Q&A with jazz guitarist Bruce Forman, his music and life reflect every step of his journey, deep immersion in American culture

"Music, like every art, needs to make people think, laugh and most importantly: feel! Music and musicians are the perfect representation of community, respect, diversity and even while we're still competing! Sound also has an ambiguous nature that allows for the listener's personal perspective to filter and be a part of the creative process...if the musicians play in artful way. We all have an Orpheus complex. It is my hope that our example can affect positive change in the world."

Bruce Forman: Blues Eyes, Red Guitar

Bruce Forman took piano lessons at an early age before picking up the guitar at age thirteen. In 1971, his family moved to San Francisco, where he led his own groups in the area and performed with local jazz musicians, such as Eddie Duran, Vince Lateano, and Eddie Marshall, and with musicians, such as Ray Brown, George Cables, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, and Woody Shaw. A hectic touring schedule; many recordings as a leader; countless sideman recordings including Ray Brown, Richie Cole, Bobby Hutcherson, Roger Kellaway; soundtrack performances on three of Clint Eastwood’s distinguished films—most notably Academy Award-winning Million Dollar Baby; producer, arranger, acclaimed educator, in residence at USC’s Studio/Jazz Guitar Dept. Deep immersion in American culture inspires Forman to contribute to the traditions that he drew from. Formanism (his trio project); original works like The Red Guitar; his popular podcast with Scott Henderson, GuitarWank; Cow Bop and the “road challenges” down historic byways like Route 66; JazzMasters Workshop; his project: Junkyard Duo; are some projects of Bruce Forman’s creativity. His music and life reflect every step of his journey, and demonstrate the awareness of an artist who’s very much at home in the world, and at the top of his form.                     (Photo: Bruce Forman)

The Red Guitar is serious one-man theater, incorporating great musical virtuosity and storytelling skills to explore the obsessive demands that music places on its truest followers. Junkyard Duo, scavenging music from the edge of sound, uses an unusual sonic landscape to create a rich and exciting musical palette…hobo chic at it’s most utmost. And though he can shred bebop at blistering tempos with the best of ‘em, he is no urban snob. Cow Bop, Forman’s unique “western bebop” band, hit four separate charts with its CDs, Swingin’ Out West, Route 66, Too Hick for the Room and Cowlifornia Swing. Having won the Route 66 Challenge three times with Cow Bop, he created a linear music festival in 2013, establishing a new paradigm for touring and the use of social media, which included a collaborative mentoring model for young musicians. Bruce Forman’s life and musical journey provide an American saga that is still in full swing. His Texas origins, his early career in San Francisco and New York, and his years on the road, all contribute to the unique and highly personal vision that he demonstrates today.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Jazz and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

My path with the music has informed my whole life. I have been playing and touring, getting the opportunity to learn from my idols, been a member of numerous diverse communities...and it all came from the gifts that this music has bestowed on me.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

It continues to evolve, but at the heart, I like melodic music with a strong groove, I enjoy interesting harmony and have developed a sophisticated palette in regards to consonance vs dissonance. And, if there are lyrics, I like clever, hearfelt...or funny. Approach to playing has a lot to do with the situation. I started more in the horn player (lead) mode (mostly lines) and as I worked more as an accompanist in groups I have taken more of a pianistic approach (chords, counterpoint, etc.). The guitar is so great because it accommodates both of those philosophies so well. Sound wise, I like a fat sound, but one that is warm, clear and has some acoustic resonance to it...that has evolved throughout my life and I assume it will continue to...

"I do think that swingin and the blues are becoming thought of as passé, and they are elements I love...also, it seems to be more about playing than making music at times, turning into a sport...instead of being like sex." (Photo: Bruce Forman)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have been mentored by many, and had many situations that were very challenging, those were the most important in terms of growth...advice: Make your playing your  practice and your practice your playing; play like a hero, one that'll never make a mistake, but if you do, learn from it! Make everyone around you sound better!

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, tours and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Too many to mention, but one that comes to mind was playing with Jimmy Cobb (the drummer from Miles Davis' band...Kind of Blue) and he loaded out my amp after the gig and thanked me for holding it all together...what? And it was a Fender Twin, you know how heavy those are!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I do think that swingin and the blues are becoming thought of as passé, and they are elements I love...also, it seems to be more about playing than making music at times, turning into a sport...instead of being like sex.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

We could be out playing and hanging out with people again...I love the community of musicians and music lovers!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Get a sound, feel the beat...and make something happen! That's it...everything is simple, it's just not easy! Oh yeah: you gotta know the tune!

"My path with the music has informed my whole life. I have been playing and touring, getting the opportunity to learn from my idols, been a member of numerous diverse communities...and it all came from the gifts that this music has bestowed on me." (Photo: Bruce Forman)

What is the impact of Jazz music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Music, like every art, needs to make people think, laugh and most importantly: feel! Music and musicians are the perfect representation of community, respect, diversity and even while we're still competing! Sound also has an ambiguous nature that allows for the listener's personal perspective to filter and be a part of the creative process...if the musicians play in artful way. We all have an Orpheus complex. It is my hope that our example can affect positive change in the world.

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