I don’t know where you all are, but here in Washington, most of us are nearly shelter-in-place status, although as of this writing it’s not a mandate yet.
But fear not. I feel that some of us will be gifted with free time to read that book we’ve always been putting off, tackling that DIY project in the garage, or just feeling the unusual but welcome separation from the modern rat race.
Me? As a guitarist, I’ve been finding music theory resources online to help train my mind and ear – as opposed to my fingers. I’m going to share some of them in hopes that they enrich your composition and performance skills as well.
I’m on the top floor of the Keystone Building on a rainy, windswept February night, looking south down the glittering, yet blurry downtown nightscape. The room I’m in has wall to wall windows; seemingly a haven for a recording musician looking for a creative retreat. Jacob Navarro has this space dialed in. He kindly sat with me that evening to share what he’s been up to since last year’s release of Otter House Sketches, a spare, melodic album of folk Americana.
Jacob was relaxed and affable as we talked about his recent creative endeavors. In our conversation, he has somewhat adopted a come-what-may approach to gigs and side jobs. As a self-proclaimed “blue collar musician”, he’s playing solo and duo gigs in small pubs and halls, as usual. He opened for Karl Blau on February 7th on Guemes Island to a standing-room only crowd at the General Store. Meanwhile, his next solo recording is in the demo tracks stage. To us locals, this is the Jake we’ve seen around town for years.
Yet, our perception of Jake is somewhat akin to looking at the Sistine Chapel ceiling through a keyhole. Prominent jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman, who has been a side woman to such luminaries as Lou Reed, Linda Perry, and Aretha Franklin asked Jacob to engineer her 2017 album Here on Earth. In late February, he was recruited to back The Secret Sisters opening for Brandi Carlisle at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Weber Mandolins list Jacob as one of their Weber Artists lineup, as a marketing endorsement. And sooner or later, if you follow him on social media, you’ll see Jake hanging out with the likes of Bill Walton. This Anacortes “blue collar musician” has a well-earned, wide-ranging industry reputation. The work finds him, many times, not the other way around.
Jake discussed how his guitar playing has changed over the years. High speed runs and furious, precise alternate picking were hallmarks of his work, especially with the Spoonshine duo. His most recent album, Otter House Sketches, features spare arrangements which give his songs more breathing room and feature a more calculated, harmonic playing style. Jacob says his focus lately has been more on being a songwriter, with less focus on his trademark acoustic soloing.
As Jake joyfully showed me some of his vintage instruments, including a mandolin guitar given to him by author Robert Fulghum, my gaze shifted to a music stand. On that stand was a collection of sheet music entitled “Thelonious Monk for Guitar”. I laughed to myself, realizing that this was one book that could not be judged by its cover.
Karl Blau played a solo acoustic set last night at Kennelly Keys Music in Anacortes. It was vintage Karl, making jokes about tuning by ear, and sudden screams into the microphone. I’d been waiting to get some good pictures of him for a while.