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Mike Rud will split his brain for his upcoming CD

Mike Rud ©Brett Delmage, 2012

Updated August, 2015: The CD is now called Mike Rud: Miniatures. It was released August 30 in Montreal, and will be released in an afternoon concert on Friday, September 25 in Ottawa.

Unlike many jazz guitarists, Mike Rud enjoys singing.

His most recent album, Notes on Montreal, won a 2014 Juno Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album, although Sienna Dahlen sang all the vocals on that CD. But on his next album, due out later this year, he's not only planning to sing, himself – he's found a new way to combine his voice and his guitar.

Rud has called the fundraising campaign for this upcoming CD “Mike Rud Splits His Brain For Your Amusement”. What that means is that there will be two melodic lines in each piece: one that he sings, and a completely different one that he simultaneously plays on his guitar.

It's a “a challenging new approach to solo guitar-and-vocal music, that I've been working at every day, for two years.”


Read about Mike Rud's four-year obsession to produce his Juno-winning CD, Notes on Montreal, and its Ottawa premiere on Saturday, March 14, in our linked story.


The idea is to simulate a small group by himself. Rud said he's “come up with a CD worth of material, ranging from 'comfortable and mellow' to (for me) 'death-defying'. The songs are familiar – the arrangements are not. Each piece embodies guitar-voice interdependence in a different way. Each one involved gallons of espresso, and hundreds of careful decisions, hundreds of hours of practice.”

“In some cases that means I'm walking a bass line underneath the melody, and in some cases it means I'm singing a bass line while I'm playing a melody. In a lot of cases I'm doing a Freddie Green or gypsy jazz type strum.”

“It's variations on the idea of how can you make one guitar and one voice sound satisfying and entertaining and interesting and story-telling, playing standards and not just falling into the ways that it's traditionally been done.”

It started while recording his last CD, when he got tired of the complicated process involving many musicians, and just wanted to get back to basics.

“I was thinking, how can I strip this down to just me and a guitar? And so I took Bach's Invention No. 8 in F Major. It's a keyboard piece that has two separate lines, a little bit like a round but not quite – like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, except with a lot more eighth-notes in it. I learned to sing the one part and play the other on my guitar. And then I put it into a key that my voice didn't sound too atrocious in, and I wrote words for it. And those words are about how you have to practice something in order to get it right.”

It's also an attempt to open up more places to play. “The idea being that I could have guitar, will travel – just show up some place with a guitar and play one hour of something really quite fresh but that's definitely jazz guitar but that has a serious vocal aspect of it.”

Much of the album – which Rud is planning to record in April – will be the jazz standards he's been playing for years, although he said live shows may also include some of the material from Notes on Montreal.

It's also based on many years of playing gigs – the lessons he learned from experience rather than from going to school.

“You go to school to learn how to play, and they teach you about how to take a solo and how to accompany and it's very often predicated, almost always, on the assumption that there's a bass player there and a drummer there and a piano player there. And then you get on the gig and you're in a hollowed-out booth in Vineyards in the Ottawa market and you're thrown on a completely different set of resources. Because if you're a jazz guitar player, learning how to walk a bass line and how to accompany with no bass player around and be the rhythm section for somebody else, is a survival skill on those kind of gigs.

Like a magpie, you steal things from this player and from that player. And next thing you know, you've got a bag of tricks together that gets you through the night. And then that starts to just inform your own musical personality.
– Mike Rud

“And quite in spite of myself, I wound up assembling this little survival [kit] about how to get through those kind of gigs. Like a magpie, you steal things from this player and from that player. And next thing you know, you've got a bag of tricks together that gets you through the night. And then that starts to just inform your own musical personality. And then that's turned out to have been a gift, this thing that you thought 'Oh no, it's hard to show up and play a duo gig'. You do it for 10 or 15 years a dozen times a year, and suddenly there's things in your musicianship that no teacher put there. And I want to draw on that as well.”

Rud said he always saw singing as part of this bag of tricks, starting with one of his earliest influences, guitarist George Benson. “Benson really got his hooks into me, and being such a singer...”

“There's a bit of a stigma I think for some instrumental jazz musicians around vocals. And that was never there for me because I was really so taken with the idea that, no, no, these songs have lyrics and you can sing them. It's a little bit of what I liked about the Beatles, only it's still there in jazz music. And then I started seeing that restaurant and jazz club owners liked it when I took the microphone because a lot of people who would come out. Attendance at these jazz things is already waning, and if there are people who like to hear a lyric, I'm happy to sing it for them. It could be that somebody who's a real die-hard for instrumental jazz may not go the same route, but I was really happy to.”

Because he liked singing, he said, “I was already seen as a bit out of the mainstream. It's funny: my guitar playing is more down the old traditional way of playing in many ways. But in the last 20 years, jazz guitar modernized in a way that I wasn't tremendously interested in, and my own personal interests were already over in this other place. I had no qualms about playing “All of Me” and scatting my solo and stuff. You really wouldn't catch a lot of the modern players doing that kind of quirky, bouncy, happy stuff as often. So I think I was already perceived as a little different, marching to my own drummer a little bit. I hope so anyway.”

Rud will be in Ottawa this Saturday for a concert at the National Arts Centre showcasing Notes on Montreal, with Dahlen providing the vocals. He'll be back this spring for a duo concert with guitarist Amy Brandon, and another more traditional instrumental jazz show with Peter Hum.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca linked story about Mike Rud's four-year obsession to produce his Juno-winning CD, Notes on Montreal, and its premiere in Ottawa on Saturday, March 14.

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