Guitarist Andy Waddell pursuing new directions on debut album
As a composer, Andy Waddell is a man of few words. In fact, on his debut effort, Sunset to 7, there is only one track with lyrics – and the voice isn’t even his. But it doesn’t matter. Waddell’s mastery of the guitar speaks its own dialect, understood through the universal language of music. “Since I am an instrumentalist, obviously the music I write doesn’t have any words, but I hope that it can paint a detailed picture in the mind of the listener,” Waddell explained. “My music is very emotional because it reflects the roller coaster of my life for the last five years, from the darkest hours to the brightest moments; my intention is to pull the listener in several different directions, much as my life has been.”
To Waddell, music is a way of expressing feelings and not just technical wizardry. “Whether we realize it or not, different sounds and tones create different emotions, and emotions cause us to remember certain experiences in our lives, or to spark our imagination to envision new ones,” Waddell observed. “I don’t want my music to just be about ripping choruses over changes, even though that is of course a part of it that I enjoy immensely. I hope to create an emotional and imaginative experience for the listeners. I hope to inspire people just as a few others, whom I will never forget, have inspired me.”
While a number of other musicians are content to stay within their self-imposed stylistic boundaries, Waddell has a creative restlessness that prevents him from doing so; he refuses to become artistically stagnant. “During the beginning of my serious years as a jazz player, I was primarily focused on bebop. However, when I finally began writing, I took my playing and way of thinking about improvising in a whole new direction,” Waddell recalled. “I want to continually progress in pushing my creativity into new realms, and with modern jazz, the possibilities are endless.”
All About Jazz
Guitarist Andy Waddell Captivates And Mesmerizes On New Album "Alive"
The album title is certainly apt. If there were one word that could describe Andy Waddell’s guitar playing, it would be Alive. Waddell doesn’t restrict himself to jazz conventions. His compositions balance the restlessness of his imagination with a killer instinct for melody. It’s a dangerous combination, one that finds the balance between inventiveness and accessibility. There is the potential for a mainstream crossover in Alive, even more than his previous work.
Josh Nelson’s hauntingly beautiful piano intro gives the title cut an immediate hook; it draws the listener in and refuses to let go. There is definitely a life-affirming feeling emanating from the sunshine sparkle of Waddell’s guitar. He delivers a clean, crisply embellished performance, simultaneously captivating and relaxing the ears. Nelson’s piano picks up the tempo while Waddell delivers a scorching jam. It is indeed “Alive.”
Another track wherein Waddell and Nelson generate a special kind of magic is “Wonderville.” Waddell’s hypnotic playing is perfectly in synch with Nelson’s mesmerizing piano. However, the album is not a two-man show. Saxophonist Tom Catanzaro, bassist Dan Lutz, and drummer Aaron McLendon significantly add to Waddell’s cinematic vision.
While a number of other jazz guitarists focus on technical precision, Waddell has a poetic ear for composition that distinguishes him from his peers. “A New Day” and “Light Night” convey emotions that don’t require words; they are stunningly beautiful.
Jazz Corner News
Guitarist Andy Waddell debuts with boldly self-confident album
For guitarist Andy Waddell, music is at its strongest during the heat of an inspired collaboration. At least those are among the highlights of his latest effort,Sunset to 7. Waddell's creative peaks are when he is locked in a sweltering groove with his fellow musicians; they seem to inspire him to further heights of greatness. Waddell's years of learning from West Coast jazz veterans is certainly visible here. For a debut album, Sunset to 7sounds remarkably polished and boldly self-confident.
There's a swagger in Waddell's step, and that can be easily heard in the blistering guitar jam of "Blue Skies." Waddell's crystalline playing glitters like the California sun. Echoing the sublime melodies of his performance, Nancy Sanchez layers on honey-sweet vocals that give the song an irresistible hook. Matt Politano's lovely piano adds another gorgeous stroke of the paintbrush. On "Answer," Waddell's crisp, tasteful playing is the perfect counterpoint to Politano's rollicking piano.
Waddell is equally impressive with going slow as he is in moving fast. On "Only One Older Friend," Waddell's chilled-out guitar is as cozy as a soft pillow, allowing Roger Shew's thumping bass and Tom Catanzaro's soaring tenor saxophone to spark the rhythm. Like everything else on the record, it soothes while it stimulates.
All About Jazz
L.A. Guitarist Andy Waddell Debuts With Inventive New Album
Andy Waddell is a true craftsman, a jazz guitarist with a keen ear for both accessible melodies and inventive arrangements. The Los Angeles-based musician lets his creativity soar on his debut album, Sunset to 7. Backed by pianist Matt Politano, bassist Roger Shew, drummer Evan Stone, and tenor saxophonist Tom Catanzaro, Waddell delivers a consistently engaging assortment of smoothly layered yet challenging and unique avant-garde jazz.
The youthful exuberance of this record is among the keys to its success. Waddell’s frenetic performance on “Gone Away” is echoed by Stone’s shuffling drums and Politano’s sparkling piano. Catanzaro’s fiery sax adds to the track’s sweaty atmospherics. This must be a pressure cooker when performed live; in the studio, it already electrifies. Waddell’s soulful rhythms on “Eye 2 Eye” prove that these songs are no mere cerebral exercises; there is a heart pumping beneath the thought-provoking grooves, making its presence known within Waddell’s incandescent playing.
Every member of Waddell’s band is given the opportunity to shine here, and they certainly do. Politano’s piano is on fire during “Answer,” while Shew’s throbbing bass adds weight to “Only One Older Friend.” Vocalist Nancy Sanchez contributes a feminine touch to “Blue Skies” that is definitely welcome. For an initial offering, Sunset to 7 sounds like the polished work of an accomplished veteran.
All About Jazz
Interview: Andy Waddell
Q: How do you feel you have developed creatively with your new album, Alive?
A: This is an honest trip. It came like Sunday boredom, almost baptismal, a dip in the river after a week’s bend. I’ve been writing and creating my own music for a long time, but everything on this album came from a different source. My heart finally came up for air after a lifetime of experimental asphyxiation. Every piece came about like a drought’s first heavy rain. It was conceptualized and realized in its entirety right from the start, and the titles for each track were a no-brainer, just had to grab a bucket and collect. The jazz earth was rich from the rain, and the well once again provided. I took a dip in the water and swam the bog of my ideas and emotions.
I remember in my earlier years, I would often start writing something and it would take me weeks or months to finish. I would get stuck and let it go a while, and wait patiently to see it through. Every tune on this album came from one collective conscience. I never specifically set out to write anything in the first place. It just banged into existence, something I hadn’t experienced to this capacity before. This new manifest sound allowed me to create with complete freedom. I focused on the emotional undercurrent, generated from specific experiences in my life. I let go and set them adrift, a wild color wheel of star dust and heavy wind. This album moves extensively, in ever-expanding directions. It freezes up and liquefies, melts the mind and rains fire. The astronaut descent bends from mad, sad and lonely to train-brake slow, and just as the tranny slips it catches gear and light speeds of wonder and awe blast off with unmistakable focus. These covert shifts exist between time’s dotted lines and perforated edges.
I did not use a systematic approach, changing speeds from one track to another, but instead changing density from one second to the next, a musical black hole fold like a wrinkle in time. Any melody can represent any human feeling depending on what harmonic colors are behind it. I play reds and greens and gold. I play circles and stars and shapes unknown. That’s the creative 90 between Sunset to 7 andAlive. I realized the telling outweighs the story, and the X dimension provides bread for the empty.
Q: Are there any particular artists who inspired the work on this latest effort, either consciously or not?
A: This project I approached with tact and a universal sensibility, opening my doors to all musical walks. It’s people friendly, and accessible, no matter your musical complacency. Soul, R&B, indie, punk, rock & roll – all cats can find their fat on the bone. Although this is definitely progressive jazz with a hard edge, the music seems to have a subterranean love song that swims beneath the hands and keys of the studio, like a school of fish tapping into one instinctive nervous system.
Using this commercial undercurrent, I have the capability to pull people into this art that have perhaps never been exposed to jazz, or just turned their backs to it. Each tune has a theme that always ties everything together in the kind of way that a pop song would have a chorus that it comes back to multiple times. This allows me as a jazz artist to push the boundaries both rhythmically and harmonically while still being grounded in memorable melodies. Just give it chance and it’ll take care of you. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: Country and rock musicians turn in a seconds retrograde push, as they sync to the familiar roads and pathsAlive travels down. I have seen shoes start tapping, and hearts start beating fast, picking skeptics up off their seat into a full on jazz frenzy of shake dancing, hip pivots. and air guitar.
My inspiration comes from many different areas going back to be bop which is where my roots are (John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Pass, Bill Evans) up to my modern favorites, guys like Mark Turner, Mehldau, Rosenwinkel, and Kenny Garrett. This album has influences beyond the looking glass, right down into the rabbit hole. On the other side, some of my favorites that I have to clack my glass to are: Elliott Smith, Bob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, The Flaming Lips; the list goes on deep. I have to give proper due to my dear friend, Joel Walker. His music and song writing skills has served as an endless source of inspiration. I’m truly in awe of just how many musical gypsies the road has offered. Alive is the soft shoe proof of just how the journey unfolds before you. One day I’ll look back, but for now I’m going to keep on moving on into the silhouette distance.
Q: What tracks have the most personal connection to you?
A: The opening track, “The 27 Club,” means a lot to me. I had a dear friend from earlier days, and I remember him telling me, “You gotta do something different, or join the 27 Club.” I really thought I was going to mess it all up young. I had to find another way to live, and I’m sure as hell glad I did. I wouldn’t have even made it into that club anyhow, under different pretenses beyond the age requirement. This track makes me confront a very scary time in my life. I didn’t want to touch it for a while, but it’s nice to look back with a fresh perspective. All the titles move along this same jagged edge. The title track and “A New Day” show you the space between two distant valleys in my life. This album is that peaceful feeling you get when you let go.
Q: Have you performed any of the new CD in a live setting yet? If so, what has been the reaction?
A: I have been fortunate enough to perform this music all throughout L.A. and San Francisco before and after releasing the album. It’s always been a positive experience for me as well as the audience, and I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support through jazz radio.
Q: Why did you call it Alive? Is there a deeper meaning behind it?
A: I called the album Alive because I’m lucky to be alive. One would think with that title that it would be all uplifting and happy sounds, but it’s not. To me it represents the entire array of human emotions, or at least my emotions, which includes everything from darkness, chaos, anger, to happiness and peace, to loneliness and anxiety. We go all go through many different chapters in out lives based on our circumstances, decisions and out minds. Music allows us to throw all of these things together in a beautiful way
Q: How long have you been playing guitar? What kind do you use?
A: I’ve been playing guitar for 17 years, and have been playing music for most of my life. Starting on piano as a young child. I use a Gibson 335 probably 99 percent of the time. Once I got my sound dialed in I saw no reason to mess with it and use anything else, at least for my own music.
Q: Artistically, how do you stay fresh and keep progressing forward?
A: The main thing is to always be listening. There’s so much great music out there to be heard, so much that It could take more than a lifetime to get through it all. Staying inspired is the key. Surrounding myself with positive people and doing my best to keep in a healthy state of mind keeps me creating. There’s a lot of artists out there who deal with depression and substance abuse and they think that they need to be miserable to create good art. Maybe for some that is true, but for me personally, I have found that I’m at my best both musically and artistically when I am content, calm and peaceful. That is when I am most driven and motivated to push myself to the next level.
Q: What are your plans for your next album?
A: I’m working on a few different things currently for what I’ll be putting out in the future. I’ve been a jazz Nazi for a long time and found myself branching out into other genres as a solo project after recordingAlive. The next album is going to be something completely different and much more mainstream. I’ve been exploring the possibilities for myself as a songwriter and it has opened my mind to all kinds of new and fresh ideas. So I figure I’ll record it. Why not, right? I’ll also be working with a very gifted writer friend of mine, Joey Zarnowski, on something completely new and different. It will be a duet project of spoken word intertwined with progressive jazz.
All About Jazz
INTERVIEW: ANDY WADDELL
Q: What are your goals as an artist?
A: My main goal is to create music that touches people or at least moves someone who is listening. Even if it reaches only one person in the audience, in my mind I have succeeded. Since I am an instrumentalist, obviously the music I write doesn't have any words, but I hope that it can paint a detailed picture in the mind of the listener. My music is very emotional because it reflects the roller coaster of my life for the last five years, from the darkest hours to the brightest moments; my intention is to pull the listener in several different directions, much as my life has been. Of course, it would mean something different to each individual.
Whether we realize it or not, different sounds and tones create different emotions, and emotions cause us to remember certain experiences in our lives, or to spark our imagination to envision new ones. I don't want my music to just be about ripping choruses over changes (even though that is, of course, a part of it that I enjoy immensely). I hope to create an emotional and imaginative experience for the listeners. I hope to inspire people just as a few others, whom I will never forget, have inspired me. I want to continually progress in pushing my creativity into new realms, and with modern jazz, the possibilities are endless.
Q: Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to?
A: I listened to a lot of different music as a kid - rock & roll, pop, grunge, and a variety of other music (such as Frank Sinatra, courtesy of my parents) and always of course, the many jazz greats. I was very lucky growing up that I was exposed to jazz from a young age. My dad was a jazz lover for as long as I can remember, so it was always playing at home. In fact, I couldn't escape it even if I wanted to because he had his stereo system wired all throughout the house from the living room, to the hallway, the back yard, the garage, the dining room. It was intense. Good thing I always loved his music.
Q: What artists have had the most impact on you on a creative level?
A: This is a tough question, but I would have to say definitely Joe Pass changed my life from the first time I heard him. I'll never forget that night. Most of my family was out for the night so it was just me and my dad and he put on a compilation DVD of various Pass concerts. I was utterly amazed. I couldn't sleep that night because my mind was freshly opened to the incredible possibilities on the guitar. I practiced for hours that night, and so began my journey. Bill Evans was also a big inspiration as was John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, and Michael Brecker.
Q: What inspired you to become a musician?
A: For one thing I was never good at anything else. Every time I tried a sport I was always the worst on the team. I was never a great student, but music just made sense to me, and I always loved it. I used it as a tool to escape the realities of life, and it became my everything. For so many years I didn't care about hanging out with friends and socializing with girls. My guitar was my best friend and I knew what I wanted. I've always had a one-track mind and could deeply focus on one thing, to the exclusion of all else. I wanted to become a musician because it truly made me happy, and it gave me a place in this world. I also don't think I could ever handle having a boss or a regular job.
Q: Who taught you to play guitar?
A: I began playing music around the age of 7. I started on piano, taking lessons for several years, then started playing the trombone in the school band along the way. I later picked up the guitar when I was about 14-years-old, but by that time, it was easy to start because I already had training on the other instruments. I had already been playing trombone in the jazz program in junior high school for a couple years before playing guitar, so the jazz concept was already engrained in my mind. I was fortunate to end up in a high school that had one of the best jazz programs in Southern California. I had a couple guitar teachers in my early years, but the first one that really changed my life was Joe Jewell. I remember the first lesson I had with him. All those things that I was trying to grasp before just made sense right off the bat with him. My eyes were really opened, and I was more motivated and inspired than I had ever been in my entire life. He later put me in contact with Frank Potenza whom I studied under for a couple years before attending USC. Frank really helped me out with chord melody and playing tunes in all keys which is very important to the real world of being a jazz musician.
When I got to the Studio Jazz Guitar Department at USC, I studied with Pat Kelly, who really opened my eyes to writing. I had never written anything of my own before then, but that year I wrote more tunes than I ever imagined I would. Before that I always thought of myself as a player and not a writer. But now I would probably consider myself a writer just as much if not more so than a player. After that I studied with Bruce Foreman who is a master of bebop, and his style of teaching was very introspective, which is what I needed at that time.
Q: How would you describe your artistic evolution since you began?
A: During the beginning of my serious years as a jazz player, I was primarily focused on bebop. However, when I finally began writing, it took my playing and way of thinking about improvising in a whole new direction. It was around that time when I really began to develop my own sound.