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An Interview With Mike Moreno

Recognized as one of the leading voices in the new generation of the Jazz guitarists today, Mike Moreno has toured extensively and recorded as a leader of his own band, playing his original music to high critical acclaim. As Nate Chinen describes in his 2007 “The Gig” article in JazzTimes, “There are many other guitarists out there pushing towards a modern ideal, but none with the precise coordinates that Mike Moreno has charted.”

Over the years, Moreno has played with some of the most iconic names in jazz today, such as The Joshua Redman Elastic Band, Lizz Wright Band, Nicholas Payton Quartet, Me’Shell N’Degeocello, Jason Moran, Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, Gretchen Parlato, Aaron Parks, Claudia Acuna, Greg Osby 4, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Jeremy Pelt, John Ellis, Jon Cowherd, Myron Walden, Kenny Garret, Yosvany Terry, Ralph Bowen, and Josh Roseman.

Mike recently took some time to answer a few questions for us at LJS:

LJS: Who were some of your greatest influences early on in your career?

MM: When I first began, Wes, Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, Grant Green, Allan Holdsworth with Tony Williams Lifetime, Miles Davis, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane, Kenny Garrett. When I moved to NYC in 97 to start college, Smalls was super happening.  Everyone who was playing down there really inspired us all that were coming up at the time. Sam Yahel’s Trio with Joshua Redman, Peter Bernstein’s groups, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner. Also Brian Blade’s Fellowship and Brad Mehldau’s Trio had just started playing the Vanguard regularly as well. It was all very influential.

LJS: Which musicians inspire you today?

MM: Lately, Maurice Ravel, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Blonde Redhead, Wayne Shorter’s Quartet, Brad Mehldau, Joni Mitchell, Jon Cowherd, Jason Moran, Bill Frisell, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, Meshell N Degeocello. A lot of the people I work with and have worked with as well, they keep me working on their music! Then there are all the other guitarists on the scene. They always keep me inspired to work hard.

LJS: Talk about some pivotal moments in your career.

MM: There were several moments. Playing and recording with guys like Jeremy Pelt, who I went to Europe with for the first time, was great and it lead to a lot of things that would come in the future like playing with Myron Walden’s band and Nicholas Payton’s band. Also my musical partnership with John Ellis has probably been the longest and always has been great for helping get out there. The first call to play with Joshua Redman came in 2001, he was thinking about adding guitar to the Elastic Band Trio. I rehearsed with them, but they ended up staying trio for a while longer though I was on their radar to play in them a few years later. Getting the call to play some gigs with Jeff Tain Watts’ band in 2003 was my first gig where I was playing with someone who was a icon on the scene. Pat Metheny was kind enough to talk about me in a few magazine articles in 2004 and later on his website. A lot of people looked me up after that. My first big tours came in 2005 with Lizz Wright, and then with Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band. I got to see the world on those gigs and was put on major stages. Big Festivals and long tours. After that was over I was pretty much on the scene in a international way. So when I recorded my first record Between The Lines in 2007 it did a lot for me. Recording and working with Aaron Parks for Invisible Cinema in 2008 was a nice footprint in the Blue Note catalog and has proven to be a record and a band that a lot of people know me from. Recording 2 records for Criss Cross was nice, I think it is a great stepping stone for NY jazz musicians to do a record for them. But at this point in time I prefer to record my own music on my own like I did for Between The Lines and Another Way. Playing with Kendrick Scott’s Oracle the last few years has been great as well. I think that band really has a personal sound that is going to keep growing. We just released Conviction on Concord Records. Then sometimes there is that one gig that kind of snow balls, like a gig I did for Jason Moran, which led to working with Meshell N’Degeocello for a couple of her projects, which in turn led to recording and touring with Claudia Acuña. It’s funny sometimes.

LJS: Any favorite jazz clubs you like to play at?

MM: Well, my favorites in NY are the Jazz Standard. I love the Jazz Gallery for the focus from the audience. I feel very comfortable at Smalls and The 55 Bar. Those places are really new York.  Dizzy’s is nice as well. Internationally, Casa del Jazz in Rome, Il Torrione in Ferrara Italy. The Cotton Club in Tokyo. The Power House in Brisbane, Australia. The A Train in Berlin. The Blue Whale in LA. Snug Harbor in New Orleans. Yoshi’s In Oakland and the SF Jazz Center is amazing. Those are just a few that I can think of now that stand out.

LJS: Any new projects coming up? Records, tours…ect?

MM: Well my last record was in 2012, “Another Way.” Now I have all the music for the new record. I’m really excited about it. I like the tunes. So I hope to record it by the end of the year. We’ll be playing the new music this summer here in NY at the Jazz Gallery. Also I’ll be touring with my Quartet in Japan soon playing the new repertoire with Sam Yahel on piano, Doug Weiss-bass and Justin Brown-drums.. Then I’m going to Australia and Colombia for some workshops and solo gigs. Solo playing is something I haven’t done too much of. But I will be doing a solo gig at Smalls in next month as well.

LJS: What got you into jazz and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?

MM: A good friend of mine turned me on to Tony Williams Lifetime with Alan Holdsworth. As well as Steely Dan. That was much more harmonic music than what I was listening to at the time. Then later I started to check out more acoustic and straight ahead music like Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis ect. Pat Metheny and Scofield were the guys to check out as well for the modern stuff. I just felt something. I felt I would have more original ideas in Jazz. I loved the idea of improvisation and the openness. I had to pursue it.

LJS: Any favorite cities you like to visit while on the road?

MM: Well I love Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte-Ouro Preto are always fun. Sydney, Istanbul, Tokyo, Kyoto, Berlin, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Florence, London, Quito. I get really excited to go back to those places. I love going to cities in Mexico. In the States, New Orleans, San Francisco. I’m starting to enjoy LA more as well.

LJS: Talk about your approach to composing.

MM: Composing should be natural. It’s nothing I push to hard unless I have a deadline.  It’s tied in with practicing and pushing myself to invent things I haven’t played before. Using my influences to create something that is my own. If you are listening, learning new material and absorbing it constantly, then the music just starts to come out of you. It will be a perfect mixture of all your influences. A lot of students don’t understand that aspect of it. They expect to compose when they’ve only memorized 5 random standards that they play for no other reason than someone told them that those are they ones they need to know. Yet they probably don’t ever listen to those songs at home, and what they do “listen to” they never learn. The more repertoire by your influences you have under your belt, the more your own music will sound complete. It will be a natural process.  Sometimes easy, other times challenging to find new ideas.

(LJS 2014)

Check out Mike Moreno’s Music!

Another Way 
Betweeen The Lines
First In Mind
Third Wish


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Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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