Image Credits: Ben Monder @ John Rogers
July 9, 2019
Ben Monder is an American guitarist who, through numerous collaborations with artists such as Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, David Bowie, Dave Liebman and many others, has proven to be a very versatile artist and at the same time to have a personal and strong style.
> Ivano Rossato
Can you tell us how Day After Day was born?
Some years ago I started adding pop tunes I knew and loved to my trio repertoire. I found that many of them served well as improvisational vehicles, and they fit well alongside the more traditional standards. When I received a grant from The Shifting Foundation in 2014 to record an album, I thought I would take the opportunity to document some of this material, which until then I had only performed on gigs.
I think all great artists have in common is that they have transcended their styles and even their instruments in achieving a personal voice.
How did you choose the songs to play?
I have had a long history with most of the tunes on this record, but each has a different story. “Long, Long, Long” has always been one of my favorite tunes from the White Album, but it seems relatively under-appreciated, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it covered. We recorded at least five Jimmy Webb tunes at this session, but “Galveston” was the only one that made the final cut. I am a huge fan of early Fleetwood Mac, and Bare Trees is maybe my favorite album of their “middle” period. The haunting Danny Kirwan tune “Dust” has a special resonance for me. Someone suggested the Carpenters song “Only Yesterday”, and sure enough it is a great tune to play on, with engaging, unusual harmonies and a long, interesting form. The Carpenters were a staple of our household growing up, mostly due to my brother’s love of them. Another early and influential record for me was Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”. My mother bought it when it came out in 1969, so I’ve been listening to it since I was like 7. It remains one of my favorite rock records ever; just a masterpiece in every respect. My take on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” is mostly based on this version, with some Roberta Flack thrown in as well.
How you decided to do them in solo or in trio?
The idea for the solo arrangements was borne from the fact that I originally did not think I had enough from the trio session that I was happy with to constitute a complete album. I had originally planned to mix the two sessions, alternate trio and solo tunes, because I thought that the contrast was important, but my co-producer Patrick Zimmerli thought it was important to preserve and value the different qualities of the two sessions, and convinced me that they could each stand on their own as statements. In hindsight I believe he was right.
The solo pieces are all tunes that I find inspiring and that suggested certain settings. The Messiaen piece was actually a recommendation from Matt Brewer, which I pretty much play straight. “Emily” is inspired by Jimmy Wyble’s two line improvisation technique. “Windows of the World” is a specific request from David Breskin of the Shifting Foundation, and it has become one of my favorite Bacharach tunes. The treatment is sort of a tone poem depicting the sad and tortured theme of the piece.
As a teacher, what do you think is the most important lesson to teach a young musician?
To work with patience, focus, and diligence. To be consistent. To be able to delay gratification. And to break free from the need for extrinsic validation in forging one’s own path.
What projects are you working on for the future?
I’m currently working on writing an album of original music with pieces for solo guitar, trio and quartet with voice. Optimistically speaking, I should be ready to record within a couple of years.
Day After Day: an espresso with Ben Monder copyright Jazzespresso 2019.
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