Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004

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Tommy Emanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Montreal Jazz Festival 2004







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: TOMMY EMMANUEL
Copyright Kim Walker

Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel has wowed audiences the world-over with his compositions, interpretations and finger wizardry. He was a recipient of the Certified Guitar Player Award for his contributions to finger style guitar. Chet Atkins called him, “One of the greatest players on the planet.” Not since the late Lenny Breau has there been a guitarist so comfortable playing harmonics -- that are so difficult most of the great guitarists don't even bother. Tommy's interpretation of Sir Paul McCartney's Michelle, featuring an astonishing range of guitar-generated, tender-is-the-night, percussive effects, is a sure bet for jazz immortality.

Listen to MICHELLE



Tommy Emmanuel was invited back to perform two concerts at the 2004 Montreal International Jazz Festival. I spoke to him after his second show.

Arts & Opinion: Do you remember the first time you played Initiation for Australia’s Aborigines?

TOMMY: I’ll never forget it. It was in Arnhemland, in Australia’s Northern Territory, which belongs to the Aborigines. I knew I had struck a very deep ancestral chord when the crowd closed in around me and began to dance. Even today, many years later, when they learn I’m coming to play for them, tribal members carrying a pail and smoking branches will come into my dressing room before a concert to ward off evil spirits. These are always very special moments for me.

A & O: What special effects to you use?

TOMMY: Everybody always asks me that and I tell them I don’t use any effects, except for a delay. And if they think they’re hearing strange sounds it just might be their imaginations feeding off the music -- which is a good thing.

A & O: I know that you’re a great fan of Lenny Breau (1941-1984) whose formative years were spent in Winnipeg, Canada. How did you meet him, and was it him who introduced you to harmonics?

TOMMY: To answer your second question first, my good friend and mentor Chet Atkins (1924-2001) introduced me to harmonics and later to the music of, and Lenny Breau himself. One day I was at Chet’s and he told me he wanted me to meet this guitarist. Lenny was upstairs playing. Even before I made it half way up the stairs I was hearing things that were astonishing. Ten minutes later I was sitting with Lenny who began to play harmonics such as I have never in my life, and then I started learning right there and then. Chet, and he mentions it in his autobiography, always regretted that he didn’t film that session. To this day, there is no one in the world who can do what Lenny did and we are all indebted to his legacy.Copyright Mark Wohlrab

A & O: Is there a guitarist out there who is doing something you wish you could do but can’t. And by the way, if there is, he or she is an automatic candidate for apotheosis.

TOMMY: (Chuckling). I would have to say in the genre, no. But I would love to be able to play classical guitar or flamenco. And I’m still and will always be working on harmonics.

A & O: From Blue Moon to Mona Lisa, Michelle and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Are the standards a recent discovery?

TOMMY: I’ve been playing Blue Moon for years, but my love and appreciation of the standards has definitely grown since I’ve come to the US. In terms of melody and composition, you can’t beat them.

A & O: Is there an album of standards on the near or far horizon?

TOMMY: I would love to make that happen, just not sure when.

A & O: Audiences have come to expect showmanship and unparalleled technical virtuosity from you. Are you concerned that they will be less receptive to original material grounded in composition?

TOMMY: I am first and foremost an entertainer and I have no qualms about playing other people’s material, which is always an homage of sorts. I want my audience to go home happy, I want them to want to see me again. After a while you get a feel of what moves an audience and my repertoire is diverse enough to usually accommodate them. For example, I know you can only play so many ballads before an audience begins to get restless. But my main concern is that the audience gets to hear what it wants to hear and I get to play what I love to play.

A & O: What music are you listening to now? What music do you keep returning to over, let's say, a 10 year period?

TOMMY: Lately I’ve been listening to Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra. Frank’s ballads are simply beautiful. Over the longer period, I keep coming back to Chet Atkins and Lenny Breau.

A & O: Chess masters claim they begin to lose their edge, their sharpness if they don't play for 3-4 days? How many days can you go without playing before you begin to lose it?

TOMMY: If I don’t play for a couple of weeks, I’ll notice my fingers are not obeying all of the instructions sent from my brain, but I rarely, and I mean rarely go 2 weeks without playing guitar. Forcing myself not to play is the more likely challenge.

A & O: You look like you look after yourself, your health, that your not comfortable in the fast lane. Is this a consequence of fame/celebrity coming late in life?

TOMMY: I respect life too much not to look after myself, and I learned quite early in life how to handle celebrity. I feel very privileged to be living the life I’m living: I’m in a wonderful relationship, audiences are receptive to my music which has allowed me to travel all over the world and experience different people and different cultures. There is so much to see and do and learn and discover and never enough time which is why I’m doing my best to live a clean and healthy life so I can take advantage of what life has to offer for as long as I can.

A & O: Thank you, Tommy, and hope to see you back in Montreal soon.

TOMMY: Love to come back. I could have played for you people all night. You were a great audience.

John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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