PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
November 15, 2005

The Man with the Magic Touch

by Jim Newsom

When Stanley Jordan first came into the public consciousness in 1985 with his major label debut, Magic Touch, a legion of guitar players feared they’d have to relearn how to play the instrument. Jordan had developed a playing style that utilized “tapping” on the fretboard (the neck) of the guitar with both hands, rather than the traditional strumming with one hand and fretting with the other. With this technique, he was able to use the guitar like a pianist, playing melodies and chords or counter-melodies simultaneously, exploring the polyphonic and contrapuntal possibilities of the instrument.

That first album lived up to the accompanying hype, taking up residence at the top of the jazz charts and crossing over into the pop world on the strength of two cuts---“The Lady in My Life,” a Michael Jackson cover, and Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.” The buzz was everywhere, and Stanley Jordan was proclaimed a “revolutionary” who would change the face of guitar playing.

But it was not to be. Guitarists did not follow up on Jordan’s innovations, and he had trouble maintaining his following with subsequent recordings. Rather than evolving into the primary way to play guitar, tapping was essentially relegated to gimmick status. Twenty years later, the musical possibilities remain virtually unexplored.

Stanley Jordan himself might make for one of those “where are they now” stories. In fact, he did literally disappear from the recording scene for the last decade. But he’s back in a big way, with a benefit performance on the Outer Banks Saturday night and a stopover on Granby Street Sunday at Station 2.

“I’ve been doing a lot of touring,” he told me last week. “In the last three years or so I have focused more on international shows. The traveling aspect has been more intense, but it’s great because I’ve been going to a lot of new areas. I think it’s important to keep our cultural connections going.”

He’s also been studying Music Therapy at Arizona State University and this spring, he took over Sedona Books & Music in the new age capital of the world---Sedona, Arizona. He was there taking care of business when we spoke.

“I’ve been running this store since April,” he said. “We have books, CDs, music instruments and audio equipment. It’s a bookstore and music store. We’re trying to turn it into a quasi-community center.”

But it’s the possibilities inherent in music therapy that have become his primary interest:

“I’ve been so busy touring that I don’t have time to take full-time classes, so I’ve been doing a lot of independent study. But next semester, since I’m going to be home for a while, I’ll be taking classes again. I’ve been working on a Masters equivalency in Music Therapy. It’s really not for the degree so much as it’s just something that I want to learn. I feel that I have a calling; it’s so incredible and so interesting and not enough people know about it. As I travel around, I do presentations and meet music therapists and try to contribute as much as possible to that field.

“It touches on just about every element of healthcare. Usually what gets the best results is participating, and it’s the use of the music more than the music itself. So, almost any kind of music can be used as a music link.

“Songs with lyrics are often good for depression or other conditions that have a psychiatric component. Respiratory conditions can be helped by singing or playing a wind instrument. With a wind instrument, when you create a good tone, then you know you’re breathing well. So music lessons on a wind instrument can help someone with their breathing, and they use the tone as their feedback to know that they’re breathing correctly. It just goes on and on.

“A couple of years ago I did some music events in Beirut---I did a concert, a class for music students, and I did a music therapy session for kids with Down syndrome. And out of all the things I did, the music therapy session probably had the most impact. People were stopping me in the airport saying how much they appreciated that.”

Saturday’s show at Kelly’s Restaurant and Tavern in Nags Head is a result of Jordan’s work with the American Music Therapy Association, an organization devoted to the relationship between music and healing. It’s a benefit for KIDS, a charity that works with special needs children. He’ll be sharing the bill there with Tim Reynolds, a guitarist best known for his association with rocker Dave Matthews.

Sunday night, Jordan moves up the coast a tad for two sets at Station 2, with dinner included in the ticket price. His appearance there is another in an impressive string of concerts presented by a restaurant that’s doing a great job bringing cutting edge artists from across the musical spectrum to town. From bluegrass to blues, and groove rock to groovy jazz, Station 2 is the pacesetter of Granby Street’s live entertainment scene. If only it was a non-smoking venue!

This weekend, Stanley Jordan will provide plenty of smoke all by himself. He’s long been a believer in following his own muse and staking out his own territory. A CD with the Italian pop-jazz band Novecento last year was a reminder of what a distinctive guitarist he is, no matter the setting.

On Saturday and Sunday, the setting is right here for Stanley Jordan, alone with his guitar. While few others have followed his lead, he has continued to develop himself.

“The root for me came mostly from the piano,” he explained. “I was playing a lot of piano and I was developing the concept of two-hand coordination, but I wanted to do that on guitar. And I think I found the balance, because the stuff I’m doing now has a level of textural complexity that does approach the keyboard and it still has a lot of the expressive stuff from the guitar.”

copyright © 2005 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.