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Guitarist/composer Gary Wittner discusses Thelonious Monk, musical roots
(Published: April 24, 2019)

Q: When did you decide to be a musician, and what fueled this passion?

A: I have been playing since I was around 9 years old, and the transition from interested amateur to career track student was very gradual. It involved a period of 2-3 years during which I was playing more and more
guitar, and at college becoming less and less interested in my non music studies. Then in 1977, I made the switch to full time music studies.

Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?

A: I don't remember exactly, there was always music around my
home. I recall building a car box guitar at a very early age and
trying to make it sound good.

Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: I'd say if you start from my early years, acoustic finger style blues had the earliest impact. I recall watching Lighning Hopkins on the guitar when I was quite young and being powerfully affected by his singing and guitar playing. And the emotional content of the whole package.

Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?

A: Yes, my mom played show
tunes on the piano and my dad sang with her. My dad also played
chromatic harmonica and piano and his father played mandolin.

Q: How would you describe your musical style?

A: Hard to describe one's
own style - my guitar playing is influenced in parts by early blues
players (Lightning Hopkins and Big Bill Bronzy most heavily), the piano playing of Thelonious Monk, several mainstream jazz guitarists, most importantly Jim Hall and later "modern" players like Bill Frisell and John Scofield. Then also by my involvement with Latin music as well. My vocal tunes are influenced by the humor in the music of Mose Allison,
Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg.

Q: What are your goals, artistically speaking?

A: To put it simply I am
trying to be the most me that I can be. And to write good music, with
humor and to play my music for more and larger audiences.

Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?

A: Lightning Hopkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Thelonious Monk and Jim Hall.
How have you evolved creatively? I moved from playing jazz standards to studying and performing the music of Thelonious Monk, then
writing my own instrumental compositions, then studying/performing Latin
music and Middle Eastern music, then writing/singing my own vocal
tunes. This is over a period of 30 years.

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