Jazz Guitar Interviews

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is a Boston based jazz guitarist. He attended University Of North Texas. He has worked with a wide variety of musicians including Paul Motian and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tim currently teaches at Berklee College Of Music in Boston, MA. This exclusive interview for PlayJazzGuitar.com took place December 2012.

Tim you seem very young to be playing with such an advanced harmonic vocabulary and maturity. How old were you when you first picked up the instrument and when did you get really serious about it?

I got my first guitar when I was ten. I grew up listening to my mom playing organ in the house. So I was really into music before I got a guitar. I got serious about playing guitar once I heard Eddie Van Halen who was my inspiration at the time.

Did you study classical guitar at all? If so what do you think specifically about that might have helped your jazz playing?

I took classical guitar lessons for two years when I was going to the University of North Texas. Before that, my guitar teacher Alex Rogowski, a great guitarist from Detroit, introduced me to a lot of recorded classical guitar and showed me some things about finger style playing. I learned about touch and how to vary dynamics on the instrument from listening and playing classical pieces. This translated directly to everything that I do on the guitar.

What technical aspects of the guitar gave you the most problem, if any, in your formative years? How did you overcome them?

Right hand picking gave me the most difficulty, which is probably why I developed a hybrid approach to picking that I had to figure out with trial and error. I was hearing a lot of things in my head that I could not play with just a guitar pick so I developed an entire technique for myself that would allow me to play what I was hearing. What seemed like a technical challenge in my formative years ultimately resulted in techniques that helped form my sound.

What musicians have had the most impact on your guitar playing throughout your life and why?

I think in some way every musician I have heard has had an impact on my playing. As far as guitarists go, Eddie Van Halen got me interested in the guitar. He had an amazing sound, great phrasing and incredible groove. I listened to Eric Johnson, who I admired for his touch on the instrument and beautiful chord voicings. Everything that Ted Greene ever played was something special. Allan Holdsworth showed me that the guitar has no limits and I carry that ideal with me. Pat Metheny’s playing was so inspiring on all levels. Scott Henderson inspired me to play with a great sound. John Scofield was very influencial with regards to rhythm. Frank Gambale inspired me to find my own personal techniques for playing the music that I desire. Mick Goodrick’s playing showed me so much about space and expanding my harmonic pallet, among many other things. Wes Montgomery had everything. There are so many guitarist that had an impact on me, this is just off of the top of my head. I wish that I could list them all here, but I could go on for hours. As far as non guitarists go, Keith Jarrett was a major influence. His playing is pure art. Chick Corea amazes me every time. Michael Brecker was a huge influence on my sound. I listened to all of his records and tried to emulate his playing on the guitar. John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Charlie Parker were also big influences. I studied with several teachers along the way that had an impact. They are Alex Rogowski, Fred Hamilton, George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick and Gene Bertoncini

Were there any specific books or educational material that turned your life around?

The best book that I ever read on modern guitar playing is “The Advancing Guitarist” by Mick Goodrick. I think my best educational material is going out to hear live music and listening to recordings. My dad used to take me to clubs when I was younger. I learned an incredible amount from being in the room and hearing live music.

What musicians and in particular, guitar players, do you like to listen to today?

I like Nelson Veras, James Muller, Wayne Krantz, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Ben Monder, Andy Timmons, and many more. There are many great guitarists, it is difficult to list everyone.

I see you particularly like the trio format, presumably because without a pianist you are freer with the harmony. Why do you like this format and do you play in other configurations?

Trio offers a lot of freedom. I can experiment with different sonic colors with guitar tones in the trio format. I have a vision for many different types of ensembles but right now I am focusing on the trio but recently, I have found myself playing more frequently in a quartet setting. I really enjoyed the ensemble setting when I played with Paul Motion which featured two guitarists, two bassists, two saxophonists, piano, violin and, of course, Paul on drums. That was different than anything that I had done before. I also enjoy playing quintet with Terri Lyne Carrington’s group with whom I have done quite a bit of touring.

Do you practice obsessively these days? If so how much time do you dedicate to it?

I have never practiced obsessively. I practice when I feel like making music and improving on my playing. My practice time varies from day to day depending on what is happening in my life. I have spent a lot of time exploring the guitar. Countless hours trying to translate what I am hearing in my head to the guitar.

What are you practicing right now and why?

I am practicing my time. I am always trying to fine tune my time accuracy. Also, I am consistently working on my touch – the tone coming from my hands and the overall dynamic contrast. I am always trying to find new vocabulary whether it be new chord voicings or ways of creating arpeggios, etc.

Can you talk a little about your guitar sound? You favour quite a chamber-like reverb space with a nice amount of delay. Can you talk about this a little and tell us about that headless guitar you play?

The tone that I use is an abstract version of what I actually hear in my head. I am constantly seeking the sound that matches what I hear in my head. The guitar that I play is a signature model guitar made by luthier Rick Canton. The body design was influenced by the original Klein of which I have two and also use regularly. Rick’s guitar built on the idea of the ergonomic design while adding a hollow body, internal microphone and hexaphonic pickup system. I needed a guitar that I could combine regular guitar pickups, with an acoustic microphone to pick up the sound of the strings and the attack, plus anything that I wanted to blend in with external processing. Together, Rick and I came up with a guitar that could handle blending these sounds. Rick is an amazingly creative builder and I am happy to have my signature guitar built by him.

Are you working on a new CD? If so can tell us a little about it? When might it be released?

I took some time off from recording to write a book with Mick Goodrick called “Creative Chordal Harmony for Guitar.” That was a big project. Now that it is complete, new recorded material will be flowing out this year.
I have two records that are all almost finished.

Do you enjoy teaching at Berklee? What is the level of student like there?

Yes, I enjoy teaching at Berklee very much. I like to share whatever knowledge I have with other people. I have been fortunate to have had great teachers in my life and I feel that it is my responsibility to try to pass on the knowledge that others have shared with me. The level of student varies at Berklee but they are all excited to learn which gives me a lot of creative energy. I have had the privilege of teaching a lot of very talented musicians.

Do you teach privately? If so what aspect of your playing do most students want to get from you?

I do not teach privately very much anymore. Occasionally I will take on a student or two, but very rarely. I started a new website called www.internetguitarlessons.tv. It is a membership website that features weekly streaming video lessons, and I interact with the students on the forum. It is going really great, we have a lot of students on the site and I am enjoying the process of putting all of the material together. Since I do not do Skype lessons and rarely teach privately, this is the best place to find me.

Where can we see you playing live right now?

My website has live concerts listed. It is www.timmillermusic.com

What advice would you give to a guitar student looking to enter the music profession today?

Play from the heart, play what you enjoy and follow your inner ear. Play with as many people as possible, keep an open mind, treat other musicians with respect and enjoy yourself.

Visit Tim Miller on the web at www.TimMillerMusic.com

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Read all about the great jazz guitarists here:

Bill Frisell Charlie Christian Django Reinhardt George Benson George Van Eps Grant Green Jim Hall John Mclaughlin Joe Pass John Scofield Kenny Burrell Larry Carlton Lee Ritenour Pat Martino Pat Metheny Tal Farlow Wes Montgomery