I’ve been thinking a lot about the guitar and guitarists lately, and after an almost four year hiatus of playing the guitar, I’ve picked back up my guitars, dusted off my mental cobwebs, and tried to make some progress in my playing again.
The highlight of my week back before I laid down my guitars was visiting John and Joan LaChapelle.
On Wednesday evenings I’d stop in for a guitar lesson with John in his studio, then after the lesson we’d move to the living room, and Joan, John, and I would enjoy a beverage together while watching a little TV, laughing, and talking.
Granddaughter Millie, son Steve, and friend Diane would also stop in from time-to-time while I was visiting with Joan and John, and they all had a such a gracious way of making me feel like I was a welcome member of the family.
Visiting John and Joan felt like an oasis, a home away from home, and it was always a true pleasure to spend an evening with such a fine group of friends and family.
John was a legendary jazz guitarist in the Pacific Northwest, and for in-the-know guitarists, he was legendary outside of the Pacific Northwest and around the world, as well.
John was also an amazing guitar teacher who taught many students how to play the guitar, including local boy and guitar legend, Larry Coryell, who wrote about John’s influence in his autobiography, Improvising: My Life in Music.
John and Larry maintained their friendship throughout their lives, and the accompanying photos were of a concert they did together where John lived in Richland, Washington, and where Larry grew up as a kid.
Larry’s autobiography is hard to come by these days, but I just found one on Amazon and ordered it, and I’m really looking forward to reading it.
I fondly remember being in the studio with John and learning all the jazz chord forms and scales, learning how to play some of the old jazz standards in chord melody style (difficult to learn, but which I loved to do!), and trying to learn the art of solo improvisation, which I never fully figured out the way I wanted to.
John’s health began to decline about that time, and he needed to stop teaching. I was heart-broken for John and Joan, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself guitar-wise after that.
At about the same time my own parents, also in their 90’s, went through a sudden decline when my Dad took a bad fall, ended up in the hospital, then transitioned to skilled nursing, and finally assisted living. After his fall he would never go home again, and Mom wasn’t able to live on her own any longer.
Putting down my guitars became complete as I focused on helping my Mom and Dad in their time of need, who at the time lived far away from me, in Idaho.
I helped Mom and Dad get their legal and financial affairs in order, helped them to move close by me into assisted living, helped move a few critical possessions with the aid of a few good friends, arranged an estate sale of remaining items, and then got their house fixed-up sold for them. It was a really rough time for all of us.
Dad passed away at age 92, but I am pleased to say my Mom, a big jazz fan too, is still with me, is in good health, and I’m able to enjoy her company on a weekly basis.
On Mom’s last visit we fun listening to some big band music that I had come across at an estate sale.
It brought back some nice memories for Mom of when she’d listen to the big bands play live back in the day.
One of the things that was a lot of fun when I would go over to John LaChapelle’s studio for a guitar lesson was our discussions about jazz guitarists.
One of the jazz guitarists John told me about was the legendary rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, who played for the Count Basie Orchestra for over fifty years.
I was thinking about that discussion the other day while practicing my guitar, and decided I needed to get a Freddie Green album, so I went out to Discogs (a great LP resource) and found a mint copy of Freddie Green’s Mr. Rhythm in the UK and bought it.
Mr. Rhythm arrived today and I’ve been enjoying listening to it.
I remember John telling me about how high off of the fretboard Freddie’s strings were, so he could get more volume and project better.
In the close-up of the photo from the back cover, you can just see the 6th string, hovering high above the fretboard!
Freddie must have had a really strong left hand to play that high of an action – it’s awe inspiring!
John, Larry, and Freddie are all gone now, but their legendary status as guitarists lives on. Godspeed John, Larry, and Freddie, you are missed!
Thanks for joining me for a trip down memory lane, and as always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!