In the eighties I was into drums in a big way and I practiced several hours daily. I studied Steve Gadd in great detail and I also had a serious go at Gary Schaffee's books, Stickings and Polyrythms in particular. It was all funk and pop, though, no jazz.
The 80s -- those were the days
I quit the drumming for practical reasons more than anything else, and the guitar took over completely after I moved to Southampton in the UK to do a Ph.D. in engineering. Almost immediately after arriving in Southampton I had some luck when I somehow managed to get regular gigs with pianist Anthony Briscoe and bassist Nigel Slee at a point when I couldn't really play at all. We formed the File Under Jazz trio soon after we met. It was fairly scary to be thrown in at the deep end but I quickly realised that jazz is much more forgiving, when it comes to making mistakes, than funk drumming. I learned to fake my way through solos, and comp behind soloists, even when I was playing the tune for the first time. I got lost constantly, and I had to miss out half the chords but I understood the importance of 'the graceful recovery'.
The File Under Jazz Trio at the Stage Door Cafe in Southampton
A couple of years later I formed Bill & Ted's Excellent Jazz Band (the name is based on the Bill & Ted movies) with guitarist Bill Pritchard. I was Ted since I had learned to play from the books of Ted Greene (in fact, so had Bill but since he was Bill already he couldn't be Ted). By that time I had got a lot better, and we had a most bodacious band with a nice sound (both Bill and I played Telecasters).
Although both F.U. Jazz and Bill & Ted had a set of arranged tunes, by far most of the gigs I did while I lived in Southampton were unrehearsed. The local jazz scene consisted of about 30 people who played around 50 different tunes, and on a given night I would play a subset of those 50 tunes with a subset of those 30 people. This was great fun for a while but as time went on I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of musical ambition displayed at gigs, and my own lack of ability to do something interesting with the material I was asked to play. The whole thing was becoming very repetitive and I didn't feel I was making much progress even though I kept up the practicing at home. In 1999 I began to experiment with a 7-string guitar tuned in major thirds, and the way it simplified the visual appearance of patterns on the neck totally changed my attitude towards the instrument. In October 2001 I put the website www.m3guitar.com online and I have been focused on updating it regularly ever since.
Solo arrangement of Dolphin Dance
I record in a little home studio based around a powerful PC. I play drums (using the excellent Toontrack libraries triggered via midi), 5-string fretted and fretless bass, 6- and 7-string electric guitar tuned in major thirds, and for midi programming I use the Axis-49 from C-Thru Music.
My compact recording setup
I firmly believe that what makes music interesting is a human element, and that it is essential to add the performance of a musician on top of the sequencers and the loops. Some people like the 'hypnotic effect' you get from exact repetition -- I don't. I find it boring, even annoying, and I make a concious effort to avoid it in the projects I work on.