VISALIA, Calif. — What if the Internet had been around in the classic rock era, and guitar players could reach out to, say, Jimi Hendrix or Duane Allman for tips on how to rock out?
Or, jazz fans could get feedback from masters like Wes Montgomery or Charlie Christian on better ways to play?
Welcome to the 21st century, where jazz great Martin Taylor is doing just that, via his Guitar Academy, passing on his secrets to anyone willing to spend time with him digitally.
There are tons of guitar lessons available online, but Taylor takes it to a new level with the level of interaction. For $30 a month, you can write directly to him, submit videos of you playing a song and have Taylor shoot a response video, showing you how to improve.
"I give them a few ideas, and `say work on that, and come back to me with another video.'"
Taylor began his career backing up the late Stephane Grappelli, who had played with jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, and has gone to perform with artists ranging from former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and the late Beatles guitarist George Harrison to country legend Chet Atkins. Rock guitar god Jeff Beck said of Taylor's playing, he'd "never seen anything like it," and jazz guitar hero Pat Metheny called Taylor "one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument."
Taylor, who is based in Scotland, but spends most of the year touring (he's currently in Australia through May 30) somehow finds the time each night to step into his hotel room and make response videos to his students.
He shoots them in the bathroom, where lighting is best, he says, on an old Flip video camera, mounted to a guitar case.
Students know to wait at least a week for a response, based on his touring schedule, and he keeps a travel diary going on Facebook to let them know where he is at any moment. He also encourages students to come to gigs and say hi. He's even been known to jam with them after the show.
But how can he make money at $30 monthly with hundreds of students and all those response videos?
Count on people being shy.
"A small minority of students regularly send videos in, and some never send them in," he says. "And they're out there for everyone to see. Not every student wants to play for everyone."
We met up with Taylor in this central California community during a recent tour with the "Great Guitars," a quartet that features Taylor, Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo and Peppino D'Agostino.
Taylor is known for "fingerstyle" guitar, a technique that marries jazz with finger-picking, in that he can play the chords, melody and bass line all at the same time, not an easy thing to do.
As most working jazz musicians do, many also teach--and many, like Taylor and Vignola, are now going beyond DVDs to teach online too. Vignola teaches via St. Petersburg, Florida based TrueFire, while Taylor is affiliated with Napa, California based Artistworks.
Taylor grew up in England, aspiring to play great gypsy guitar like the late Django Reinhardt, by listening to his dad's records.
"We had to fumble our way, listening over and over again until we go it," he says. "Not you go on the Internet, and find everything. What the Internet has done is sped everything up. Something that took me 10 years to get to a certain level, now I have students who will get there in about 18 months."
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