MS: How was that guitar tuned?
RC: In addition to standard 6-string tuning, I
tuned the 7th string to B, and the 8th string to F#. That configuration
works very well for me.
MS: Was the change to 8-string very awkward after
thirty years of playing 6-string?
RC: Interestingly, the transition from six to seven
strings in 1990 was a bumpy ride for a couple of weeks. However,
the transition from seven to eight strings in '93 was actually
very easy, as I had mentally played that guitar every night during
the ten month construction period prior to receiving the 8-string
instrument. Then, in 1995, Bernie Rico saw the original 8-string
Koll at the winter NAMM show, was very impressed, and decided
to make a BC Rich 8-string production model.
MS: Is that instrument still available?
RC: No. As nearly everyone knows, that company
specialized in innovative designs for some very different types
of players. Being an innovator, Bernie saw the 8-string as a
design challenge and simply moved forward. After Bernie passed
away in December of 1999, I believe the company changed ownership
and the 8-string was not included in their marketing thrust.
MS: Fortunately, all of your books are exclusively
directed toward 6-string guitar, which leads to my next question.
Do you still play 6-string guitar, and is it difficult or confusing
to move between those guitars?
RC: Actually, I do play a 6-string instrument every
day to compile material for my books or for preparation of lessons.
As a general practice, I only employ those two lower strings
in a solo guitar performance, as they are inappropriate in a
group with a bassist.
To answer the rest
of your question... Yes, several years ago it was very confusing
moving between the six to eight string instruments, as I found
myself having to rethink voicings, and I was constantly looking
for that missing bottom end. However, like any other discipline,
it became much easier after playing the two instruments each
day. Fortunately, I am able to switch between my 6, 7, or 8 string
guitars without any difficulty, as I learned to employ a different
mind set for each instrument.
MS: Before asking the next question, I would like
to tell the readers that I just heard a test pressing of an upcoming
Conti solo CD, and some additional tracks with a rhythm section.
Robert, your solo renditions of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
and "The Shadow Of Your Smile" are particularly impressive.
In addition to your superb playing, what is your gear setup to
get that incredibly warm sound on all those tracks?
RC: Other than the tracks with the 8-string, my
6-string guitar and amp are stock off-the-shelf, but there's
more behind the equipment story.
In the 70's I somehow
acquired an old Hofner guitar that I used for teaching. It really
had a great sound. In fact I wish I still had that guitar. About
four years ago at the NAMM Show I saw my friend and highly-accomplished
player Sid Jacobs, who sounded just great playing an absolutely
beautiful blonde archtop made by Hofner. Sid told me the Boosey
& Hawkes company had purchased that company and reintroduced
those high quality guitars in the US.
While there is an
ongoing buffet of guitars from many great luthiers at the NAMM
show year after year, I saw continuous improvements and refinements
in the Hofner archtop - this instrument that clearly stood out
from the pack. Presumably, with Hofner headquartered in Germany,
they must surely have first dibs on all that great wood in the
Black Forest? In either case, since that NAMM Show I knew that
my next 6 string instrument would be a Hofner, and that is the
instrument you just heard. I might add that it is a stock blonde
Jazzica model, set up for me by Kirk Sand and John Heusenstamm
at the Guitar Shoppe in Laguna Beach. The same guitar is also
used in the upcoming videos.
MS: And what about amplification?
RC: My amp is a stock Peavey Delta Blues tube amp,
that incorporates Peavey's 15 inch speaker, properly matched
to the harmonic spectrum of the guitar. As you heard, fat and
warm highs and lows, rather than the boomy sound of the typical
15" bass speaker.
MS: Like myself, I'm sure most of the readers who
aspire to make a living playing guitar would probably like to
know how you managed ten years in one hotel? Or, how does a guitarist
obtain that kind of a gig? Would you elaborate on that subject
for the readers?
RC: Certainly. Funny you should ask that question,
as someone recently suggested that I conduct a business decorum
seminar for musicians. In essence, one should know what to wear
and what not to do when approaching the average hotel manager
to solicit employment. Unfortunately, the majority of hotel managers
who are responsible for hiring musicians very often lack experience
and/or good taste in music. To make matters even worse, most
are unable to differentiate between an amateur and a pro.
And, with very rare
exception, most managers have a stereotypical idea that hotels
and restaurants are only supposed to have a piano player - for
no better reason than the piece of furniture is there. Most hotels
would actually do far better to place a mannequin on the piano
bench, as that is the usual level of musicianship that guests
are forced to endure from some amateur tragedy. Perhaps I sound
very opinionated. However, it is very distressing to see accomplished
guitarists (or pianists), out of work simply because an amateur
is allowed to occupy a full time job - and to boot, some managers
think that amateur is "pretty good."
MS: That's a sad scenario, but is it really as
commonplace as you make it sound?
RC: Very much so. A good example: In '88 I was
booked as a solo guitarist for a Mother's Day Brunch in a very
nice North Florida hotel. I had arrived about one hour early
to set up. However, the room where the brunch was scheduled was
locked and not yet open to the public. There was a baby grand
piano less than fifty feet from the locked doors. Since my equipment
was in full view, I decided to pass the remaining time plunking
a few notes on that piano.
Be aware that my ability
as a pianist is a half-dozen simple four-note chords on the left
hand, and a few melody notes painfully played with my right-hand
index finger. As I'm trying to play a simple melody, a passing
manager approached the piano, apparently unaware that I was the
guitarist, and he said to me: "Wow, you sound fabulous!
Be sure to leave your card, because we can always use a good
piano player." Believe me, he was dead serious. Although
it's very rare, I was at a complete loss for words (laughs).
I smiled and said politely: "Sure, I'll be happy to leave
a card." And I thought: "This guy should be upstairs
making beds, not decisions."
Now, as to the reason
I was hired? Earlier in our discussion I mentioned a chance meeting
with a senior hotel executive at the bar. I made certain that
he did not have the slightest clue I was a musician. As a result
of his presumption that I was an executive - or perhaps a hotel
guest about to launch a complaint, he was very receptive to the
idea, and one thing led to another.
MS: How did you manage to make the gig last so
RC: I was able to hold the position for ten years
through the transition of many managers for a variety of reasons.
First, the warm sound of a guitar drifting throughout the first
level of that hotel created an immediately noticeable and very
different ambiance in that expansive lobby. Also, my prior business
experience allowed me to easily interact with the businessmen
who were frequent guests of that hotel.
Over the course of
much socializing, I soon discovered that scores of those businessmen
had an affinity for the guitar, some because they had played
in some rock or surf band earlier in their lives. More importantly,
they were elated to hear a guitarist rather than the usual mundane
and torturous "hotel piano player."
Well, management soon
became aware that I was generating a substantial sales volume
of room nights and meeting business, because numerous guests
were kind enough to take the time to complete guest satisfaction
cards, actually stating that they "...would return just
to hear the guitarist in the lobby every night." As one
of numerous examples, a national meeting planner for a division
of IBM was evaluating several area hotels as a site for a major
event. During casual non-business conversation over lunch with
the GM, the planner mentioned that he loves to play his guitar.
That GM was very alert, and urged him to visit my performance
in the early evening hours.
That night, after
my performance, I spent two additional hours socializing with
him, pointing out several desirable features of the hotel, local
attractions, etc. He commented several times "...the sales
people didn't tell me about that." The following Monday
morning, the GM received a fax essentially stating: "...my
discussion with Bob Conti convinced me that your hotel was the
best choice, send the contract." That event resulted in
the sale of several thousand room nights for the hotel. Add food,
beverage, and meeting revenue, and you quickly exceed seven digits.
MS: It's clear to see why you remained there for
ten years, although I'm sure your musicianship was also a major
contribution. I can also understand the comments from the hotel
executives I contacted. Now, what can we expect in the future
in the way of new Conti videos, books, and CDs?
RC: As we discussed earlier, the videos are in
production as we speak, and I'm preparing to add the improvisation
series to my lessons by mail program. As to new books, I am now
completing SourceCode Book Five, "The Chord Melody Assembly
Line." The information in that book will teach any intermediate
student how to quickly and correctly assemble a presentable chord
melody arrangement. The "Assembly Line" began shipping
in January, and it answers the question that is continuously
presented by numerous guitarists: " Where do I start, and
how do I prepare or create a chord melody arrangement?"
Also, pending completion of licensing issues, I'm planning to
compile a book of bossa nova arrangements for 6 and 7-string
MS: Incidentally, I heard some really great compliments
from several attendees of your recent clinics at Bruce Forman's
Jazz Masters Workshop in San Francisco.
RC: That was a great trip up to the Bay Area. I
really enjoy interacting with students in my learning clinics,
as it is always gratifying to see students assimilate and quickly
utilize any new approach that I may present, so I plan to continue
clinic activity as my schedule permits.
As for CDs, I am desperately
trying to complete several recording projects. Some mornings
I am in my office at 5:30 AM and I'm already two hours late.
It seems there are always more projects than hours in the day.
However, I have actually blocked out three weeks of my schedule
in the near future to complete all recordings that have been
MS: On the strength of your experience, what advice
would you give to a student who wants to make a living playing
RC: Become a lawyer - just joking (laughs). As
you know there are several facets of the music business, such
as teaching privately, or in an academic environment, or perhaps
becoming a session player. So you must evaluate your strengths
and specific career goals. For instance, I recognize that I am
absolutely not a session player, and I have no desire to enter
that field, as it is highly specialized. There are people like
Tim May and Mitch Holder and others who are real aces in the
studio. As for my steady diet, I prefer the thunder and lightning
on the bandstand with a great rhythm section.
MS: That's obvious to any one who's seen you play
live. What about specific advice?
RC: Speaking strictly about the performing aspect
of the business, it really depends on the pay scale that you
seek, and the type of venues where you want to perform to make
a living. I am a realist. With that in mind, there are two basic
and very common scenarios to examine and consider.
Now, you're probably
aware that it is a very difficult, if not impossible, to be well-paid
and play exactly what you choose to play in front of an attentive
jazz audience every night. Those specific types of venues have
unfortunately become few and far between, and in some areas actually
extinct. The operative word here is "well-paid." There
is always an unscrupulous club owner who will let you play without
pay to "keep your chops up" or "pay dues."
This is how some really great musicians have spent a lifetime
scuffling, and unfortunately more often than not, driving a cab
to "make a living."
MS: So what's the other alternative?
RC: Presumably, the various levels of social classes
will always exist. It is therefore reasonable to further presume
that a wide variety of finer establishments will also exist to
meet the unique demands and amenity requirements of the middle
to upper social classes. Specifically, finer restaurants, hotels,
country clubs, catered private and/or corporate events. As a
general rule, this is where a musician is well-paid.
There are many guidelines
I could suggest if this avenue is appealing, however I'll spell
out what I believe are the three most important issues. Conquer
these and you'll learn the rest very quickly:
First of all, learn
a huge repertoire of the most famous songs of the last sixty
years. Consider this: "The Girl From Ipanema" was written
about forty years ago. However, every musician who plays a large
number of casuals would probably tell you that song is the unofficial
national anthem of casual engagements.
Secondly, learn from
musicians, but don't play to impress other musicians. If you
must, then do so only in the appropriate place, such as a jazz
club. Develop a reverence for melody and you will impress the
great majority, in other words the average listener.
And last but not least,
dress properly. Learn about wardrobe and look like you belong
there. For example, don't show up wearing a pair of black sneakers
with a suit made up of a mismatched jacket and black pants, or
worse yet, some third world tuxedo from K-Mart or a thrift store.
Whether you believe it or not, people do notice.
MS: Robert, one more question that I simply have
to ask you. While researching for this interview, I was told
that you only listen to oldies rock stations on the radio, or
Italian opera, but never any jazz. Those are some real extremes.
Is that information true?
RC: Yes, it is. With the exception of a few licks
I picked up along the way, I'm still the same left over rocker
from the sixties. And I would like to be able to sing like Pavarotti
or Domingo! (laughs)
MS: Anything else you would like to say in closing?
RC: Sure. I extend my gratitude to all those who
have been so supportive of my learning products, and their confidence
in my ability to enhance their learning process. Many thanks
to you, Mr. Stefani, for conducting this interview, and to the
readers who took their time to read it. And of course, my thanks
and applause to Ed Benson for his vision in creating this great
publication that is certainly a highly valuable resource for
all of us who share an interest in jazz guitar.
If you have a computer
and love guitar, be sure to visit www.RobertConti.com. You'll find an impressive four-decade
chronology of his fascinating career path and other achievements.
There are numerous video clips, ten extensive photo galleries,
stellar critic reviews, and much more. And of course, all of
Mr. Conti's outstanding learning products are also available
at his website.
A special thanks to
Ed Benson for permission to reprint this
interview in its entirety!