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From Metallica to Miles: the roots of Cameron Mizell's guitar wizardry
(Published: November 17, 2015)

Q: When did you start playing the guitar.

A: I started taking guitar lessons when I was eight-years-old. My parents understood the importance of music lessons and both my brother and sister played trumpet and piano and some point in their youth. I just happened to be the one to stick with it.

Q: Did you receive any formal training as a guitarist.

A: I studied jazz and classical guitar as an undergrad, first at the University of North Texas, and later transferred to Indiana University. I continue to take lessons every now and again. The formal training never really stops.

Q: When did you become interested in jazz.

A: When I was about 14-years-old, during the early ‘90s, I was really into the rock bands of the time, but also Metallica. At one point I read one of those guitar magazine lessons by Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist in Metallica, and he talked about the contrasting styles of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The idea peaked my interest, so I went to the record store and bought a CD with Miles and Coltrane. After that I got a little obsessed, started trading in my ‘90s rock and Metallica CDs so I could buy more jazz albums, and soon started trying to learn how to play the music on the guitar.

Q: What artists have had the greatest impact on you creatively.

A: Well, it'd be a pretty long list if we really got into it. Musically speaking, Miles and Coltrane obviously put me on this path, but as a guitarist I've also spent a lot of time listening to Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and recently I've been listening to David Torn's latest album, Only Sky.

Along with taking music lessons when I was younger, I took dance lessons and loved to draw. Watching a Nicholas Brothers tap routine, or absorbing works by Picasso or Van Gogh, for example, have always been very inspiring.

Q: What is it about improvisational jazz that appeals to you the most.

A: Initially I was drawn to the idea that a jazz musician could play "Stella By Starlight" every day, every day it could be different, and every day it could be right. As my experience has grown, though, I understand jazz more as a process than a particular style. I mean, does jazz have to be improvised? Does improvised music have to be jazz? Either, or maybe both, are ways in which musicians explore the possibilities of music.

I also love to compose, and improvising is simply composition in real time. It's also a way of hearing and understanding music, and it has certainly helped me quickly adapt to different genres and simply make a living as a guitarist.

Q: How would you say your music has evolved over the years.

A: Honestly, I think it's just evolved with me, as a person trying to figure out life. I recorded my last album, Tributary, when I was in my late 20s. After I turned 30 I kind of stopped worrying what other people thought of me. I didn't feel like I needed to prove anything. I'm never going to be the best guitar player in the world, and to be completely honest, I don't think I even like the kind of music made by "the best" players. Or to be more accurate, I prefer music that is intentional. Music that is art first, where the technicalities of executing those sounds take a back seat to, and only exist to serve, the emotional impact of the music.

With that realization I've been doing more writing without the guitar. Just a pad of paper and some simple idea in my head, expand it, then erase a bunch, and see where we end up. I also adjusted my practice routine to involve more free improvisation. Both exercises are very personal, meditative, and help me feel more connected and honest about my music.

More Information: http://www.cameronmizell.com

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