MY TOP 10 INFLUENTIAL RECORDINGS (in no particular order)

Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
by The Beatles
Most of what I learned about songwriting came from a complete obsession with music by the Beatles from the time I was a little kid, long before I started playing the guitar. They were probably the single most powerful musical influence on me. So almost any Beatle record would do here, but this one did so much more than some of the others. The record seems conceived as a whole - it taught me to consider an album as a work rather than just a collection of songs. It was so imaginatively arranged and recorded that it has always had a magical quality. That still amazes me now. As always with the Beatles, the songs themselves are so strong that they would hold up even without the stunning presentation they get on this record. Recognizing that quality has taught me to try to hold myself to as high a standard as I can when I'm writing.

Are You Experienced
by Jimi Hendrix
I feel unbelievably lucky to have had this record (one of the first albums I ever bought) as a powerful early influence on me as a budding guitar player and musician. Jimi not only seemed to reinvent the instrument in a number of ways, giving a whole generation of guitar players a completely new world to explore, but with his own very personal creative and musical gifts taught us all about breaking boundaries, thinking imaginatively, playing melodically, arranging well and showing how great a variety of sounds an electric was capable of. All of this plus his incredible presence and charisma which comes through on every track of this studio recording, make this an always inspiring record that belongs on this list.



Disraeli Gears
by Cream
This was another record I bought the first time I ever bought an LP, and it probably got more play than any other. I got so I could lift the needle out of a groove to figure out a part of a lick, then put the needle right back in the same groove to learn the next part! I learned every note on that record. My sound and touch on the guitar was formed by that total immersion in that record, and I'm still aware of that influence after all these years of playing. I didn't know at the time that I was studying my own country's blues heritage second hand, but what a beautiful introduction to that music it was! Eric's playing on this record (as it was on a lot of the early ones, especially Wheels of Fire) is so natural, so effortless, and so un-self-consciously confident, that it still amazes me today. When you add the other incredible elements on that record, the unmistakably original drumming, some beautifully unusual writing, some 'British' folk tradition that gets in there, and an undeniable energy and chemistry among the players, you have an amazing work indeed.

by John Coltrane
Those first three records, though they exclude a lot of very formative, influential records I studied and loved, neatly sum up my inspiration in my early years as a guitarist and musician. I did subsequently shift gears for awhile, though, and undertook a study of jazz. Two records don't even begin to hint at the power of the jazz music influences on me, but it would feel wrong to ignore that phase of my development, and wrong to exclude that genre from this list

Though I love almost everything Trane recorded, this record is from my favorite phase of his career, and I never get tired of it. I've spent countless hours listening to him, and whenever I listen again I'm humbled, amazed, and inspired. He had an incredible discipline serving an awe-inspiring inventiveness, originality, presence, and an emotional commitment that may be the deepest I've ever heard.


Ray Charles and Betty Carter
As anyone who knows me well can attest, get a few drinks in me and sit me down at a piano and it won't be long before I'll be singing and playing some track from this perfect record. Clearly from one of Ray's best years, everything about this record is beautiful: a young, daring Betty Carter; great arranging; a great band; piano playing from Ray that so seamlessly straddles the worlds of jazz and blues; and above all, Ray's unparalleled vocals, for me the best of the best (I included a version of one of the great tunes on this record, For All We Know, in my second book of arrangements for solo jazz guitar.




The Nightfly
by Donald Fagen

Here’s a desert island disc if there ever was one. All the stars were magically aligned for this recording: Donald Fagen’s most amazing songs with a compelling overarching concept for the lyrical content of the whole album; flawless performances throughout from the best session musicians in that prime work era for session players; and immaculate recording quality, not unlike its predecessor, Gaucho, the last Steely Dan album of that amazingly inventive period. 

This is a record I knew well, and am learning to know even better, since I’ve been preparing for the two album nights which will feature this record in its entirety played live from top tp bottom at the Beacon theatre in New York in October. My awe and appreciation for it just get deeper and deeper. Revisiting it will reward you!

Porgy & Bess
by Miles Davis

Here’s one I couldn’t stop listening to once I discovered it. The triple threat of Gershwin’s music, Gil Evans’s arranging, and my favorite era Miles Davis is incomparable. Recorded in 1958 and released in 1959, it’s from the same period as the most popular jazz album ever, Kind of Blue, an equally impressive and also groundbreaking record. But on this record Gil’s orchestrations create a unique sonic world which works as the perfect foil for Miles’s powerful and personal haunting, singular voice. Right from the top you know something wild is going on. Buzzard Song begins boldly then quickly quiets down, and that unforgettable sound of Miles’s open horn enters all by itself. (Most of the record was done with open horn; only on maybe 4 of the 15 tracks does Miles use his signature muted sound.) Miles plays throughout this record with a combination of reserve (or “cool”) and confidence and seems at the peak of his powers on his instrument. But every time he enters it’s that amazing sound that just cuts right to the heart that’s most riveting. As good as it gets for me, this one’s a gem for the ages.

P.S. A programmatic detail I didn’t remember(!): listen to the way the entire performance of Here Come De Honey Man fades in like it fades out and also gradually moves from left to right across the stereo field over the course of the song.



by Joni Mitchell

Selecting this one as my favorite from the great number of Joni Mitchell’s wonderful works has always been easy for me, somehow. Listening to the entire output of any artist with a long, well recorded career chronologically is always fascinating, and Joni’s adventurous range through her career always struck me as remarkable - contrast Blue with the later Mingus record, for instance. And from the very first recording, she seems radically original and fully formed as a writer, a singer, and an accompanist, whether on guitar or piano. 

For some reason I’ve always been drawn to this record in particular, as well as the ones just before and just after it (Ladies of the Canyon; For the Roses), so I feel pretty confident that this is the period of her work I love the most. It may have something to do with the way the focus is so much on her alone here, though that’s also true of earlier records. Even though she gets accompaniment help on some of these tunes (most notably from James Taylor’s guitar), it feels like a solo record. She seems completely confident in every way here - she sounds like a musical and lyrical veteran, yet still youthful - never jaded, and so alive and vulnerable. The music is dark and beautiful, like the cover, and though there are equally great songs on her other records, this is the single consummate Joni collection for me.


Speak Like a Child
by Herbie Hancock

Here’s another favorite - this record dates from the end of an era of Herbie Hancock’s playing and recording where he employed exclusively acoustic instruments. It was recorded and released in 1968, and, due to his exposure to electric instruments while playing with Miles Davis, Herbie would soon be performing and recording with a much expanded sonic palette. This is one of two Herbie records from this period which I love (the other is The Prisoner). It swings harder than any other recording of Herbie that I’ve heard, and the arranging, for a unique combination of flugelhorn, alto flute and bass trombone, is fresh, distinctive, and adventurous. Herbie is the only soloist on the record (unlike on The Prisoner, where his bandmates play, too), and that makes for a kind of beautiful, consistent purity  throughout the album, which, in addition to several really original pieces, features Herbie’s always exceptional one of a kind improvising.



Heavy Weather
by Weather Report

A band that was so great that it transcended its own genre (the notorious bad word: fusion!), Weather Report seemed to singlehandeldy reinvent “jazz.” I use the quotation marks because there is some very unusual almost cartoon-like or “plastic” quality about the way these unbelievably accomplished jazz veterans tailored a radically new suit of clothes for their improvising personalities which allowed them to employ their forward thinking (but traditionally rooted) expressive powers in a remarkably free, fun, fresh way. It always makes me smile in wonder. In Birdland, it’s almost as if Joe Zawinul has it in his mind to write a sendup, a parody, of big band jazz, and somehow, it ironically succeeds in transporting the surprised, happy listener to some odd, brave modern world. It’s a surprisingly coherent album with great composing from three powerhouse writers, Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and Jaco Pastorius, the electric bass guitarist who redefined his instrument and anchors these diverse composers’ works. Jaco’s solo on Havona, the final track, is one of my favorite guitar solos of all time.







I am proud to have released several books of arrangements for solo guitar. When I was choosing songs and getting the arrangements together, I found inspiration listening to the many great players of this style of “chord melody” guitar arranging and playing. The guitar isn’t particularly friendly to this kind of approach, and I played for many years before I knew anything about it at all. But soon after I began to take guitar lessons with the late, great Harry Leahey, probably around 1973, a new world opened up, and I was captivated and driven to learn all I could about it.

I thought I’d share some clips of some of some of the greats in this style. Some of these will be pure solo pieces, some also with small groups, and some will be entirely worked out as written arrangements while others include some improvising as well, but they all showcase at some point the kind of thing I fell in love with when Harry patiently walked me through creating my first arrangement of this type.  

1. HARRY LEAHEY : NUAGES I learned so much from Harry over the years that it feels only fitting to start with a tune I remember him playing frequently - a Django Reinhardt classic called “Nuages.” 
2. JOHNNY SMITH - AUTUMN NOCTURNE Harry Leahey, my first guitar teacher, had studied with two notable teachers/players, Johnny Smith and Dennis Sandole. I remember Harry telling me about studying with Johnny Smith and looking exhausted just remembering the work it took to re-learn all of his scales and chords with a low D, which Johnny insisted on him doing. 
I went on to study with Dennis, a highly gifted, eccentric teacher, famous for having taught John Coltrane and many others, and from whom Harry gleaned a lot of his lesson plan. 
Here’s Johnny playing one of his signature arrangements: Autumn Nocturne. The low D makes the guitar sound huge. It’s always fascinating to me to hear Johnny’s influence on Harry, sonically, technically, and note choice-wise, which is so very clear in this tune.
3. WES MONTGOMERY - WHILE WE'RE YOUNG Though his technical approach to the guitar, playing with his thumb, was idiosyncratic and unique, Wes Montgomery climbed higher than everyone else and sits at the peak of jazz guitar for me. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, then, he also crafted two of my favorite arrangements for solo guitar. These were clearly arranged, not improvised, but delivered with a sweet restraint, a clarity, and the setting of a mood that only Wes could create, with his seemingly happy confidence and that huge, warm guitar tone.
5. GEORGE BENSON - DANNY BOY The successor to Wes’s throne has to be the phenomenal George Benson. Clearly absorbing everything “Wes,” George went on to unbelievable mastery with the plectrum as well as his thumb, to say nothing of his astounding vocal talents and accomplishments. Here he is, having fun with the classic “Danny Boy.”
6. TED GREENE - DANNY BOY When I was preparing the first of my two books of arrangements for solo guitar, I stopped in at the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago and bought every solo guitar CD they had that I didn’t already own (They had a lot!). I did a lot of listening, and without a doubt, the record that just stood out as having the most incredibly accomplished solo playing and (often spontaneously improvised) arranging was “Solo Guitar” by the incomparable Ted Greene
7. KENNY BURRELL - SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST Chords, chords, chords! Kenny Burrell seemed to know all the great ones… check him out (playing live!) on the unusual standard “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.”
8. JIM HALL - IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Here’s a clip of the always adventurous Jim Hall, clear master of the melody and chord world of the jazz guitar. Listen to how he throws in a snippet of “Prelude to a Kiss” (another Ellington ballad) between the first two “A” sections of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” 
9. JOE PASS - AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' Here’s an amazing solo performance of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” by the great Joe Pass, which includes not only beautiful spontaneous, rubato chord-melody arranging of the Fats Waller standard, but becomes an amazing, swinging, improvised invention with chords and lines galore…  
10. HERB ELLIS - THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES Here’s a video of Herb Ellis going for it solo with chords and melody on “Days of Wine and Roses.”