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'Jazz will continue to evolve and grow'


American jazz guitarist Larry Carlton has an impressive solo career behind him besides a number of collaborations with guitarists like Steve Lukather and Lee Ritenour. The guitar guru from Southern California started off as a sessions musician before building a formidable reputation as a soloist. He has made his mark at the Grammys with 18 nominations and three awards so far. His most recent collaboration with Japanese guitarist Tak Matsumoto has won him a 2011 Grammy Nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album. He recently visited India for the first time as the headliner of the annual Jazz Utsav organised by Capital Jazz in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi.

Quietly dressed in black, soft-spoken - he speaks slowly, measuring each word - and of average build, Carlton, 62, blends into rather than stands out in a crowd. That is, of course, until he starts to play. He talked to TOI-Crest about making music, his beloved Gibson and the great Les Paul.

Tak Matsumoto is the first Asian artiste you've worked with. Musically, what was it like?

I've been doing shows in Japan since 1974 so I've been exposed to Japanese culture for many years. I had my first meeting with Tak regarding the project three years ago. It's taken us that long to put it together. I like collaborations because I've done so many solo albums that it's fun to get together with someone else and create something.

Do you think you might collaborate with an Indian artiste at some point?

If the Indian artiste thought I was appropriate. I'm being honest. If there was a combination that seemed to be natural towards my strengths and could meld together with the Indian artiste's strength and we could come up with something that is valid, of course I'd be open to that.

What was it like to perform at a festival like Crossroads?

Crossroads has a rock 'n' roll audience, obviously, because Eric Clapton started it, he's the figurehead. Most of the acts and guitar players that he's had over the years have not been very jazz oriented. So I was honoured when Eric's office called in 2004 and said we'd like to include you this year. And the project that I took was my eightpiece band. Four Horns was a
blues-oriented statement for that audience. I think it came out very well.

How has jazz in America changed over the years?

I'd say it's been a very natural change. Music and musicians are naturally always in process. There's a natural progression of a new generation coming in influenced by things of my generation. So I'm a part of a new sound because of my influences as opposed to always trying to play the music of the '50s. That's just a natural thing.

And how do you see this growing in the next decade?

Well, I just know it will be different, as it should be. Jazz music will continue to grow as long as it stays influenced by the roots of what it was when it started. From Dixieland to Charlie Parker, you know, those influences need to be there as we grow out of the past.

You played at the Les Paul tribute concert after he passed away last year.

Yes, I did. I sat in with Les' fans and I was the special guest for the night. Les had the same musicians with him for many years. Lou Pallo was his guitarist for over 30 years. So Lou is the leader now that Les is gone. They bring in different guitarists every Monday night to play with Les' band as a tribute to Les. And it's very special. I get to tell a few little stories about my encounters with Les.

Can you tell us one?

One evening 10 or 12 years ago, I was in New York and I'd been invited to see Les play Monday night at the Iridium, and it was his birthday, so I was there, Pat Martino was there, and three other very well known New York guitarists. Les invited each one of us to come up on stage and play. Right after Pat, he said, let's have Larry Carlton come up and play. Now, how do you follow Pat Martino? I came up, plugged in my guitar and Les said, "Larry, what do you wanna play?" And I said, Les, what I would like to play is Happy Birthday. I did a choral arrangement on the spot. That was very special.

Your guitar's something of a celebrity too.

(laughs) It is, isn't it!

That's something you and Les Paul have in common again - Gibson signature guitars.

It is! In the late '60s, I started getting calls for some recording sessions. I'm a very versatile guitar player so some of the sessions would be country music, rock and roll, jazz and then pop. I found I was having to carry many different guitars to these sessions 'coz I didn't know what they were gonna ask me to play. I figured if I could find one guitar that could cover most of the sounds and styles, I wouldn't have to carry so many guitars. I knew that the ES 335 could do it. The Gibson signature guitar is an exact copy that I bought in 1969. It was on so many hit records - that's why it became famous. That sound became famous as the sound of the '70s and I'm the one who did it.

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