The curious case of John Williams

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Bob Vasquez

Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Bob Vasquez » Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:17 pm

Denian Arcoleo wrote:
stevenhickeyguitar wrote:Also, in regards to his of Bach, Scarlatti etc. working so well because of his rhythmic playing, are they really the best youve heard? No offence but any decent guitarist plays 'rhythmically', its kinda the basics. The advanced stuff is the phrasing, nuances etc. So yes he does that stuff well, but i.m.o. many others do it equally well and 'better'.
With reference to the Scarlatti I heard on that LP, well yes, it was to this day the best I have ever heard. As for any decent guitarist playing rhythmically, I'm not sure that you know what I'm getting at: a great number of skilled concert guitarists have no internal pulse to speak of in their playing. To put it in another idiom, very few classical guitarists know how to 'groove'.
“Groove”, eh? Hmmm. As one who focuses on classical guitar and listens carefully and thoughtfully to classical guitarists, I had not considered listening to whether they are in the “groove”. I have considered their melody, harmony and rhythm; and, focus on their phrasing, dynamics, tempo, ornamentation, crescendi, diminuendi and whether a score is a sonata, contrapunto or maybe a fugue with a little rubato here and there followed by a short staccato phrase to add color after an improvised solo to be followed by a mezzo piano cadential vibrato falling to a molto pianissimo tonic chord. But, then again, I’m just a beginner so, I’ll listen for the “groove” next time... all in fun. :lol:

Gminor7

Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Gminor7 » Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:08 pm

Denian Arcoleo wrote:
stevenhickeyguitar wrote:Also, in regards to his of Bach, Scarlatti etc. working so well because of his rhythmic playing, are they really the best youve heard? No offence but any decent guitarist plays 'rhythmically', its kinda the basics. The advanced stuff is the phrasing, nuances etc. So yes he does that stuff well, but i.m.o. many others do it equally well and 'better'.
With reference to the Scarlatti I heard on that LP, well yes, it was to this day the best I have ever heard. As for any decent guitarist playing rhythmically, I'm not sure that you know what I'm getting at: a great number of skilled concert guitarists have no internal pulse to speak of in their playing. To put it in another idiom, very few classical guitarists know how to 'groove'.
Wow! Absolutely true. This has bugged me for over 30 years - I have often been disappointed and annoyed by many renowned players' failure to capture the groove of Brazilian, Venezuelan, Paraguayan dances, waltzes, choros - or even the flamenco-inspired Spanish repertoire, etc. Of course, I don't want to name names. Williams, of course, thinks it's important enough to go to Paco Pena for evaluation.

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robin loops
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by robin loops » Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:50 pm

Gminor7 wrote:
Denian Arcoleo wrote:
stevenhickeyguitar wrote:Also, in regards to his of Bach, Scarlatti etc. working so well because of his rhythmic playing, are they really the best youve heard? No offence but any decent guitarist plays 'rhythmically', its kinda the basics. The advanced stuff is the phrasing, nuances etc. So yes he does that stuff well, but i.m.o. many others do it equally well and 'better'.
With reference to the Scarlatti I heard on that LP, well yes, it was to this day the best I have ever heard. As for any decent guitarist playing rhythmically, I'm not sure that you know what I'm getting at: a great number of skilled concert guitarists have no internal pulse to speak of in their playing. To put it in another idiom, very few classical guitarists know how to 'groove'.
Wow! Absolutely true. This has bugged me for over 30 years - I have often been disappointed and annoyed by many renowned players' failure to capture the groove of Brazilian, Venezuelan, Paraguayan dances, waltzes, choros - or even the flamenco-inspired Spanish repertoire, etc. Of course, I don't want to name names. Williams, of course, thinks it's important enough to go to Paco Pena for evaluation.
It's easy to forget that most of the music we play are indeed 'dances', even when listening to most pros. I think we tend to think of the dance music of these periods as being as 'stiff' as we imagine the people of them being. But 'the groove' probably evolved much earlier than 'melody' and dance music from any period should make one 'want to move their body'.
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60moo
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by 60moo » Thu Apr 11, 2013 2:27 am

Gminor7 wrote:
Denian Arcoleo wrote:...I'm not sure that you know what I'm getting at: a great number of skilled concert guitarists have no internal pulse to speak of in their playing. To put it in another idiom, very few classical guitarists know how to 'groove'.
I have often been disappointed and annoyed by many renowned players' failure to capture the groove of Brazilian, Venezuelan, Paraguayan dances, waltzes, choros - or even the flamenco-inspired Spanish repertoire, etc. Of course, I don't want to name names. Williams, of course, thinks it's important enough....
Denian: Agreed.
Gminor 7: Agreed.

This is such an important concept that I think we should be naming names (I never hold back if I think an observation is warranted!) and reveal when we believe the Emperors are walking around naked. Williams' dedication in this respect is yet another under-appreciated quality of his.

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Denian Arcoleo
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:02 am

Well, on the evidence of the youtube videos of Vladimir Gorbach playing Piazzolla then we have a real groover! He knows exactly where the pulse is. Really great playing :casque:

thienng
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by thienng » Tue Mar 24, 2015 6:56 am

Hi
I come across your post today
When I was young I used to collect all JW's recordings and later cds. I still love to watch him play just to observe his technique, not his musicality. His technique is supreme and certains pieces in my opinion is not surpassed by any other guitarists eg Asturias, pieces by Barrios, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, pieces from his El Diablo Suelto CD etc. For other pieces from Sor, Albeniz,Aguado once you have them played by Julian Bream, you do not want to hear them played by JW again. I n regards tot he Barrios music, I found David Russell played with equal authority but slightly more musical.

Tim

BWV1079

Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by BWV1079 » Tue Mar 24, 2015 4:20 pm

I haven't seen him in concert in over 10 years, but I did notice an air of detachment in his last concert.

Nick Clow

Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Nick Clow » Fri Mar 27, 2015 3:44 am

I just discovered his thread and actually read it. (15 minutes of my life gone.)

I am the lowest of the low, a grobbit of the lowest order, an armchair critic, riff-raff, scum etc and in no position to judge a musical god.

However, I am a fan and I would just like to say that I really, really, really wish that JW would get hold of a great big red, earthy, warm, cedar-topped, fan-braced Spanish classical guitar (preferably with Augustine strings) and play the $#it out of it.

Much has been said of his playing style on this thread - that it's intentionally measured, true to the score, under-stated, clinical and therefore somehow 'cold'. The trouble is that the Smalldog seems to have some cold characteristics itself that only accentuates that 'coldness'. Cold and cold = cold+.

He would sound SO much better (in this peasant's view) on a guitar of the kind described above. Just the other night I was listening to JW on YT playing Weiss, Sanz, Bach on his Fleta and it was AMAZING.

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeze John...

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mike.janel
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by mike.janel » Fri Mar 27, 2015 7:19 am

thienng wrote:Hi
I come across your post today
When I was young I used to collect all JW's recordings and later cds. I still love to watch him play just to observe his technique, not his musicality. His technique is supreme and certains pieces in my opinion is not surpassed by any other guitarists eg Asturias, pieces by Barrios, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, pieces from his El Diablo Suelto CD etc. For other pieces from Sor, Albeniz,Aguado once you have them played by Julian Bream, you do not want to hear them played by JW again. I n regards tot he Barrios music, I found David Russell played with equal authority but slightly more musical.

Tim
I would add Clair de Lune to the list of best performance ever.
But here you don't have to choose as JW plays it with JB.
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNVwTPSJAmI

It just hit me that these two may be the reincarnation of F. Sor and D.Agouado and their opposit musical styles. :reflechir:
Michael
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AndreF

Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by AndreF » Wed Jul 15, 2015 6:47 pm

Very interesting read, start to finish!
Personally, I'm a very big fan of his playing. Always have been no matter the guitar. I've also seen him in concert, up close (front row center), and came away very impressed by his performance, especially the Bach. I do agree though that certain types of music or periods (like Baroque) suit his sound better than others. I think the earlier the material, the better he comes through, generally speaking. It's hard to find any faults with his Bach and Scarlatti for example, whereas he doesn't quite invest himself enough emotionally in relatively more modern music such as the Villa-Lobos Preludes, which I have been paying attention to lately. When I listen to Manuel Barrueco play the Preludes, or Julian Bream, and then switch back to Williams for comparison, the difference in "warmth", for lack of a better word, becomes more evident. On the other hand, he did acquit himself quite well with South American rhythms in the El Diablo Suite selections he recorded a few years ago. Maybe he just simply prefers certain styles, or composers, over others.
Nevertheless, he has rightfully earned his reputation as one of the best who has ever played the guitar. No doubt about that. And as he ages, so do we. Our own ears and sensibilities undergo changes that likely impact any current views and opinions we may hold on topics dear to our hearts, particularly when those initial memories and perceptions were formed so many years ago.
Lastly, just a comment on Scarlatti recordings. Although he is better known as a composer, my very favorite recording of Scarlatti sonatas is by Leo Brouwer. He may not have the technical chops of a JW, but he more than makes up for it with his impeccable phrasing and good dose of "warmth". His musicality really shines in this effort. Well worth a listen!
Thanks for this very enjoyable thread.

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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by chrisW3 » Thu Oct 12, 2017 1:19 pm

I've been listening to a fair bit of John Williams recently (the Baroque Album, Bach, Albeniz, Barrios) and watching clips on Youtube from documentaries and the interview with Guitar Coop. When I first started guitar as a teenager I couldn't really get in to Williams. It just sounded cold. I stopped playing in my late teens for about 15 years then started again recently. I started listening to JW again and began reassessing my view of him. The interviews showed how much he thought about the music and performance. For example, he has said that there is far too much reverence for pieces like the Bach Chaconne, which are essentially baroque dance movements and shouldn't be played in such a grand, romantic style.

In listening to his recordings though I am still quite ambivalent. The Baroque Album for example contains quite a few pieces that sound a bit flat and perfunctory. His playing of the Weiss pieces though is very expressive and dynamic. I like that he strums some of the notes in the Scarlatti K175.

His playing of Albeniz is some of the best I've heard - not overly "classical" and more rhythmic and flamenco inspired (as others have noted) which just suits the pieces much better.

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Adrian Allan
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:11 pm

I sometimes feel the same about Williams - ie. his playing is too robotic.

However, there is little doubt that he has perhaps the best technique of any classical guitarist who has ever lived.
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PeteJ
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by PeteJ » Wed Nov 01, 2017 12:24 pm

Very much agree about the 'groove'. For me (as a listener) the groove is vital and many guitarists struggle to get into it. Indeed, one of my complaints about a lot of pop/rap these days is about the lack of groove and its substitution by machine rhythms. I've heard guitarists play pieces so freely that there's not just no groove but no underlying tempo, usually for the sake of milking the sweet moments and creating colours. Any approach can be overdone.

I wonder if Williams has a rather unemotional approach because his first teacher (thanks dad) was a session player for whom errors cost money and work. He developed a wonderful technique but playing accurately and reliably is much easier if one sticks to narrow tonal palette and a steady tempo. In a way it seems a bit of a cheat that he is so accurate since it is achieved at the cost of expressiveness. His work with Sky suited his style very well, it seems to me, since in that context the features we miss from his solo work don't matter.

Still a fan though.

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Adrian Allan
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by Adrian Allan » Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:02 pm

One thing that gives some insight into John Williams is his total lack of understanding of the electric guitar.

Merely by playing the electric guitar with a classical technique, you are clearly not "playing" the electric guitar, just like a baseball player who tries to play cricket with a baseball bat is not really playing cricket at all.

Somebody who has a natural "feel" for music would have surely found some level of expressiveness on the electric guitar that exploits the instrument's natural features (eg. bends, sustain, shrill solo lines, etc).

The fact that he misunderstood the electric guitar to such a degree is, for me, quite telling.
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PeteJ
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Re: The curious case of John Williams

Post by PeteJ » Thu Nov 02, 2017 11:33 am

Hmm. I think I see what you mean. It seems unfair to expect a CG player to also be a good electric player but it does depend more on expressiveness and maybe you have a point. I've never heard him play an electric so have no comment.

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