Bruce Arnold Interview with Jazz Blues News

Jazz guitarist  Bruce Arnold Interview

Bruce Arnold Interview was conducted in 2017 via email.

First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

I first got interested in playing the guitar when I heard the Beatles play on the Ed Sullivan show I also had a cousin by the name of Dave Wood that was a couple years older than me and was also playing the guitar .  He was listening to mostly early acoustic blues recordings of musicians such as Washboard Sam Howling Wolf. His introduction of these artist which made me gravitate towards learning the blues and studying not only that early acoustic spiders but also electric blues players such as Johnny Winters, Kim Simmons of Savoy Brown and many others. In high school I was placed in the talented students program at Washington High School in Sioux Falls South Dakota. They have employed a jazz trombone player by the name of Gene White who introduced me to many aspects of jazz. This along with hearing many of the great musicians locally in Sioux Falls such as guitarist Mike Miller and drummer Mark Craney and many others made me decide to pursue music as take career.

What got you interested in picking up the guitar?

My mother started me with music lessons on accordion when I was in first grade. When I heard the Beatles I was  eight years old and quickly lost interest in the accordion and wanted to guitar. This was true for me and many of my friends. We used to take tennis rackets, brooms and turn trash cans over to make drums so we could pretend to be the Beatles. After ruining many tennis rackets, brooms and trash cans my mother traded in the accordion in and bought me a guitar.

What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the guitar?

It was very hard to find a guitar teacher in Sioux Falls South Dakota in the 60s so I mostly learned from playing along with records and occasionally other guitar players would show me things. Unfortunately back in the 60s there was no Internet and very few books that were available to learn music. One book that I did get was “Johnny Smith’s Approach to the Guitar” which taught me many chord voicings that have been very useful throughout my career. I also come from a very poor family so even if there was teachers available my parents really couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. But they were very encouraging about me playing the guitar and throughout my career their support is what allowed me to continue my music studies.

How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

Bruce Arnold performing with a Music Man Double Neck Guitar Jazz guitarist  Bruce Arnold Interview

I basically started as a blues guitar player from my studies at the University of South Dakota and finally to Berklee College of music in Boston I became more and more interested in playing jazz. I went to Berklee College of music in the late 70s. At that time fusion was a very popular idiom. So I ended up playing with many bands in Boston playing this style of music. I was a crazy maniac when it came to practicing because I knew I had a lot to learn.  Also some of the greatest guitar players in the world for honing their chops during this period in Boston such as pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frizzell, Mike Stern and many others. This raised the bar quite high and made me realize that I needed to improve drastically if I ever expected to continue with a career in music. When I moved to New York City in 1986 I decided to concentrate more on composing and finding an original sound in my playing. During this period I have had been very much into playing hexatonic scales that Charlie Banacos and learning solos by McCoy Tyner.  When I first moved to New York City I also got a job teaching at Princeton University. From studying many books and scores I found in the Princeton Library I realized that the “Second Vienesse “ composers i.e. Schoenberg, Webern and Berg were also using hexatonic ideas in their music.  I find their method of composing using pitch class sets to be a great sound and I also realized that you could divide hexatonic scales up in trichords (3 note groups) which made them easy to remember when improvising.  So I started developing a technique of using trichords, hexatonics, and 12 tone aggregates as improvisational material.  The sound was very unique and I also realized that using this system allowed me to be much more compositional when I was improvising over any music. I could take the basic interval combinations used in a melody and pick a pitch class sets that included these intervals to make my improvisation much closer related to the music I was improvising over.

What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

Throughout my career I’ve spent a lot of time developing rhythmic ideas. On my CD “The Art of The Blues” a trio recording with Tony Moreno and Dean Johnson we explored the use of superimposing time signatures or morphing from one time to another throughout the cd. I also practiced a lot with superimposing various time signatures over others because I could play through a laptop and use the program Supercollider. This allows me to put in loops and then superimpose various rhythmic patterns over these loops. That is help me to develop the ability to play in many other time signatures.

Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

For the last 30 years I’ve been working with the 12 possible Trichords found in pitch class set theory. Trichords is fancy name for playing three note chords derived from various interval combinations. On many of my CDs I concentrated on only using one type of Trichord for each tune and sometimes the whole CD. Some of my favorites would be 013, 014, 015, 016, and 027. With each of these Trichords I often spend many years developing my ability both to compose and improvise which each chosen group. 

Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business? 

Bruce Arnold Playing with X-Keys Stick Bruce Arnold Interview
Bruce Arnold Playing with X-Keys Stick from Bruce Arnold Interview

I think its first important that a musician relocate to a location where there is enough musical activities that they stand a chance to make a living. In the United States most people go to New York City, Los Angeles or Nashville. I find there’s three ways that you can go as a musician. One would be master as many styles of playing so that you can become more employable to more people. 2nd would be to master one style while at the same time not injecting too much originality into your playing because then you don’t sound idiomatic.  You could go in another direction and develop a unique style we’re people want to use you in their band because of the uniqueness of your playing. I’ve actually gone down all three of these paths starting with the jack of all trades, blues and jazz guitarist but finally deciding to develop my own voice.  I believe I found this by through organizing via pitch class sets and my deep interest in creating new sounds and textures through the use of supercollider with my guitar.  From this combiantion I’ve carved out my own little niece. Lately I’ve been working with the great singer Judy Silvano and creating free conversational pieces using effects generated by supercollider. Many bands that I’ve worked with over the years have hired me because of my wide pallette of soundsthat I get by using a series of foot pedals made by the company Jam Pedals but also by creating my own sounds via supercollider.

?nd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

You certainly can be successful in the jazz idiom today. It’s not an easy way to make a living but most musicians that play jazz or really any music and do it professionally usually just really love music and playing music is not a job it’s fun. A lot of musicians also teach I currently teach at Princeton University but I’ve also taught at many other universities throughout my career. This often helps musicians get supplemental income. I also created a music publishing company which can be found at where I’ve published many unique of music education. Books that cover guitar technique, music theory and many other subjects to help students learn in the proper way.  A combination of all these things has helped me to remain a professional musician.

How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

Bruce Arnold Interview Live Shot of Joe Lovano and Bruce Arnold at Bop stop Cleveland Ohio 2019
Joe Lovano and Bruce Arnold Performing from Bruce Arnold Interview

Jazz standards can actually be made to sound very modern by employing pitch class sets as a replacement for the chords and using them in single-line improvisation. Many standards were composed by musicians that also studied classical music so you will find a lot of internal structure with in these jazz standards. For instance if you take “Stella by Starlight” or “Alone Together.” Both tunes have a preponderance of 013’s in the melody so on way to create a modern approach to these standards is to replace all the tertial based chords with 013 chords. You will find that you can still hear the tune yet it will sound very modern. You can hear many of these types of approaches in my book “Tools for Modern Improvisation where are you such techniques as 23rd chords and other trichord, hexachord and 12 tone techniques are employed to traditional blues progression and other traditional jazz repertoire progressions such as “Rhythm Changes” to create a very modern sound.

John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

I think the best musicians play from their heart not their head. Understanding contemporary jazz can take a lot of mental thought to develop which is OK but ultimately you want to intervalize this information so that you can play from the heart. John Coltrane was one of these people that explored many of the highly technical aspects of music but was able to overtime to play from his heart. I strive to meet this goal in my playing. 

What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

Currently I think the biggest anxiety people in United States have is the current political situation. As far as my expectations for the future in music there are so many new sounds I want to explore via SuperCollider and also using pitch class. Music is such a rich resource and I always look forward to exploring new things.

What’s the next musical frontier for you?

I was recently asked to create a 64 channel piece of music for a local venue here in New York City so I’m currently exploring ways to create guitar sounds that are morphing across 64 channels of audio.  I will be joined in this endeavor buy Judi Silvano who uses the Eventide plug-ins to create effects with her voice. We will also be joined by Melissa Kassel a singer from the Boston area who will add in some additional tracks. Personally I will continue to develop my application of pitch class sets in this new piece but also in the compositions I write for mostly a guitar trio.

Bruce Arnold Performing Music From his Lavadura CD from Bruce Arnold Interview

What’s your current setup?

I currently use SuperCollider and a bunch floor pedals made by the company “Jam Pedals.”  All of this is routed into a 1957 fender deluxe. “Jam Pedals.”  make some very intriguing pedals because they have “expression” control of various parameters.  This allows me to create a whole of new sounds which a sonic clarity that I have only found with “Jam Pedals.”  I also use SuperCollider which gives me a wide pallet of sounds everything from to traditional to the most bizarre. I program all of these sounds myself so they are highly original and unique.  The 1957 Fender Deluxe gives me a nice warm sound so it’s really a combination of the very new and very old that I use in my setup.  I top this off with many different “Music Man” Guitars which are a super high quality instrument that makes it a joy to play the guitar.

Bruce Arnold Interview was done by:

Simon Sargsyan Jazz Blues News