Rob Price

A friend of mine recently lent me a CD of an american guitarist I didn’t know, but that I immediatly liked. So the idea to ask him a few question came naturaly…

Do you remember the first music you heard ? The first jazz record or concert ?

I don't think I remember the first music I heard. The first jazz record I can remember hearing was when I was very young and sick in bed with a high fever. Downstairs my brother was listening to a Teddy Wilson record and the music seemed very strange. It made me very uneasy. I think the tune was Moonglow. For years I couldn't hear that record without feeling apprehensive. It might still have that effect on me.

First jazz concert was probably Guy Van Duser and Billy Novick. Guy is a phenomenal guitarist who grew up listening to Chet Atkins. He invented a way of playing "stride guitar". He has a book and a record of that name, both extraordinary. Billy Novick is also a genius clarinetist and saxophonist. My brother studied clarinet with him and I even took a few saxophone lessons from him when I was ten years old. We used to see Guy and Billy play at Cafe Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts, very often. They're still playing and recording and I still see them once in a while.

How did you become a musician ? What drew you to play the guitar ? I read you first studied violin, viola and piano. Was your family involved in music ?

My mother plays the piano, my stepfather plays the guitar and my brother plays the piano. I don't think my father played an instrument but he was deeply interested in music and had an impressive record collection. I don't think there have been any professional musicians in my family. I'm not one either: I have a day job (proofreader).

I started playing the guitar after I moved to New York City. One of my roommates found a broken guitar in the garbage, on the street, and brought it home. I started to play it and liked it.

Who are the musicians & what are the main experiments that influenced you ?

My brother, who is older than I am, is my biggest influence. It is thanks to him that I became interested in jazz in the first place. He introduced me to countless musicians and records. He used to take me to see whatever he wanted to see, so it's because of him that I attended concerts by John Zorn and Keith Jarrett when I was still in high school. When I was 18 my brother took me to see Paul Motian's trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. That was 20 years ago. Now they're my favorite band of all time.

Bernard Herrmann's music has also been an influence on me for a long time. My brother and I grew up listening to old radio programs like The Shadow, Jack Benny and Inner Sanctum. One of my favorites was Suspense, for which Herrmann wrote a great theme. He also scored some of the episodes. My family went to the movies a lot and I used to love to see North by Northwest just for Herrmann's music. I also remember loving the music for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad when I was a kid, but I don't think I knew it was Herrmann then.

Two other musicians that I loved when I was a kid are Fred Astaire and Max Geldray. Geldray was a jazz harmonica player who performed on the British radio program The Goon Show. We listened to The Goon Show a lot growing up. By the time I was twelve I had many of the episodes memorized.

What do you think about state of jazz and improvised musics today ? What direction do you feel they should go in the future ?

I really don't know. I haven't been hearing a lot of what's going on lately, mostly because my wife, Alice (also a musician), and I are spending most of our time raising our son, who is two years old now. As far as direction, Ornette Coleman said it decades ago, that any way you can enjoy music, you should.

You recorded two albums with your quartet including Ellery Eskelin, Trevor Dunn & Joey Baron, then Jim Black, mixing elements from hardcore rock, free jazz, country, surf music... in a very singular way. Could you tell us more about this ?

I booked the studio and hired the musicians before I wrote any of the music. I usually started out imagining something Joey might play, then came up with simple melodies and chords while listening to him in my head. (I didn't ask Joey to play what I had imagined for the recording. I wanted him to play what he felt in the moment.) I wanted to have a lot of variety in the material because I knew that Ellery, Trevor and Joey sound great playing everything. I ended up including one piece I had written many years ago (Where It Snows) and decided to do one of Alice's songs (At Sunset) on the day of the recording. Joey Baron was touring a lot and unavailable to play the CD release show, so I asked Jim Black to play drums. With him it was a totally different experience and very exciting. The quartet with Jim played a few times over the next couple of years. For the second quartet record, I could write music with some experience of actually playing with the group. For the At Sunset record, the only time we played together was in the recording studio. I think the second record is looser and more energetic. When I wrote the music this time, I was thinking about the way the band had played together live.

Could you present us your other main bands and projects ?

I really love playing free improvisation as well as performing my compositions. After At Sunset I made a free improv record (Get Lost) with the drummer David Grollman. We play most often as a duo but we have also performed with cello, bass, second guitar, saxophone, poet. My most recent CD is another free improv recording (Submarine Pictures), with bass player Reuben Radding and vibes player Matt Moran. I hope to perform live with that trio soon. I also play with Toronto-based drummer Chris Cawthray and he has made available for download a recording of our trio (with saxophonist Ed Zankowski).

You're also a producer and founded your own label, Gutbrain Records, in 2000. How do you consider this activity ? Just as a part of your musician's work or separate ?

It was the only way for me to release a CD of my music. I don't perform a lot and I've hardly ever toured in any serious way and I think you need to do that to interest somebody else in risking their money on your recording. I tried to get other labels to release At Sunset but they weren't interested. I'm glad I put it out myself, though. Making CDs is relatively easy and inexpensive. I'm not good with business, so I just do what I want and don't think about making a profit. I'll spend money on making a CD instead of, say, taking a vacation or something like that.

What is your last musical shock? Is there any musician you have, recently or not, discovered you want to talk about ?

I just listened to Takeo Yamashita's music for the Japanese TV show Akuma-kun and was startled by how ahead of its time it sounds. Very weird and beautiful music, with free jazz influences and presumably a lot of free improvisation. And this was for a children's fantasy television program in the 1960s! Yamashita also wrote some other great jazz/free jazz/lounge music for other Japanese TV shows like Playgirl Q.

Are you interested in other artistic forms and do you have favorite artists, writers...?

I listen to a lot of soundtrack music, and write about it every Monday on my website ( So I also watch a lot of movies, usually more than three hundred a year. I go to the comic book shop every week, hoping to find something new by Eddie Campbell or Gabrielle Bell (to name just two) or something old by George Herriman or Leonard Starr (to name just two). I will always run to a museum for a Giorgio Morandi exhibit, or something like the Utagawa Kuniyoshi show that's at the Japan Society right now. I like to read Shirley Jackson, Nicholson Baker, Dashiell Hammett, Barbara Pym, Pauline Kael or Eileen McDonagh (my mother). Sometimes I read old American pulp fiction like Argosy, The Shadow, Doc Savage, etc. Right now I'm enjoying Alan Booth's two books about walking in Japan (The Roads to Sata and Looking for the Lost). The Times Literary Supplement is the only periodical I enjoy.

Future projects in mind ? Upcoming concerts and records ? Will you play in Europe soon ?

I'm preparing material for another CD of original compositions. I'd like it to be for a larger group. In 2007 I played the music from the second quartet record with quintet and sextet. There were always Ches Smith on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, Shelley Burgon on harp, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone and myself on guitar. Once we were joined by Briggan Krauss on saxophone ; another time Ted Reichman sat in on accordion and piano. This was a really rewarding experiment and I've been thinking about it a lot. At the same time, I'm also considering trying the same material with a smaller group, perhaps just guitar, saxophone and bass or trombone. I always try to play some gigs with some of my favorite drummers : David Grollman, of course, and also Chris Cawthray, who lives in Toronto, and Andy O'Neill, who lives in New Jersey. I think I'm playing with all of them soon. Alice just put out a record called Dexter Price, our son's name. She wrote all of the songs for him and I play guitar on the title track.

I would love to play in Europe soon but I don't think I will for another year or two. Maybe I'll play out of town more after Dexter starts school. I love to travel but I hate to be away from home.

Interview by Pierre Villeret

We asked to Rob Price what he was listening. here is his playlist.

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