JAZZ DIARY: Chips off the old block: Phil Johnson on something funny in the woodshed, the limitations of the jazz guitar and disintegrating Sellotape

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An integral part of the mythology surrounding such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Lester Young is the ritual of 'wood-shedding'. This term refers to the tradition by which apprentice musicians would closet themselves away with their instruments, eventually emerging on to the professional platform with a seemingly mature style. An important aspect of wood-shedding involved painstakingly learning other artists' solos from record, playing sections back at a slower speed and continually repeating a phrase so that it could be notated or learned by ear.

The flautist Philip Bent has just emerged from a long period in the woodshed of his bedroom studio in London to win a seven-album worldwide deal with GRP Records. He, however, favours a more hi-tech method of learning a jazz solo: sampling it. 'A lot of jazz musicians I know still play records and learn solos that way,' Bent says. 'But records wear out and you can't change the speed on CDs. I can take a record and put it in the sampler and learn the solo in any key I want just by pressing a button.'

Bent didn't emerge from the woodshed with just his style intact; he brought his debut album - a lively- sounding mix of fusion and soul - out with him too. 'I had made some money by doing sessions in a little studio, I invested it and made the record with that. I basically handed GRP 10 tracks and three days later they gave me a deal,' he says. 'My recordings took me three years and I did them so that they were finished records and not just demos. The album is more or less what I did in my bedroom, on an eight-track, a mixing desk and a very expensive microphone; everybody just came along and played or sang.

'When I was given all this money to make the album and maybe correct a couple of things, I found I couldn't do it better than the home demos. When you're in a real studio, you're thinking of all the money being spent per hour and you've got everyone looking at you. At home you can mix from the heart.'

Bent regards the traditionally low- tech approach of the jazz musician with scorn: 'I've never really been into the way jazz musicians work. They always blame everyone else because they're still playing in pubs, but they've no one to blame but themselves. Unlike soul and R&B singers, jazz musicians don't invest in equipment.'

Now 28, Bent first made a name for himself as part of the new wave of young black British musicians that emerged in the mid-1980s. While contemporaries like Courtney Pine and Steve Williamson signed record contracts fairly swiftly, Bent was continually holding out for a better deal. Now that he's got it, he's keen to fit his image to the demands of a large audience (the album, The Pressure, is released in 53 countries worldwide). 'If you're some boring-looking flute player then how are you going to create anything for yourself? This is why I'm wearing the clothes I am on the cover of the album' - a nifty black leather ensemble - 'I'm trying to portray a look that is completely against the cliched image of the jazz musician. I'm trying to knock a wall down with my music.'

Pat Metheny is the ultimate guitar hero of jazz and fusion music. Though he has recorded delicate improvisations on acoustic guitar and played with musicians as uncompromising as Ornette Coleman (on the album Song X, recently re-released on CD by Geffen Records), Metheny's popular reputation rests heavily on a rock-ish cult of fans for whom he is the complete muso: they not only buy his records, they aspire to own his equipment too.

In Metheny's case, this could prove to be an expensive business. He has continually experimented with new technology, pioneering the use of the guitar synthesiser in jazz and, on his latest album, Secret Story (Geffen), playing enough instruments to stock a music shop. But Metheny - who tours the UK this month in support of his album - says, surprisingly, that he's no real fan of technology in music. 'I would agree with the basic premise that technology is a barrier between the instrument and the audience,' he says. 'You have to have clear reasons for using it, and make decisions that are based on a musical aesthetic.'

For Metheny, arguments about technology are secondary to the basic problems of the guitar as a jazz instrument. 'Part of the reason why the evolution of the guitar in jazz has been so slow,' he says, 'is that it took a long time for electric guitarists to work out how to play with dynamics. Expression in jazz comes from dynamics and the dynamics of a guitar are extremely limited. This is still an ongoing issue for me: how to get the guitar to sound natural and how, within your touch, to create the illusion of a wide dynamic range with something that inherently wants to get played at the same volume. Once you amplify something you reduce the dynamic range, so it's a question of creating an illusion of dynamics. It's a matter of control, of the sound itself and of how you set up the strings, the volume pedal, the pick-up, the amplifier: they are all extensions of your touch. This is the area I spend most of my time thinking about, trying to create a larger sense of dynamics than the instrument is actually capable of delivering.'

One solution Metheny has found is to pick softly on the strings, 'so that when I do want to accent something, it really jumps out', and to choose his drummers with care. 'Setting myself in relation to the drummer is extremely important,' he says. 'For instance, Jack De Johnette plays twice as loud as any rock drummer, while Billy Higgins plays real soft. Sound- checks are vital because technical decisions become musical decisions. For many people soundchecks are a nuisance; for me, they're part of the gig.'

Pat Metheny's 'Secret Story' tour visits Edinburgh Playhouse (credit card bookings: 031-557 2590) on Monday 12 April; Manchester Apollo (061-236 9922) on Tuesday 13 April; Wolverhampton Civic Hall (0902 312030) on Wednesday 14 April; Hammersmith Apollo (081-741 4363) on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 April.

This year's Easter Jazz Festival at the Barbican, organised by the trumpeter Ian Carr, complements the current art exhibition and is devoted to bands from the Sixties. While the Festival - which runs from Good Friday to Easter Monday - is devoted to modern jazz, it is worth remembering that Sixties jazz came to consciousness amid the faint stale smells of beer left over from the Trad revival.

It may now seem extraordinary, but in the early Sixties Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball made the charts and in 1962 the nation's cinemas thronged to It's Trad Dad, a pre-Beatles exploitation flick directed by Dick Lester, somehow missing from the Barbican's Sixties film season, which begins on 30 April.

One of the highlights of the Festival is the performance by the specially re-formed New Jazz Orchestra on Easter Sunday afternoon. The Orchestra, which began in 1964 as a rehearsal band, continued until the early Seventies, recording two albums and featuring a number of famous names in its ranks, including Jon Hiseman, Jack Bruce, Barbara Thompson, Ian Carr and Mike Gibbs. All of these but Bruce will be on hand on Sunday, when the band re-creates the repertoire of 20-odd years ago - provided that is, that the sheet music has survived the test of time. Apparently, when Neil Ardley, the band director, re-opened the box in which all the band's arrangements have rested since its demise, the Sellotape binding on the manuscript paper had disintegrated.

The Easter Jazz Festival takes place from midday to 5pm at the Barbican Level 5 Foyer, 9-12 April. Admission free. Further details from the Barbican box office (071-638 8891).

(Photograph omitted)

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