In Praise of Lenny Breau
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"Lenny Breau is one of the true geniuses of the guitar. I suppose he is a musician's musician. His knowledge of the instrument and the music is so vast, and I think that's what knocks people out about him. But he's such a tasty player too. I think if Chopin had played guitar, he would have sounded like Lenny Breau."
"Lenny is the greatest guitar player in the world today. I think he knows more guitar than any guy that's ever walked the face of the earth, because he can play jazz, he can play a little classical, he can play great country--and he does it all with taste."
“Lenny was one of those guys who was a genius at what he did, but that was all he could do. He could not take care of himself, and we all knew it.”
Chet Akins said, "There's a guy I want you to meet; he's the greatest guitar player on the planet right now," and that's when he introduced me to Lenny Breau."
“We went upstairs and I could hear a guitar playing. We opened the door and there was Lenny Breau. Harmonically, his music was more sophisticated than anything I’d ever heard. He was doing stuff nobody had done yet.”
"When we played something fast, the tempos were really fast—Chet was all over it like you wouldn't believe! Lenny was freaked out by the tempos—he wanted to play things a little slower. That said, I have seen Lenny play some of the fastest stuff imaginable."
"I was initially inspired to investigate the technique from hearing Chet use harp harmonics on his recordings, such as Country Champagne, and "When You Wish Upon A Star," which to me is one of his greatest moments. It is as great as anything I've ever heard anyone do: the arrangement is superb, and his harmonic playing is just out the window. Lenny Breau took the technique to another place, which was also very inspiring to me. He really perfected it in so many ways. Lenny made it even more unique because he played a seven-string guitar with an extra high string, so he got even more "crystal-y" sounding harmonics on the high end. Longer chords and longer arpeggios."
“He had such interesting chords, over the melody. Others might have had a similar style, but he was the only one wired the way he was.”
“There was a record of his that came out sometime in the mid sixties that was live that, I think for guitar players everywhere, it was just sort of one of those rare events where you heard somebody doing something that seemed impossible. You know, where somebody sort of ups the ante of what the instrument can be, word travels really fast.”
“He came up with a way of addressing the instrument technically that nobody has done before or since.“
“When I heard the record I was amazed, like right away, just really amazed. He was kind of sounding like a piano player. The technique was incredible and the conception was incredible, but the thing I think got me the most was the soul behind all the playing, really, the sensitivity that he had.”
“He [Breau] dazzled me with his extraordinary guitar playing. I wish the world had the opportunity to experience his artistry.”
“I talked with Wes [Montgomery]. He said, ‘Forget what I’m playing, wait ’til you hear Lenny Breau. There’s this guy up in Canada named Lenny Breau. Wait ’til you hear that.”
“Lenny Breau was the most innovative guitarist since Wes Montgomery.” “Like Wes Montgomery, he was a gentle giant. He was a gentle man. It reflects in the beauty of his music.“
“Believe it or not, these older men that he [Breau] learned from [Chet Atkins and Tal Farlow], they knew they were in the presence of a man that had taken things farther, and so they deferred to him. He just was himself; they changed.
“The biggest humbler to me, of all time, would be Lenny Breau. He was the best I have ever seen — Chet Atkins will corroborate that. But Lenny was a jazz player, and I have many guitar heroes — just virtually anybody that ever played that played good. Even people that played bad, if their attitude and the sound was right, you know.”
“Lenny Breau played more great stuff at one time than anybody on the planet… with feeling and tone. He was the best that ever lived, bar none.”
"He just had it all. You really got it all together but he, but it was because he devoted himself 24 hours to that and by doing so he neglected lots of other parts of his life that, you know, he didn't, I mean he had to drop out of school. He really didn't learn to read, read or write very well so he was almost illiterate so he would need you to tell him what that said or have someone read a letter to him or he was kind of, it was kind of sad but on the other hand he was a brilliant guitar player."
"He was the best electric bassist ever including Jaco [Pastorius]. He played the best solos on bass that you ever heard. It was ridiculous. Lenny was so advanced on bass that most guys wouldn't even try to do what he was doing because it was light years beyond anything they could ever think about."
"Well Bill Evans was the most beautiful musicians that ever lived and the beauty in his playing was just irresistible. Nobody could avoid it. And so that harmonic substitutions he'd use, they call it re-harmonization now, I mean he didn't call it that. He'd just call it fixing up the tune. But the fact is that he would take any tune that everybody else played and find a new way of playing it but that was so great that it'd almost sound like he'd written the tune. And like when you heard it, you'd think, Well that's the way it should go,' is the way he played it because the chords made perfect sense and everything was so beautiful. And I think Lenny probably just, he just had to figure out what it was on the guitar. I mean, on piano it's real easy, you just say, Well what was that chord?' and then you just fool around until you find it but on guitar you say, Well what was that chord?' and all of a sudden that chord's got more notes than you can actually play. He had to find a way to play what he wanted to play and so he basically invented a whole new technique on the instrument in order to be able to do it. Nobody's ever, very few people in the history of music could ever do that but Lenny was, he was the first cat and like he did all those things in harmonics that nobody'd ever dreamt of before."
"What made Breau stand out at that age was “his brain,” Hawkes said. “He was always composing, and he heard everything different from everyone else.”
"A lot of times when people have the virtuoso chops, it's because they practised a real lot. And if they practised scales, exercises, and the standard chord changes...it could sound like noodling. And it took awhile before I could discern the difference between 'good noodling' and 'bad noodling' as Frank Zappa says. And even when Lenny was just noodling, it was a feast!"
"Lenny Breau was a genius - inspired and really loose. I loved how he used the guitar as an extension of his inner freedom, because, obviously, on the outside there were a lot of trainwrecks going on. But when you listen to him play, you hear what kind of guy he really is"
"When the Police was definitely over, I didn't want to be in a rock band anymore, so I returned to my love of jazz. I wanted to explore that kind of phrasing and improvisation. I even changed guitars, banishing the Telecaster in favour of a Gibson ES-335, because the 335 let me get more of the sounds I heard as a kid. In addition, I became more aware of the process of composing instrumental music, and I really went on a harmonic quest. I took jazz-piano lessons, and studied the music of Lenny Breau. In my opinion, he was maybe the greatest guitarist of all time. I was even able to take a couple of lessons from him."
"I don't use all my fingers, I can play chords that way but to me it sounds sloppy, I don't like the sound that I get. Joe Pass does it very well, but he uses more of a classical technique. Sometimes I use a finger and the pick for pairs of notes, together or alternately. Lenny Breau plays a harmonic under the chord, he showed me how to do it but I don't do it too well. By making the harmonic on the fourth or fifth string, the bottom voice moves up an octave in between the other notes, where it wouldn't be possible to finger them. He gets a very good close harmony sound that way. He uses a thumb pick all the time, so that makes it easier for him and he plays fast with it."
"I really admired his bass playing. I didn't hear him that much; obviously he didn't play when I was around, but he knew the bass - the concept of bass. It wasn't a guitar player playing bass. It was a guitarist who knew bass the way bass should be played."
"By 1961, I swear Lenny was the greatest bass player in the world. I don't care about acoustic or electric. This was partly a result of getting the theoretical stuff organised. He'd play these things on guitar on one tune and then be playing bass on the very next tune so he'd start to see the big picture by playing the bottom end and getting intimate with what notes you choose, how do you make the bass line less boring than dum-dum-dum-dum [sings a major third on beat three] and learning how to run lines. It was guitar thinking in a sense but soon it became the norm for bass. He was using a thumb pick and got to be just dynamite at it. He could change the tone of the bass by doing semi-muff tricks. If he wanted a more percussive part, he just used the edge of his hand to muff that string so the note would die sooner [a technique Lenny picked up from the playing of Atkins and Travis who often damped the bass strings of the guitar with the palms of their right hands]. And it's a guitar now, not a bass. He really got to understand that on the first beat of the bar you want the I [root] of the chord and if that means that you sometimes let it ring for two beats, let it ring. He was playing lovely solos on the four stringer [bass]. But he would also play you exactly what you wanted for bottom. It was just unbelievably graceful watching him do it. I'd tell people that Lenny was best bass player in the world and they'd say: 'you're out of your head.' But someone who agreed with me was Red Wootten who was in town with Benny Goodman's Sextet. Wootten jammed with us at the Stage Door and when he left he said, 'I'm going back to Hollywood and I'm going to buy an electric bass. I've been sneering at it but if you can play an electric bass like Lenny Breau, maybe it's a good instrument.'"
“I learnt so much from Ike, he was really my guitar mentor. I had this idea in my head about playing solo, so he helped me a lot with that. He was a fantastic solo player and turned me on to Lenny Breau – one of the greatest guitar players ever."
“Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was taking another Winnipeg guitarist under his wing, which worked out pretty well for young Randy Bachman. The BTO / Guess Who guitarist used the jazz chords he learned from Breau to help write hits like Undun [and Looking Out for #1], and that is something you might not know about Canada.”
"He was a mess, he was a mess..."
"It doesn't matter if a lot of people recognize him, or a few people recognize him. He's burning in that furnace of creation."
"Lenny remains the Pacific Ocean of fingerstyle jazz guitar inspiration. Unmatched technique, stylistic diversity beyond belief and that musical wistful intelligence that I doubt we’ll ever see again. It’s great to have a musical hero you can still be amazed at after 40 years of study."
Lenny Breau is widely recognised as one of the greatest guitarists that has ever lived. He excelled technically, being able to play bass lines, comp chords and pick out a melody at the same time. As his career progressed his artistic approach to the guitar matured, and he was able to use his mastery of a number of styles, including jazz, country and flamenco, to produce a shimmering, emotionally charged soundscape. His trademark was his use of rapid-fire harmonics and so-called 'harp-style'.
5 votesIn Praise of... (8 lists)
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Published 4 months, 3 weeks ago
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