Fred Woodard: Interview
The Iceman Cometh
I had to stop the CD player while I was listening to Fred Woodard's new album, Arrival!! (Ujam Records), the other day. The album's forth tune, "Iceman," features a six piece band playing a classical hard bop arrangement. It is so strong I had to push the eject button to make sure I had the right CD in the slot.
Woodard is coming to Rochester this week to play three gigs: a WGMC Meet-the-Artist Benefit Concert and two nights at Java's. Infused with equal shares of jazz and blues, Woodard's CD is an excellent mix of originals, like the sneaky blues tune "Crossover" and standards, like his almost classical rendition of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Following are excerpts from City Newspaper's recent conversation with Woodard.
City: My Favorite tune on your album is "Iceman." can a song that strong get you radio airplay?
Woodard: It's gotten some airplay, but mostly in the Boston area. There's an audience out there that likes jazz music, or the type of music that I do, but it just seems that it's not an even playing field. It seems that you have to have muscle and dollars behind you to promote your album. You need people who are on the phone eight hours a day for an eight-week period to really pump up your album to get it played or even to get people to know you exist. That's not open to all musicians because they are not lucky enough to hook up to a company with the resources to push them like that. I just think it's unfair but that's life.
City: So how do you deal with that?
Woodard: The Internet is one way the playing field can be evened out. It's one way for people to get a wider exposure. The radio i the traditional way to get exposed and it's not going to die out, but the Internet offers hope for artists like myself.
City: When did you first discover your love for jazz?
Woodard: My dad was the main influence while I was growing up.
City: Was he also a musician?
Woodard: No, he was a professor of African American Studies at the University of Iowa. He listened to everything: John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis. My dad's recordings were the first it heard of all of those giants of music. He didn't have a large collection, but he had a lot of important recordings.
City: How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Woodard: I was 11 years old when I started and at the time I was mainly influenced by popular music -- r&b and some rock stuff.
City: I understand you've a spent some time playing with some leading r&b bands.
Woodard: Yes, I played with David Crater in what was called "The New Sam and Dave Review."
City: Those must have been some great guitar parts to play; wasn't it Steve Cropper who wrote those parts?
Woodard: Yes, and they were a lot of fun to play. I also worked with Dee Dee Sharp and some other r&b singers. I did a lot of that up until 1995. I graduated from Berklee in 1983. I always loved jazz and I was always playing jazz, but to make some money and because I enjoyed them, I played other styles. In 1994 I started teaching full-time and, since I had a job that would pay the bills, I decided to devote more time to jazz.
City: Who was the biggest influence on your style of guitar playing?
Woodard: Most guitar players nowadays play with a pick, but Wes was an exception to the rule. There was a certain sound that he got as a result of that. Another technique that he was known for was the octave technique, which I don't use as extensively as he did, but it's part of my sound as well.
City: Why did you choose the thumb technique?
Woodard: I was a player that did both, played with a pick sometimes and sometimes with my thumb. Then I decided to just use my thumb because my teacher played in that style. I was happy with the results so I stuck with it. I still use a pick from time to time if I need a special funky rhythm guitar thing.
City: I always thought the advantage to using a pick would be you could stroke it up and down when you're playing lead, play faster as a result of it.
Woodard: Well I can do the same thing with my thumb, I just play an up and down stroke with my thumb.
City: Did any other guitarists influence you? I hear a little bit of Grant Green in your playing.
Woodard: Yes, Grant Green is a very important influence because I have a great love for the blues and his background is the same, being a jazz musician but having a deep background in the blues.
City: How would you describe the mix of jazz and blues on your album?
Woodard: I would say it's a jazz album but it's sort of spiced with a blues feeling. It's not an attempt to cross over. It's more just my influences put into a jazz framework.
Ujam Records P.O. Box 190586, Roxbury, MA 02119
Phone: (857) 492-6779