr.com

The Future

Often I think about what the future holds for me in music. Will I be able to sustain making a living from playing music? Will I be able to make enough money from teaching music to live on and also pursue trying to make a living at playing music?

I do research online about the current trends in music. It seems as if there's no pattern to how one can make a living at this business. Things have changed so much in the last few years that, it's hard to predict what will happen to musicians in the future. It seems as if venues are not interested in whether the music is good or not, they seem to worry more about the cash flow that can be generated from the artist.

When I first started playing out in the Dayton, Ohio area, there were many venues that were interested in having jazz music at their place, even if it was not the most lucrative genre you could have there. They would have jazz on nights that weren't the most busiest like on a Monday or Sunday night. Some places featured jazz primarily, and they would bring in artists who are more well-known on the weekends and, let local jazz musicians play on weekday nights. Some venues had open mic nights and jam sessions to let musicians horn their craft.

When I didn't have a gig, I would go to these open mic nights and jam sessions, which were often hosted by seasoned music pros in the area. I would say that I learned as much from these jam sessions as I did in college. Just being on the stage with these professionals would give me more experience and knowledge than complete semesters of classroom experience. I gained a lot of knowledge from these cats!

Now there's no jam sessions in the area or open mic nights that are worth going to for me. I wish that I could host a jam session in this area. Then I could be the season professional that's teaching a new generation of musicians about how to conduct themselves playing jazz or blues or whatever. Then I could also sharpen up my skills as a leader and as a teacher. You always learn something new when you're teaching something that you know to someone else. Who knows maybe sometime in the near future a door will be open to me to do that.

In the meantime, I will continue to do what I'm doing now - Teaching guitar, writing & recording new material, and increasing my knowledge about music through self-study. These are worthy endeavors that give me a lot of satisfaction in music. I will concentrate on these things and not worry so much about what the future will bring to me in music. It's easy to get lost in worrying about what the future will bring while the great things that are happening in the present pass you by. That's what my song "It's Not Too Late" is about.

Writing blog posts like this has been a great outlet for me to express my feelings about my life and my music. Thanks for reading my musings and I hope that it gives you some insight on your own personal feelings about all this.


James Murrell http://jamesmurrellgtr.com