Jonathan Orriols, an up and coming jazz guitarist!

One of the things that is cool about JGS is getting to work with some of the new younger great players as they start to move up in their careers, and Jonathan Orriols is a prime example of that kind of player. A resident of Miami, FL, I found that he has had a very “out of the ordinary” path to becoming a young up and coming master of the jazz guitar.

DP: I always like to ask people with out of the ordinary names how people should pronounce then upfront – how do you say your last name?

JO: I usually tell people it’s “orioles” like the bird, you know, Baltimore Orioles, but the Spanish pronunciation is “or-he-OLS” (rolling the R in the middle)”

DP: Thanks for that, and then I like to go to people telling about their beginnings: what made you decide to start playing guitar?

JO: Well, when I was like 12 years old, a buddy of mine made me a little mix tape of really old Metallica songs – this was like ’97 or ’98 – and so he had just gotten a guitar. So everyone in my family was a musician and there was guitar lying around and so I just started learning things with really easy riffs.

DP: Electric guitar, acoustic guitar – what was sitting around?

JO: What was sitting around was a really beat up – I mean, REALLY beat up – classical guitar. But within a couple of months my parents got me a really cheap Jackson – I think the model was called a “Dinky”….

DP: Was it full sized?

JO: It was full sized and actually was kind of big on me, but yeah, that was my first electric guitar.

DP: So was Metallica what you liked at first, or did this guy just happen to put them on the tape he gave you?

JO: He kind of got me into that, but then I got into a bunch of other bands and stuff. Before that, my music listening was a bit more casual, I just heard whatever was on the radio – I was in middle school.. (laughs) But when he made me that mix tape it just blew my mind and I just HAD to play!

DP: So what was the first “guitar hero” that you had, the one that made you say “I want to be like THAT guy”?

JO: Hhmmmm…probably Marty Friedman (Megadeath guitarist) – I used to be a BIG metal head (laughs). 

DP: Wow! It’s amazing how we change as we grow, huh?

JO: Yeah, the jazz thing was just kind of funny because I was playing in metal bands for like ten years at that point and then I took a course – like a “Jazz History” kind of thing, and then I was like “wow, this is a whole world of music that I don’t know about’. So I just kind of got into it from there.

DP: Did you go back to like the 20s and 30s? Where did you start as far as the era?

JO: As far as the era, I probably just went straight to Charlie Parker, because the way it was presented in that course, he was talked about like he was Mozart, you know? So I was like “I gotta listen to this guy”, so I started to steal some of his licks and stuff and went from there.

DP: What college was this?

JO: This was Miami -Dade College.  

DP: And were you a music major?

JO: At the time, I was “undecided”, but then I remember that I changed my major just temporarily so I could take a jazz ensemble and actually be able to take some private lessons – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tom Lippincott…

DP: Of course!

JO, Well, he teaches there, so he was my first teacher.

DP: Oh wow, you might as well start big! (laughs)

JO: Yeah, he’s great! (laughing) So after I was there a while, I sold my big half stack and started getting into the jazz thing. (laughs)

DP: So what was the first jazz guitar that you had?

JO: To be honest, I don’t think that I’ve ever owned a proper jazz guitar. It was kind of funny because my move to jazz was to get a Strat! (both laugh) 

DP: So what were you playing in the metal bands – a Les Paul?

JO: I had an Ibanez 7 string, the S series….

DP: So you were totally, metal!

JO: Yeah, big time, I still sort of am to be honest, I listen to it a lot! But I have this cheap little hollow body and I also have this Gibson ES-339, it’s like a 335 with a smaller body, so that’s about as close to a jazz guitar as I have gotten.

DP: I’m not a “big box” guy myself either, I play a 335 for jazz all of the time. OK, so you were studying with Tom, who did he get you to start listening to?

JO: He had me listening to guys like Wes (Montgomery), Grant Green – mostly guys that you could take good  (jazz) “language” from, you know – Pat Martino. He kind of recommended those guys early on.

DP So then, who are the guys that you really like now in the jazz guitar world?

JO: My absolute favorite player is Scott Henderson – I know he’s not a really straight ahead guy, but I like him a lot. I like John Stowell….and lately, I know I’m getting late to the party with this, but I’ve really been getting into Peter Bernstein. 

DP: Well, it’s a different thing, but Scott Henderson certainly knows the vocabulary. So did you graduate from Miami-Dade?

JO: Yeah, that’s a community college so that was only two years. So them I went off a few years and I wasn’t really thinking about school, just doing whatever gigs would come my way. So then I decided that I wanted to get my Bachelors, but I couldn’t really afford to go to University of Miami, and while I tried to go to Florida International University, they were not taking guitar majors for a couple of years. So I stopped pursuing school for a while and then I found out that Berklee had this on line school, so I enrolled in that for Composition and I am literally just a few credits shy of finishing that.

DP: Oh, great! So do you teach now then?

JO: I have and there was a point when I had maybe like 12-13 students, but it’s like one week you have 13-14 and then the next you have like one student. And it became something that I just didn’t want to deal with, to be honest.

DP: Aren’t you transcribing now for one of the on line jazz lessons sites?

JO: Yeah, . I sort of do a little bit of everything there: I helped them write some of their lessons and wrote some of their blog posts that are sort of like little articles, like I just did one on Bossa nova comping. And stuff like that, I just sort of create content in general.

DP: How did you get into that?

JO: I don’t know if this was just lucky or not: I went on Facebook looking for a job for someone else, and someone saw it and thought it was for me, so they saw a post looking for blog writers and they tagged me in it. And so the owner of the website saw it and offered me the job.

DP: Oh, wow! So basically it was advertised as a creative writing gig, but you got the job because you were the level of guitar player that knew the content, and now it’s grown into more – that kind of thing pretty much never happens, that’s amazing.

JO: Yeah, that’s right! (laughs)

DP: So you were just studying with Tom (Lippincott) while you were at community college, did you go to study with anyone else?

JO: I’ve taken a couple of private lessons with like a couple of the (Facebook group) Jam Of The Week guys that I really liked a couple of years ago, and I’ve taken a private lesson with Gilad Hekselman, with Peter Mazza, and even with John Stowell, they’re all really knowledgeable guys. This was all over Skype, which was fine for what I wanted to learn. I was never really looking for help on technique, I learned all of my technique from playing metal, I learned economy picking and all of that. I was looking for concepts.

DP: That’s really interesting, because for me, most of what I have seen metal players do that involved technique seemed to be created to be easy to do on the guitar, just done really fast. So the fact that you learned that level of economy picking from metal just shows that I don’t know what’s going on with that music! (laughs)

JO: Well, yes, it all comes down to who you’re listening to, because some of these guys can really play. I did have to make a lot of adjustments with phrasing and language, but as far as the technique, I got everything I have now from playing metal.

DP: Wow, that’s amazing to me – so did you go through a period where you learned Charlie Parkers solos and that sort of thing?

JO: Yeah – one of the things that Tom worked on with me was not using the really wide vibratos that guys like Yngwie Malmsteen use, that’s not really a (jazz) thing, you know? (laughs)

DP: Yeah, yeah, yeah! OK, so you took a lesson with Gliad – what did you cover with him?

JO: It’s basically the metric modulations and things like that – so he’s playing with (NYC jazz drummer) Ari Hoenig – just like how do you keep the form with all that mess going? I mean, it’s really crazy…I’m sure you’ve heard that stuff – it just gets really intense with all the time manipulation and stuff.

DP: So like 5 over 4, this against that, etc?

JO: Yeah, so he just had me clap different patterns agains different melodies for different tunes and things like that. It was pretty interesting, I feel like I got a lot out of it.

DP: So can you be specific on that? Give me an example….

JO: He had me singe the melody of a tune while playing dotted quarter notes (sings the melody of Stella By Starlight and taps a dotted quarter note against it). And after I took the lesson with him, I actually went ahead and bought the master class with Ari on another music site, I think it’s My Music….

DP: So, what’s your rig – what do you take on a regular jazz gig?

JO: I don’t really have a lot of gear, but I do a lot of duo gigs. There’s a specific part of town I play a lot in here called Coral Gables, and parking there is kind of a mess so I always try to pack light so I can park a block or two away and just walk my gear there.So I usually take this ZT lunchbox amp ( ) with a 6 inch speaker but it’s really loud, so it’s really handy so  I use that. Then for the guitar, I use that King Blossom guitar that you see in the video ( ). It has a pretty fat sound even though it’s just chambered, it’s not semi-hollow, but it has a pretty round tone that I can get out if it. If I’m playing with a drummer or a full band, I take a Fender Blues Deluxe – it’s kind of like the Blues Junior but a little bit different. It’s cool because I get to play some gigs sometimes with one of Jaco’s sons, Julius Pastorious, on drums.  

DP: So what are you planing for the short term future right now?

JO: well, I just wrote six tunes and I want to get them recorded in the next two or three months. I have to sort out some logistics, but I have some connection sin different parts of Florida so I can just take it out and promote that. 

DP: So what’s the direction for the music in terms of instrumentation and genre? 

JO: Guitar bass and drums, but I want a keyboard player as well. I hesitate to say what it will sound like because many times I have something in mind but it never comes out sounding like that, but I’ve definitely been listening to too music Tribal Tech! (laughs)

DP: So are you doing to go down the “high gain” road sonically as well?

JO: Absolutely! Actually, that’s more the way I like to play, I rarely get into the super straight ahead thing.

DP: But you don’t do that sort of thing going straight into a Blues Deluxe….

JO: You mean in terms of pedals? I have about ten pedals, but I usually only use about three or four. So I have this…’cause I hate the distortion on that Fender…so I have an Ibanez Tube Screamer that I use for gain stuff, and actually, I was at a gig about two weeks ago and this Brazilian dude from a company called GuitarTech in Brazil ( ) that makes pedals, and he came up to me and said “I really like your playing” and he asked me about the overdrive pedal I was using, and one thing led to another and he just gave me one of their pedals. So I’m using it with the Tube Screamer for the normal gain and the GuitarTech to boost it, and I actually really liked the tone I got out of so I’m kind of sticking to that. It’s called a Horseman, it’s a really nice like drive / boost kind of pedal, but I really like how it shaped the tone with the two of them together so I kept it! There’s a gain, a tone, and a volume knob; and he was talking about the gain as if it’s sort of a blend, but when it comes to stuff like that I’m kind of clueless, so I couldn’t even explain it even if I tried! (laughs)

DP: Well, you have ears and you know how to make it sound the way that you want it to sound…

JO: Exactly, I have a buddy of mine that I consult about all things word and pedals, I ask him about all of that stuff…

DP: Is that King Blossom guitar custom made for you?

JO: No, actually – so, I was at NAMM and was in their booth and trying all of their guitars and I really fell in love that that one, and one thing led to another and he wanted to do an endorsement thing with me. They’re in New Hampshire, and I’m planning on going up there in about two months and I want to talk etc him about a custom guitar, because there are some things that I would like. 

DP: What are you thinking that you’re going to have on your custom model?

JO: I want to have a floating bridge that I can put a bar on, and I really love the necks and everything, but he has these really cool bevel on the body but I would like the edge to be a bit more rounded – it’s a little bit more comfortable to play for three hour gigs. Also, the guitar I have now has two humbuckers, and I would like to have single coil in the neck.

DP: So will you release a CD or an EP?

JO: I think an EP. I’ve recorded a lot of different kinds of music, but I’ve never recorded music like this before. I’ve never done a more fusion kind of thing and I just want to test the waters first and see how the process works. I definitely don’t want to record track by track, I want to do this live.  I’m thinking to set up some touring after it comes out in the Florida market: Orlando, Tampa, Miami, St. Pete, Gainesville, all of that, and maybe piggy back off some shows with bands that I know in that area. 

DP: Well, I know you’re not married and at a great age to do all of that…

JO: Yeah, not married and I’ll be 32 in two months….

DP: One thing that I forgot to cover: who would you say are your overall “life music” influences?

JO: Well, of course Tribal Tech and anything that Scott Henderson has done, and then I really like Allan Holdsworth, and then of course Kurt Rosenwinkle, Gilad Hekselman, John Stowell – you know, I like a lot of those New York guys. As far as like metal bands, I’ve always been really into this band named “Meshuggah”, they have a lot of really cool polyrhythms and things like that. In terms of non-guitarists, I love Michael Brecker and and Brad Meldeau is like my favorite player on any instrument. I’m also a big Freddie Hubbard fan, Woody Shaw, guys like that – they have a “snap” to their phrasing that’s so impressive, I really love that. I listen to articulation a lot, that’s super important to me, that’s why I like Scott Henderson so much, because he plays two note, and you’re just like, “DAMN!”, you know? And Ari Hoenig, I listen to anything he puts out. And I also listen to a lot of stuff that a lot of people might call cheesy rock like this band called“Death Cab For Cutie”, they’re not indy anymore but they started out indy. I just like good songwriting…. I listen to Debussy, and turn of the century impressionist composers like Shostakovich. So a little bit over everything, there’s too much to list!

DP:  OK, so I always ask artists this question in closing: what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you in learning to do what you’ve wanted to do musically in life? So said that “chops” (technique) was not an issue for you, what was?

JO: Well, I’ve always had a lot of self doubt in general, but I guess that’s a good thing because it make me practice (laughs). So I would say that one thing has been getting a lot of harmonic sophistication together….like I recently purchased a master class by (Norwegian jazz guitarist) Lage Lund on comping, but it’s basically just about harmony on the guitar,I’ve only watched a little piece of it so far but I’ve gotten a lot out of it already. I understand harmony in general, but it’s really just to be able to just get “the most” out of it, if you know what I mean.

DP: To be able to use it freely in a lot of abstract ways….

JO: Yeah, exactly, that’s probably been my biggest challenge.

DP: So what would you like to convey to other guitar players in terms of advice or words to live by in closing?

JO: Well, I spent a bit of time where I didn’t really play because my confidence was kind of shot for a number of reasons, and I remember that when I finally got back into it I was nervous fro even go out and play a gig, you know? And the thing that always kind of really helped me was to think that A) if I play a bum note, probably nobody is going to notice – not even my own band members- and B) nobody dies. It’s just music, so just have fun. That’s helped me tremendously – I don’t get nervous at gigs anymore, but there was a time that I used to, but like I said, just have fun and nobody dies, and you play a lot better when you are relaxed and don’t care about the mistakes! (laughs)

Amongst his other performing and writing, Jonathan Orriols is a jazz guitarist in Miami FL, who besides all of his live performing  writes for