What is it that makes a great musician? If you had to narrow it down to one single quality what is the one thing, regardless of musical genre or instrument, that they all have in common? They’re storytellers.
Even though BB King and Wes Montgomery have very different styles of guitar playing, it’s their storytelling ability that makes them both great musicians. They both know how to draw a listener in using elements like melody, harmony, rhythm, space, tension, repetition, thematic development, anticipation, excitement, and climax. They’re both great storytellers.
A Legendary Tribute
Recently I attended Miles Smiles, a tribute concert to Miles Davis featuring his former sidemen. They are all world-class musicians in their own right and everyone took extended solos. Joey Defrancesco was on the Hammond B3 and every time he took a solo I was on the edge on my seat. He would inject a flurry of chromatic ideas and then take a long pause. He played against the time, held down chords with one hand and burned with the other. Not only did he play his ass off, his solos also took me on a journey of emotions. I should mention that the other musicians were also killing, but for my money, Joey Dee was the real standout.
Journeying back in time
Recently, while revisiting a show called Night Music, I heard a swing blues with Hiram Bullock on guitar. Now, I hadn’t heard this solo in over twenty years but it jumped out at me like it was 1989 all over again. I had to sit down and transcribe it. The beginning of each chorus steps outside the tonality just enough to create some tension and then resolves into the next chord change in such an inventive and interesting way. Tension and release while keeping the listener’s attention. Another master storyteller at work.
Everyone has a Story of Their Own
The great thing about music is that we all have our own story to tell, unique and individual only to us. Just as nobody can ever be you, nobody can ever play you. BB’s story is nothing like Wes’s, Joey Dee’s story is nothing like Hiram’s, but they all share that narrative technique. I hope you enjoyed my story. Till next time
Head Band Leader