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|--- Mar 24 1999 Go to category
|Teaching at Berklee
|musician magazine none (usa)
You were a guitar instructor at Berklee before you'd even turned 20. How did that come about, and what was that experience like?
Well, I also taught at the University of Miami for a year before that. That was the only time in my life that I've done serious teaching.
Basically, I had just finished faking my way through high school, and the dean of the University of Miami had heard me playing in a club in Kansas City on a business trip and offered me a full scholarship. So I went down there. And included in this full scholarship, I had to go to history class and everything, and within one week. . .[shakes head] I was basically uneducated; I hadn't taken a book home since I was about 12, because I was practicing 20 hours a day! I knew that there was no chance of me bluffing my way through this, so within one semester, I dropped out. When I announced that I was dropping out, they offered me this job to teach there, because I'd had a lot of experience; by that time, I'd played for four years around Kansas City, and I was already playing around Miami a lot with Jaco. During that year, I went back to the Midwest to play at the Wichita Jazz Festival. Gary Burton was there, and it was arranged that we'd play together. Gary took note of me, I guess, and offered me a job teaching at Berklee, 'cause he knew I was already teaching at Miami. And within a month or two of moving to Boston, he checked me out and expanded his group to include me. The teaching part of it was a little weird, because my job was to teach the top 30 of the 800 guitar students, all of whom were five years older than me. But once I started doing gigs, it wasn't that weird, because those people then got to hear the way I played. Of the guys that were around at that time, some have gone on to do well; Mike Stern was kind of my star student. But I never felt like I was that great a teacher. Whatever I was working on, that's what we worked on. You know, "Okay, let's do common tones." But it seemed to work most of the time.
>Would you be more confident in your abilities now if you were to take up teaching again?
Oh, I'd be much more confident about doing it now. At that time, I was very dogmatic, as 19- and 20-year-olds tend to be. I had very, very strong opinions about a bunch of stuff that I've since modified drastically. But on the other hand, it probably didn't hurt anybody too much to hear me rant about how you HAD to be able to play "Falling Grace" using only chord tones. Now I could hear somebody play "Falling Grace" and do some really hip free stuff over it and I'd probably say, "Yeah, that's an interesting way to do it." Back then, it would have been, "No! You've GOT to do it I this way."
>How did that dogmatism go over with the students?
It was basically cool, I guess. There were probably a couple of guys who I pissed off a little bit. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it. But it wasn't that what I was saying was bad, it was just strong.
>Did teaching help you arrive at anything in your own playing?
Well, about half the tunes on "Bright Size Life" were actually exercises that I'd written for students. "Bright Size Life" itself was an exercise showing how to use interval leaps in playing diatonic chord scales. "Unity Village" was the same kind of thing, using a larger major-seventh interval leap and inversions of it. When it came time to make my record, it was like, "Well, okay, I've got these." I mean, they were called "Exercise No. 3" and "Exercise No. 6." [Bob] Moses used to make fun of the titles.